Heavy metal band ONMYO-ZA has simultaneously released its 11th and 12th albums through King Records.
According to Matatabi, vocalist and bassist of the four-member band, the two albums - "Fujin Kaiko" (literally, "The wind god encounter") and 12th album, "Raijin Sosei," roughly meaning "The thunder god's world creation" - were released together because the subject themes are traditionally paired. Both albums have 12 tracks.
The band is known for using themes from Japanese folklore, such as yokai (supernatural monsters and apparitions).
Matatabi, who writes most of the lyrics and music for the band, told The Yomiuri Shimbun that the band's members started making preparations for the recordings five years ago. In between, they released the 9th and 10th albums. Now, they are already making plans for their 15th album.
"Things we want to do are swirling around, so we have no time for casually going about business. We divide the time left for us to continue with our activities and make albums according to the plan," he said.
Asked about the sources of his creative motivation, he said, "I want to overturn unreasonable things in the world - at least in my songs."
The subject theme of "Kasane" in "Raijin Sosei" is a horror tale based on a true story from the Edo period (1603-1867), which was widely told in various types of fiction, such as the rakugo narrative "Shinkei Kasanegafuchi." At the end of the story, a Buddhist high priest salvages the ghosts of a little girl and a woman belonging to two generations of a family who were killed for being ugly, and lays them to rest.
Matatabi was not impressed with the ending.
"I wrote this song as a way to avenge them," he said.
"Ayameru no nara hajime kara tsukuranai de" (If you are going to kill me, don't father me in the first place) - one of the lines in the lyrics - has a sad ring to it.
The story is still relevant. "The ugliness of human souls hasn't changed since the old days. It appalls me," Matatabi said.
"Seiten no Mikazuki" (The crescent moon in the blue sky), also in "Raijin Sosei," takes its theme from Date Masamune (1567-1636), the famous feudal lord from the Sengoku warring period in medieval Japan to early Edo period. In the lyrics, Matatabi uses phrases containing kanji characters with antiquated readings and meanings that are not widely used today, to make short lines meaningful like haiku. One of the lines reads, "Karisome no sho kanaguri hakaru wa utage no sou," which would roughly translate as, "A wild departure from temporarily following determines the war."
The way the lyrics resonate fits with rock, and they rhyme, too.
"It is often said that in English you can fit more words into a certain number of musical notes [than in Japanese]. But you can say enough of what you want to say in Japanese, too, if you let the words carry various meanings and let the audience read between the lines," Matatabi said.
Founded in 1999, the band decided to make yokai the theme of its activities because they wanted to sing about every emotion humans possess.
The other three members are the female vocalist Kuroneko and two guitarists, Maneki and Karukan. The stage names of the four are all related to cats - an aspect of their playful side. "Yaobikuni," another song on "Fujin Kaiko," is based on Osamu Tezuka's epic manga "Hi no Tori" (Phoenix) and has a duration of exactly eight minutes, which is a pun on the song's title that includes kanji characters meaning 800.
"Haru ranman ni shiki no mau nari" (Shiki dances in the height of spring) on "Fujin Kaiko" has a pop sound for a change. Kuroneko sings the song in a voice like an idol singer.
"Be it a cheerful song or a scary song, she sings it as it is," said Matatabi, who exhibits an absolute trust in the singer.
"Mufu Nimpocho" on "Fujin Kaiko" is a song about the band's unique attitude.
"Nobody cares if ONMYO-ZA exists on the music scene or not. Nor does the music scene movement affect us. This completely calm state is desirable," Matatabi said self-deprecatingly.
Still, the two albums have reached 10th and 11th place on the Oricon weekly music chart.