White Ash provides sludgy soundtrack to 'Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain'

by Daisuke Kikuchi

Staff Writer

What is it like to provide the soundtrack to a covert operation in Afghanistan? The members of hard rock group White Ash say it’s a “dream come true.”

The group’s latest song, “The Phantom Pain,” is a tie-in with the long-awaited action stealth game “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain,” which came out Sept. 2. White Ash vocalist Nobita (the group won’t give us their full names) says he and drummer Go are longtime fans.

“I can still remember playing the original game and the first sequel,” says Nobita, who also appears alongside his bandmates in a commercial for the game. “I’d love to be able to tell junior high school me that I’m doing this.”

The “Metal Gear Solid” franchise, directed by Hideo Kojima, is one of game company Konami’s most successful series. The ninth installment takes place during the Cold War with the player taking the role of a soldier who wakes up from a coma and must rescue his former partner from Soviet forces.

Nobita and Go formed White Ash with guitarist Yama-san and bassist Aya while attending college together in 2006. They started out as an Arctic Monkeys cover band.

“We were into the cool British bands of the era, and also covered The Subways, Block Party and Swedish rockers Mando Diao,” Nobita says. “So our style was already established by the time we started writing our own songs.”

“The Phantom Pain” is a B-side on the group’s “Insight/Ledger” single, which was released last month. It’s the seventh single from White Ash, who has also released three albums. “The Phantom Pain” just barely made the cut, though. The mastering for “Insight/Ledger” had already been completed and the band had to extend its recording schedule to get “The Phantom Pain” out in physical form.

The track features White Ash’s signature fuzzed-up guitar grunge, and heavy drums and bass. Its style is similar to “Orpheus,” the opening track from the band’s most recent album, “The Dark Black Groove,” which came out in March. Comparing the two in detail, however, “The Phantom Pain” amps up the sludge with distortion and is performed at a slower tempo. Nobita’s vocals are crystal clear, though, standing out from the instrumentation and sung dramatically in a higher pitch.

“This time, though, the song is connected to a video game that has fans worldwide, so I decided to write lyrics that listeners might be able to connect with emotionally. I’m singing on behalf of a soldier who is about to hit the battlefield.”

While “Insight/Ledger” is getting a lot of attention because of its use in the “Metal Gear Solid” commercial, the single’s other three tracks are by no means throwaways. “Ledger” has an almost Gothic mood with whispery vocals and minor-key melodies, and “Insight” is a more fan-friendly track that is fast paced, indulges in guitar riffs and is over in about three minutes.

The real gem on the single is “Aurora.” Unlike the band’s usual material, it taps into a melancholy and structure typical of the shoegazer sound. “Aurora” was well-received when White Ash performed it at a few festivals this summer, even getting some praise online from Rockin’ On Japan editor Tomohiro Ogawa who said “Aurora” was a highlight of the band’s set at the Rock In Japan Festival in August.

With summer festival season wrapping up, White Ash is now preparing to tour the country in support of “Insight/Ledger.” The first show is set for Sept. 25 in Sapporo, and the band is set to go abroad for the first time next year with a concert in Taiwan.

“This tie-in (with the video game) gave us the chance to get some attention from people overseas,” Nobita says.

Yama-san adds: “It was the perfect opportunity for us, the coolness of the game matched our band’s image. Someday, I hope these kinds of things will help us to perform more gigs overseas. We’d love to play with the Arctic Monkeys in Britain.”

“Insight/Ledger” is on sale now. White Ash starts its “Put a Smile on Your Face!” tour at Penny Lane24 in Sapporo on Sept. 25 (7 p.m. start; ¥3,500 in advance; 011-644-1911). The band then plays Live House Alecx in Matsumoto, Nagano Pref., on Oct. 3 (6 p.m.; ¥3,500; 0263-38-0050); at Upset in Nagoya on Oct. 4 (6 p.m.; ¥3,500; 052-763-5439); at enn 2nd in Sendai on Oct. 9 (7 p.m.; ¥3,500; 022-212-2678); at Club Quatro in Osaka on Oct. 21 (7 p.m.; ¥3,500; 06-6311-8111); at Livehouse CB in Fukuoka on Oct. 24 (6 p.m.; ¥3,500; 092-732-7575); and at Dime in Takamatsu, Kagawa Pref., on Oct. 25 (6 p.m.; ¥3,500; 087-862-4440). For more information, visit