"So have you heard about GISM?" my friend asked me sometime during the early nineties.
"They're from Japan and they're so metal they're punk. And they are Yakuza. You gotta hear this shit, they are fucking nuts!"
And who could not love them with crazy lyrics, over the top distorted guitars, violent behaviour, and anarchy and chaos following them around. I had fallen in love with my first Japanese hardcore band.
Singer of GISM, and allegedly Yakuza killer, Sakevi from a classic video (I paid so much money for a copy of this VHS in the early nineties) bringing out a flame thrower and trying to fry people in the audience.This was my introduction to Japanese hardcore, and I fell in love right away. Some years later I exchanged tapes with Brian, the drummer of the American band DROPDEAD (brilliant band from Boston by the way, but another story), and he could not stop raving about this Japanese band called GAUZE. First listen I was stuck - this was the.best.band.ever. They had been playing since 1981 (and they still exist, which is nuts) and was on all the "important comps" from the 80ties and 90ties plus did a few downright amazing records during the 80ties.
Live show with Gauze from 1986. Amazing.Being - like most early Japanese punk/hardcore bands - a well kept secret they "broke" only when the American label Prank records (ran by Ken Sanderson, MRR columnist and Gilman street booker) brought them over to the US for a tour, and at the same time released an EP (and re-released the classic LP "Equalising distort"). Both me and Brian bought three identical shirts from that tour. Because why the hell would you ever want to wear a shirt with anything else than Gauze?
"The prank EP", getting Gauze the recognition (in the USA) they deserved, together with their epic US tour in 1996.Gauze is my favourite band ever, and while not a part of they were HUGELY important for the part of the Japanese hardcore scene that I intend to write about, namely the BURNING SPIRIT.
Burning spirits is the name of a part of the Japanese scene that shared record labels and venues for shows, but they also had a distinct sound. While getting their foundational sound from foreign influences like Discharge from England and various Swedish bands (like Mob 47 and Anti-cimex) they also had a sweet spot for 80-ties speed metal (mixing glam rock hairdos and studded leather jackets) and long flashy guitar solos.
The first two really influental bands in this genre was Death side and Bastard. Both released their first LPs in 1989 (Death side with "Wasted dreams" and Bastard with "Controlled in the frame).
Death side with the song "Burning spirit" from 1991But it was not until a few years later with their best efforts that the world REALLY took notice. Especially "The Bastard 12-inch" as we all used to call it really shook us around and left us wanting more more more of this new style of hardcore.
Seriously, just listen to this and you will understand how amazed we were by this. I think I didn't go to one single party in the nineties where this record didn't end up replacing all the others on the turntable sooner or later, never to be removed, and with the volume getting turned up louder and louder.
The opening track from Bastard's classic 12" "Wind of pain" from 1992.Another band, and maybe the roughest musically and also like GISM rumoured to be really dangerous in real life, with close yakuza ties was Judgement. They only released a few EPs, but they are pretty much a 100% perfect glimpse in the Burning spirit sound.
But Bastard and Death Side formed the absolute core of the Burning spirits movements and when they broke up the members went ahead and formed bands as Forward and Paintbox, two hugely influential bands in the latter parts of the 90ties and early 00s, and being that these bands actually toured the US and Japan
Paintbox first EP was released by the label that now was releasing most of the more important Burning spirit bands, the label HG Fact. The main creative force in this band, they guitarist Chelsea, came from Death Side after they broke up.
The band forward also had a number of members from they now defunct Death Side - especially important for the genre was the vocalist Ishiya with his patented way of singing being imitated by most of the international bands now also getting influenced by the Burning spirit sound.Sure, there where other bands but these was the main reason that the burning spirit sound travelled abroad to mix with American and European styles of hardcore punk music. Getting even more recognition with some of these bands than the original Japanese bands ever did. But this is for the pt 2 of the story of the BURNING SPIRIT!