ZT INTERROGATION: FACING REALITY WITH TOKYO’S COHOL
If there was a metal version of Julian Cope’s Japrocksampler (which, let’s face it, there should be), the chapter about black metal would be particularly interesting. Tokyo’s Coholare not a typical BM band, as new album Rigen (out now on Osmose Productions) amply illustrates.
ZT caught up with guitarist/vocalist Itaru to get the whole story
ZT: When and how did you first become interested in black metal?
While we formed Cohol, my interest became to touch black metal little by little. My first involvement wasn’t really proper black metal inspiration, it was in just blastbeats. It was not a depressive cold inspiration, but an intense, powerful one for me. With the key of “blastbeats”, I explored many kinds of music and reached our present style. So our music is not 100% black metal. This is our reality. We don’t rely on only one pioneer’s heritage. I received huge inspiration from black metal but also death metal, grindcore, and doom/sludge. To be strong artists, we must find out our own way to construct music, the same as many pioneers. In fact, I only recognized our style as black metal when opinions from other people called it so.
ZT: Rigen has a cohesive, almost conceptual feel, is that how it was planned?
Yes, Rigen is written by 裏現 in Japanese as a mean of “to expose human’s hidden reality”. This is a coinage as the antonym of 表現(Hyo-gen). General Japanese 表現 is a noun that means “expression” and each Chinese character has each meaning. 表 means “a surface” and 現 means “exposure”. Now we describe deeper parts of humanity in this album. Normally, present Japanese people maintain a calm look in their faces and behave politely, with no passion, due to our overpopulated society and information congestion. In fact the overpopulated environment kills human expressions of passion to avoid any problems. It’s kind of a conditioned reflex. For example, Tokyo city tends to transmit huge amounts of unnecessary information to us. Neon signs of prostitute places, trucks that play low context pop music loudly, election campaign cars… It’s totally disgusting. I take it for granted that people become too inattentive to absorb any information. Companies are killing our animal senses little by little for their benefits. People can get too much information too easily without any effort. In such a society, people hardly communicate in their true feelings because they are too lazy to express themselves. So people need something to break such a rotten chain here. We have loud sounds, screaming and blast beats. It’s enough.
ZT: You have toured quite a lot, does playing live affect the kind of music you make?
Of course, yes. Lots of encounters with new friends in each city and country gives us powerful inspirations for our music so far. Especially it affects to our lyrics, rather than music. Great feelings and memories bring new creativity. Touring is necessary for Cohol. So I hope to visit places where we haven’t been before from now on with this new album.
ZT: How did you come to be signed to Osmosis Productions?
Before the contract, I sent 10 copies of the promo kit to our favourite foreign labels. I got some replies from some labels and the label that had the most interest for us was Osmose Productions. They hadn’t made contracts with any new bands for between about 7 or 8 years. But Hervé, the boss of Osmose said he want to make a contract with us. That is truly our honor. Enslaved, Anorexia Nervosa, Shining… We loved many Osmose releases and now we are the part of them. It’s really wonderful.
ZT: On your first releases all of the titles were written in Japanese kanji, why did you decide to have titles in English this time?
To reach to the world. My country is an island and the Japanese music market is quite unique. Also there are very few professional extreme music labels. First of all, I really love my country and Japanese culture basically, but I see our own situation philosophically. Many Japanese listeners are interested in only national music. The cause is the Japanese media system and history. As I wrote earlier, Japanese promotional tactics have a strong force to reach inactive customers. Customers choose just the strongest promoted music, not really good music for their taste. On the other hand, bands are also not active in spreading their music to the public. Writing songs, playing them briefly in local shows, that’s all. Some bands are not like this. But many of our national bands’ eyes are closed to furthering themselves. Cohol has to progress. Then we need to access the world, not only this closed community. Now is the time. So we used English for our songs on the new album.
ZT: A related question, your lyrics tend to be in Japanese, obviously this is your native language but is it also an aesthetic/philosophical choice?
Definitely yes. Cohol’s vocalist Hiromasa writes his lyrics with a deep connection to present Japanese lives. It becomes a highly contextual expression consequently. We have lived and experienced our lives within our native language, so writing in Japanese will be the strongest, most dense expression for us. Also screaming in Japanese, Hiromasa’s intonation represents his authentic soul. So we will never discard Japanese for Cohol.
ZT: Songs like Chaos Ruler seem to have quite a strong thrash influence, what bands (if any) would you say were most influential on your style?
Actually, we are influenced by lots of kinds of music; black, death, thrash, brutal death, grindcore, hardcore, doom sludge, and also ambient, game music… I can’t choose one or two bands from them. Our aesthetic is “to accept all of our musical history”. When we look back on our younger days, we loved Kayo-pops, (which means Japanese traditional pop), V-kei rock, nu metal, and hip-hop. It’s not dedicated to true metal style, but this is our reality. We do not hide or deny any of our musical input or history. We can find great music in any genre of music by our own senses. The most important thing is to have our own identity, not to focus one genre for us.
ZT: Cohol has an almost exclusively aggressive metal sound, is that central to your vision? What do you think of the phenomenon of one-man bedroom bands and keyboard-based projects in black metal?
All of us three cultivated our aggression on live shows. Playing many gigs with many people gave our music more power. Our music is a representation of people’s agitation. So I can’t imagine making our present kind of stuff in a bedroom by one person only. One-man black metal often gives me another special feeling, like a sense of depressive beauty. I love that too.
ZT: To what extent (if at all) do you think that being from Japan affects the music you make?
We are dedicated to describing our reality. So we don’t make our concept Satanism or magic even though we play black metal elements as a method of song construction. What is real for us? When? Now. Where? Here, Japan. Conflict and agony through present Japanese life, like mind rape with information overload or the suicide of emotion in this society… Being from Japan affects Cohol’s music extremely strongly.
ZT: Although there has been a strong Japanese black/death scene going right back to the early 90s, it has never had the same kind of profile as the Scandinavian scenes, what do you think of Japanese black metal generally?
Pure black or death metal is not ours, but European. When Japanese bands steal just the surface of black/death metal ideology with no original identity, the result must be of lower quality. We have to have some new inspiration if we borrow some ideas from others. It’s the same as friendship. Now we Japanese bands need to make an original scene and repay the obligation to pioneers. I believe in our country’s potential for extreme music, but is not strong yet.
ZT: Is it difficult to capture the same sense of drama in the studio that happens naturally on stage?
Kind of. So we try to do our best to create an environment at recordings. But in our shows, we focus on the raw passion of the groove in the space with people, more than on the equipment’s mechanical details.
ZT: The songs on Rigen vary from a ceremonial approach on Funeral March to the intense, almost dissonant sound of The End of Acute Phase and many other atmospheres, does your music inspire the lyrics or do the lyrics determine the kind of tunes you write?
Both rely on each other actually. But mostly Hiromasa’s lyrical concepts form the centre of our creativity.
ZT: What is next for Cohol?
Landing on European soil! I started this band for it. Before, I chose to enter a university for learning English, and after that chose the present place to live and work. All of my life was tuned for reaching my target, touring in Europe. Finally we get to the start of it through this release now. I hope to see many of our new brothers there!
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