Japan’s heaven in her arms has been together for close to twelve years now, but depending on where you live you may not have come across them before. While they’ve had regular distribution in their home country and Europe, North American listeners have been limited to imports. That’s changed with this year’s full length ‘White Halo’, which following releases by Daymare Recordings, Moment of Collapse Records, and Dog Knights Productions has been given official U.S. distribution courtesy of Translation Loss Records. Whether you’ve been a fan since early on or are discovering heaven in her arms for the first time, the group’s take on older screamo, post hardcore, and metal impresses throughout.
It’s hard to categorize ‘White Halo’ as it pulls from such a diverse set of influences. Although it’s certainly closer to post rock and post hardcore than metal, listeners who don’t gravitate towards those two genres that often will still find plenty of crushingly intense and loud moments to suit their tastes. Compared to their previous output, one of the biggest changes is the brighter tone present throughout the album. That’s not to say that the instrumentation has lost its edge, as following the short intro track Ray of Light at Dusk the second song Abyss of the Moonbow unleashes a dense wall of sound. But even at some of its loudest and most jagged peaks, ‘White Halo’ has underlying melodies that give off a brighter, hopeful feel. It’s likely to be the type of album that takes a few times through for most people to fully get a handle on, as there are subtle shifts from one style to the next throughout each song. One minute might be reminiscent of 90’s screamo and post hardcore at their finest, while the next treads a fine line between post metal and black metal.
There’s definitely a lot to take in, but heaven in her arms has written their material in a way that’s able to hold your attention for its entirety. One of the main ways that they accomplish this is through the use of dynamics, employing soft post rock style build-ups while also transitioning to softer passages in a less predictable manner. For those that find themselves tiring of the type of methodical build-ups so often found in post rock, the more fluid and driving approach utilized on ‘White Halo’ is sure to be welcomed. The dynamics wouldn’t stand out nearly as much without the well-balanced recording though, which allows each instrument ample time to break through the layers of sound and grab your attention.
But even at some of its loudest and most jagged peaks, ‘White Halo’ has underlying melodies that give off a brighter, hopeful feel…
The vocals are perhaps the one area where heaven in her arms isn’t quite as dynamic, but to be fair that has been the case for the majority of their career. As a fan of screamo and post hardcore I’m personally quite fond of what the vocals are going for here, as they are jagged higher pitched screams that come through with an immense amount of energy and abrasion. This creates a contrast with the guitar leads, as even when the melodies have gone off in an airier direction the vocals maintain the harsh end of the spectrum. ‘White Halo’ does occasionally deviate into some softer spoken word and reverb drenched screaming, but the majority of the album keeps things drenched in power and emotion.
‘White Halo’ leaves a lasting impression with its overwhelmingly dense layers of sound and softer dynamic passages. The overall tone and feel is pretty different from what heaven in her arms has written before, but they’ve managed to create an album that portrays a beautiful and brighter sound in the most intense way possible. It’s hard to categorize and will take multiple listens to get a feel for, but ‘White Halo’ is a release that will stick with you.
To learn more about the album I had the chance to ask the band a few questions, which you can check out below.
Transcending Obscurity: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. It has been seven years since the release of ‘Paraselene’. You had three splits in between that album and ‘White Halo’, but what factors led to the longer gaps between full lengths?
heaven in her arms: Hi. Thanks for the interview. This time, Kent (vocals, guitar) and Katsuta (guitar) will answer your questions.
Katsuta: First of all, I’m sorry for the delay. And I know I have to explain about it. We had a lot of events in these 7 years…
-In 2010, ‘Paraselene’ release, Taiwan tour and Euro tour
-In 2011, Japan tour with CELESTE, split/Aussitôt Mort release
-In 2012, Singapore/Malaysia tour, split/YUMI release
-In 2013, Russia tour, split/COHOL release
-In 2014, Japan tour with DEAFHEAVEN
-In 2015, our drummer took part in ENVY as a support member.
-And December 2016, we were in studio for recording…
Maybe you can understand, we were not lazy but busy… So we had to take a short rest to recover and input something creative. After all, it takes much time to release ‘WHITE HALO’. But thanks to this, I think we were able to make a masterpiece.
TO: One of my favorite aspects of ‘White Halo’ is how well the instrumentals balance soft melodies with powerful, aggressive riffing. I feel like each time I listen I hear a different detail I hadn’t noticed before. With that in mind, how does the songwriting process work? How do you transform individual riffs or ideas into these sprawling songs?
Katsuta: I’m sorry It is the top secret. Hahaha. But I can only say it was so exhausting. Feeling like trying to solve an extremely complicated puzzle.
TO: Kent Aoki mentioned that you guys had a strong desire to express beauty on this album, which you’ve definitely achieved. Considering a lot of your past material has been very dark, did you find moving towards a brighter, beautiful sound to be challenging? What are some influences that helped to shape the tone on ‘White Halo’?
Katsuta: We were not intending to write dark songs. So it was not challenging for me. For the tone, especially for the mixing, we choose Bring Me The Horizon’s latest album ‘That’s The Spirit’ as a reference CD. Maybe it is surprising for you. Because they play a totally different kind of music from us but I think it works very well.
TO: The press release for ‘White Halo’ mentions this is your first album to get an official North American release. Having primarily worked with Japanese and European labels before, how did you get connected with Translation Loss Records?
Kent: This is funny story. At first, Daymare Recordings told me Translation Loss Records was a good label in the USA. We always hoped to release in the USA so we decided to join Translation Loss. But recently the owner of Translation Loss sent me a message directly and I noticed he was already a very old friend with me online… Hahaha. Daymare Recordings always mediated between us so I didn’t know that. So finally we are very happy to release on Translation Loss Records.
TO: For American fans just discovering your music through Translation Loss’ release of ‘White Halo’, is there any chance that there might be re-issues of your earlier material by a U.S. label at some point?
Kent: I don’t know about the future but if Translation Loss or some other label wants that, there is room for consideration.
TO: All three albums have come out on vinyl. What are your personal thoughts on vinyl, and do you prefer it as a musical format? Vinyl has seen an increase in popularity in North America and Europe in recent years, have you noticed a similar trend from your Japanese audience?
Kent: In Japan, CD’s still have more power than LP’s. But I think CD is a nice format too.
For me, the important thing is releasing different formats as needed to reflect changing circumstances. We went to a lot of countries and knew each country has its own context. So we prefer to release many formats also including digital.
TO: I really like the artwork that Ryo Tajima did for the album. The look and feel reminds me of a number of different screamo/hardcore albums from the ‘90s. Can you tell us more about the ideas you had for the album art and how Ryo Tajima was able to bring those ideas to life?
Kent: He is our best old friend for over 15 years. A lot of time and a thousand beers have been shared with him so we strongly understand each other. We trust him. For this release, of course we talked over a lot with beers but he knows everything that we want to do.
TO: You toured in Europe and Russia this past summer. How did this tour go, and can you share some highlights?
katsuta: The tour was very fun but we could get only 10 days of vacation. So it was a rush tour.
The personal highlight was Fluff Fest in CZ. We reunited with our friends and shared the stage with some legendary bands like DOOM and City Of Caterpillar! Above all, we got a super big reaction from the audience. Merchandise was sold out. It was an amazing experience.
Kent: And Red Apollo (from Germany, they toured with us) is COOL and took really good care of us. We really appreciate that.
TO: You’ve toured throughout Europe and Asia, but I don’t believe you’ve been to North America yet. Is there any chance of that becoming a possibility in the next year or two? If you’re able to come over, where would you like to try and play?
katsuta: We are really eager to go to North America to tour. But unfortunately we haven’t had a chance to go there. We want to make it happen but I have no idea how our dream come true… we are waiting offers! Places don’t matter for us. Anywhere is OK if we could play.
Kent: Please send to “email@example.com” if you want kick our ass.
TO: Heaven in her arms has been around for over a decade now. How has the live music scene changed in Japan over this period of time? Has it gotten easier or harder for you to play live shows in the country?
katsuta: I have no idea about scene but I think more Japanese bands succeed even overseas.
TO: Is there anything else you’d like to say about ‘White Halo’ or heaven in her arms?
katsuta: Listen in a dark room at maximum volume. Thank you!!
Kent: Thanks for the interview.
heaven in her arms