The term “noise music” has come to define a variety of artists and sounds, from guitar feedback to drones to white noise. Japan is certainly no stranger to the concept, birthing formidable pioneers of the genre such as Merzbow, Hijokaidan and Incapacitants over the years. However, singer Taichi Nagura of self-described “noise band” Endon has a slightly different take on the idea.
“To us, ‘noise music’ as a concept was already there. It was normal for us,” he says. “The fact that we listened to harsh noise as normal music was a big influence I think. Harsh noise is about speed. Metal and hardcore as well. So if you think of noise in terms of time and speed, you can listen to all of those things in the same way.”
For Nagura, noise is only one of the many elements of the five-piece Endon, which also includes guitarist Koki Miyabe, drummer Shin Yokota, and Taro Aiko and Etsuo Nagura on what are usually credited as “electronics” in their liner notes, who handle noise and sampling duties.
Despite this unconventional lineup, make no mistake — Endon are first and foremost a rock band. And while the band have covered bases such as hardcore, black metal and harsh noise since their inception in 2006, the group’s latest effort, “Through The Mirror” (released March 8 from Daymare Recordings) is constructed more like a traditional rock album, with various textures, rhythms and tempos, but underneath all the harshness and sonic brutality that has come to define Endon’s soundscape.
“It’s not like we were consciously going for a ‘rock’ feel,” says guitarist and composer Miyabe, speaking to The Japan Times with vocalist Nagura at a cafe in Shinjuku, Tokyo. “On our album ‘Mama,’ we did a lot of studio work, but this time we wanted to do something that was closer to our live set. So in terms of ensemble, things become simpler, which is what makes it seem more like rock music.”
Recorded at GodCity Studio in Salem, Massachusetts, by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou (whose recent recording credits include Nails, Code Orange and Full Of Hell), “Through The Mirror” covers a wider palette of sounds and rhythms than its predecessor, 2014’s “Mama,” which heavily leaned on blast beats and a more hardcore and black metal-influenced sound.
“It’s inevitable if people see ‘Mama’ as an experimental black metal album,” says Nagura. “But we wanted to make this record more pop and catchy.”
“Through The Mirror” was recorded and mixed over the course of a week before Endon’s second U.S. tour last year. Each sound and tone on the album is carefully constructed, with Miyabe putting every small detail onto sheet music when writing. The noise performed by the two noise manipulators is also predetermined, with a heavy emphasis on consistency and replicability regarding the band’s performances. It’s this attention to detail and technique, along with the simplicity of the songs and straightforwardness brought by Ballou’s engineering, that allows the album to churn out a gut-punch of behemoth sounds from start to finish.
“Kurt, due to his hardcore background, is more about how things translate. He would say, ‘If this part isn’t loud, it won’t communicate to the listener,’ ” says Miyabe. “We wanted to make things simple. Simple things are more effective. If it’s not easy to understand, you can’t tell when there’s chaos going on. Everyone thinks about how to sound cool with just three-chord rock ‘n’ roll or the blues; all of it has the same chord progression. That’s where you can see whether something is truly cool or not.”
“Not many Japanese underground bands think about being viable as entertainment,” adds Nagura. “This may sound bad, but there’s no point in doing it if you don’t stand out.”
Their words describe the core ideology behind Endon’s philosophy. Originally formed with the mindset of pursuing the entertainment value in noise music, Nagura felt that noise music had become too close to jazz and art, and wanted to approach the sonic elements of the genre at face value.
“Noise was a symbol of impossibility, but now it’s become just an ingredient, something you can read and write with, and with that comes context,” he says. “It’s not about just playing noise, but the methodology of how to use it; if you play it in this rhythm at this tempo, then it comes out a certain way. It’s nothing more than that. So in a way, compared to what older followers of noise music saw the genre as, we’re taking its definition and making it something more insignificant. It’s a castration.”
The notion will perhaps upset the status quo of what noise music is considered to be about.
Originally a conceptual approach of deconstructing music, many noise musicians began as a reaction to the blues-inspired rock music of the ’60s and ’70s; the act of performing noise music was as important as the sounds being made. Nagura, however, thinks otherwise.
“We don’t think of noise as anything special, it’s just like a bass or a guitar,” says Nagura. “It’s more about not fearing the uncoolness of saying that.”
The fact that Miyabe plays guitar plugged straight into the amp with no effects pedals is telling. Miyabe leaves that part up two his two electronics musicians, who are on equal footing with the other instruments in the band.
To Endon, noise is simply another tool or texture to be used in the greater context of a rock band. The result is an equalization of music elements.
However, this isn’t to say that the band doesn’t relish over-the-topness and the bombast, qualities which are front and center on “Through The Mirror.”
“There’s an ironical part of me that thinks that if it’s louder or more successful, of course it’s going to be good,” says Nagura. “To me, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones are symbolic of that.”
“We really do look up to Led Zeppelin,” adds Miyabe with a laugh.
“If we can make it to ‘Presence’, we’re good,” chuckles Nagura.
I ask Nagura which Zeppelin album “Through The Mirror” is supposed to be.
“None of them — the members of Zeppelin haven’t even come together yet,” Nagura says. “Jimmy Page is probably still doing a part-time job at some studio.”
Endon’s latest album, “Through The Mirror,” is out now. The band will play in Nagoya on March 18 and Osaka on March 19. For more information, visit endon.figity.com.