Fans of the GazettE spread news abroad

by Daisuke Kikuchi

Special To The Japan Times

the GazettE celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and what better way is there to spend an anniversary than with a trip abroad. Well, sort of.

The band isn’t headed overseas, but its new album, “Division,” has already set sail to 62 countries and regions around the world, a wider distribution than what previous album, last year’s “Toxic,” saw when it was released in 39 countries.

” ‘Division’ is filled with our past and future, it just naturally became a fine compilation for our 10th year,” says vocalist Ruki (band members are fiercely private and will only reveal their first names). “We’re not sure what’s going to happen next, but we definitely want to keep on producing exciting things.”

Though the band hasn’t toured overseas for nearly four years, “Division” has managed to make it to the 12th spot on Amazon U.K.’s Hard Rock & Metal chart for new arrivals, and into the Top 10 on the French and Finnish iTunes rock charts.

“I often listen to music from overseas, so I really appreciate the fact that people there are starting to find out about Japanese music,” Ruki says. “I want to continue approaching foreign audiences, not just Japanese ones.”

the GazettE are a typical example of Japanese music’s ability to spread around the globe even despite industry efforts to stay focused on the domestic market. Here you have a band whose members have had successful careers as visual-kei artists and then made the crossover to a more mainstream fan base in Japan. The band was signed to Sony in 2010 and has played venues such as Tokyo Dome, which has a capacity of 42,000 people. However, the band’s management hasn’t done too much in promoting the GazettE overseas. Instead, a grassroots network of devoted visual-kei followers has spread the news, with much of the English information about the band coming out of websites and fan forums.

There have, however, been a few efforts aimed at overseas markets from home. The band participated in NHK World’s “J-Melo” program, which aims to promote Japanese acts abroad. They even won that program’s end-of-year award in 2010 (they were second to L’Arc-en-Ciel last year), which gave them the opportunity to perform on the show. The session was broadcast to audiences in around 180 countries. Let’s face it though, “J-Melo” is no “American Idol.”

With fan clubs springing up around the world and the absence of the unrelenting Japanese-style PR apparatus out there, the main driver of the GazettE’s popularity is simply the music. The band’s hard-rock style embraces influences from multiple genres, but mostly comes from heavy metal, industrial metal and punk. Its back catalog is comprised of songs as heavy as many Western staples from the 1990s such as Korn and Nine Inch Nails, but Ruki’s vocals set his band apart from those acts by jumping from death-metal snarls to melancholic balladry. the GazettE frequently add extra twists to its sound, and “Division” continues that tradition by experimenting with electronic music.

“I’ve recently been into dubstep and electro artists such as Broken Note and The Pancea,” Ruki says.

The regular edition of “Division” opens with a digital-oriented instrumental track “[XI],” which represents the band’s new direction (a limited-edition version of “Division” has also been released, with a different track order). It’s striking to hear a danceable tune as the opener for a rock album. The following three songs, “Gabriel on the Gallows,” “Derangement” and “Dripping Insanity” also incorporate digital aspects that add a harshness reminiscent of industrial metal.

The group’s biggest challenge, though, might have been with tracks “Hedoro” and “Attitude.” “Hedoro” incorporates a dance beat and “Atittude” features vocal samples. Both resemble paths similar to what industrial bands such as Killing Joke took in their careers, but the tracks still retain a modern sound.

The turn toward electronic music doesn’t mean the GazettE’s signature sound has been obscured, though. The punk-rock paced “Ibitsu” even resembles “Shiver” from previous album “Toxic.” The melancholy-tinged speed and aggression on “Division” proves the band still adheres to the norms of visual-kei. On top of that, the electronic experimentation shows how it’s keeping abreast of global trends — something Japanese musicians tend to be criticized for not doing.

the GazettE is currently on tour throughout Japan. Unfortunately, there are no plans for them to tour overseas, but the band remains optimistic.

“We haven’t toured abroad for years,” Ruki says. “I want to make it happen — fast.”

the GazettE plays Matsuyama Sogo Community Center in Ehime Pref. on Oct. 18; Kurashiki Geibunkan in Okayama Pref., on Oct. 22; and Astor Plaza in Hiroshima on Oct. 23. For more information, visit www.pscompany.co.jp/gazette .