Visual Kei

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I was recently asked to contribute to a book known as The Dig showcasing Japanese metal. I was initially approached by veteran journalist Takashi Kanazawa for an interview offering up one person’s western world view on Japanese bands, but he decided to take it up a level and asked me to compose an actual article. Published exclusively in Japan by Shinko Music, the issue came out at the end of June. The original English text is below.

Die-hard Japanese metal fans may be put off by the fact that I only mention some of the most popular / best known bands. Note that if I’d been given the space the story would have been a lot longer, and I would have paid worthy attention to many of the Japanese bands that fly below international radar a lot of the time. Fact is that Loudness, Anthem, EZO and X Japan were the building blocks for my interest in the Japanese metal scene; this is a story about that.

I am by no means an authority on Japanese metal, so take this as one fan’s tribute to that scene.

By Carl Begai

My love affair with Japanese heavy metal began as it did for the vast majority of western world metalheads: Loudness.

It was 1986, and during an episode of the weekly Power Hour on MuchMusic (Canada’s answer to MTV) the band’s video for their new song ‘Let It Go’ was aired for the first time. I was immediately enthralled. Everything about the song was magic – the guitar riff, the vocals, the melodies, the solos – and I wanted more. The next day I bought the cassette version of the Lightning Strikes album from Sam The Record Man in downtown Toronto and, during the drive home, I was introduced to a band that captivates me to this day.

loudness

Hell, it was because of ‘Let It Go’ that I decided I wanted to learn how to play guitar. After over 25 years of practice I can almost play the whole song. Almost.

It was the purchase of Loudness’ Disillusion album several weeks later, however, that made me a Japanese metal addict for life. I found the vinyl LP at the Record Peddler import store, unaware the band’s label Music For Nations had pressed Japanese and English language versions of the record. I didn’t realize until I put it on at home that I’d picked up the Japanese version. It was the strangest and most amazing thing I’d ever heard. As a Canadian I come from one of the most culturally enriched countries in the world, yet the exposure I’d had to Japanese at that point in my life never prepared me for the metal blasting out of my stereo. Everything about it was unique to my ears, and so damn heavy. Even the ballad. I was amazed, and I must have played it 100 times in the first month.

From the moment I dropped the needle on the record I was hooked, and the hunt began… Continue Reading

Some loud and obnoxious activity in and coming out of Japan these days; check out the rundown below. And for the record, we finish things off with an exclusive X Japan-related history lesson…

Veteran bashers Anthem are gearing up for the release of their new album, Heraldic Device, due to hit shelves (yes, I still have a record store mentality) in July. Fans outside Japan can pre-order it here. This marks the band’s 14th studio album since 1985 and in reportedly in the vein as their last few records. So, no big surprises, but a guarantee of quality shred.

Click here for the complete tracklist and the band’s tour schedule for Japan. No word as to whether Heraldic Device will receive an official release outside Japan, but it’s doubtful considering they haven’t had one since No Smoke Without Fire in 1990.

X Japan are due to release their first ever internationally distributed single, ‘Jade’, on June 28th in all available digital formats. Live recordings of the song have been plastered all over YouTube for months, and I believe a rough studio mix is floating around as well, but a properly mixed sample of ‘Jade’ is now available at this location. The song is the precursor to X Japan’s full length international debut, which is still a work in progress at the moment.

In the meantime, check out my interview with drummer / founder Yoshiki, conducted in the fall last year, available in two parts here and there.
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minstrelixgroupBy Carl Begai

The sleepy town of Topping, Virginia – population 1,766 if you believe the internet – is the last place you’d expect to find the singer of a neo-classical metal band. And you won’t because she’s been calling Osaka, Japan home since 2006, much to the benefit of self-styled “dramatic metal” shredders MinstreliX. Founded in 2004, the band cut a limited run four-song single with former vocalist Leo Figaro only to have things fall apart two years later, forcing the search for a new singer. Enter Lola, former resident of a U.S. town so small Google Earth has issues finding it, living and working in Japan with absolutely no designs on joining a band. Or standing on a stage, for that matter. New environments often bring with them changes both necessary and inspired, however, and when fate threw an unexpected opportunity to join MinstreliX at Lola she took it.
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