The Samurai Metal Essentials | Tonkori Meets Distortion
Mar 7th 2011 Patrick Saad Miscellaneous

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When few bands are striving to mark their own touch in the Metal world, out comes the World Folk influences to invade our ears and widen our musical taste: from the Middle Eastern “Oud” to the Indian “Sitar” to the European “Bagpipe”, folk instruments in Metal music are the realization of an international Metal community.

  • What is Samurai Metal?

As all of you may know, the Samurai warriors were the feared Japanese upper-class military who were mostly known for their swift Katana swords. They were also skilled in horse riding and archery, which relates to the European folk/viking metal themes of “riding to battle”, “dying with the sword in hand”, etc.

samurai-warrior

Therefore it was only a matter of time before some Metal enthusiasts attempt to bring the Japanese folk instruments alongside guitar distortion, epic choruses and themes of honor, freedom, fear and retribution.

  • What are some of the Japanese instruments?

After a lengthy research, I linked 4 Japanese folk instruments to the Metal bands which are using them.

koto

The instruments are: Ichigenkin, Koto, Tonkori and Fue (visit the Wiki links for their historical / technical information).

  • Essential Samurai Metal listening

I first encountered this genre through a band called Whispered who were one of the few surprises of 2010, with their “Thousand Swords” album which was well received by fans and reviewers alike. Some tracks on the album talk about the Japanese legend Saitō Musashibō Benkei who’s a popular figure of loyalty and honor in Japanese folk. The 9-track album runs at approximately one hour, with several lengthy chorus-filled songs. The Japanese instruments often add their transcending touch into the songs, and the shriek death growls add another layer of intensity to the music.

My two recommended tracks for the first time listener would be: “Thousand Swords” and “Faceless”. These are actually the first tracks on the album after the “Intro-Hajimari” which is basically a treat for pure Japanese folk fans and a great introduction for “Thousand Swords”.

One would argue that the lengthiest song on the album “Blade in the Snow” would be the recommended one, but it’s not a ‘quick fix’ for first time listeners to get hooked on, so that would be an added bonus at the end of the album.

The second interesting band in the genre is Japan’s Zenithrash; although its name leans towards Thrash Metal, the One-man band of Håkan Lyckberg plays Samurai Metal, although less “popular” than Whispered, its European counterpart (promotion capabilities). I’m still exploring Zenithrash’s music but I was impressed by their first full length “Restoration Of The Samurai World” (released on January 27th 2011), although the production is most certainly not top-notch, which is sad since the music has great potential in my opinion. This will most certainly appeal to Black/Death Metal fans in particular.

I also stumbled upon a less extreme band which plays Rock/Metal with Japanese folk infulences; Onmyou-za’ songs range from ballads to heavier / faster tracks with male and female vocalists. They are somehow known in the Rock scene in Japan due to their extensive local concerts. They make take a while to get used to but the musicians are skilled and the production is good.

I hope you found this article interesting, make sure you drop a comment with your opinion of the bands and genre in general.

  • Links

Whispered Official Website

Zenithrash Official Myspace

Onmyo-za Official Website

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  • gargoylishnuts

    whispered, lol i laughed my ass off
    i can say they ain’t a samurai metal band but children of bodom wannabe. they sound like thorough crap.
    they only used some cheap oriental synths but they don’t even sound like japanese or samurai stuff at all.
    zenithrash and mononofu are the real samurai metal bands from japan. both of them have far better productions and qualities, concepts than that crappy fake finnish samurai metal band!

  • Patrick

    I agree that they do sound a bit like Children of Bodom, but they are most certainly not wannabes, they do not sound like crap and the instruments involved are neither cheap nor have ‘far better productions and qualities’ than Zenithrash and Mononofu.
    I do think that those latter bands have more ‘accurate’ concepts of the Samurai metal genre since they are actually Japanese and know their folklore more than the Finnish …
    I wish Zenithrash would produce better sounding music, there’s lots of layers in his songs and they are somehow buried under average if not below average production quality.

  • knefeh lover

    ^ Man, bas la ellak shaghleh. Who the fuck are you to insult any band ?

    What have you produced ? What have you released ?
    Nothing, so zip it.

  • knefeh lover

    I was talking to gargoyle btw ,not to you pat

  • gargoylishnuts

    patrick, you should definitely get the CD then.
    all those layers are clear and the sound production is
    pretty good if you listen to the songs from the CD.
    you shouldn’t review what you listened from shitty bitrate youtube or myspace samples.

  • Patrick

    I wish I could get the CD buddy, that’s a bit difficult to obtain under my current circumstances. Anyway, you have a point there concerning shitty bitrate samples (although I think that bands should provide high quality samples to get people to like the music and buy the CD).
    Zenithrash is the more ‘genuine’ band here I have to admit, although Whispered’s music is really enjoyable as well, regardless that it contains some elements of typical melodic death.

    Btw, should I have mentioned Persephone’s Shin-Ken album in your opinion?

  • Nice Post Patrick, and i found about a Chinese band called Narakam they are not so bad after all even they are made in China :P, you can check their songs on the music section: http://music.lebmetal.com/2010/11/narakam-burning-at-moment-2008/

  • Musashi

    I dunno.. I can truly hear some serious influences only with Whispered (especially songs Thousand Swords and Blade In The Snow..) Their first album contains some veeery old songs that I’ve heard ages ago and that’s the reason for “bodomness” .. And I’m sick of idiots who think that to do authentic music concerning folklore, you have to be born where your music takes place.. That’s just pure fucking shit.

  • If you guys are looking for some of the finest of the “samurai metal”, you need look no further than Trivium’s song “Kirisute Gomen”, or “Shogun”. It’s worthy of your attention, and anyone else’s. Some of the finest musical complexity, carefully placed with some of the most impressive drumming in the business. It demands your loyalty. Enjoy.

  • Tiramisu Megido

    Look up Persefone’s Shin-Ken. The album concept is based upon the legendary swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi’s, Book of The Five Rings. It doesen’t get any more badass imo.