Rich “The Meister” Dillon arrived from Toronto on Friday night, after which we promptly celebrated until 4 am. Hungover on Saturday, The Meister and I bravely worked our way out to Club Seata in Kichijoji to attend the Japanese Assault Fest 2015, with a lineup of Spiritual Beast label acts. The club was small – it holds about 500 people – and the lobby, which is the only place to smoke in the building, was already filling with the smells of metal fans’ cigarettes. Spiritual Beast is not a known label in my home country nor Canada for that matter, so there were both Japanese and International acts on the bill.
The merchandise table was right in front, so I picked up my festival t-shirt and looked at some of the bands’ artwork before the first act went on stage. There had already been some drama, as most of the band from Canada (one of The Meister’s favorites) had missed their flight the day before and just now were landing at Narita airport. Akira Sugiuchi, the President of Spiritual Beast who we were fortunate enough to meet, graciously reorganized the show, so that Diemonds wouldn’t miss playing on Saturday. They would be there in time. Meanwhile, the show must go on.
Now thrash metal is not really my scene, so take this commentary for what it’s worth. The first band, Gauntlet, from Japan, released their first album, Birthplace of Emperor last year. They have a Japanese new wave look to them, and the music was hard, but disjointed, like the notes were chaotic on purpose. It was difficult to work out the melody (if you can say thrash metal has a melody), but they gave 110% effort even to a mostly empty hall, and should benefit from better songwriting on their next album. The second band of the evening was United, whose last release, Tear of Illusions, was in 2011. They are also in the thrash metal genre, although they started as a Judas Priest cover band almost 30 years ago. I couldn’t really tell if they were good – again, not my type of music – but the songs seemed better organized, the singer had a good, strong scream, and they were getting a better reaction from the now larger crowd.
Sunday’s show started with two more Japanese bands, In For the Kill and Solitude. IFtK was not at all my kind of music – back to the thrash metal sound. Even though they only have one demo that was released last year, they seemed to have played together a lot, since they were very tight as a band even through a set of complicated songs. There is definitely talent there. Solitude is fronted by Spiritual Beast’s President Sugiuchi. The first thing that I noticed was the riffs. They immediately grab you with a huge hook, and every song they played, although a bit harder than what I typically listen to, had a riff you wish you had written! They played music from several albums, including their latest, the just-released Reach for the Sky.
The international bands all played on both nights of the festival. First up was Greek band Suicidal Angels. They came out to the theme song to Jaws, which I found amusing, and they had a decent light show that included some lasers to go along to their music. Although there were thrash songs to start, two of their songs, “Reborn of Fire” and “Seed of Evil” were reminiscent of early Metallica. They were the best band so far, even though it was the first show for their new guitarist, and it seemed the music was getting better the longer we stayed at the show. I had the good fortune to meet them on Sunday night after their second set, and we had a good time over a few beers.
The Meister’s favorite band (well documented on decibelgeek.com), Diemonds, had a rough time getting to the club, having arrived from Canada literally hours before show time on Saturday. They had the last slot on the first day, and even tired, they put on a good performance. The title track from their latest release, Never Wanna Die, has “hit record” written all over it – if only radio still played rock music. Their second appearance on Sunday, though, was electric. It helps that this is really music that I like, but the band played full speed ahead with a longer set, and had the crowd jumping at 3:00 in the afternoon!! Maybe this is the year they finally break through.
The headliners were Enforcer from Sweden. Balancing on the harder edge of heavy metal and hard rock, the lead singer screams like a banshee right out of the good old ‘80s, makeup included. They really owned the stage and made it less “us and them” by frequently inviting the crowd to share their energy, which never wavered, and scream our heads off. It’s hard to imagine the lead singer can continue to sing those high notes for much longer, but he had no problem belting them out both nights. I especially liked “Take Me Out of This Nightmare” and “Mesmerized By Fire” from their Death By Fire album. They also played some songs from the new album From Beyond, which saw them stray towards hard rock. I don’t think their fans were worried, though, as they had good, vocal crowds both nights.
Thanks to Spiritual Beast and all the great bands we met over the two days! I think we’re all looking forward to next year’s event!