We all know the lore of how Judas Priest, Deep Purple and KISS made big waves in Japan and inspired the thriving metal scene we see there today. Like any other country, the impact of Black Sabbath was palpable in Japan as well, with the directly attributed subgenres of stoner, sludge and doom metal eventually forming in the country.
The earliest traces of Sabbath worship can be seen in what is believed to be the first recorded cover of a Black Sabbath song, when proto-metal act Flower Travellin’ Band did a cover of “Black Sabbath” for their 1970 album Anywhere. Additionally, Flower Travellin’ Band have had a hand in cultivating the doom metal sound in general, with their album Kirikyogen incorporating a heavily dissonant, low-tuned and slower tempoed guitar style – a menacing tone which would be replicated and embellished by amplifier worshipers throughout Japan and beyond.
Since Flower Travellin’ Band, countless other musicians have plugged in, played slow and recited the Satanic Rites of Drugula. We now take a look at the legendary, current, and brand-new acts who sit at the dope throne inside the Shinto shrine.
Church of Misery
If you thought Macabre and Necrophagia were the only bands of quality who dabbled in serial killer and horror film mythos, lend your ears to the unholy congregation at this church. Formed in 1995, Church of Misery take a lot from that humid, marshy NOLA sound, and at times, I forget that I amnot listening to a Down record – there are certainly some Anselmo vibes in the vocal delivery, while the music is that not-quite 70s sounding, muscled up, bong-filled-to-the brim Electric Wizard type of sludge. It is difficult to pick a favorite album or song, as anyone with any interest in both doom metal and serial killers will find a lot to love here. Their bassist Tatsu Mikami has been the sole constant member in their line-up, with Church of Misery having as many ex-guitarists as Richard Ramirez had victims. Load up the pipe and get ready for some sludgy creepy crawling.
Inspired by the famed Melvins sludge masterpiece “Boris” as part of their Bullhead album,Boris formed in 1992, just a year after Bullhead was released, making both that song and this band hallmarks of experimental rock. Composed of drummer Atsuo, guitarist/bassist Takeshi, and guitarist/keyboardist Wata, the three members contribute equally to the diversified collection of songs and albums they have produced. And they have produced quite a bit, with many being masterpieces which sprawl across several genres such as Heavy Rocks, Amplifier Worship andAbsolutego. Boris are not shy about collaborating and pushing their music beyond sludge, drone, stoner or whatever else you’d like to label them, having done work with noise artist Merzbow (together they covered their song namesake on 2R0I2P0), Sunn O))) and guitarist Michio Kurihara.
Another act that grew out of the funky mushroom patch of doom and stoner acts in the early 90s, Nagoya’s Eternal Elysium sprouted up from the sludgy soil of guitarist/vocalist Yukito Okazaki in 1991. Lineup changes were as frequent as pipe replacements for Eternal Elysium, starting with original bassist Atsutoshi Tachimoto and drummer Jiro Murakami leaving after their debut albumFaithful, and continue to this day – though Okazaki’s vision remains lit. Since the 90s, they’ve rolled up some seminal albums including the 2005 doom/psych/acid rock masterpiece Searching Low and High, recorded far from home but in a familiar feeling place – the California desert. Check out the live DVD Wizard's Convention: Japanese Heavy Rock Showcase for songs by Eternal Elysium as well as Church of Misery, Boris and Greenmachine.
You are going to have to sift through thick clouds of bong smoke and building debris to find the members of Corrupted – the elusive legends avoid interviews and publicity, so even adding them in this list may be against their best intentions. “We do not reject all media, or bash writers who express themselves through articles or reviews.” That's a relief. Formed in 1994, they are a misanthropic force which is powered by the riff, playing at an ungodly volume level live. Their cult status has influenced countless other acts, such as Gallhammer, in which Vivian Slaughter was quoted as saying Corrupted are the “greatest band in the world.” Corrupted are unique in that they write most of their lyrics in Spanish. Corrupted – a gloomy sludgathon with the odd acoustic passage used to nestle you in before the rumble. Listen now and keep the legend alive.
Ningen Isu are a band you are most likely aware of, as their video for “Heartless Scat” made the viral rounds recently, introducing over 9 million people to their new favorite Japanese band. Obviously, this was not their first scat around the pit, as the band, named after the horror story by Edogawa Rampo, “human chair,” formed way back in 1987, releasing their first album Ningen Shikkaku in 1990. The fresh faced/ghoul faced at the time band made their presence known in Japan by appearing on a TV show. Their sound is a Sabbath inspired affair which combines literary influences like the aforementioned Rampo as well as Lovecraft, Poe and so on. In 2013 they managed to meet their masters, playing on Ozzfest. Now, Ningen Itsu has finally received the acclaim they deserve, with the Western world embracing the band through reaction videos. Why not give it a few more views to help it get to that 10 million mark?
Mothra goes doom metal. Funeral Moth features ex-Coffins, ex-Psycho To Black, ex-Deathchurch members who have joined forces to make this “extreme doom” outfit. Formed in 2005, the band spread their wings and took to the stage in 2006, before releasing their first EP in 2008, the two-tracked Funeral Moth. By 2015, after releasing their full-length LP Dense Fog, the moth was strong enough to fly outside of Japan, seeing a stop in Taiwan. Listen to their new EP, Polar, and ride the moth into the funeral sky.
An eclectic display of metal percussive instruments are the tools Osaka based experimental sludge band Birushanah employ on stage. The hammered sounds bring a tribal edge to the genre – like a band of concrete jungle natives who have just smoked the secret herb and now want to pound out a sacred ceremony using modern instruments. The band’s sludge and doom influences range fromNeurosis and Swans to fellow countrymen Corrupted, and with their unique clinks and clangs, along with Japanese traditional scale – another notable aspect of their sound, they create something a little different than the usual Iommi worship.
This is hyper doom. Abiuro, meaning “to deny by oath” is one of the murkiest sludge groups to emerge from Japan. Sounding as if the band members and their instruments had just come out of the Shikogabana swamp, Abiuro join the ranks of the new wave of stoner, doom and sludge artists popping up in the country (blackmonday, North by Northwest, Oldemada), many of whom are featured on the Doom Fujiyama compilation album which was recently released. Walk hand in hand with the band through Aokigahara forest and listen to their heavy-as-hell new track “Wounded Land” from The Origin of Hyper Doom.
The new samurai team on the block, Hebi Katana, took advantage of the lengthy downtime during the pandemic last year to bring their vision of a fuzzed out feudal Japan to light – that of “Tokyo Samurai Doom.” From jam sessions to iPhone recordings to debut album, the young trio have certainly done their time in the dojo. Their deep purple colored self-titled debut has riffs as sharp as a katana and is available now on CD and cassette. Step into their proto-doom dojo for Sabbathy songs with Wylde vocals.
This section of the article is about the newer stoner or sludge acts, and at times there isn’t much to say about a band who has one album out – besides recommending them as they “keep the Sabbath dream alive.” Luckily, there is a little bit more to Tokyo based Floaters than just a one-sentence promo. They released their first demo in 2015, followed by two full-length albums, Waiting for Amnesty and Roman Holiday. The drugged-out kaiju artwork by Masato Okano is tubular, and the Fu Manchu-esque music makes you feel like a log going down a river of fuzz. Take a trip to your local river, grab a beer and joint, lay your big hairy body in a rubber inner tube, slap this cassette into your portable radio, and become a little floater yourself.
Electric Funeral – In Remembrance Of:
In this section we pay tribute to a few of the early torchbearers of doom, stoner or sludge who felt it was better to burn out than slowly fade away. First up are Millarca, who were only active for five years in total. The epic doom performed by the Osaka natives was influential enough to build a legacy, even though the band only released three demos during their tenure. They often joined Church of Misery on tour before disbanding and disappearing into the ether.
Belial, Behemoth, Bellzlleb. Back in 1985, members Tetsu and Yuji summoned the occult powers found within the works of Crowley, cult horror films and satanic philosophy to form the black/doom/hardcore hydra Bellzlleb. The ghost faced/inverted cross clutching heretics toured the club circuit extensively during the 1980s and the early 1990s while putting out such staples as Satanic Metal and their self-titled chaos-filled entity of a disc. The band was put to rest in 1992 when Tetsu became disenchanted with the many member changes and felt the band couldn’t sound any better than they had prior.
Like the Melvins and Boris connection, there was also one with Kyuss and Greenmachine. The desert aesthetic certainly influenced many bands, and proved to be big enough in Japan to ignite this doom machine. The Wizard's Convention: Japanese Heavy Rock Showcase DVD features the band alongside other genre legends Boris, Church of Misery and Eternal Elysium. While those bands are still active, disbanding, resurfacing and disbanding again was a trend for Greenmachine until their final show in 2007, in which they released a DVD chronicling it entitled This is the End.
This was a guest post submitted by Ryan Dyer. For Taiwan, Hong Kong or Macau bands, there are additional articles about the artists in these areas for your reading pleasure. Also check out his pieces on Chinese folk metal and Chinese black metal, best metal bands in China and women in the Japanese grind scene.