Alone in Rush Hour: Lifeblood's "Shattered Wishes"
Banner photo: Chino Kumagai
In a city where over six thousand people are packed into one square kilometer it's hard to imagine feeling lonely, especially when rush-hour trains see weary and sweaty bodies standing far too close for comfort. People get jostled, elbowed, and shoved every time the doors open. During this hellacious period of commutation, you can see faces crushed and plastered against foggy windows. You can’t escape people. They’re literally smashed up against you. Even at home the walls are so thin you can hear your neighbors conversing at night. You can hear every cough. You can hear it when their phone vibrates. There is no escape from the sea of humanity that ebbs and flows throughout the city.
Despite this feature of Tokyo life, Lifeblood’s Shattered Wishes is an album that conjures loneliness whether the listener likes it or not. Though it was released a few years ago, it wasn't until recently that I picked up their debut full length and gave it a listen while on my evening commute. It was the first time I had ever felt completely and totally alone on a crowded train. Described as Depressive Black/Doom, from the opening track to the final note Shattered Wishes transports the listener to a place that is utterly isolated and devoid of the bustling city whence the band hails.
Musically, Lifeblood plays on a lot of familiar norms in the styles of Black Metal and Doom while maintaining a pared-down sound without an abundance of noisy distortion. Forlorn and meditative, the album unfurls its coils and envelops the listener in its icy grip of solitude. The first time I saw them perform, I was surprised at how much the bass carries the melody while the guitar layers over it - Shohei’s (guitar and vocals) growls remain largely subdued, growing in volume to accentuate key points. The outcome leaves us with a well crafted album that belongs to the genres it’s associated with while demonstrating Lifeblood’s own style.
I reached out to Shohei to talk about it and he was quite forthcoming with the formulation of Shattered Wishes. The album’s namesake song was written in dedication to his friend who tragically took his own life. Shohei told me that they two of them would often encourage each other and promised to someday share the stage, a promise that will remain sadly unfulfilled. “In addition to that,” Shohei continued, “I had mental problems before Lifeblood was formed because of [my job at a] Black Company. The songs included in the album, especially ‘Numb’ and ‘Black Rain’, reflect the process of my recuperation.”
If you’ve paid even a small amount of attention to Japanese news sources, you’ve likely heard the term “Black Company” before. Black Companies are corporations that require employees to go above and beyond what is expected of them in service to profit margins and bottom lines. Long hours of what is referred to as service (read: unpaid) overtime. Failure to comply with these expectations may lead to disciplinary action, being passed over for promotions, and harassment from supervisors. Japan has long had a stereotype of salarymen and women committing suicide or dying from overwork (known as Karoshi). Though the stereotype is inflated, Black companies have no doubt contributed to it. Following a recent high profile case of the suicide of an employee of the advertising giant Dentsu, the government has attempted to take steps to restrict overtime (unpaid or otherwise). Punishment, however, for offending companies is little more than public shaming and fines so small they’re mere slap on the wrists. For the individual employees themselves, the cost can be much higher.
In a way, writing the songs for Shattered Wishes was therapeutic for Shohei. Writing each note and chord, the melodic bass melody, and the lyrics allowed him to cope with not only the loss of a friend but depression and the associated emotional and mental isolation. Thankfully, it helped him fight his demons and Lifeblood is as active as ever and we can expect more sadness from the Black/Doom three-piece. Word on the street is they have new material recorded and ready to be released sometime in 2018, but the release date is still unknown. In the mean time, you can pick up Shattered Wishes on their Bandcamp or get a physical copy at Weird Truth Productions.