Before I start, if you are not a little bit familiar with Merzbow, I can only wonder how you got here. Nevertheless, the genre he represents is "noise" but it's not noise of a minimalist sort (usually) and not noise of a banging on the trash-cans sort (usually). If you started somewhere in the vicinity of white noise, plus sheer pulsing, you might have an inkling. Wide frequency ranges, throbbing squelches, subharmonic oscillations, feedback, distortion as thick as gauze stuffed into a fatal puncture wound, frequently long and relentless, but not unvarying tracks. Make no mistake, this is the opposite of minimalist--it is saturation, maximalist. Relentless.
Second, the two things I gather from reading the reviews are--fans compare this to other albums (and generally find others better), while others (whose opinions are given freely) feel compelled to condemn this disc with one star. This doesn't seem especially helpful, unless you are already a Merzbow initiate, in which case, you should know that given his truly prodigious output, comparing this noise to other noise is far more obviously an exercise in taste than it might be when rating the albums of more conventional artists. In other words, what does this album itself have to offer?
To begin with, noting that this is "not for the weak" or that it amounts to an aural assault makes the disc into something elitistly precious. Far more than most classical music, and even most pop music, nearly anyone could listen to this and "understand" it--for the same reason that one will start noting patterns in white noise if stared at. Beyond this, however, this disc is intensely sublime--that is, it is beautiful in the same way that the overwhelming grandeur of the mountains are beautiful, or that thunderheads are. It is beauty in a gargantuan, awe-full guise. There is also tremendous, visceral power here.
Around 15'30" of "Iron, Glass, Blocks, and White," for instance, after a fuzz-crush that seems to choke the sound into silence, a rolling, cycling alarm sound goes off, while a really yummy tube-amp note throbs and wavers like a candle in the middle of everything, surrounded by splatters of slashing noise. The background then takes on a long, sustained handsome note that throbs with the tube-amp noise. Distortion everywhere. Then it all fades away. One could nearly describe the passage in terms of conventional beauty here, almost.
The beginning of "Degradation of Tapes," as well, starts with three seconds of distorting flanging and then just crushingly smashes in with a distortion echo that twists up to a delay rate of nearly zero. It is a beginning, an opening gesture, that you will not find in popular music, progressive rock, or classical music even in almost all of its most avant-garde practitioners.
From there, a forefronted white noise that is like sitting front row center to a blast furnace blazes in front of slow-flanging distortion behind. The foreground then spasms from white noise, VCF shifts and god knows what else while a gorgeous crystalline solo note skitters around in the background. After about 2'15", the foreground becomes something like a broken staticy radio, just before the pipe truck crashes at 130 mph inside of the long, long echoing tunnel. Etc.
It is perhaps unfortunate that Merzbow is known for doing "noise." An oboe makes noise also. Although from a musical standpoint, it is not necessary to distinguish between musical noise, i.e., orchestras and Merzbow alike, and noise noise, i.e., a door slamming and footsteps receding, if nothing else, the noise that Merzbow makes can be listened to. One's attention can follow rising and falling sounds, or can get caught up in the crisscross of rising and falling sounds; one can listen to the foregorund, or very attentively try to pull out the background; one can follow and lose the various repetitions and pulses that stand in as beats; and one can, on multiple listenings, invent anew each time the "melody" that you follow as your brain wanders through the fractured crashes of white noise, distortion and panning.
In that respect, it is worth noting that 1930, if you can get through it once, particularly lends itself to being listened to again and again. One of the most interesting features of this kind of saturated noise is that it is very difficult to remember; as such, one experiences it differently almost every time. There might be other ways to accomplish this musically, but certainly it is a very interesting feature of such music. It is attention-sustaining in a way that most conventional music is not. Put another way, and rather ironically, this is not ambient background music at all. Played as such, it becomes noise of the annoying, worthless kind.
Instead, relax, put on headphones, turn it up, and experience the joy of really getting to listen to music. Ironically, this music can at times be relaxing, in the sense that it wears you out. Certainly, as one reviewer noted, it causes his thoughts to neutralize. And yes, it can be hard to listen to the whole disc all at once.
Do other Merzbow albums do this as well, or better, or worse? One would have to hear for one's self. In the meantime, 1930 is an excellent, however partial, tour through an all-engaging aural soundscape.