Overall Score: 9/10 Song Writing: 9/10 Musicianship: 10/10 Overall Production: 9/10 Pros: Matt Heafy's musical prowess knows no bounds. The world building is spectacular, making multiple listens mandatory. Cons: Closing 'Kaizoku' disjoints the album slightly in tone and content despite it still being a good song.
A decade is a long time for a project to come together. Though when you and your creative counterpart are in bands such as TRIVIUM and EMPEROR, the wait can be forgiven. Nevertheless, we can finally indulge our curiosity in IBARAKI’s Rashomon.
Fuelled by Matt Kiichi Heafy’s multifaceted journey of self-discovery, Rashomon is steeped in Japan’s rich folklore. The name IBARAKI comes from a demon who was hailed as a prominent servant of Shuten-doji, the demon leader of Japan. Rashomon is the gate which stands at the southern end of Suzaku Avenue in the ancient cities of Nara and Kyoto. For context, this was the location where Ibaraki’s arm was severed in battle by Watanabe no Tsuna.
The hype machine fuelled itself rabidly in the lead up to Rashomon’s release. In doing that, does the record live up to our expectations? Though only ten tracks long, this is a monolithic record with a run time of over 60 minutes. While it seems to be a marathon instead of a sprint, the tracks float by with incredible ease.
With Heafy at the helm, it would be natural for fans to expect a bit of “TRIVIUM does black metal”. A label IBARAKI sheds in moments. Hakanaki Hitsuzen instantly plants us in the world of Heafy’s creation. Traditional instruments settle under spine chilling vocalisations. The majesty within this minute and a half instrumental is intoxicating. A beautiful contrast to Kagutsuchi. Weighing in at seven and a half minutes, the tribute to the Japanese god of fire is merciless and chaotic. Those harbouring doubts of Heafy’s black metal nature are batted away with a stomach-churning scream. We see Heafy return to his strengths with clean choruses depicting “manipulations of the masses” with a deep yet slow, almost demonic cadence. There is nothing too flashy about the song, but less is so much more where IBARAKI is concerned.
Rashomon is an exercise in pacing. Not for the listener but for other projects to take note of. IBARAKI could have thrown everything at the wall to see what stuck. Yet in pieces such as Kagutsuchi or Komorebi, we’re shown the full grandiosity of IBARAKI’s musical prowess. Pieces are slowed with wind or acoustic interludes just as they reach an assumed denouement. A movement in music never outstays its welcome as explosions of organised chaos ensue to leave us riding the high of crafted perfection.
Fully embracing his Japanese-American heritage, Heafy takes the time to recant tales from the rich folklore for those who may not be so well versed. Ibaraki-Doji (translated to “demon offspring” in this context) spins the yarn of the titular demon. Dark, almost doom inspired riffs paint the image of the gargantuan figure laying waste to everything in its path. This is the first time our attention gets pulled between the harsh vocals and intricate guitar work making multiple listens a must. While Ibaraki-Doji is a tale of rage, Jigoku Dayu is one of becoming enlightened. A beautiful juxtaposition. The world of this Hell Courtesan is carefully constructed with acoustic guitars and uncharacteristic softer vocals which feel almost like a lullaby in places. Weaving the tale of a woman kidnapped and sold to a brothel may sound pleasant at first but the growl at three minutes in exposes the unease under still waters. Engrossed in the lyrical depiction of someone who’s “wrapped herself in scenes of hell”, we almost miss the trickling of thick, heavy riffs moving beneath the words.
World building is necessary if another person’s story is going to be told but in the case of IBARAKI, this isn’t a component reserved for other people’s words. The oppressive nature of Tamashii No Houkai and Akumu lend themselves to our own imaginations. Tamashii No Houkai (collapse of the soul) is uncomfortable from the start. The riffs feel lead-like. “I want to feast on misery” is gorgeous in its simplicity. Simplicity may reign for IBARAKI but there are many intricacies hidden within this track such as the building riff in the second verse mimicking the ebb and flow trauma has on the soul. Akumu continues this lesson as nestled within the intimidating riffs is a small hint of stringed instruments, something resembling light at the end of the tunnel. Though with NERGAL growling in Polish representing a sleep paralysis demon, the discomfort is never far behind. Our demon eventually submerges us within a melodic, spiralling movement which renders us vulnerable for the final crushing chorus.
“I still feel you inside these broken bones” Heafy muses against the soft, melodic bounce of Ronin. Arguably the track of the record, Ronin hosts one of the most unexpected collaborations in metal. Where Heafy’s battle-weary voice dictates the swell of the drums and choral backing vocals pre-chorus, MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE’s Gerard Way eviscerates the soundscape with a stunning performance of blood curdling screeching. Cultivating the duality of serene yet vengeful warriors, IBARAKI and Way walk the katana’s edge in convincing fashion. The fantasy continues with penultimate piece Susanoo No Mikoto featuring EMPEROR’s Ihsahn. The epic saga of storm god Susanoo earning his way back into Heaven after displeasing his sister Amaterasu starts with melodic guitars and rolling drums. Guitars slip down in town as the story of the disgraced god unravels. While we’ve been on board for the entirety of the record so far, Susanoo No Mikoto begins to lose us in odd brass movements, ill-paced guitars in the mid-section, and what an only be described as unsettling growling.
If a listener is looking for an album to put on as background noise, this is not the one by any stretch of the imagination. Rashomon rightly demands its listeners’ attention in more ways than one. Its stories are to be learned. The sheet musical talent on display is to be appreciated. We asked at the top of the review whether Rashomon lives up to the hype. Not only does it meet those expectations. It far surpasses them.
Rashomon is available now via Nuclear Blast.
For more information on IBARAKI, like their official page on Facebook.