Over the years, one my favorite parts of being a journalist that writes about extreme music is to discover music from different countries. In particular, it’s always been exciting to come across musicians pushing the envelope from regions that aren’t associated with metal or hardcore. For the hundreds of submissions coming my way from Sweden, Norway, or the U.S., it’s always interesting to explore other parts of the world and see what people are coming up with where scenes are much smaller. The point of this new Metal Around the World feature is to spotlight some bands from a particular country or region I think are worth paying attention to, and hopefully that will not only give some of these groups more exposure but start to connect some of these regional scenes together as people recognize what is out there.
There are plenty of countries to choose from, but for volume one I’m starting with Japan. This was partially influenced by Kaala, who you may remember from our guest article last month. I’ve always been aware of the bigger Japanese names such as Abigail, Sabbat, and Coffins as well as some of the punk/hardcore bands that have made it over to the U.S. like Sete Star Sept. But I’ve often felt like this was just scratching the surface, and Kaala’s proven to be a great resource to discovering bands that are truly stunning but might not be aware of how to or have the resources to effectively promote themselves outside of their home country. So cheers to Kaala, as your gig calendar and editorials have been a great way to see who is active and what’s happening around the country! This is not meant to be an inclusive list, but here are six bands from Japan that have been dominating my playlists over the past month.
I’ll have more countries and regions in mind for future editions of Metal Around the World, but if you have band suggestions or want to suggest a country for me to spotlight please drop me a line at demonryu at comcast dot net.
明日の叙景 (Asunojokei) (Black Metal/Post Rock, Independent)
明日の叙景 (Asunojokei) is another Kaala find, and as I tend to gravitate towards black metal perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Tokyo based group falls into that category. But whereas Funeral Sutra, the other black metal band in this article, embraces the darker, harsh side of the spectrum, Asunojokei gravitates towards brighter melodies and sweeping atmosphere alongside depressive, somber moments. Their newest EP ‘過誤の鳥 (A Bird in the Fault)’ was released a little over a year ago, and it balances sweeping blasts and shimmering melodies that are likely to appeal to fans of bands like Alcest and Lantlôs as well as the more traditional end of the spectrum. There are quite a few depressive moments where the jagged edges of the riffs and harsh screams come together in a way that feels bleak and violent, but where Asunojokei really excels is in their melodic textures, which have a brighter, hopeful aesthetic than you might initially expect. They create a dreamlike, introspective feeling that puts you under its spell and will bring up all sorts of vivid imagery if listened to with headphones. Blurring the lines between depressive black metal, post rock, and even a little shoegaze, Asunojokei proves to be truly engaging.
Friendship (Grindcore/Powerviolence, Sentient Ruin Laboratories)
There is very little information out there about Friendship aside from the fact that they’re based in Chiba prefecture, but that’s okay as the music does all the talking. ‘I & II’ is a compilation of the group’s first two EP’s and was released on Sentient Ruin Laboratories earlier this month. Spread across twelve tracks that come in at around twenty six minutes, Friendship hits as hard as they can with pummeling fast paced tracks and slower, sludge moments that feel like they’re dragging you down to the depths of Hell. It’s certainly a familiar sound for those that have spent any amount of time with grind or powerviolence, but the band delivers it with such ferocity and precision that you can’t help but be drawn in. Plus, Friendship’s slower moments do a good job of breaking up the onslaught and have some of the bleakest, soul sucking riffs I’ve heard since Primitive Man. Japan has a history of great bands in these genres, though I have to admit that a lot of them have slipped under the radar for me until fairly recently, so don’t make that mistake with Friendship and let them pummel you into dust.
Funeral Sutra (Black Metal/Hardcore, Independent)
Funeral Sutra was one of the first bands that caught my attention while browsing Kaala, and for good reason. Taking influence from black metal and some of the darker variants of hardcore (French group Celeste comes to mind at times), their debut full length ‘Form and Emptiness’ offers bleak and abrasive instrumentation alongside jagged vocals. Released in October of 2016, the six song effort blurs the lines between these elements in a way that feels fresh. There are the dissonant, harsh melodic leads and layers that you’d expect from black metal, but regular dips into somber yet beautiful melodies that give off more of a post rock/metal vibe and some of hardcore’s muscular riffing make ‘Form and Emptiness’ much more unpredictable than you might initially expect. The way the songs build creates a hypnotic effect, as Funeral Sutra lets the bleak layers put you in a trance that sends you off into dark, unsettling territory. Paul’s vocals come through as extremely distorted, jagged screams that sound like they’re tearing through your skin, and they skew a little closer to the hardcore and even sludge sides of the spectrum. Closing track Joy is a perfect example of what makes this band so enticing, as the underlying melody seems to only get darker and darker as the song progresses, leaving you with feelings of utter hopelessness and despair.
King Goblin (Doom/Sludge/Heavy Psych, Bonten Records)
King Goblin is the longest running band on this list, and their sophomore effort ‘Cryptozoology’ spans just about every type of heavy psych and doom influence you could possibly think of. Coming in close to eight years after their debut, it is clear that the Tokyo based group used the longer incubation period to their advantage. Following a short noise intro performed by Kelly Churko and Hiroshi Hasegawa from Astro, King Goblin showcases just how varied their ideas are. Though there are some heavier sections that fall into the doom/sludge spectrum (and the heavily distorted, abrasive screams certainly contribute to this), quite a bit of ‘Cryptozoology’ emphasizes grooves that pull in psychedelic rock, space rock, and even some rockabilly and jazz influences. Each song heads in a different direction, with some coming off as the Melvins with a grittier vocalist, while others go off into sprawling space rock madness that will make you feel like you’ve just teleported to another world. King Goblin emphasizes the rock side of heavy psych a bit more than some of their peers, though the vocals keep that metal edge and make the overall package that much more weird and enticing. Add in a trippy cover of Mountain’s Mississippi Queen (titled Birmingham Queen), and you have an album that keeps revealing new details each time through.
Oozepus (Industrial/Noise Rock, Malignant Records)
The promo material for Oozepus’ latest release ‘Your Limit’ mentioned that the band contained members of Coffins and was heavily influenced by early Swans and Godflesh, which made it something I knew I had to check out. As it turns out, those two comparisons are a pretty good description of what Oozepus has to offer, though they also throw in the angular, jagged nature of noise rock and some of the most garbled, underwater sounding vocals I’ve heard in quite some time. What this three-piece has attempted to do is strip things down to singular riffs and beats, letting them drone on in a mechanical manner that both bludgeons you and hypnotizes you in equal proportion. It’s an approach that works well, and the sheer level of distortion from the guitar and bass alongside the pounding drums are sure to rattle your bones at the appropriate volume. Oozepus has left themselves room to further branch out past this type of Swans and Godflesh worship and truly become their own entity, but they’re already doing this type of noisy, industrial tinged sound well enough to sink their hooks in and keep you coming back for more.
wombscape (Post Hardcore/Experimental, landscape records)
One of the things that I tried to emphasize for this first article on Japanese metal/hardcore and everything in between was the variety of styles being performed. Tokyo’s wombscape is a perfect example of this, as their mini-album ‘new world specimen’ takes an experimental approach to post hardcore/mathcore that is quick to move between expansive, entrancing melodies and quick, jagged riffs that frequently shift in new directions. There are sections that remind me of groups like Underoath and Every Time I Die, particularly when it comes to the abrasive, bouncier riffing and hints of melody that sneak in alongside them. But the ability of the instrumentalists to constantly keep you on your toes is what makes ‘new world specimen’ stand out from the bands it’s sure to remind you of, as a particularly technical, chaotic section might give way to an incredibly bleak and depressive melodic section. What’s also worth mentioning is the vocal work, as lead singer Ryo utilizes a high pitched, abrasive scream that feels like it’s attacking you with every word, and the sheer amount of distortion and grit to the performance is incredible appealing. Wombscape also incorporates some cleaner ranges and audio clips that tie into the album concept, and as a whole their material is a quick thrill ride of chaotic, unpredictable attacks and haunting, introspective melodies.