Archive for February, 2019

Interview Narumi: Free from restrictions

One of the most striking Japanese releases in 2018 was debut EP ‘The Seed’ by Narumi. This guitarist is mainly known for her work with power metal bands Destrose and Disqualia. However, on her instrumental solo debut, she displays a completely different side of herself. One that can still get heavy at times, but elements from film music and jazz fusion are at least as prominent. These types of records often end up being endless exercises of virtuosity, but Narumi keeps the melodies front and center in her surprisingly well-written songs. Her skills are impressive, but don’t get in the way of her songs. Plenty of reasons for a conversation with the guitarist.

The fact that these songs are so focused on atmospheric melodies is not that surprising, considering Narumi’s approach. “I made this EP from beginning to end as if I was writing a fantasy novel“, she explains. “If you can feel that whole view of the world, I am very pleased about that. Strictly speaking, there were no songs written in advance before I started working on the project. What I did have was a lot of idea fragments. After the concept for the EP became clear, I finished them as songs within two or three months.

‘The Seed’ has seven instrumental tracks. That was not always the idea though. “Originally, I had planned to sing the song ‘1921’ myself“, Narumi admits. Not that strange, as she has been doing backing vocals for several projects. “But when I recorded my vocals, I could not convince myself of my singing. That is why I fixed it by re-writing it as instrumental music. During the production, I think about an image to give the songs their rough titles. When the song is completed, I alter the words to match the image if necessary.


Interestingly, ‘The Seed’ is entirely the vision of just Narumi and her producer and arranger Issei Ambo. “I played all the guitar parts, everything else has been programmed by Issei Ambo“, she confirms. “This way, I was able to create freely, free from various restrictions, such as the intentions of a record label or finding a compromise between conflicting opinions of others. It was important for me to approach this solo project that way. I think it is interesting to see that the number of these kinds of independent artists is increasing worldwide.

So far, I have only played in rock bands with twin guitars. I was trying to create this tight and aggressive high-gain sound that is unique to active pick-ups. But this time, I wanted to create a totally different sound in order to pick up my performances when I was playing softly and delicately as well. For the recordings, I used Ibanez and Kramer guitars through a Kemper Profiler amplifier. I edited the sounds of the Bogner and the Friedman a little and used those sounds to record the songs.


The style in my previous activities was only a small part of who I am. And I am still evolving. My favorite musician is Sugizo, one of the guitarists in the famous Japanese rock band Luna Sea. But I also think guitarists like Plini and Steve Vai are great. There are so many that I cannot mention them all.

I started playing guitar shortly after Michael Jackson passed away. Orianthi was broadcast playing the guitar and that image of her really impressed me. When I was studying at a music school, Destrose contacted me, because they were looking for a female guitarist. That was the start of my career. Although I was not originally a metal guitarist, I started playing rock and metal styles according to the direction of each band after I debuted with them.


Now that ‘The Seed’ has been out for a while, the logical question would be what the future has in store for Narumi. “I would like to play these songs live in the near future“, she says. “But for now, I’d like to increase the number of songs for my solo project before I start playing live. Apart from my solo project, I am currently preparing to launch an all-female band. Please keep an eye on that!

‘The Seed’ can be ordered through Narumi’s website. Just the EP costs 2000 yen and for 3200 yen, a bundle with the EP and a photo book can be ordered. The orders can be shipped internationally for only 200 yen.


Originally published in Dutch on The Sushi Times

Album of the Week 08-2019: Whispering Sons – Image

Belgium’s Whispering Sons really managed to impress me at the Eurosonic festival last month. My first impression of the band was that they were a very authentic sounding tribute to the darkest side of the early eighties post-punk and proto-goth sounds, think Joy Division at their most depressive with hints of early The Sisters Of Mercy, Bauhaus and the few good songs that The Cure made. Repeated spins of their debut album ‘Image’ revealed that Whispering Sons is much more than just a convincing retro act. The atmosphere is too immersive and the songwriting quality too high to limit them to that.

Naturally, the eighties retro vibe is the first thing that stands out when you put on ‘Image’. The repetitive, hypnotizing bass lines and the tight, almost electronic drum sounds, as well as Kobe Lijnen’s atmospheric, reverberating guitar lines – there is very little chord work on the album – immediately bring the early eighties to mind. But then something happens: the album gets under your skin. The emotionally intense choruses get stuck in your head and you end up humming along the melody lines quite quickly. In addition, Fenne Kuppens’ deep voice has a dark appeal that fits the music perfectly.

‘Alone’ is a minor hit in Belgium and it might actually be the perfect way to get acquainted with Whispering Sons’ sound. It is one of the album’s most accessible tracks in the sense that it does not require a lot of time to absorb the atmosphere. It is relatively uptempo and Lijnen immediately builds a strong melody in the intro. The climactic chorus has a sing-along quality to it without falling victim to the trappings of the cheesier side of the new wave spectrum. Still a quite gloomy song, but it definitely has the potential to appeal to those who don’t normally don’t listen to the genre.

That is hardly the only good song on ‘Image’ though. In fact, the consistency of the album is admirable. Of course, there are some stand-out moments, like the profoundly desperate atmosphere of ‘Skin’ and the propulsive, threatening feel of opening track ‘Stalemate’. ‘No Time’ has sections that are a little more abstract and excellent climaxes lead by a simple, but brutally effective bass line courtesy of Tuur Vandeborne. ‘Hollow’ makes excellent use of dynamics by holding back during the vocal sections and pushing forward when in the guitar-lead parts, only to resolve in a fantastic apotheosis. I quite enjoy the subdued aggression of ‘Got A Light’ as well.

While ‘Image’ is sure to please fans of post-punk, new wave and early goth rock, who – let’s face it – have not had a lot of new stuff to rejoice over in the last few decades, it has the melodic appeal and the excellent songwriting to find its way to a much larger audience. Anyone who does not fear a little darkness in his or her music should certainly give the album a spin. Whispering Sons has a great sound and a lead singer with a magnetic charisma. What more do you need to find your intended audience?

Recommended tracks: ‘Alone’, ‘Skin’, ‘Stalemate’

Album of the Week 07-2019: OverKill – The Wings Of War

If there is one thing you can count on in the metal scene, it would be OverKill releasing a solid thrash record every two or three years. Having said that, their last album ‘The Grinding Wheel’ was not one of my favorite OverKill albums, despite its incredible three-song finale. ‘The Wings Of War’ is the first of their albums in over a decade with a different line-up than its predecessor and that usually means a slight change of direction. Jason Bittner does not bring a huge shift, but it does seem that his drumming relit some fire for the band.

Of course, this is still an OverKill record, so you know what to expect: there is an abundance of thrash riffs with clear inspiration from Black Sabbath and American punk, which Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth enhances with his pleasantly shrill vocal delivery. His performance deserves praise, as he is turning sixty in a few months and still sings with the intensity of a man half his age. Guitarist Dave Linsk’s melodic embellishments give the songs a lot of character, contributing significantly to the NWOBHM leanings that make the album sound somewhat like a spiritual successor to ‘The Electric Age’ (2012), only with more consistent songwriting.

While OverKill’s bread and butter is still uncomplicated in-your-face thrash metal, the record feels surprisingly experimental at times. ‘Bat Shit Crazy’ has a few subtle, but brutally effective time feel changes and a brooding clean middle section followed by one of the most “classic metal” solo sections the band did in decades. The following ‘Distortion’ has one of their coolest bass and guitar intros yet, especially the second half. The rest of the track is excellent mid-tempo OverKill. The dark and powerful ‘Where Few Dare To Walk’ is another great atmospheric OverKill track, rivaling ‘Bitter Pill’ and ‘Killing For A Living’ as the best tracks in that style.

Even the album’s punky track is good. Those are generally not my favorites, but ‘Welcome To The Garden State’ is a fast, aggressive and surprisingly funny tribute to their home state of New Jersey. Those looking for high-octane thrash should not be worried though. For all the interesting melodic touches – most of them courtesy of Linsk and Ellsworth – the album still has equal amounts of groove, aggression and attitude. First single ‘Last Man Standing’ gives a pretty good impression of the overall sound with its thick, almost hardcore-ish riffs and catchy chorus, but the best thrasher of the album has to be closer ‘Hole In My Soul’. It has a great build-up, a fantastic chorus and after its intro never lets up in terms of speed. OverKill has been doing amazing album closers lately and this one is no different.

Many thrash bands that started around the same time as OverKill are battling identity crises or consistency issues, but neither of those seems to effect the New Jersey thrashers. They know who they are and they know how to express that. What is even more impressive is that they manage to do so without losing their credibility or becoming a parody of themselves. ‘The Wings Of War’ is one more piece of evidence for that theory. It is a sincere, powerful thrash metal record that is pretty much on par with ‘White Devil Armory’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Hole In My Soul’, ‘Where Few Dare To Walk’, ‘Believe In The Fight’

Album of the Week 06-2019: Aria – Feniks

‘Feniks’ was a return to form for Russia’s Aria. Not entirely like the titular character, because bassist Vitaly Dubinin never really lost his special songwriting touch, but ‘Feniks’ is definitely the first Aria album since ‘Krov Za Krov’ two decades earlier that is pretty much excellent from start to finish. Maybe it was the addition of the fantastic new singer Mikhail Zhitnyakov, who debuts here, that gave the band some fresh impulses. But whatever the reason, everything that makes traditional heavy metal worthwhile is present in these songs, with just enough contemporary aggression to justify the band’s existence in this century.

Previous singer Artur Berkut often gets the blame for the somewhat less enthusiastic reception of the two albums before ‘Feniks’. However, he is a decent singer and really, the albums suffer from the same issue as the last three albums with Valery Kipelov: the highlights are nothing short of amazing, but all other songs are forgettable. Picking highlights is a lot more difficult on ‘Feniks’, because it is a consistently excellent set of songs and the same can be said about the performances and the production. None of the songs is worth skipping and the sound is clear and convinving.

Opening with ‘Chorny Kvadrat’ was a wise choice. The song combines the band’s strong Iron Maiden influence with a slightly more modern power metal approach, which truly allows newcomer Zhitnyakov to shine. His voice has all the passion of Kipelov’s, with a slightly larger range and an unprecedented degree of theatricality to boot. Comparable in approach is the powerful ‘Boi Bez Pravil’, which has a similarly subtle degree of melancholy in its triumphant traditional metal sound. Both of these tracks alone would already have been worth whatever you pay for the album, as they are among the best Aria songs to date.

Luckily, there is more. Aria always manages to pump out a couple of engaging epics and this time around, the splendidly constructed ‘Chornaya Legenda’ is the best one. The entire song has an atmosphere of imminent danger and the way the intro riff comes back in a different key after the acoustic middle section is pure brilliance. ‘Attila’ and ‘Istoria Odnogo Ubiyci’ are slightly less dense riffing-wise, instead opting to give the song some room to unfold. The calmly symphonic ‘Rekviyem’ is a pretty unique ballad in Aria’s discography and really shows off Zhitnyakov’s abilities. The title track shows the band at its most Maiden-esque, while ‘Dalniy Svet’ and ‘Ravnovesiye Sil’ are powerful midtempo hardrockers with really cool vocal harmonies in their choruses.

While it is tempting to blame Aria’s return to form on the arrival of Zhitnyakov, that would be too easy. For one, there are recordings of the band demoing ‘Boi Bez Pravil’ with Berkut floating around on YouTube and I cannot imagine that being the only one, since he left the group only months before the release of ‘Feniks’. Instead, something else must have sparked the inspiration of the band. We may never know to whom or what we should be thankful, but ‘Feniks’ rates among the best albums Aria has released to date. In fact, it is one of the greatest traditional heavy metal albums of the 21st century.

Recommeded tracks: ‘Chorny Kvadrat’, ‘Boi Bez Pravil’, ‘Chornaya Legenda’

Album of the Week 05-2019: Sacrifice – Soldiers Of Misfortune

By the early nineties, most of the thrash metal bands that had been around for a decade were altering their sound to varying degrees. In many cases, this change meant slowing down significantly  or dumbing down the music. Sacrifice, however, managed to refine its sound considerably while avoiding the pitfalls that usually come with such progress. After two enjoyable, but somewhat monotonous thrash metal records in the eighties, ‘Soldiers Of Misfortune’ adds more depth to the Canadians’ sound. It isn’t exactly progressive thrash metal, but paying more attention to dynamic possibilities within the boundaries of their sound meant a strong improvement.

Essentially, ‘Soldiers Of Misfortune’ is characterized by the same elements as Sacrifice’s earlier work. The guitar riffs of Joe Rico and Rob Urbinati are razor sharp, the latter’s venom-spitting vocal delivery – think Tom Angelripper with hints of Darren Travis – helps set the band apart from the pack and Gus Pynn is one of the most unjustly overlooked drummers in thrash metal. The tweaks Sacrifice made to their sound may seem minor at first, but they turn out to be very relevant. Most importantly: the tempo changes. Sacrifice songs used to speed by viciously, but the impact of separate sections has been increased here by shifting tempos strategically.

That doesn’t mean that Sacrifice has been watered down to a mid-tempo groove metal band, however. ‘Soldiers Of Misfortune’ is far from a ‘Black Album’-ish snoozefest. In fact, the most prominent midtempo track (‘Soldiers Of Misfortune’ itself) makes brilliant use of subtle shifts in tempo and time feel. It may be remembered for its massive doomy intro, but the brooding feel of the first faster riff is equally impressive. ‘Lost Through Time’ is another track that proves an evil atmosphere can be reached even at mid-tempo. The song makes excellent use of space.

Sacrifice still proves to be excellent at uptempo thrash here. ‘In Defiance’ was destined to become a live classic, as the riffs are highly memorable and the song is a shot of energy. ‘A Storm In The Silence’ excels at violent thrash polkas after a relatively atmospheric intro, while opener ‘As The World Burns’ perfectly bridges the full-speed rabid menace of the past with a somewhat more refined approach. Closer ‘Truth (After The Rain)’ is the band’s most ambitious track to date. They took some progressive hints from Rush (the influence of ‘Xanadu’ on the intro is fairly obvious) and ran with that in what is ultimately a dark thrasher with lots of cool, vaguely Arabic-sounding riffs.

If ‘Soldiers Of Misfortune’ is proof of anything, it would be that maturing is not something to automatically run away from if you are in a thrash metal band. Sure, lots of bands ruined their sound with it, but Sacrifice is one of those cases where a little more refinement has truly enhanced their sound without sounding alien to anyone who liked their sound before. In addition, the guitar solos and overall songwriting have become significantly more memorable in the process. It is truly a pity that the band was done for by the mid-nineties, but they reformed recently and are still playing live. They have yet to release something as brilliant as ‘Soldiers Of Misfortune’, but never say never.

Recommended tracks: ‘As The World Burns’, ‘Truth (After The Rain)’, ‘In Defiance’