I’ve loved Japanese music for fifteen years, but except for Asian Kung-Fu Generation, that affinity never really made its way south of anime heaven.1 Rank-and-file melodeath like Blood Stain Child and Gyze pale next to foreign counterparts thanks to lesser execution, if not always lesser vision, and the specter of Japan’s inescapable demon, Ear-Guro. But the best that the Land of the Rising Sun can bring to the table, accomplished legends like Galneryus, Boris, and Sigh, ride in a palanquin borne by the dual tenets of Japanese metal: diligent virtuosity and off-the-walls eclecticism. With their second album, Awakening, Asu no Jokei represent a growing Japanese post-black scene that would claim those poles and topple their betters to the dirt.
The excellence of “Spring of Passion” immediately sets Awakening apart. Verdant acoustics and lush bass cede their brightness to the smothering of a harsh reality. Sunlight fades in an instant and reappears just as quickly as guitars breathe a volcanic miasma in and out. It’s quality in quantity. Nuno’s grief-stricken wails threaten the bleating of
Goat Ghost Bath, but his presence is not nearly as oppressive and omnipresent. Instead, he ranges into grinding barks, vicious screams, and the discomfiting sanity of spoken word. The last can jar, especially when coupled with Nuno’s poor cleans on the mostly spoken “Ugly Mask,” but at least it illustrates Asu no Jokei‘s resistance to the norm. I can honestly say I’ve never heard a post-black (or any black) band attempt something similar.
I expected the album’s screwball aspects to take a cue from oddball contemporary Sumeragi, but Asu no Jokei spiral from one unexpected turn to the next in the same eye-blazing intensity as Bosse-de-Nage. The schizophrenic dice-roll at play here establishes no expectations, allotting “Chain” a midnight chill, “Double Quotation Mark” a head-snapping groove, and “Bashfulness of the Moon” the lengthy mix of foreboding and urgency that so perfectly embodies Awakening. At all times, you know something big is coming; saying what, though, is impossible.
But for all the excellence housed in Awakening, it’s “Thin Ice” that lingers long after you’ve closed your eyes. Asu no Jokei imbue in their closer the kind of well-rooted sadness that eats at any nascent hope struggling to manifest in your heart. Toriki’s night-and-day riffs dig a bit deeper, Saitoh’s skins crackle and pop with even more post fervor, and by the end, with the ballistic black metal and haunting howls boiled down to a single, somber acoustic passage, it can be hard to look away.
Awakening probably isn’t for everyone—the trve might find it too Sacred Son, the sunbathers might find it too scary, and the rest of you just like to complain. But for those that find Awakening within their wheelhouse, welcome. Asu no Jokei might not yet be post-black household names, at least not in the circles this wvrm runs in, but perhaps that’s not long in the offing. With metal this good and a band this serious about success, it is only a matter of time.
Tracks to Check Out: “Chain,” “Bashfulness of the Moon,” and “Thin Ice”