By Sean Palmerston
The Far East holds many treasures. Although it is very advanced both economically and industrially, the island nation of Japan has managed to hold on to its ancient cultures and integrate them into modern society in a way that we North Americans have not. Ancient Japanese culture is still highly respected in its arts and music, sometimes to a point where it can become an alienating experience to foreign visitors.
One band that has embraced traditional Japanese culture and used it to make something that is both new and exciting is the Osaka based quartet Birushanah. A band that has ties to the always-amazing Corrupted (bassist Sougyo spent some time in that band), Birushanah melds traditional Japanese percussion (done on metal instrumentation) with sludge metal that is similar to early Swans, Neurosis and (fellow Japanese) Zeni Geva.
Last year the band released their debut album Akai Yami through New Jersey’s Level Plane Records. Consisting of three tracks, two of which are nearly twenty minutes in length each, the album takes the listener through a mindfuck collage of sound that transpires the gamut from traditional Japanese folk and drumming to balls out pounding doom – all in the same song. It is an album that requires an adventurous ear but those willing to make the commitment will find an entirely new outlook waiting to be discovered.
The following is an excerpt of a conversation with founding band member Sougyo that was done shortly after their spring 2008 US tour with Drain The Sky and Wormwood. There was a bit of a language barrier in the interview, but it is clear to see that the bassist really believes in what he is doing and is excited to find out just what the future holds.
Can you explain the formation of the band, how it came to be? I understand that at least one member of the band was formerly in Corrupted. What was the inspiration for forming Birushanah?
Birushanah was formed in our hometown of Osaka, Japan by (bassist) Sougyo and (drummer) John in 2002. We have had few changes with the members and are now settled as a four-piece band.
Sougyo is on fretless bass, Japanese drums and vocals. Iso plays guitar and is the main vocalist. Kohei is on drums and Wakki on metal percussion. I played bass for Corrupted four years ago for one year (2004), but I chose to leave Corrupted to concentrate on my main band Birushanah. Playing in Corrupted did give me lots of inspiration but also our music is very much influenced and based upon Japanese traditional music.
The incorporation of metal percussion into the band’s musical instrumentation gives the music a unique feel. Why was the decision made to have a regular drummer and then metal percussion as well? What does the metal percussion bring to the band?
Many of the Japanese traditional musics include metal sound. Especially for traditional Japanese festivals or brightly dressed musicians playing on the streets for advertising purposes. We thought the sound of the metal needed to be introduced into BIRUSHANAH. It is indispensable for us now.
How important is traditional Japanese music to what Birushanah creates? How does traditional Japanese music inspire what you create musically?
Traditional Japanese music is important in our culture but most Japanese teenagers don’t like it. We are disappointed about this. Japanese people should have more pride about Japanese traditional music. We also sing in Japanese. This is very important for us.
Birushanah has a sound unlike any other band that I have ever encountered, although at times it does remind me of heavy bands that I am fond of, such as Neurosis, Swans, Zeni Geva. What bands were influential on the creation of your own music?
Of course, we like Neurosis, Swans, Zeni Geva, Corrupted, Der Eisenrost, Einstuerzende Neubauten and Drain The Sky, WORMWOOD and many other bands. Bands that have an original sound and view of the world influence us. It is our theme to keep the expression of an original sound and worldview.
The band toured the Western US earlier this year to support your debut album on Level Plane. Were these the band’s first shows in the USA? How did the tour go? Will Birushanah return to the US for more tour dates anytime soon?
Yes, we played the West Coast of the US earlier this year. We had planned to do a US tour the previous year. Then Greg from Level Plane said to me that if BIRUSHANAH would come there that DRAIN THE SKY would be cool with doing dates with us. It was a great tour and we will never forget about this tour.
Before this we had actually played twice in Hawaii, in both 2004 and 2005. It was great time as well. Of course, we would love to do a much bigger US tour in 2009. We want to play in the regions we have not been yet.
How did Birushanah join forces with Level Plane? How did you become involved with the label?
We looked for a good US label to release our album. I had sent some demos to Level Plane already, as it was our most favorite label. So, I was glad to receive contact back from Greg. We think that it is great to work with LEVEL PLANE for this release and tour and we want to continue working with them in the future too.
The band has been together for more than five years, but this is your first full-length album. What caused the five years wait to make your first album?
BIRUSHANAH was a show and tour band. Through the band’s establishment of the soul and original sound, we were ready to hit the studio for recording but unfortunately we kept having various line up changes.
I understand that Birushanah has recorded a new split album with Drain The Sky. How did this split album come to be? How will the music on it differ from what you have created on the full-length album? When will this split be released?
We did receive an offer from Greg from Level Place and Nico from the French label Destructure about this split and we are excited to do it. We think it is good timing for this Split.
Listening to your Level Plane debut makes me wonder how a Birushanah song is written? On the album’s two longer songs, the songs seem to travel through different phases. Are the songs written in sections and then fit together or is this more of a natural progression within the songs? Are the songs written out meticulously, piece by piece or does the band work on songs as they go, improvising sections to let them take their own shape?
We make the basic track first. It takes a lot of time for one song And we create various scenarios by altering the atmosphere of the tune. There are also themes in Iso’s lyrics, which are sung in Japanese. However, we can never read into what he is thinking.
What does the future hold for Birushanah? What can we expect from the band? Will there be more US touring? More releases before the end of the year?
We will do release the split album with Drain The Sky and will also do a European tour from October to December in this year. Early next year, we will do Japanese tour with KYLESA in February and another one with SUMA in June 2009!! We have many shows, tours abd releases in the future. We can’t wait!
Originally written for METAL MANIACS, summer 2008. Previous unpublished.