When pop fans hear the words “death metal,” they may cringe as they imagine songs about nails in the neck or impalements by bands with names like Cannibal Corpse and Dying Fetus. What may not spring to mind are songs about feudal Japan.
“I think the death metal voice resembles a war cry,” explains Tokyo-based Gotsu Totsu Kotsu bassist/vocalist Haruhisa Takahata. It’s one of the reasons he believes death metal and samurai make such a superb pair.
While Japanese history and mythology may seem like an odd topic to theme a death metal band on, it’s actually in keeping with the genre.
“I guess it ended up that way as I tried to adapt what European bands have been doing and put a Japanese spin on it,” Takahata tells The Japan Times. Many Scandinavian metal groups are known for singing about viking history and Norse mythology. Gotsu Totsu Kotsu, whose name comes from an ancient samurai warrior, took that concept and simply replaced the vikings with samurai. “It’s the lyrics that most strongly show the culture of the countries (the artists are from). So as a Japanese creating heavy metal music, I include samurai and other aspects of Japanese culture in my lyrics.”
In keeping with the Japanese theme, the band’s lyrics and song titles are all in Japanese. To some, it may seem obvious that a Japanese band would sing in Japanese, but metal bands often sing in English regardless of whether or not it’s their first language.
“The experience wouldn’t be as ‘real’ for our audience if we sang the songs in English,” Takahata explains. “If I sing, ‘Omae wo korosu,’ it’ll be scarier than if I were to sing, ‘I’m gonna kill you.’ Our native language has more of an impact (on audiences here).”
Now, however, the question is whether this will affect the band’s popularity overseas.
“In the past we might have thought so,” Takahata says. “Most bands used to sing in English. Nowadays, many European bands are singing in their native language so I don’t think singing in English is really necessary. Many people overseas have told us they like Gotsu Totsu Kotsu’s sound. There’s no language barrier.”
Formed in 2000 with drummer Hirotaka Nakazawa and currently rounded-out by guitarist Atsushi Takahashi, Gotsu Totsu Kotsu’s years of touring and releasing demos paid off in 2009 when the band released its first album, “Moryo” (“Spirts and Goblins”), with the followup, “Kage no Densetsu” (“Legend of the Shadow”), released in March. Having toured across Asia and with an upcoming European tour in the works, Gotsu Totsu Kotsu is starting to receive some international attention. In Japan, the band will be opening on some high-profile tours this summer.
“It will be glorious,” says Takahata about opening for renowned Swedish band The Crown this month. Takahata hopes the band’s recent success will widen their fan base even more.
“I want to make Japanese metal more famous around the world,” says Takahata, who believes interest in Japan overseas will carry over into the scene here.
“Japanese movies, anime and manga have lots of fans overseas and are becoming more popular, I think,” Takahata says. “I believe the ‘Japanese brand’ garners a lot of praise abroad.”
“Foreigners often come to our shows in Japan and they seem to really enjoy themselves,” Takahata adds. “They tell us that Gotsu Totsu Kotsu’s uniquely Japanese concept — the samurai and ninja (themes) — and performances are really cool. You don’t need to understand the words, the mood and the atmosphere (of the music) gets the meaning across.”
The Spring is Gone Tour featuring Gotsu Totsu Kotsu with The Crown and Gorod hits Flying Son in Sendai, on June 11; Imaike 3 Star in Nagoya on June 12; Pagea in Osaka on June 13; Graf in Fukuoka on June 14; Smash in Shizuoka on June 15; and Cyclone in Shibuya, Tokyo, on June 16. Gotsu Totsu Kotsu joins U.S. band Origin for another tour in July. For more information, visit gotsu.komusou.jp.