Blood Rite Vol. XI: A Burial in Koenji
I arrived in Koenji around 5:00 PM last Saturday and made my way to the U.F.O. Club. It was a beautiful warm day out, a nice change considering the prior rainy week, and I was excited to see some good bands as well as some I hadn’t heard before. Thankfully, there was a kombini next to the venue, and I was a bit thirsty prior to the show, so I picked up a Chuhai tall boy in haste.
Anyone who has experienced it knows that Chuhai’s a fickle alcohol. It can make a great kick start to an evening or it can break you entirely, turning you into an incoherent drunken mess by the end of the night. There’s no doubt that I was somewhere in between by the end of Blood Rite Volume XI.
I finished the Chuhai and picked up a few beers in between greeting friends, acquaintances, and making some new ones. While sitting and smoking a cigarette, enjoying the afternoon sun, I got to talk to an older dude. With the alcohol warming up my palette for my broken Japanese, I remarked on his Cudoa sweatshirt. He was from Shizouka Prefecture, and from what I gathered, helped out bands from there. He told me that the scene there was pretty small, and that the second biggest in Japan was in Nagoya. It was an interesting conversation, and I always like to learn more about the underground scene here.
I headed downstairs to see what was happening. People were already filling up the venue as the opening band performed their first set. The duo on stage were Fra Hedensk Tid, a Black Metal act out of Shizouka prefecture. The vocalist stood at the front of the stage adorned with corpse paint and spikes, belting out some grim narrative. The guitarist hammered out the atmospheric riffs, together but somehow isolated from the vocalist. Like two lonely souls crossing paths in a dark winter forest.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of Black Metal, though I will occasionally break out the old Mayhem or Darkthrone. Corpse paint is comical at times, but can also have a cool grim aesthetic I find appealing. Yet I always enjoy the interlude that Black Metal bands can provide in between other Metal acts at shows. Something about the repetitive riffs and blast beats provides a cold introspective atmosphere. In any case, Fra Hedensk Tid provided that by combining a grim aesthetic with a well put together set.
After Fra Hedensk Tid finished their set, I grabbed another beer and chatted with some people while waiting for Retch to get set up. I noticed that the venue was filling up with more people, with quite a few foreigners in the crowd as well. I noticed a few guys with the classical military high and tight haircuts who might have been from one of the U.S. bases in the area. I also saw a couple dressed in some sort of medieval garb, who I had seen the week prior walking around Yoyogi park.
By the time Retch got started, my head was already swimming with booze and anticipation. Say one thing for the Tokyo Death/Black quartet, they always bring a high energy set to the show. Vocalist Mark roared into the mic as he waded through the pit and the band spat out blistering riffs and percussion mixed with brutal hooks. I had seen Retch perform at Blood Rite X at Earthdom, and I was more impressed than before. I looked around and saw people starting to loosen up, heads banging and their bodies shifting like currents were emanating throughout the small venue. From the stage to the bar in the back of the room, it seemed like people were getting into it, Gearing up for something destructive.
If Retch lit the spark, Intestine Baalism fuelled the fire. Tokyo’s Death Metal veterans took to the stage and suddenly the room was packed nearly front to back. The pit was almost immediately filled with bodies, jostling and two stepping, smiling faces flashing by. For a band that doesn’t play out that often, Intestine Baalism churned out a finely tuned set. Melodic acumen mixed with throat shredding vocals reminiscent of the Gothenburg style. It was an impressive display of talent and they should play out more often.
After they finished their set, people milled about. I drank a few beers at the bar and chatted with friends. Sendai’s Funeral Doom band Begräbnis were the headlining band scheduled to play last. I was unfamiliar with them, so I wasn’t prepared for the spectacle that was about to commence. The curtains were still closed as an eerie instrumental began to play. When they opened two hooded figures stood with their instruments. A space opened up in front of me, so I took a shaky step forward to get a better look. And so the burial began.
The heavy guitars kept it slow, like Death dragging itself across the floor, paced to the bass drum track. I heard something guttural, but I couldn’t see what or who it was coming from. The hooded figures stood away from the mics, so it wasn’t them. I took a few more steps forward as spaces opened up and then I saw the pale, long haired figure in a soiled burial dress, bent at the waist and arms up at the sides. Slowly she stood, and finally I could see the full stage show. The specter at the front, the cultists on either side, and it all came together. This was Begräbnis, this was the burial.
It’s difficult, days later to describe their set. But I remember it was captivating, with fully fleshed out songs mixed between instrumental interludes, complete with the slow moving revenant never breaking character. The anonymous cultists looked unassuming and in a way appeared subservient while droning away on their instruments. When the curtains closed, I was disappointed that it was over. Maybe it was the booze, but I was momentarily convinced that they had somehow put a curse on everyone present. I wondered if I, or any of us, would ever be the same.
I made my way upstairs and grabbed some beers at the kombini and milled around outside with friends. It was still warm and the moon was out. We discussed the show as we slowly began to unwind. Slowly, the eerie melancholy of Begräbnis melted away. Finally, the organizer and Kaala founder Matt Ketchum broke us from our reverie for an after party. I was drunk enough to consider joining, but remembering that I had work the next morning parted ways with everyone at Shinjuku. That night, I dreamt of a pale ghost dragging across my bedroom floor. Her long fingers taking the form of claws and reaching for my exposed throat…