Tokyo 2016 is a 13 part series of photo & live reports from September, 2016, documenting a deep dive into the city’s various underground music scenes.

For the last evening and last show in Japan it was time to go back to hardcore… or well, actually (mostly) metalcore with five bands at the Tokyo date of the short, three stop tour of Hone Your Sense, celebrating the release of their latest EP, Phonomena. Actually this was the second show with metalcore bands during the trip, as a week earlier I went to see Crystal Lake and Her Name In Blood opening for the amazing Shadows (interview!) at Hachioji RIPS, but photos weren’t allowed there (and it would be a lost cause to try to take some proper ones in that overcrowded and tiny club anyways), so there was no live report about that.

This show took place at Cyclone, a very decent club in central Shibuya, with an approx. 500+ capacity, that holds mostly metal and rock shows and the first thing that struck me when I arrived was the audience: I expected a more-or-less similar crowd as at the above mentioned Shadows & co. gig or the Meaning + Endzweck show from earlier, so… your typical hardcore audience, but instead the venue was filled with teenage kids, with only a few of those more typical hc kind of guys mixed in. But then I realized that it made perfect sense actually, as the new generation of metalcore / deathcore bands attract a more-or-less similar audience worldwide. It seems to be the current music trend for teenage kids rebelling in a safe way – listening to something with an edge, with bands that act hard and look cool on stage without actually being too extreme or too dangerous. There was always a music genre like that, a genre that could either serve as a passing phase of rebellion or as a springboard to become a serious music fan… and honestly, metalcore is a pretty good option for both.

Anyways, back to the show: I was there for the main act, Hone Your Sense and honestly, I just had no time to properly check the other bands, all I did was a quick youtube search, clicking through one or two videos by each to have a very vague idea of what to expect and that was about it. So, I was in for some surprises. The first band to hit the stage was FOAD and as far as I know they were also the youngest. They were OK, their music was the kind of metalcore / post-hardcore that mixes aggressive parts with more melodic ones and uses both growling and clear vocals. And while I don’t mind melodic rock and clear singing at all, mixing that with the more aggressive types of hardcore or metal never really worked for me. There are only a very, very few bands that can get away with that and FOAD isn’t one of them. Too bad, as both the more extreme and the more melodic part of their music was absolutely fine on its own, they just didn’t seem to be good at putting the two together. But they are young and as it really shows that they truly love what they do, given some more time, they definitely have the potential to turn into something much better.

Make My Day was coming up next and they were musically quite similar to FOAD, but they leaned maybe a bit more towards the harder side and the changes between the two extremes were a lot more smoother. And the harder parts were… well: harder. Decent, brutal, with a very strong metal influence and excellent growling vocals by far the more charismatic singer the event. Their guitarist was in charge of the clear singing and they also had some trancey electronics added to the mix, which made them sound somewhat like Crossfaith and turned their music into an almost radio friendly party rock kinda deal once in a while… just so they could shift back towards metal sometimes almost wandering over to deathcore territories. And speaking of deathcore: their singer and bassist has another band, Inception Of Genocide (more about them here) where they go all the way: no compromises, no clear vocals, pure brutality. Great stuff, but while IOG clearly aims for the die hard deathcore fans, Make My Day does a great job at balancing on the edge and despite the occasional brutality manages to remain very accessible.

And after them came the event’s nicest surprise: Last Day Dream. Another band that I did not know much about, as I only checked out one of their videos and while I thought that they sounded quite alright, they turned out to be much more than just “quite alright”. They had no clear vocals, next to no softy, melodic parts, but instead of those, they had ultra fast drums, brutal, growling vocals,  some screaming and a healthy dose of general insanity. And triple guitars! And those guitars weren’t just there because they look cool on stage (they do though), they actually used all the possibilities they could offer. Their music was almost ridiculously complex with layers upon layers of heavy-as-fuck guitar riffs and solos, but despite all this complexity and brutality, beneath all the guitar onslaught, growling and spitfire drumming, their music was still very melodic and thus accessible. And all this came with a performance style to match, that included a lot of posing, running around and the best of all: choreographed, synchronized headbanging! So: great music, great skills and a great performance that was a lot of fun to watch. No wonder they became instant favorites for me and even though (as expected), Hone Your Sense turned out to be the best band of the night, Last Day Dream came in as a very close second.

And then things got weird with Gokuraku Jodo (極楽浄土). A band that was added to the bill late, just a few weeks before the show and well… I still can’t get my head around them. Musically they were closer to thrash metal, but again, with some clear singing added to the mix and they had a traditional Japanese thing going on. And not only in their music. When I checked their official site and saw some live photos, I already knew I was in for something strange, but I didn’t quite expect what awaited me. They had the classic rock band lineup with a drummer (hidden behind his drum set), two guitarists, one with long dreadlocks and one sporting a dark blue kimono, a bass player, who took that traditional thing one (or more) steps further, wearing a wicker basket on his head, the same way some buddhist monks wear those straw bascinet kind of things. And then, there was the singer. Who was wearing one of those simple looking kimonos, that tourists like to buy, had a bag hanging from his shoulder, that had a picture of a puddle on it saying “I just wanted to help him” and he was running around the stage all the time and acted like a strange fusion of a singer and a stand-up comedian. And he was also waving a selfie-stick around during most of the show, stopping once in a while to snap some photos with the audience and at one point started to throw Halloween candies to the crowd. The audience liked them a lot, they even seemed to have a following on their own and their music was fine actually, just wasn’t my kind of stuff, but their show was definitely… well, interesting to watch.

And it was time for the main act. As I said above, Hone Your Sense was the only band that I was really familiar with, as I’ve been keeping an eye on them ever since they became an instant fave with their 2013 single Tri-Jolt. That short, three song release was so insanely jam-packed with unique ideas, that it just blew my mind and even now, years after its release, I can still find new things on it, that I haven’t noticed before. Their music is as brutal as it gets, with deep, growling, shouting vocals, but what really makes it stand out is its complexity and the way it fuses the insanely heavy, devastating death metal riffs with sudden bursts of unexpected, almost prog-rock like passages and unusual tempo changes. So, it’s like… progressive metalcore? But fortunately they never overdo the progressive part and they lack the pretentiousness, that is so common in just way too many of the prog-rock bands. That whole influence is just there to give their music and edge of unpredictability and they manage to perfectly blend it with the brutality of their extreme metal roots. They released a full length in 2014, but after that there was nothing new for quite some time, until they finally dropped the Phonomena mini album in August, 2016, which was another collection of jaw dropping metal madness. And as this was the release party for that, it was no surprise that they played all five of the new songs, along with a few more from the two previous CDs. And just as they did three years earlier with Tri-Jolt, they blew my mind again. They incredible live, the stage was just vibrating with energy as they were playing, sometimes at breakneck-speed and other times slow and heavy. And they are really the kinda band that has something to offer for everyone: killer riffs for the mosh pit, insane skills and the complexity for the more seasoned metal fans… and even pretty boy members for the girls. A few years ago Her Name In Blood was the heaviest and most technical metalcore band in Japan, but since they toned down their sound considerably, this title belongs to Hone Your Sense and they are definitely the kind of act that deserves a lot more international attention, so I really hope they will eventually start doing tours overseas.

And as this was the last proper show that I went to during the trip, this also wraps up the Tokyo 2016 series. But there is still more to come: a feature about some of the city’s most interesting record stores and another one about Tokyo’s incredible club scene in general, featuring a lot of info, some useful tips, an overview of the main clubbing areas, plus some of the most important clubs and live houses, along with maps, photos, links and so on. So… stay tuned!

FOAD / Make My Day / Last Day Dream / Gokuraku Jodo / Hone Your Sense