X Japan

All posts tagged X Japan

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

By Carl Begai

Call it irony at its finest when a band called United can lay dubious claim to 14 line-up changes over the course of their career. Then again, that career has lasted 30 years, and 2011 saw the band cough up what is considered even by their toughest critics to be their strongest album to date. Proof, perhaps, that everything happens for a reason… especially if the band’s rehearsal room comes equipped with a revolving door.

“I don’t think there’s any specific secret to why we’ve been around this long, but one thing I can say for sure is I’m the #1 fan of United myself,” says bassist and manager Akihiro Yokoyama, who has been a part of the band since 1983. “To be honest, I didn’t expect it would last this long when I joined the band (laughs). Replacing singers would usually bring a major change to a band’s sound, but as far as we’re concerned I think that’s never been the case because the three of us in the string section (featuring Yoshifumi ‘Hally’ Yoshida and Singo Otani on guitars) have been playing together for 20 years. Just with the three playing together, it naturally produces the United sound.”

Like any band with three decades under its belt, United have had their highs and lows, moving in unexpected – in some cases, unpopular – musical directions to keep things fresh for themselves. And, on some level, to justify their existence on a changing music scene, as was the case in the late ’90s.

“In the early days, we used to play pretty authentic heavy metal influenced by Judas Priest, as you can see from the name of the band. But the guitar player at that time was also into hardcore punk, so we were naturally going for more extreme direction. What we call thrash metal came into the scene shortly after that, and I think the basic musical direction of the band was established around that time. As time went by, we started listening to broader styles of music, wanted to pursue dark and heavy sound like Pantera, Korn or Tool, and made albums like Reload (’97) and Distorted Vision (’99). I don’t think they were in the realm of thrash metal. The experimental trials ended up not as cool as we had wanted, and we realized we weren’t skillful enough to do those kind of cheap tricks, so we returned to where we knew we belonged (laughs). Our new album is the heaviest and the fastest album in the entire history of United.” 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.
Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Anyone who has spent time trolling around the metal world in recent years is aware of the Visual Kei movement. Consult the know-it-all realm of Wikipedia for a detailed description of what it entails, but in a nutshell Visual Kei is a full-on music-meets-image subculture out of Japan. Call it the Asian answer to the North American ‘80s glam rock / metal scene, only darker yet somehow even more flamboyant, with a hell of a lot more staying power. Unlike the Western world’s short run of guys-with-guitars-will-be-girls, which was snuffed out with the rise of Seattle’s grunge scene, Visual Kei’s origins date back to the birth of a “little” band called X in 1982, taking root in earnest with their 1989 breakthrough. With the recent international rise of countrymen Dir En Grey, Visual Kei migrated from Japan, going from foreign oddity to audio/visual trend in only a few short years.

Admittedly, I had no intention of tackling the subject. Introduced to X in 1993, I was blown away by their music and image, and they became a regular spin on my stereo. There was also a certain amount of I-know-something-you-don’t-know elitist pride in that the band was a non-entity to the general metal population. Fellow metalhead / co-conspirator The Rev and I had several conversations about the band at the time, agreeing that if North American labels had been aware of X’s existence (better known these days as X Japan) the band would have been signed in a heartbeat. Not that they ever needed a foreign record label to gain an international fan following or lay claim to millions of units sold.

Fast forward to 2010 and the Japanese melodic death metal band Blood Stain Child. Four albums young and working on a fifth, they made the surprise move of adding a female vocalist by the name of Sophia to their line-up. Adding to the unexpected news, she hailed from Greece and had an in-your-face Visual Kei look about her. Curiosity led to correspondence, which eventually turned into the opportunity for some unique insight on what is widely regarded as a cultural phenomenon.

A resident of Japan since August 2010, Sophia reveals she’s always had a focus on her current home. Her ongoing love affair with Visual Kei took hold long before she made the move.

“I grew up with Japanese pop culture and I’ve had a strange attraction towards Japan ever since I was a kid,” she reveals. “My mom used to buy me lots of Japanese stuff, take me and my brothers to Asian cuisine restaurants, and encouraged us to start practicing martial arts. Hey, even my first LP was a My Melody song collection (laughs). Moving to Japan came as a natural thing for everybody who knows even a little about me. I’ve always wanted it. The reasons are many, but the catalytic factor was, of course, Blood Stain Child.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Meguro Live Station, Tokyo – March 26th, 2010

026As first impressions go bassist Taiji Sawada and his new band, Taiji With Heaven’s, made it clear with their live debut that they mean business. Dubbed The Birthday Eve – with a tip of the hat to Loudness – what could have come off as a desperate attempt to cash in on Sawada’s past turned out to be an intimate introduction to a band with the ability to dominate on the merit of its own work.

On the strength of their self-titled debut EP and the expectation of a surprise or two based on Sawada’s 25 year career – his past with X, Loudness, D.T.R. and Cloud Nine offering a wealth of extras to choose from – Taiji With Heaven’s played host to a full house of only 250 diehard fans. I would have hedged bets on a larger venue given Sawada rose to fame with X back in the ‘80s – a band that racked up album sales of over 20 million – and remains a revered musician in Japan, but this new outing has been very low key from the outset. The show, on the other hand, was anything but quiet… Continue Reading

x_japan_-_blue_bloodFrom where I sit one of the more mind-boggling cock-ups in metal is how North American and European labels managed to miss the boat completely on a band that was selling out multi-thousand seaters and large arenas in Japan two albums into their career. Particularly when folks like Mr. Moneybags himself, KISS merch / PR god Gene Simmons, was trolling around Japan in the late ‘80s looking for new talent and scooped up the far less popular metal punks Flatbacker (better known as EZO in the years that followed). Can’t blame the pass on the fact most of X’s songs were executed in Japanese either, given the early ‘80s international success of a little export called Loudness. And it’s not like X were a trendy new thing, having built up a loyal following at home since 1982. Me, I didn’t clue in until ’93, when my best friend handed me a tape of a band he’d discovered out of the blue and suggested I check them out. This was the album, and I couldn’t help but wonder how the hell they slipped beneath my radar and that of my favourite import record stores. Continue Reading