Posts Tagged ‘ Visual Kei ’

Album of the Week 17-2017: The Gazette – Dogma


The Gazette is one of the most popular Japanese rock bands even outside of their native country. Save for a couple of songs, they never appealed to me much until they released their most recent studio album ‘Dogma’. For this dark monster of an album, the goth factor in the band’s familiar alternative metal sound is turned up considerably, resulting in an immersive atmosphere that works surprisingly well alongside the downtuned riff work. Despite being recognizable as an album by The Gazette, ‘Dogma’ is – thus far – a unique entry in their discography and truly takes their sound to a new level.

People who like The Gazette less than I do are prone to dismiss them as a Dir En Grey clone. And while they share a dark aesthetic as well as a preference for the downtuned mayhem of the American nu metal scene of the mid-ninties, The Gazette has always had a sound closer to J-Rock, though on ‘Dogma’, the J-Rock sound is mainly limited to Ruki’s baritone. The electronic experiments of recent albums are still there, but less prominent in the mix. This is a good thing: while the electronics made The Gazette stand out, they feel much more like an integral part of the sound here.

‘Dogma’ definitely excels most during its more atmospheric moments. Sure, the extremely heavy riff work by Uruha and Aoi – as well as their massive, crushing guitar sound – makes for pleasant headbanging on tracks like ‘Rage’, ‘Deux’ and ‘Incubus’, but if it wasn’t for the darker material, I may have taken a pass on the album. The fittingly titled closing track ‘Ominous’ has a subdued, brooding character that doesn’t really sound like anything the band has attempted before. The transitions are a little sudden, but it works remarkably well. Its finale is excellent.

Even better is ‘Deracine’. The guitar interaction in the verses – a pronounced riff with background atmospherics – is incredible, Ruki’s vocal melodies are fantastic and its atmosphere, which at times feels like a relatively heavy J-metal band covering Killing Joke, is impossible to escape. Another highlight is ‘Wasteland’, which brings together all the extremes of The Gazette’s sound. The guitar layering is extremely tasteful and the song flows very pleasantly. ‘Lucy’ is a little more straightforward and probably would not have stood out as much on a different album, but its effective main riff and huge chorus are great. The title track serves as a perfect introduction with its dark, gothic verses.

Before ‘Dogma’, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with an album by The Gazette altogether, but the fact is that it’s a strong, well-rounded album that doesn’t easily let its listener go. It also sounds less like a band trying to emulate its American influences than some of their early works, opting for a sound of its own instead. This is a development that I can only applaud and as a result, ‘Dogma’ is definitely worth hearing if you like your music heavy, dark and atmospheric. I’ll be honest: I never knew they had it in them.

Recommended tracks: ‘Deracine’, ‘Wasteland’, ‘Ominous’

Interview: Tomoyasu Hotei wants to create something extraordinary

Recently, I’ve been given the opportunity to interview legendary Japanese guitarist Tomoyasu Hotei. What follows is a translation of the article I have written in Dutch for The Sushi Times. Should you be proficient at Dutch, I would strongly recommend you to read the original arctile.

In Japan, Tomoyasu Hotei reached a legendary status at quite a young age due to his work with the massively popular Boøwy. After that band split up in the late eighties, he worked with superstars like Iggy Pop, Rammstein guitarist Richard Z. Kruspe and his hero David Bowie and recently, he decided to pursue his international ambitions by relocating to London. In April, he will tour through Europe.

Since I moved to London, I learned why Japan is described as ‘the Far East’“, the 55 year old guitarist says. “Japan is very well organized, very safe and the food is great, but everything is executed within the country. People tend to look only inward. I have dreamt to explore the outside world, but one day I realized that you have to be based outside of Japan to seize that opportunity. Luck will not come to you; you have to approach it. You may have some access to the outside world through the internet, but if you are looking for a more authentic experience, you have to live and breathe on the same ground that you want to approach. I feel convinced that I have made the right decision.
Hotei has already taken note of the conveniences of living in the west. “If you want to fly from Japan to the Netherlands, it takes twelve hours“, he states. “But from London, it only takes two hours. That itself makes me feel that I’m closer to the rest of the world. Also, it’s the best way to learn a language; way better than learning it at school. True, it is very cold and miserable during the winter, but summer is heaven! If I had stayed in Japan, I may not have had this opportunity to play to Dutch people.

Visual consciousness

In the early eighties, Boøwy stood out due to their approach that was influenced – both musically and aesthetically – by new wave, glamrock and post-punk. “Even before the term “visual kei” was created, I was always conscious about visuals“, he explains. “Perhaps we were the original visual kei band? X Japan, Buck-Tick and Miyavi weren’t yet established back then. Back in those days, I had spiky hair with heavy make-up, guaranteed to catch people’s attention in the streets!
I am a huge fan of David Bowie and have been influenced by his music throughout my career. But he was inspired by kabuki. He used visual techniques to create unusual atmospheres on stage. I too wanted to created something extraordinary and by wearing make-up, I felt like I had another identity. I thought by adding some fantasy to rock music, it would create more depth in the music.
My visual consciousness hasn’t changed and I still care about artwork and stage plots. However, because I have now ‘matured’, I can’t do anything too crazy anymore; I am nervous that my daughter won’t talk to me anymore if I did, haha!

Trust

Japan seems to have a bigger market for “strange” bands. Hotei seems to notice this as well. “You can’t find a band like Babymetal in Europe“, he thinks aloud. “And the music market in Japan is dominated by domestic bands who make up something like ninety percent of the total market. Perhaps it is more competitive there; people have to be experimental and make it original. In Europe, I think there are distinctive genres of music. Therefore, my impression of the music audience there is something like jazz fans who will not be interested in rock and metal fans who are not interested in techno.
My audience in Japan is very special. There’s a level of trust we have built over the years. To those who are not familiar with my audience and see 10,000 people singing and dancing along with my performance, it is almost like a cult group. That makes me a preacher! The size of my crowds in Europe and the USA is relatively small, but I genuinely enjoy playing in such an intimate setting. It is so raw; it reminded me of when I started thirty five years ago. I can feel the grip on the people as they are up on their feet and that means I’m doing something right. Also, it’s great to see Japanese people in the audience; it makes me feel at home, away from home.
I think this is still a trial period, but those people who may not be familiar with me, trust me, you will get your money’s worth! I am always eager to share my music with people who have no clue who I am or have never heard my music before. I want to show my ability to entertain them with a danceable guitar sound and performance. I am confident that my live performance is the most effective way to describe myself. Once you see my performance, people will see how unique I am.

In April, Hotei will tour through Europe for about a week and a half. During this tour, he will play in the Netherlands twice and in Belgium once. “I love Amsterdam“, he states enthusiastically. “I thoroughly enjoy my last year’s visit. For those who were there last year, I can guarantee this year’s show will be even better. I have a slightly different band this year, bringing my longstanding drummer from New York, Zac Alford, who some may know from his work with Bowie, and my keyboard player Okuno from Tokyo, as well as my old friend and musical collaborator Noko. It’s a truly international band!

Recognize

I’ve released over twenty studio albums as a solo artist“, Hotei says. “Which is a lot! I know now for a fact that the Japanese market is very quick to move from one album to the next. In Japan, you release an album followed by fifty plus shows each time. It was actually my routine. My international debut ‘Strangers’ was released in October 2015 and I have just started writing for my second international album in February. ‘Strangers’ is a great album, but I’m committed to making a “greater” album.
My inspiration is based on my guitar. It is an endless journey; the potential is infinite. That’s the beauty of the guitar, I think. I have always been persistent to create guitar sounds that people will recognize as my sound. I’m now discovering digital technology and have been using a digital amp lately. But ultimately, I think it’s not the equipment that makes my sound so unique, I think it is coming from my playing style.

The list of artists that Hotei has worked with is enormous. Are there any people left on his wishlist? “I consider myself against the luckiest in the world to have performed with David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and Roxy Music“, he smiles. “Also, it was a great honor to collaborate with Iggy Pop, Brian Setzer and Zucchero from Italy. If I may blow my own horn, I was able to grab these great collaboration opportunities because I am a very skilfull guitarist. I am very flexible and I enjoy making singers feel very comfortable.
My door is always open to more opportunities. Not just with legendary artists, but also talented upcoming new artists. My guitar riffs are very catchy, so perhaps I can collaborate with hiphop artists too. I’d love to have the chance to play with Beyoncé! I’m very interested in St. Vincent’s music too. What about a great artist from the Netherlands? Maybe you can introduce me!

Interview: Versailles’ frontier defying spirit


B7 Klan offered me the opportunity to interview Versailles and of course I took that opportunity. What follows here is a translation of the article I have written in Dutch for The Sushi Times. If you can read Dutch, I would strongly recommend you to read the original article right here.

With their bombastic power metal sound and their almost fairytale-like appearance, Versailles grew to be one of the most important players in 21st century visual kei. In late 2012, the band took a break, but as of last year, the band is active again. After a few one-offs in Japan, the band’s first tour will follow and just like in their early days, it will remarkably take place in Europe. “The time was right for Versailles again“, says guitarist Hizaki.

In the intervening years, the band fully committed itself to other projects. Singer Kamijo went solo and all of the other members formed the excellent power metal band Jupiter, which will remain active alongside Versailles. “I compose imagining the person who will sing the song“, states Hizaki, who also released his instrumental solo album ‘Rosario’ earlier this year. “The melodies I write will always be a reflection of the singer’s personality. I do like the fact that I can now show in Versailles the skills that I have developed in my personal activities.
Kamijo also doesn’t rule out the opportunity that his solo adventure will get a sequal. “I’m sharing my feelings with different audiences“, he describes the differences. “In both cases, we are playing my melodies, but the reasons why I’m writing each project’s songs are different. In 2017, Versailles celebrates its tenth anniversary, so you can imagine that there will be some new projects.“”On February 14th, we will release our new album“, guitarist Teru already spills. As for the rest, the band still keeps their plans strictly secret, but bassist Masashi calls on the fans to keep an eye on their website and social media: “We have many projects planned.

Choreography
For a Japanese band, Versailles has always been surprisingly internationally oriented. Before the band even went on its first full tour through Japan, their first European tour with Matenrou Opera was already a fact. Later on, the band came back to Europe twice, so it’s not a complete surprise that the band once again aims for Europe after a couple of one-offs in Japan. “I can’t wait to come back to Europe“, Hizaki agrees. “Since we can’t meet our fans out there often, I want to enjoy them as much as possible. It seems to be even harder to bring our music overseas to America, but I would like to make it back there as well someday.“”I notice that European audiences want to show their power in a different way“, says Kamijo. “In some countries, they shout. In Japan, they synchronize their choreography.
It’s beautiful to see the different reactions in each country“, Masashi confirms. Teru agrees: “When I play overseas, I truly realize that the reaction in Japan is really original.
And yet, it’s remarkable that Versailles is one of the very few bands that tours Europe somewhat regularly. “I don’t know exactly how we did that“, says drummer Yuki. “But I am really proud of Versailles’ music. We only stick to our own convictions.
I guess some bands get too discouraged by certain details“, Teru thinks aloud. “It’s important to make music with a spirit that transcends frontiers and nationalities.
And the band rehearses for that with full determination. “As usual, I’m practicing by playing a lot“, Yuki says. “Besides that, I listen to good music and I imagine myself playing it, drum acting. And because I’m trying to be more familiar with the English language, I also watch some movies.
I record myself in ProTools and then check the results of my playing“, Teru shares. But, Hizaki emphasizes: “You who will be at our live shows must be ready too.

Dreams
Versailles’ music contains quite dense arrangements. Besides the five band members, a vast amount of choral and orchestral samples deliver a significant amount of bombast. However, the spectacular guitar work of Hizaki and Teru always remains prominent. “There is always an orchestra in my head“, the latter smiles. “It’s important to listen to all of the band members’ sounds. I always try to think of all the elements when I’m playing. Concerning my guitar sound, I try to reduce the gain and keep the peak in the middle and high frequencies.
When we practice the songs, we always make it“, Hizaki adds. “The synthesizer parts always tend to be gathering into midi arrangements, so I try to be attentive of those in terms of my phrasing.
An additional problem for many Japanese bands is that they can’t take all of their equipment with them to Europe. Amplifiers are rented, but every member at least takes his own instrument with him. “And I’m taking my sticks and pedals with me. And my love for Versailles“, Yuki states. “I’m considering taking a Fractal Audio system with me“, Hizaki thinks aloud.
When asked if they would ever like to play with an actual orchestra, everyone answers affirmatively. “Of course“, Yuki continues. “It’s one of my biggest dreams.” “Please organize it!“, Hizaki begs.

Connected
One can’t think of contemporary visual kei without thinking of Versailles. At least as much attention as they put into their music will also go into their flamboyant clothing, hairdos and album covers. “What do you like more?“, Kamijo asks. “A wonderful movie without images or a beautiful movie with images?
The music and the visual aspect are inseparably connected to each other“, agrees Teru, himself a graphic designer. “The artistic value of the music can be increased by this combination. I am proud of visual kei, but I don’t want to be too occupied with trying to fit that genre or category. I only go forward with what I like and what I think is beautiful.
And there’s another mission for Versailles: bringing the visual kei audiences and the metal audiences together. “There is a barrier between them higher than the highest frontier“, Kamijo states. “We are there to destroy this barrier.
The band is not interested in ever making music without the visual aspect. “Impossible“, they collectively say. “My spirit is always in heavy metal“, Hizaki continues. “But I can’t feel any attraction towards artists who neglect their appearance.
Only Yuki leaves the door slightly ajar. “I think we and our audience would still like our music“, he says. “Otherwise we would have never started doing this. But I do think that it adds an element with which you can tell the listener more than with just the music.
And how do the guys stay fresh and inspired after playing together for so long? “By stimulating each other to become better“, Kamijo resolutely says. Masashi agrees: “We all evolve together with the other members.” “It’s simply interesting to work with the music of other people than myself“, Hizaki concludes.

Versailles’ ‘Renaissance’ tour travels to the following venues in early 2017:

January 26th: Teatr Club, Moscow, Russia
January 27th: Gloria, Helsinki, Finland
January 29th: O2 Islingron Academy, London, England
February 1st: Zeche, Bochum, Germany
February 2nd: Hybrydy, Warszaw, Poland
February 4th: Salamandra 1, Madrid, Spain
February 5th: La Machine du Moulin Rouge, Paris, France

Interview: The second life of Yoshiki and X Japan


Last week, I had the chance to speak to Japanese X Japan’s drummer, pianist and band leader – and visual kei superstar – Yoshiki. He was in Amsterdam to promote the new documentary about his band, ‘We Are X’. What follows here is a translation of the article I have written in Dutch for The Sushi Times. If you can read Dutch, I would strongly recommend you to read the original version right here. All pictures are courtesy of Drafthouse Films.

Since their breakthrough in the mid-eighties, X Japan became one of the biggest and most influential bands in Japan. How big? That goes well beyond what we can imagine, but the brand new documentary ‘We Are X’ now also gives the rest of the world a look into the crazy and at times dramatic history of the band. Prior to the showing at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), we spoke to drummer, pianist and band leader Yoshiki about the past and the future of X Japan.

The vast majority of the thirty million albums that X Japan sold went over the counter in Japan. That’s why it may seem strange that ‘We Are X’ is presented to the whole world, but the history of the band is at times stranger than some fiction. Not only was the band there for the genesis of the extravagant visual kei scene and does Yoshiki possess an enormous archive with spectacular pictures, according to director Stephen Kijak, but with a singer who left the band under the influence of a cult leader and two dubious suicides among their band members, the band had to endure its share of drama.
My agent in America approached me to do a documentary a couple of years ago, because the story is crazy“, Yoshiki explains. “But I said: no way, it’s too painful for me to even revisit my memories, that kind of nightmare. But eventually, people around me started convincing me that the story of X Japan may help people.
The timing seems ideal, because there’s a new album coming; their first in twenty years. ‘We Are X’ seems like the perfect way to promote the band’s new international ambitions. According to the band leader himself, this is a coincidence: “We didn’t have any plan anyway. Everything has happened organically and naturally. Coincidentally, the film is going to be out when we are about to finish the album. We have one show already scheduled at Wembley Arena on March 4th, 2017. That could be the beginning of a new world tour. I’m actually talking about it.

Miracle

That album was supposed to be release early this year. However, the release was slowed down due to unforeseen circumstances, among which serious health issues for guitarist Pata. “He is fully recovered“, Yoshiki reassures. “It’s almost a miracle. I thought he was not going to survive. Early this year, we were actually recording in Los Angeles with our vocalist and our guitar player – Toshi and Sugizo – when we heard the knews that Pata was in ICU. I said: can I talk to him? But they said: no, nobody can even talk to him. I tried to find out how bad it was.
His doctor said that he’s conscious, but he’s not eating anything. He didn’t know if he was going to survive. A few weeks later, I finally talked to Pata. I asked him if he would fully recover, but he didn’t even know. That took several months. We stopped recording, but at some point, we had to move on. There is a song Sugizo and I played his parts to.

Meanwhile, the as of yet untitled album is almost finished. “The recording part is nearly done“, Yoshiki states. “There’s a few more piano parts left, but otherwise, the drums, guitars and vocals for every single song are done. It’s going to be really edgy. There’s going to be some heavy songs, some ballads as well. We don’t want to be just repeating the same thing. So I’ll say it’s a new era of X Japan.
While Yoshiki was the main composer in the heyday of the band, he was often supported by guitarist hide and bassist Taiji, both of whom have passed away in the meantime. “There is an amazing song on it from our new guitar player Sugizo“, he explains. “So not the whole album is written by me, but the majority is.

Self expression

In their early days, X Japan – still under the name X at the time – was there for the birth of the visual kei scene, known for their flamboyant outfits and hairdos and a complete disregard for musical boundaries. “I came from a classical background“, Yoshiki explains. “When I was playing Beethoven or Mozart, it was all about how you could get close to what Beethoven or Mozart was thinking. I thought that was cool too, but I wanted to create something of my own. When I found rock, I thought: this is complete freedom, you can do anything. Complete freedom for describing yourself. When we started playing live, we played punk rock, heavy metal and soft ballads. Then all the critics told us we had to decide on one direction. I was shocked; I thought rock meant that you could do anything.
As a result, we couldn’t belong anywhere. When we were playing club shows, we were having a hard time finding other bands to play with. Nobody wanted to play with X, because they couldn’t categorize us. We just kept doing what we wanted and eventually the audience started growing. Visual kei doesn’t have to be one specific sound, it’s more like a freedom of how you can express yourself.

In Japan, there is very little overlap between the visual kei audience and the “regular” metal audience. Much to Yoshiki’s joy, there is an overlap in Europe: “When we toured Europe in 2011, both audiences came. I think that’s really cool. I live in America; when you go to Ozzfest or something, there are the heavy metal people, but when you go to a visual kei band, there are really cool fashinable Japanese Harajuku people or animation cosplayers. I love both of them. The cool thing about X Japan shows is that we have both kinds of people coming. We enjoy that.

Nightmare

X Japan’s rush was ended quite abruptly in the mid-nineties when singer Toshi announced he would play his last show with the band on New Year’s Eve of 1997. He claimed no longer being able to get any satisfaction from his rock star existence, but later admitted being pressured by the leader of the Home Of Heart cult. His departure meant the end of the band and less than half a year later, the immensely popular guitarist hide died. Officially by suicide, but people close to him suspect that it was an accident.
According to many, the death of hide also meant the end of visual kei. “Everybody died when hide died“, Yoshiki agrees. “I died as well. I don’t remember that time that much, because I was kind of blacked out. I didn’t even want to be in this world. I think you can say that the entire scene kind of died, but the younger generation of bands kept going with the visual kei spirit. I actually should thank them; because of a lot of new bands, we kind of woke up several years later and realized that visual kei is not only a one-time thing.
In the late nineties, Dir En Grey came to my studio in Los Angeles, where we were recording a part of their first album. At that time, I couldn’t even talk about X Japan without crying. After hide passed away, I didn’t even want to touch the subject. But Dir En Grey were talking about going to see X Japan shows. Kaoru, their guitar player, loved hide and Shinya, their drummer, complimented my performances. I couldn’t avoid the X Japan subject. Actually, I started thinking of doing something on my own – not even with X Japan, but a new band or something – when I started producing Dir En Grey.

Break

Remarkable in ‘We Are X’ is the large amount of attention for the physical pain Yoshiki has caught due to years of headbanging and playing with the wrong technique. According to Yoshiki himself, he’s been suffering that pain “pretty much from the get-go”. “In the beginning, I didn’t think of drums as a musical instrument“, he explains. “When my father took his own life, I was so angry, I was breaking things, punching the wall and everything. So when my mother bought me a drum set, I was basically punching drums. Kicking drums. When people saw me doing this, they said: Yoshiki, your body is going to break if you keep playing like this. I didn’t care. I had so much pain inside, I almost wanted to do something physically to compensate for my mental pain.
Many years and several surgeries later, he is still playing. Hard. “When hide died, I died“, he emphasizes once again. “But our fans around the world actually kept supporting us. Almost unconditionally. So basically, I still exist because of our fans. Our fans gave us a second life, a asecond chance. So I just want to thank them. And for me to thank them, I just have to keep on rocking, keep on breaking all those walls. We don’t have a specific plan, but I hope that the show at the Wembley Arena will be the beginning of a world tour.

Album of the Week 45-2016: Gargoyle – Furebumi


If you think Japanese music is weird, this album – or this band, for that matter – isn’t going to change your mind. When I discovered it, however, it provided me with something that I had been looking for a long time: the guitar riffs and intensity of thrash metal combined with a complete lack of inhibitions regarding experimenting with other styles. While the basis is always thrash metal with – more prominently in recent years – power metal melodicism, there’s hints of funk, J-rock, a sometimes punky attitude, Japanese folk influences and a singer who, despite sounding like a rabid dog, always delivers something memorable.

‘Furebumi’ is Gargoyle’s first masterpiece. While ‘Misogi’ was a better debut than many bands can even dream of today, their sophomore record upped the ante in many ways. First and foremost, this is where Katsuji becomes one of Japan’s best drummers. From the vicious blasting in ‘Dilemma’ to the snare rolling madness of ‘Execute’, there was absolutely no better drummer for fast paced music in Japan. His double bass patterns also show massive improvement. Besides that, Gargoyle’s first truly progressive tendencies can be heard on this record. And it’s worth noting that they are ridiculously good for a first attempt.

Opening track ‘Ruika ~Prologue~ / Ounou No Goku’ convinced me of Gargoyle’s greatness right away. The prologue itself morphs from a Japanese folk composition – something also apparent in the downright brilliant outro ‘Ruika ~Epilogue~’ quite logically – into a high intensity thrash metal song with amazing twin guitar melodies. And that’s only the beginning. ‘Halleluyah’, ‘Algolagnia’, ‘Dilemma’, closer ‘Shoumetsu’ and the one minute scorcher ‘Execute’ are all set to destroy everything that dares to stand in their way. The contrast between She-ja’s crushing riffs and his melodically strong lead guitar work gives these songs a longer lasting value than many other thrash songs from the era, as does Toshi’s creative bass work.

But Gargoyle doesn’t just thrash. Initially, I found the upbeat punk metal of ‘Tokimeki’ an odd choice as the second track of the record, but its high tempo and memorable songwriting quickly made it one of my favorites. And then there’s the slow, atmospheric “doom prog” of ‘Ruten No Yo Nite’. The high-pitched female vocals may throw some people off, but it’s a brilliantly constructed song full of interesting riffs and even a violin solo that became the mould that would shape practically every longer Gargoyle track in the future. ‘Naidzukushi’ is a funk rocker and while there aren’t any ballads this time around, the dreamy atmosphere among the heavier riffs of ‘Tell Me True’ provide a more than decent alternative.

While ‘Misogi’ was very promising, ‘Furebumi’ paved the way for a string of classic albums. It’s where all the potential that Gargoyle had was fully realized for the first time and save for a minor dip around the turn of the century, they have somehow managed to maintain their interesting take on thrash metal for almost three decades now. If you are curious about what this weird, but indescribably awesome band is about, ‘Furebumi’ may not be the worst place to start. ‘Tenron’ may be broader in scope and ‘Tsuki No Toge’ may be just a tad more consistent, but it is most certainly a monumental record.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ruika ~Prologue~ / Ounou No Goku’, ‘Ruten No Yo Nite’, ‘Tokimeki’

Interview: Yama-B’s expressions of his own worlds


When exploring Japanese music, I encountered a lot of bands that I liked musically, but seemed to lack something in the vocal department. One of the first singers who really blew me away was former Galneryus and current Gunbridge singer Yama-B. A true powerhouse with an incredible range. These days, he supports guitar heroes Kelly Simonz and Iron-Chino, whilst still leading Gunbridge and his solo project Rekion. For a project I’m working on, Yama-B and I had an extremely pleasant conversation about his musical background, but also his plans for the future.

Our drummer Hideki left Gunbridge, but we have a new drummer called Tommy. In a few weeks, our bassist Naoya, who joined us after Toshiyuki left, will leave as well. I really want to get a good bassist, but if we can’t find one, I will play bass and sing. Also, I joined a charity project called Ana – Metal For Charity, lead by Marius Danielsen, the vocalist for Darkest Sins from Norway. I already finished recording my parts, so the newest song should be released in the near future.

You sing in surprisingly good English, but your work with Rekion is all in Japanese. What makes you decide in what language a song should be?

First, let me explain the difference between Gunbridge and Rekion. Gunbridge exists so I can express my Heavy Metal music, as European and American bands have inspired me to do. I wanted to have this big band sound, like the music I heard when I was a young boy. That’s why I sing in English in Gunbridge.
Rekion, on the other hand, is a very personal project. Rekion is not meant to be played by a band. The sound and lyrics come from the bottom of my heart and express my inner space. It’s much more introspective and therefore, I need to write the lyrics in Japanese. I prioritize musical themes in Gunbridge and personal insistence in Rekion.

So when you started to get serious with music, you were listening to western bands?

There is no doubt that I was influenced by European and American bands. My parents liked classical music and western popular music, so we usually checked the American hit charts. Many Heavy Metal bands were in the charts at that time. It was a great age, I think (laughs). I was fifteen years old at the time and truly inspired by Heavy Metal music.

Did your parents’ love for classical music influence your somewhat operatic singing style?

My mother was an operatic soprano who practiced her skills through personal lessons. I was very curious, so I always asked her: hey mom, how was today’s lesson? (laughs) That’s how I learned my vocal techniques from when I was fifteen to when I was about twenty years old.

Your music has brought you to Europe. How different are European shows from Japanese shows?

There really isn’t that much of a difference between Europe and Japan. My memories of Europe are very positive. Everything was handled very professionally and very politely. That was very comfortable for us. I like the European audiences, because they always make a lot of noise during the shows. That’s very powerful for me! Their screaming makes me excited. Japanese people are very quiet, you know? (laughs)

Japan is well known for its Visual Kei scene. Is there still so much animosity between that scene and the Heavy Metal scene?

Both scenes are still very separate. Visual Kei audiences don’t see Heavy Metal musicians, because Metal musicians aren’t cool to them. And Heavy Metal fans don’t like Visual Kei, because they think Visual Kei musicians get a huge fan base without any musical effort. In my opinion, they are both wrong. There are many cool musicians in Heavy Metal bands and there are many great players in the Visual scene. For example, mr. Syu, the guitarist, played in a Visual Kei band before we formed Galneryus. Also, Issy and Hayato, both guitarists in Gunbridge, played in Visual Kei bands before Gunbridge. There’s a part in both scenes where there is no border. Dir En Grey is very heavy and I feel there is a deep musical effort there. Do you know Versailles? Very progressive! Their music is very cool, I think.”

How important is the visual aspect for a “non-visual” musician like yourself?

I don’t need strange make-up, but I do think we have to dress up and decorate the stage to express our own world, our inner space, when we play on stage. With Gunbridge, we decorate the stage with some flags and a large backdrop. We like to make that effort.

You are known to be a big anime fan and can even be heard on a few soundtracks. What is it that makes anime and Heavy Metal work so well together?

Both express a world of their own with extreme deformation.

What artists inspire you these days?

These days, I don’t listen to cd’s much anymore. My friends, musicians I work with on stage or in the studio inspire me. I get a lot of encouragement from them. Kelly Simonz from Blind Faith or Iron-Chino from Iron Attack! and Lightning, for instance. They are great as composers, players and band leaders. Also, my best friend and great senior Eizo Sakamoto, from Aisenshi, Eizo Japan and previously in Animetal and Anthem.

Album of the Week 08-2016: Merry – Peep Show


When I was exploring the many bands that comprise the Japanese Rock scene, Merry quickly became one of my favorites. Why? Because the country is full of bands imitating the bigger acts, while Merry has a strange, but appealing sound that is truly and uniquely their own. Shreds of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Punk, Jazz, Metal and Blues come together to forge a sound that is distinctly retro, but nonetheless highly original. Count to that the fact that their visual act is better thought out than just “look at us, we’re sexy vampires from the future!” and you’ve got a winning combination.

‘Peep Show’ was the first Merry album I listened to due to its relatively easy availability in Europe and it’s still quite likely my favorite, because it highlights the more melodic and catchy side of the band. Aside from ‘PLTC’, the heavy and aggressive side of the band is downplayed considerably here. That doesn’t mean the record isn’t energetic. On the contrary; it’s quite impossible to not be if you’ve got one of the wildest drummers of the country in Nero. Also, the tempos are generally high. It’s just that the strong retro aspect allows the record to shine in the songwriting department.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the beginning of the record; after the nice bombastic horns of the titular intro track follows what is quite likely the best succession of three songs on any Merry record. ‘Kyousou Carnival’ does a great job of introducing the album’s sound of high velocity, but not too distorted guitars courtesy of Kenichi and Yuu and swinging rhythms, after which ‘Sentimental Newpop’ – with its wonderfully teasing lead guitar theme and intense chorus – and the highly infectious ‘Sayonara Ame (Rain)’ – with its unforgettable chorus and brilliantly accented rhythm – perfect it.

Don’t get the impression the album is frontloaded though. The rest of the album is filled with Merry greatness. ‘Kousou Bilu No Ue De Last Dance’, ‘Mado Kara Nigeta Love Song’ and the two ‘Peep Show’ interludes feel like restaurant Jazz on steroids, ‘Bluescat’ feels like an old school swing single played at 45 RPM, ‘Retro Future’ and ‘Ringo To Uso’ beg to be sung along and closing track ‘Mousou Rendez-Vous’ ups the intensity to remind you to put on the record again. All of this with what is likely the best vocal performance I have ever heard out of Gara.

Merry is truly something else. I’m not just saying that to emphasize their quality, but rather to emphasize their uniqueness. There’s really no other band that sounds like Merry and therefore, it’s sort of hard to describe their sound even after hearing it. But a fact is that it’s good. What I especially appreciate is that their approach is a little wilder than the relatively measured approach that is common for Japanese bands. Really any release of theirs is worth your time, but while I commend the band for their continuous experimentation, ‘Peep Show’ is definitely the record that has all their strengths at the front.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sayonara Ame (Rain)’, ‘Sentimental Newpop’, ‘Bluescat’