AMG’s Unsigned Band Rodeö: Asu no Jokei – Island

Back in the primordial days of this here blog, we attempted something called “AMG’s Unsigned Band Rodeö.” The basic idea was to select a bunch of unsigned bands and give them the collective review treatment to find the most worthy buried gems. It was our humble effort to remind folks that the metal underground is still an important part of the world of metal.

After our first round of the newly ignited Rodeö, you, our lovely1 audience, weren’t thrilled with the carefully constructive yet categorically critical thrashing we thrust upon the unassuming island of Sardinia.2 Well, just like the US-of-A did back in the good ol’ days, we’ve moved our reckoning from a focus on the spaghetti-slinging nation to an Island of a different sort: Japan. 明日の叙景 (Asu no Jokei)3 hail from the land of ramen, anime, and music that’s often alien or just simply hard to get ahold of for a Western audience. Thankfully, these fine folk make it easy to support them by hosting all their work on Bandcamp, which is not a luxury provided by many bands from that region. Our very own Dr. Wvrm ensured that back in 2018, you did not miss their debut full-length. Now, after four years, two splits, an EP, and absolutely charming cover art, will their sophomore outing, Island warm the icy hearts of our frigid staff with their Envy-meets-Celeste take on blackgaze?

El Cuervo: As is the case for much of the post- and atmo-black scene, Asunojokei makes me feel a whole lot of nothing at all. It features a not atypical blend of furious blackened passages and those that shimmer with walls of shoegaze. Island boasts some variation from this formula with its hardcore-inflected vocals and an occasional passage that resembles the levity and pace of mathcore, but the urgent vocals do little for me with their one-note delivery and the mathcore is fairly minor. It also has a stronger “emo” feel than most of its sub-genre competitors, exhibiting an emotional tone that I would describe as “teenage angst.” I enjoy Island more when a triumphant edge occasionally breaks through the angsty intensity, such as on the mid-record one-two punch of “Footprints” and “Diva Under the Blue Sky.” But these tracks don’t overcome a majority that impotently passes by when the music is playing, leaving little impact on me.  2.0/5.0

Dr. Wvrm: I last left Asu no Jokei (the one-word stylization makes as much sense as the stylized translation of Scenesoftomorrow—fuck that) quite enamored with their brand of blackgaze, and not just because I’m a fucking weeb.4 The Japanese quartet had a strong sense of self that has only further congealed on Island. The stark brightness in their riffs stops short of the ethereal adrenaline of Astronoid but is no less effective at lighting up the room instantly, as on album highlights “Chimera” and “Diva Under the Blue Sky.” Asu no Jokei are also incredibly adept at allowing prolonged exposure to that brightness turn to heat (“The Forgotten Ones”). However, when neither of those elements is in control, the result can be boom or bust. A few tracks come across as interchangeable, especially on the back half of the record. While out-of-nowhere chill jazz vibes or summery interludes rarely fail to elevate the overall song — Asu no Jokei‘s ability to shift gears is incredible—they aren’t the main focus. The record itself is still a delight, but with fifteen minutes fewer on the spin, I suspect the vibe around here would be a bit more positive. 3.5/5.0

TheKenWord: Asunojokei haven’t been on my radar up till now, but I’ve heard plenty of buzz about their sparkly take on post-black metal J-gaze over the past few years. With their new album, Island, I finally understand what the hype was about. From the airy and straightforward “Heavenward” to the bouncy “Chimera” and “Diva Under the Sky,” there’re plenty of joyous and carefree vibes to keep my brain happy and my body groovin’. There’s also a nuanced loneliness to this record, as evidenced in their longer pieces (like “The Sweet Smile of Vortex” and the gorgeous “Footprints”) that affords Island an emotional depth that’s been sorely absent in recent outings by similar bands, like Astronoid and Deafheaven. Whether I found it in beautifully minimalist guitarwork or vivacious percussion or lounge-y passages, a sense of adventure and expansiveness pervades my experience with Asunojokei. There are hiccups, of course, as any proper adventure in the real world also inevitably presents. In this case, Island is perhaps ten minutes too long and leaves this listener a tad weary from the journey, rather than invigorated for another trip. Cutting the last couple of tracks, which I feel are weaker than most of the preceding material, would’ve helped. At the end of the day, though, I’m happy with the time I spent on this Island, and I look forward to coming back when I need another seaside reprieve. 3.5/5.0

Doom_et_Al: You know when you buy a packet of mixed jellybeans, and you enjoy most of the flavors, but there are a few you simply can’t stand, and there’s simply too many of them and you still eat them all and feel a sugar high but then get a bit sickly? Well, that’s Island by Asunojokei summed up in one sentence. Taking inspiration from DeafheavenAstronoid and any number of punk screamo bands, Island is a blast of pure, joyous screamgaze. There’s an adolescent, positive energy to it which makes it delightfully fun but also somewhat unfocused. A million ideas jostle together and the results are hit-or-miss, depending on which flavor you enjoy. When the band goes all-in on the blackgaze, Island is at its most successful. It’s the other genre attempts that feel unformed and messy. None of this is helped by an album that is too long and tails off dramatically at the end. Lots of promise, but needs refinement. 2.5/5.0

Twelve: I usually approach post-anything with some degree of trepidation, but I have to say, Asunojokei do it well. Flourishes of black metal, hardcore-style aggression, and brushes of shoegaze all come together remarkably well over the fifty-two minutes that is Island. The songs are well-constructed; I love the dramatic flair of “The Forgotten Ones” and the tremolos of “From the Bottom of the Biotope,” but it’s the little details that do it for me—the seemingly-random acoustic sign-off on “Heavenward,” the almost bizarrely lighthearted instrumental of “Gaze,” and the general emotional flair Asunojokei place in their music. At times, the loud, grating guitar tone is a bit much for me, making some parts of the album feel repetitive, but on the whole, it’s hard to complain. A solid work of blackgaze, and something different to boot. 3.0/5.0

Carcharodon: Ostensibly a mix of blackgaze and post-hardcore, Tokyo quartet Asunojokei drip feed various other elements into their sound on sophomore effort Island. Standout track “Chimera” is a prime example of this, as a soaring, almost traditional, guitar lead wholly out of place for either of those genres drops a couple of minutes in. Raging drums and bile-spitting, screamed vocals are the main fare, however, as the guitars circle like hungry sharks, sometimes languidly cruising along, other times lunging into a bloody attack. Feeling something like Deafheaven meets (the much less well-known) Tenue, Island oscillates between dreamy, mood-scapes and a harsh, bright-edged violence that approaches, but never hits, black metal. At times (“Beautiful Name”), there’s a staccato, polyrhythmic nature to some of the material that walks a very fine line between chaos and beauty. On paper, I should love what Asunojokei do but the reality somehow comes up short for me. I have struggled to pin down exactly why but, despite numerous listens in a variety of settings, Island starts and a part of my brain simply switches off. I find it a tiring listen, which feels significantly longer that its already-weighty 52 minutes, at the end of which I am left with no more than a general impression or vague outline of the almost-hour I have just lost. 2.5/5.0

Maddog – Japanese post-black metallers Asunojokei have always had a streak of poppy shoegaze, but their sophomore album makes Sunbather sound like Transilvanian Hunger by comparison. Island imbues blackened riffs with major keys and upbeat rhythms. Miraculously, it rocks. Island impresses with its diversity of styles, racing through post-black metal (“Heavenward”), poppy verses (“Chimera”), Meddle-era Pink Floyd (“​​Tidal Lullaby”), and morose blackened riffs (“The Sweet Smile of Vortex”). Asunojokei weaves these sounds together seamlessly. Highlight “Chimera” uses a dancey tremolo riff as a home base for forays into hard rock soloing and traditional black metal, while “Footprints” guides listeners through triumphant meloblack, gloomy atmospheres, and hopeful blackgaze using variants of a single melody. The intricate beauty of these transitions took me a while to uncover, but it only took one listen to realize that Island is brimming with memorable melodies, tucked away in unexpected corners. The poppy main theme of “Diva under the Blue Sky,” the haunting 5-note closer of “From the Bottom of the Biotope,” and the atmoblack opening of “The Forgotten Ones” infiltrated my brain immediately and have been dutifully paying rent ever since. Island isn’t perfect. Asunojokei‘s genre-bending poppiness requires restraint, and the album’s 52 minutes feel tough to get through in one sitting. The longer songs on its back half especially drag, presenting great ideas but meandering through bland blackgaze in between. Still, Island is an achievement. My 250 words couldn’t possibly do justice to its colorful stylistic and emotional palette. 3.5/5.0

Show 4 footnotes

  1. And equally judgy, if we’re being honest. – Dolph
  2. We’re not sorry though. – Dolph
  3. If I don’t continue to write it with the spaces, Wvrm will stuff my blowhole… even though the band embraces the one-word aesthetic! – Dolph
  4. Riiiiight… – Dolph
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