When few bands are striving to mark their own touch in the Metal world, out comes the World Folk influences to invade our ears and widen our musical taste: from the Middle Eastern “Oud” to the Indian “Sitar” to the European “Bagpipe”, folk instruments in Metal music are the realization of an international Metal community.
- What is Samurai Metal?
As all of you may know, the Samurai warriors were the feared Japanese upper-class military who were mostly known for their swift Katana swords. They were also skilled in horse riding and archery, which relates to the European folk/viking metal themes of “riding to battle”, “dying with the sword in hand”, etc.
Therefore it was only a matter of time before some Metal enthusiasts attempt to bring the Japanese folk instruments alongside guitar distortion, epic choruses and themes of honor, freedom, fear and retribution.
- What are some of the Japanese instruments?
After a lengthy research, I linked 4 Japanese folk instruments to the Metal bands which are using them.
The instruments are: Ichigenkin, Koto, Tonkori and Fue (visit the Wiki links for their historical / technical information).
- Essential Samurai Metal listening
I first encountered this genre through a band called Whispered who were one of the few surprises of 2010, with their “Thousand Swords” album which was well received by fans and reviewers alike. Some tracks on the album talk about the Japanese legend Saitō Musashibō Benkei who’s a popular figure of loyalty and honor in Japanese folk. The 9-track album runs at approximately one hour, with several lengthy chorus-filled songs. The Japanese instruments often add their transcending touch into the songs, and the shriek death growls add another layer of intensity to the music.
My two recommended tracks for the first time listener would be: “Thousand Swords” and “Faceless”. These are actually the first tracks on the album after the “Intro-Hajimari” which is basically a treat for pure Japanese folk fans and a great introduction for “Thousand Swords”.
One would argue that the lengthiest song on the album “Blade in the Snow” would be the recommended one, but it’s not a ‘quick fix’ for first time listeners to get hooked on, so that would be an added bonus at the end of the album.
The second interesting band in the genre is Japan’s Zenithrash; although its name leans towards Thrash Metal, the One-man band of Håkan Lyckberg plays Samurai Metal, although less “popular” than Whispered, its European counterpart (promotion capabilities). I’m still exploring Zenithrash’s music but I was impressed by their first full length “Restoration Of The Samurai World” (released on January 27th 2011), although the production is most certainly not top-notch, which is sad since the music has great potential in my opinion. This will most certainly appeal to Black/Death Metal fans in particular.
I also stumbled upon a less extreme band which plays Rock/Metal with Japanese folk infulences; Onmyou-za’ songs range from ballads to heavier / faster tracks with male and female vocalists. They are somehow known in the Rock scene in Japan due to their extensive local concerts. They make take a while to get used to but the musicians are skilled and the production is good.
I hope you found this article interesting, make sure you drop a comment with your opinion of the bands and genre in general.
Zenithrash Official Myspace
Onmyo-za Official Website