It has been a year since post-hardcore group Fact released an artist photo with the six members’ faces revealed. Before then, the band always wore traditional Japanese noh masks.
“We wanted our fans to listen to our music without having to care about how we look,” lead guitarist Takahiro Onose says. “Wearing the masks had started to become our brand, so we decided to stop doing it.”
The image change was soon followed by a change in procedure, too. The title of Fact’s new album, “Ktheat,” comes from the first letters of the first names of the band members: Kazuki, Tomohiro, Hiro, Eiji, Adam and Takahiro. Onose says it reflects a deeper cooperation that happened during the recording process.
“How (the title) is pronounced is up to you,” Onose says. “The songs on our former albums were written mostly by (guitarist) Kazuki Sakurai or myself, but this time we all got involved in the process.”
Fact formed in 1999 playing a style of melodic hardcore that sounded similar to the pop punk that was popular at the time, often drawing comparisons to Californian band Strung Out. The group released its eponymous major-label debut in 2009; domestically from Avex’s indie-rock imprint Maximum 10 and internationally via Los Angeles label Vagrant, which features acts such as Alexisonfire, Protest The Hero and The Get Up Kids.
Musically, the album featured a mixture of heavy metal-inspired riffs with pop-oriented vocals. Then, there were the masks. Lead single “A Fact of Life” featured a music video with the group in noh masks, which caught the attention of fans in Japan and overseas.
British guitarist Adam Graham, who joined Fact in 2012, says there have been some negative responses on social media to the band ditching the masks, and some people were surprised to learn the band has a non-Japanese member.
“The music video for the (2010) single, ‘In the Blink of an Eye,’ featured (the other members) throwing the masks away,” Graham says. “The masks were already gone by the time I joined the band, but there’s still comments from abroad that they want us to put the masks back on. All we want is for them to enjoy listening to our music.”
As Onose mentioned, however, the biggest change with “Ktheat” isn’t the masks, but the new sense of teamwork. This has also led to a focus on speed and aggression in the music, rather than the melodies that were typical on previous material. It’s most apparent on the tracks “Wait” and “Worm,” which share a similar tempo and vocal pattern. And rather than having a particular instrument stand out, the simplicity of the songs lends the band a cohesiveness that creates a heavy groove and makes the most of having three guitarists.
When I mention the names of thrash-metal pioneers Slayer and hardcore act Converge, who are both known for intense songs, both Onose and Graham acknowledge the reference.
“Ekkun (drummer Eiji Matsumoto) did mention Converge before recording, and thrash metal is one of Takahiro’s favorites,” Graham says. Hearing that, Onose adds: “Rather than being conscious about beats per minute, we’ve focused on energy; being aggressive enough that we could’ve even recorded everything just once.”
The major reason behind the sound might be the fact that “Ktheat” was self-produced. Producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette, who worked with the band on previous albums and who has worked with acts such as Slash, Incubus and Limp Bizkit, was absent this time around. Even in the most melodic songs on the latest album, such as “<3 Attack” and mid-tempo ballad “Over,” the arrangements are kept quite simple.
“We actually wanted a producer, to be honest, but didn’t have enough in our budget,” Onose says. “We were a bit worried about the sound, so rather than trying to follow Elvis’ style, we decided to make it more raw. We’ve always had a third party there to give an opinion, so it was pretty tough to put everything together just by ourselves.”
Self-producing also allowed Fact the chance to experiment more, like on the instrumental track “2-2” and closing number “Haze.”
“2-2” was written by Onose and is part of a series of songs inspired by video-game music (the title seems to hint at the level numbers in Nintendo’s “Super Mario Bros.” series). “2-2” features guitars and drums only (unlike the vocally propelled “2-1” from the 2014 album “Witness”). An octaver (an effects device that adds higher and lower pitch sounds) is used on technically challenging guitar riffs, recalling the music from old video games.
On the other hand, “Haze” has an ambient, post-rock vibe. The track uses reverse echo and reverb to create a mellow texture that, along with the slow tempo, lets “Ktheat” close on a more chilled-out note.
“We were considering an ambient track for the album and Kazuki came up with ‘Haze,’ which, according to him, resembles something Mogwai might do,” Onose says. “We’ve never really had any rules, so this album was a great chance to see where we could possibly go to.”
Fact celebrated its 15th anniversary last year by headlining its own event, “Rock-O-Rama,” in November. Joining the group on stage were fellow metal and hardcore acts Her Name In Blood and Royal to the Grave, as well as the band’s own idols Strung Out and Ken Yokoyama of Hi-Standard. In addition, Fact previewed new material by handing out music cards during the event that allowed fans to download the lead track “The Way Down” for free.
“Fan comments that I saw on Twitter were quite positive about our new style,” says Graham, though he flashes a hint of a nervous smile. “The song is quite different from our former style . . . and is different from the other tracks, too.”
Fact’s members will get to see the fan reactions up close as they tour the country with metalcore act Crystal Lake as part of the “Outburn Tour,” which began Monday in Sendai. Graham’s slight nervousness over fan reactions immediately dissipates as he starts talking about the tour and Fact’s touring partners.
“I’ve known (Crystal Lake) guitarist Shinya for a long time, but it’s the first time for us to go on a tour together,” Graham says. “Crossfaith and Her Name In Blood will be joining us in some places, so it’s gonna be a great tour.”
Graham switches between appearing cautiously nervous and enthusiastic for the tour, but luckily his emotions aren’t concealed by any artificial visage. Just as Fact will be scrutinizing fans for their reactions, so too can the latter respond in kind. With nothing to hide behind, Onose invites fans to come listen to “the brand new Fact.”
“Ktheat” is available in record stores now. The Outburn Tour 2015 hits Penny Lane 24 in Sapporo on March 4, Eight Hall in Kanazawa on March 6, Olive Hall in Kagawa on March 8, Club Quattro in Hiroshima on March 9, Beat Station in Fukuoka on March 11, Big Cat in Osaka on March 20, Bottom Line in Nagoya on March 21 and Akasaka Blitz in Tokyo on March 23. Tickets for all of the shows cost ¥3,500 in advance. For more information on support acts, visit www.factjapan.com.