“Standing against those that ruin art,” was the tagline for the After Hours festival, which took place across four venues in Shibuya on April 9. The sponsor-free event, curated by the bands Mono, Downy and Envy, featured more than 30 artists from a wide range of backgrounds and genres, coming together to provide an antithesis to the stagnant and corporate domestic festival scene.

Instrumental rock band Mono set the tone for the event as it opened the festival at the biggest participating venue, O-East. Starting off with “Ashes In The Snow” from the group’s “Hymn to the Immortal Wind” album, the performance felt like the beginning of an era, almost a call to arms directed at the packed-in crowd. The set, which was quite dramatic, closed with “Requiem of Hell” and with it the band immediately set a high bar of artistry for the rest of the day.

Of the four venues, O-Nest proved to be the most forward-looking of the entire lineup, with younger bands playing some of the most extreme music of the festival. The standouts were undoubtedly black metal outfit Cohol, who revealed its new four-piece lineup with a supporting guitarist, and noise band Endon, who is currently supporting new album “Through the Mirror.” Both acts delivered extraordinary performances, pummelling through their sets with a flurry of screams and blast beats, causing a sea of bodies to smash into each other on the O-Nest floor. By the afternoon, the Shibuya venue seemed more like the hardcore and metal-leaning underground lair of Shin-Okubo Earthdom.

For many, the highlight of the evening was hardcore band Envy, who was performing its first high-profile show in a year. The band’s longtime vocalist, Tetsuya Fukagawa, had left the band a year prior, and expectations were high as to what the new Envy would sound like. The band delivered, opening with “Footsteps In The Distance” from its last album, “Atheist Cornea,” and continued with fan favorite “Left Hand.” Both performances featured singer Kent from Heaven In Her Arms (who also played earlier in the day at O-Nest) as guest vocalist. The set also revealed new material, with guitarist Nobukata Kawai taking up vocal duties, using a vocoder to manipulate his voice against a postrock inspired instrumentation. Singer Tatsuro Mukai of Kamomekamome and formerly of Nunchaku, also joined the band later in the set.

Drone metal veterans Boris, who also unveiled new material, presented a no-holds-barred set at O-West, leaning heavily on its Earth- and Sunn O)))-inspired drone and sludge material. With a backline of multiple massive amps stretched across onstage, the trio assaulted both the ears and the eyes, thanks to smoke bellowing from numerous smoke machines and a lighting setup featuring multiple projectors onstage. Undoubtedly the loudest band of the day, the band performed songs spanning its entire career, including a recent collaboration track with electronic artist Goth-Trad, “Deadsong,” and “Farewell,” the opening track of popular 2005 album “Pink.” The set seemed to hint at what’s in store for the band in the near future, as it gears up for a new release to mark 25 years.

Crypt City closed off the event with a set at O-Nest, chugging through material from its album “Chant,” which was released last year. A blistering performance by drummer Masahiro Komatsu, formerly of Bloodthirsty Butchers, was a highlight, as singer Dean Kessler rallied the crowd, providing those who were willing to stick around into the final minutes of the event with a satisfying closer.

After Hours, despite the name, seemed to be the beginning of a new chapter for the bands performing, along with the fans and followers of their music. There was a proud feeling of victory at the end of the night, as both artists and audience came together to finally create a space for themselves, in a seemingly crowded and often narrow Japanese rock scene that maybe doesn’t deserve them.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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