It never fails to warm my heart when I come across a nominally “black metal” band that is willing to shed all vestiges of trve kvltitude and incorporate taboo elements of hardcore, metalcore, screamo, world music, pop, or any other style that results in a synthesis of musical ideas that stretches the boundaries of black metal’s comfort zone. On their debut full-length わたしと私だったもの (Watashi to watashidatta mono) – or, by its English title, Awakening –, Japanese quartet 明日の叙景 – read “Asu no jokei” – mingles their blackened approach with the post-hardcore intensity of fellow countrymen Envy and compose their chord progressions with a hearty nod towards traditional jazz. The result evokes both nostalgia and novelty, as though an alien landed in your backyard and then covered a song from your childhood.
明日の叙景 are equally comfortable berating the listener with blazing black metal barrages (early in “たえて桜のなかりせば (Taete sakura no nakari seba); Spring of Passion”, “火車 (Figuruma); Chain”, pretty regularly throughout the album), calming them with smartly-crafted melodic clean guitar (middle of “たえて桜のなかりせば”, ending of “薄氷 (Hakuhyō); Thin Ice”), or dropping some sludgy post-metal heaviness into the fray (later in “たえて桜のなかりせば”, “月の恥じらい (Tsuki no hajirai); Bashfulness of the Moon”). But there are myriad other directions on their musical compass. “火車” has hints of Boredomsesque noise rock and Ion-Dissonanceish tech-guitar spasms, “霙 (Mizore); Sleet” veers into mathy post-rock, “月の恥じらい” collapses practically into musique concrète for a while before DSBM-like shrieks take over for its finale, and “醜女化粧 (Shikome keshō); Ugly Mask” offers an ethereal emo-J-pop (J-emo?) change of pace – it’s the only track on the album that doesn’t circle back to the band’s penchant for blast beats, reminiscent of the kind of curveball Boris is famous for.
“醜女化粧” is also one of many showcases of the band’s ability to construct jazzy chord progressions. I swear I’ve never heard more dominant sevenths, major sevenths, and 6/9’s on a metal album before. They bring the compositional wisdom of J-pop and jazz fusion into a post-black metal context. They almost never recycle ideas or linger on passages; their songs roil and churn, discarding expired riffs to replace them with fresh material constantly. The vocals focus mainly on a high-pitched wail akin to a more desperate Sigh, but deeper screams, clean singing, spoken word, and occasionally some strained falsetto also dot the landscape. The bass is mixed very prominently and often plays a complementary melodic role to the guitar, adding a beautiful layer of complexity to the arrangements.
In 2013, a little-known project called Melichrone, masterminded by British guitarist Jack Weir, released their only album Standards. The first six tracks on this album were well-known traditional jazz pieces, essentially performed in the Krallice style. The seventh is an original song that feels very much at home with the other six, indicating Weir was more than just a performer. I was disappointed not to hear more from this project, but now 明日の叙景’s jazziness scratches some of that itch. I mentioned “醜女化粧” with its cleaner approach, but even the blasting sections of “「鉤括弧」 (Kagi kakko); “Double Quotation Mark”” and “薄氷” are suffused with chord variants rarely used in metal. It’s a bit cliché to talk about a good album having multiple layers that reward repeated listeners, but I have found that to be true of わたしと私だったもの in a way that very few recent albums can claim. There is just a mountain of mystery and creativity packed into this album, and it works so well because they sound incredible when sticking with the home base of black metal, yet are bold enough to stretch wide the boundaries of their chosen medium.