Interview with Matatabi from Onmyo-za

interview - 13.07.2018 01:01

Onmyo-za's Matatabi fields questions about the band’s 14th studio album, Hadou Myouou.

Since their 1999 debut, youkai heavy metal Onmyo-za have spent the last two decades becoming one of the most accomplished bands the Japanese metal scene has yet produced. Over the course of fourteen full-length albums, they've become renowned at home and abroad for their music, with its deep roots in Japanese folklore and history. Here, Onmyo-za vocalist-bassist Matatabi discusses just some of the intricacies of their latest album Hadou Myouou, which was released on June 6th via KING RECORDS.

What's the overarching concept of your new album Hadou Myouou?

Matatabi: This title was chosen to express the intent of boldly continuing onwards like someone who is enlightened, without straying from your path of belief like in Buddhist and historical concepts of 'Jadou' (Evil Way) and 'Hadou' (Powerful Way).

Translator’s Note: 'Jadou' is a Buddhist concept of the ‘Wrong Path’ or being taught Buddhism in the wrong way and straying from enlightenment. 'Hadou' is the classical Chinese belief in ‘Power is best’ and referred to rulers who achieved their status by force.

Can you tell us how Onmyo-za’s visual image for Hadou Myouou ties in with the album’s concept?

Matatabi: The ingenious photographer Nonami Hiroshi kept with the solemn atmosphere of our key visuals and artist photos, and this is really elaborated in the concept of Hadou Myouou.

Your last album Karyoubinga had a slightly symphonic sound to it. Did you take a different approach with Hadou Myouou?

Matatabi: Hadou Myouou is in keeping with the rich melodies and delicate arrangements that Onmyo-za has always cultivated, but we aimed for a stronger, more powerful sound. Without shaming the name of ‘youkai heavy metal’, I think we managed to create a robust-sounding piece.

Hadou Myouou includes a “Hadou MIX” of Ouka Ninpouchou. What are the differences between this remix and the original version?

Matatabi: Ouka Ninpouchou (Hadou MIX) is a version where we took all the instrumental parts of the single version and rerecorded, rebalanced and edited them to fit comfortably into the overall sound of Hadou Myouou.

Ouka Ninpouchou was sung solo by Kuroneko. Was there a reason for this? Also, is the song connected to the rest of the album, despite being composed for an anime series?

Matatabi: Ouka Ninpouchou is sung from the heroine Hibiki’s point of view, so Kuroneko sings alone. It was created as the opening song for “Basilisk -Ouka Ninpouchou-“, so it is entirely tailored to the content of the anime, and has very little relation to the other songs on Hadou Myouou. Despite that, it is still perfectly in keeping with Onmyo-za’s philosophy in general.

Haou and Shimobe are much heavier compared to the rest of the album, whereas Bureiko has a classic hard rock sound. Can you explain why you used these different styles on the same album?

Matatabi: From Onmyo-za’s formation right up until now, we are a band that has always continued to pursue the limitless possibilities of heavy metal. All our albums, up to and including Hadou Myouou, have had various sounds included within them and this has always been our style.

We noticed Haja no Fuuin has the same name as a SEGA RPG from 1986. Was this a coincidence? Also, can you tell us what the song’s about?

Matatabi: Haja no Fuuin is a song that expresses the core idea of ‘Onmyo-za’, which is following ‘Jadou’ within the path of ‘Hadou’ — hence ‘Haja’ — and the resolute opposition the 'Onmyo-za’ poses to those who subsequently decide to try and seal away ‘Haja’. The song’s title was indeed borrowed from the PC game “Haja no Fuuin” for effect. (By the way, the game “Haja no Fuuin” was not released by SEGA, but by Kogado Studios. It was then moved over to SEGA Mark 3.)

Track number-six of Hadou Myouou has a rather interesting title. What message do you want to convey with Fushoku no Ou?

Matatabi: ‘Fushoku’ (corrosion) has the very negative meaning of ‘to decay’ or ‘to rot’, but also has a positive meaning that it transforms metals and the like actively and productively to make it a material of a new texture. From the formation of Onmyo-za, we have tried not only to protect heavy metal music as something that is clotted/crusted, but also to make it corrode by touching something to create a new heavy metal if we consider heavy metal as one metal. Our behavior may be also perceived as negatively rotting heavy metal. Anyway, it is a song that contains the meaning of wanting to do with the feeling of becoming the 'king' of those who do it, if we compare the act of creating new things under my beliefs to 'corrosion'. All these meanings are included in Fushoku no Ou.

Ippondatara features a distorted guitar or bass solo. Who played the solo, and was it planned or improvised?

Matatabi: It was my own bass solo and was played with distortion and a wah pedal. Although there was some improvisation, it was mostly a conscious decision to play a solo that came from the heart.

Previous Onmyo-za albums have often included ballads. Why did you choose not to have one on Hadou Myouou?

Matatabi: This was an album that had a very powerful sound, just as we’d planned it, so we decided to leave out the ballad as to not dilute the flow and feel of the album.

Was there any track on Hadou Myouou that was particularly challenging or fun to create?

Matatabi: I can only say all the songs were hard but also fun to create.

Could you each explain what you think the standout track on the album is?

Matatabi: I think I’ll answer this from my point of view. Once more, Kuroneko’s vocals resound very clearly, and particularly in Iduna Otoshi, her vocals shine more brightly than any other’s without contest. In the same song, Karukan’s guitar solo can only be called a masterpiece, and in the outro of Tesso no Aza, Maneki’s guitar solo is overflowing with his own brand of lyrical meaning, enough to make you cry. In that same song, Matatabi’s emotional vocals clearly express the story of the piece.

How do you choose which youkai or folkloric subjects to write about? What about for Hadou Myouou specifically?

Matatabi: We choose youkai and folklore based on that album’s theme and image. We chose folklore that matched the theme of Hadou Myouou as well.

What about Japanese folklore inspires you the most?

Matatabi: It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what inspires us, but we are often entranced by folklore that displays deep meaning about humanity or human actions in general.

Matatabi, do you still personally design the artwork for Onmyo-za's releases?

Matatabi: Since our album Houyoku Rindou, the photos have always been by Nonami Hiroshi, the design by Matatabi, and we’ve worked together to produce the artwork.

What are some musical techniques or lyrical themes you'd like to tackle in the future?

Matatabi: As per usual, we want to utilize the themes of youkai and folklore to express the emotions of humanity in our songs.

Does Onmyo-za have any plans to perform overseas in the near future?

Matatabi: We have no plans as of now to play abroad, but we really want to perform abroad one day, whatever the country.

Finally, do you have a message for JaME’s readers?

Matatabi: I think that many of these readers are scattered around the globe, but if they have the chance, I’d really like them to try Onmyo-za’s music. Even though we’re predominantly a heavy metal band and have a rock sound that is rooted in Japanese culture, I definitely believe that anyone can enjoy our music.

JaME would like to thank Onmyo-za and KING RECORDS for this interview opportunity.

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