Onmyo-za

biography - 28.02.2014 11:01

Onmyo-za is Japan's most prominent folk metal band. Through a fusion of aggressive heavy metal and traditional Japanese melodies and vocals, the band seeks to present the balance between darkness and light so prominent in Onmyou magic. With songs inspired by youkai, historical figures, and even manga, Onmyo-za is Japanese metal at its most Japanese.

Onmyo-za formed in Osaka, Japan during 1999 as a four piece group consisting of Matatabi, Kuroneko, Maneki and Karukan. The band debuted at the Osaka Brand New venue on the 20th of June and, on the very same day, the band released their first demo tape titled Tsune ni Gessho Wo Motte Senji ni Kuwa wo Nisshin Inyou Somin. At this early point the band was without a drummer, but Tora was soon recruited as their support drummer.

During the summer and autumn of 1999, the band performed a small number of concerts in and around the Osaka area. By the end of the year Tora had become a full member of the group, but up until that point and on their first album, he is credited as support drummer only. Kikoku Tenshou was released on December 5, 1999 through the Moryo's Box label. Unusual for a first indie release, the CD was a full ten-track album instead of following the typical indies pattern of releasing singles and mini-albums before embarking on a full length album. The band brought their first year to a close by performing at the Shinsaibashi Muse Hall at the End of the Century Chapter 4 event.

The following year was very successful for the band, with a steady stream of live performances, the development of a lively and enthusiastic fan base and Onmyo-za's first one-man show bringing the band both recognition and respect. In August, Onmyo-za's first single, Ouka no Kotowari, was released. The year was crowned with their highly anticipated second full album, Hyakki Ryouran. Both were released on their own label before being re-released on the Mandrake Root label.

By 2001, Onmyo-za was hitting all the high points thanks to their energetic performances, fine musicianship, and tireless enthusiasm. They were soon signed to the major label King Records. Onmyo-za performed their major debut concert at the end of July and, after extensive touring for the remainder of the year, made their major label debut with the single Tsuki ni Murakumo Hana ni Kaze. The year ended with a special session band performance alongside members of progressive metal band Gonon-ish and Uchida Yuuichirou, the bassist of Kinnuku Shoujo-tai.

Onmyo-za's third full album, Koujin Rasetsu, was released on the 10th of January 2002. This was soon followed by the major label re-release of the band's first two albums as well as Fuuin Kairan, which was a compilation album of early rarities and previously unreleased songs. Between the releases came a small number of in-store events to celebrate the many CDs that the band had released in their major label debut year. The band then embarked on their first nationwide tour to great acclaim.

Matatabi, the main song writer of the band, had always mentioned in interviews that he was very fond of the UK metal band Judas Priest, and this was one of the reasons why the band recorded a special cover version (in English) of the Judas Priest song Beyond the Realms of Death for the A Tribute to the Priest album. Previously, the band had recorded Iron Maiden's The Trooper (in English) for another tribute album, A Tribute to the Beast. On both CDs, released in 2002 and 2003, Onmyo-za was the only Japanese band included.

2003 started with the release of their album Houyoku Rindou, followed by a pair of fairly short but intense tours. Onmyo-za's next single, Houyoku Tenshou, was released on June 4th and was followed on the 25th by a DVD reissue of the indie VHS release Hyakki Kourinden and a special live performance album, Sekinetsu Enbu. The band then performed two tours, between which their maxi-single, Mezame, was released.

Further presses of the band's first two albums, as well as the maxi-single Nemuri, went on sale in January 2004. Soon after, a live concert DVD entitled Hakkou Ranbu, which contained footage from the band's performance at Electric Ladyland, preceded the band's latest full album release, Mugen Houyou. Several in-store events were held to promote the releases, including two special events to showcase the band's first two score books. The band then toured extensively to promote their releases and performed their new material to the delight of their fans. On the first day of their Autumn tour, Onmyo-za released the first of a special trilogy of singles in their Yoshitsune trilogy. The remaining two singles were released in the subsequent months. The three title songs from each of the single releases would be put together as one complete twenty-three minute-long song for the band's next album release.

Onmyo-za's first release of 2005 came in March and was a concert performance DVD containing footage from the previous year's Wagashikabane wo Koete Yuke tour. The DVD, unlike previous DVD releases, included full footage of the entire concert, including MC breaks and three full encores. The concept of including the entire concert was to involve the viewer as much as possible and even included Matatabi addressing the DVD viewer to join in the famous "Ooichi ni no saiyodo" chant during the song Gainageteya. In April the band released the single Kouga Ninpouchou, which the band wrote and recorded for the anime series Basilisk. The band's first live performance of the year was a special fan club only performance at the Nogakudo Noh Theatre in Tokyo. Onmyo-za was the first band to ever play on a Noh stage in Japan. A DVD of the concert titled Yuugen Reibu was released in August. However, preceding the DVD, Garyou Tensei was released on the 22nd of June. The album is noted for making an appearance in the Oricon chart's top ten.

In the summer of 2005, it was announced that Onmyo-za would be playing their first ever overseas concerts. The band played three concerts in Belgium, France, and Germany between October 28th and November 1st of 2005 and held special autograph sessions.

At the beginning of 2006 Onmyo-za released a long-awaited double best-of album entitled Inyou Shugyouku, which included live tracks and footage taken from their 2005 European tour as a first-press edition bonus. The footage contained even gives a brief glimpse of the contents of their first-ever photo book, Hyaku no Oni ga Oushuu wo Yuku, which was released on February 28th.

Two live releases were made available for sale in July 2006: a live concert double CD, Onmyou Raibu, which was followed soon after by a live concert double DVD, Shugyouku Enbu.

After a long break and a series of tours, a new single, Kokui no Tennyo, hit the shops and was followed by a new album, Maou Taiten. The album leaned towards the darker side of Onmyo-za's light and dark concept and marked a slight change towards a heavier style of music compared to their previous album, Garyou Tensei. The new material from Maou Taiten was featured on Onmyo-za's Tenkafubu DVD.

After a spate of silence, there came news of a new single, Kureha, followed a month later by the announcement of the release of their next full album release, Chimimouryou. Soon after, Onmyo-za once again embarked on their traditional autumn-winter tour.

In January 2009 they released the single Soukoku/Doukoku which is featured as the opening and ending themes for the Nintendo DS game Inugamike no Ichizoku.

It was announced on March 10th 2009 that drummer Tora had left the band as a full member. However, he is currently continuing to record and perform with the band as their official support drummer using his birth name Atsushi Kawatsuka . The rest of the band have expressed their shock and regret, but accepted his decision. Their first concert in their new configuration was at the famous PURE ROCK JAPAN LIVE festival at the end of May 2009.

Onmyo-za has soldiered on despite all difficulties, however, beginning a series of singles about the famous hero Date Masamune with 2009's Aoki Dokugan. 2011 saw the band release Kishi Bojin, along with a companion book detailing the album's story.

Releasing a slew of live DVDs between 2010 and 2013, the official departure of Tora has not slowed the group down one bit. As Japan's one-and-only "Youkai Metal band", Onmyou-za has struck a chord with a nation many accuse of forgetting its past to make way for the future. With Kuroneko's enka-style vocals and Matatabi's harsh, ogre-esque growls, the band truly exemplifies the balance of light and dark that their name represents.
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