XXII. Japanese & Korean Metal: A Writer’s Gift
From Maximum the Hormone to Korea’s widely underrated Novasonic…to lesser known bands like Acid and the powerhouse vocals of Back-On…here, we get into it.
In the summer of 2008, I was coming up on 22 years of age and entering my final stretch of film school. I had just ended an era where my romantic pursuit helped me grow from a teen to an actual adult and my spirits were flying at an all-time high. It was during this time that I discovered a gift. And I couldn’t have done it without the music of Maximum the Hormone.
I’ll never forget it. It was for my 8pm “Master Screenwriting” class. Mr. Sims told the entire class to spend the next four hours writing whatever we wanted. He instructed us not to delete anything. Not to look anything up. Not to stop and think ahead. But to simply write everything that was in our head to form a story off the cuff.
Some people think “tunnel vision” isn’t real. I’m here to tell you it is. By tunnel vision, I’m referring to the intense focus by which it’s damn near impossible for anyone or anything to distract you. For some people, it’s adrenaline that puts them in that trance. Others, it’s high-intense stress, the pressure, the anxiety, the life or death struggle (I’m guessing here.) But for me…it’s metal.
Honestly, it takes me back to my freshman year. I was playing Mushroomhead as I drove some friends of mine and they thought it was weird to see me so calm and relaxed while listening to the sounds of rapid-pulsing high-octane music. I asked, “how do most people act?”
“Like, they’re head-banging man. All amped up and ready to go!” They told me.
MUSHROOMHEAD – BEFORE I DIE
I smirked. Because really, they weren’t wrong. In truth, I was amped up and ready to go. Everytime I listen to a metal song, whether it’s Japanese metal or American like Slipknot. I may appear calm and collective on the outside, but on the inside, my heart is cranking at a 180 rpms. My eyes hardly blink. Everything becomes more clear, sharper. It’s the same wherever I am. Whether I’m driving, working out in the gym, or performing an assignment at work. It’s like the sound of Metal puts up barriers, the bumpers to my bowling lane to keep me focused on the task at hand.
I never thought this would apply to writing as well. Any music will do really. But no genre is as effective as metal. That starry night in June of 2008, in four hours I cranked out 50 pages. And it wasn’t garbage either. That night, I wrote the treatment for what would become my “Dragon Ash” story. In the coming year, I’d go on to develop it into short stories and even scripts, one of which got me the highest passing grade in the class. It was one of the best nights of my life. Eleven years later (2019), I still use this method.
Let’s start from the beginning…because it’s not like I just rolled out of bed and stumbled on Maximum the Hormone’s music. There were gateway bands and some creatively written anime that led me to this 4-member nu-metal band.
From April of 2008 to September of 2008, I was tasked with three projects. 1) I had to find a local band and produce their music video. Meaning, I had to shoot, direct, and edit it. 2) I had to serve as the producer to another student’s short film. And 3) I had to write, direct, and edit my own short film. I had to do all of this, on top of working as a pizza delivery driver to pay rent.
These aren’t complaints. These are challenges. Challenges, I was finally ready for. And this attitude…at the time, I can thank the anime I was watching for encouraging me.
Around that time, I had stumbled upon anime like “Shinchan” that aired on Adult Swim. But more significantly, I took the time to watch an anime called “Air Gear” that appeared on Netflix. Haha, so if you’ve never heard of that show…it’s definitely entertaining, wildly funny, action-packed, and definitely doesn’t shy away from sexual innuendos. The main character starts off getting into this new sport where he’s not exactly the best, but has a ridiculous amount of potential. He gets his ass beat numerous times, but he never gives up and he gets better with each pass. Just the kind of message I needed when I was in film school.
But more than that…the opening theme song introduced me to a Japanese rock group that…lol, I dare say, they remind me of a Japanese version of Linkin Park. It’s a rock group with a solid hip hop sounding rapper, with a powerhouse vocalist who can belt and scream to the back of the stadium.
When I first heard the “Chain” theme song by Back-On, I was immediately intrigued. Almost the same way I was intrigued when I heard Dragon Ash’s “Fantasista”. As I’ve said in previous chapters, a majority of Japanese bands all sound the same. So when you hear a j-rock band where the singers sound completely different, yeah, it’s bound to take you by surprise. I needed to hear more.
Dude, the “New World” Mini Album that was released on November 22nd 2006 is by far one of the greatest mini-albums I’ve ever heard. It combines the sound of Linkin Park with the Japanese emphasis on melody that Uverworld’s known for. Every song on that mini album is golden and made the challenge of having to tackle those three student projects…a bit more memorable. It made that summer memorable. But they weren’t alone.
Along with Back-On, I discovered another Japanese rock band…where the vocalist does kind of sound like every other Japanese rock band I’ve ever heard, but their songs, the execution and creativity sets them apart. “Garden Variety” is not a word that comes to mind when you hear the base-heavy sound of ACid.
ACID – CONJURATION
Acid was a much welcomed surprise. The bassist and drummer were perhaps the best I’ve heard from Japan. This group definitely made me feel small, having discovered them and Back-On around the same time. What this showed was how small-minded I was. Acid was amazing. I can only imagine what they’re concerts looked like, blasting songs like “Sweet SHINE.”
Haha! There were countless nights of me blasting “Sweet Sound” as I muscled my way through an hour-long session on the treadmill. I day-dreamed of either being in the band as one of the guitarists. Or being on the battlefield with that song providing the soundtrack to my awesome martial arts choreography.
Sadly, they disbanded in 2009 and you’d be hard press to find their albums available anywhere. If you leave a comment, I’ll see about uploading more of their music here. But from the numerous songs I heard that summer, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention “Big Bang.”
Now then…aside from Acid and Back-On, that summer was the summer I really got into a Korean metal group called Novasonic. And I honestly can’t begin to tell you how happy I was to find them. In fact, if you’re reading this and you know of other Korean metal groups, please let me know. Because here’s the thing…I love the sound of the Korean language. I like the way their words sounds when they sing and rap. I wish there were more metal bands, but if you Google Korean metal, you might find a whole bunch of bands…that aren’t really metal. At best, they’re hard rock, but mostly they’re just rock, like FT Island or Nell.
The kind of music I was looking for were the edgy sounds of Seo Taiji when he came out with “Ultramania.” Or Moon Hee Jun when he released “Alone”. In coming years, I’d eventually discover bands like Yellow Monsters, Trans-Fixion, and Burstered. So when I found Novasonic…it was like I struck oil in the middle of a barren wasteland.
NOVASONIC – BOMBCULT
Back then, I was part of a forum called z-degrees.net. There was this one thread that had an entire discography of every Korean album ever produced, just available for download to everyone. After I heard “Bombcult,” I downloaded all of their albums. Novasonic was in a class all of their own, experimental rock, it was called. This was back before I learned about Queen (my parents deprived me of other cultures growing up.) But Novasonic was very much comparable to Queen in the sense that they blended their metal with harmonious sounds, mixing it up, not following any set formula or pattern.
Honestly, it was amazing. As I searched for more information on Novasonic, I got conflicting details. I heard they were active from 2000-2005. But I also found a page that said they were around since 1994. I also saw that they disbanded and reformed to create the band, N.EX.T. It’s difficult to know what’s what. Either way, it didn’t make sense why a band this good or unique didn’t make it’s mark. Like, why didn’t I find this band sooner the way I found DBSK or Se7en or Rain?
I think I simply concluded that metal or heavy rock just wasn’t valued in S. Korea the way the softer, pop tunes were. I’m sure it’s the same way it is here in the States. Except here, the U.S. is a larger country with a better economy to facilitate fringe genres. Even if 2% of the population likes metal, that’s 2% of 360 million Americans = 7.2 million fans buying your albums. Because they’re music is so hard to find, I’ll upload the top five songs I never get tired of listening to. Aside from “Bombcult” and “Home,” there’s:
KING OF DARKNESS
SLAM – VIDEO KILLED RADIO STAR
DANCE OF SUGER PLUM SONG
I was so enthralled by the band that I felt compelled to introduce them to my classmates. For my student film project that summer, I wrote, directed, and edited a short dark comedy skit called “Unrestraint.” It’s about a pizza store manager who “breaks free” from being nice about everything and goes after a rude customer. Haha, I use the metal of “Bombcult” at the 2:31 minute mark.
The music of Novasonic definitely made that project a memorable experience. It was hard work filming and putting the whole thing together, but I’ve never been more proud of myself as a film student when I presented it. Because honestly…when it comes to being a film student and film production in general, it’s a broad concept. When you’re working on a movie set, you’re not everything at once. You have a job, whether you’re a grip, the writer, editor, lightning director, director of photography, the assistant director, a production assistant, the sound technician, a boom operator, ectera. Almost everyone comes out of film school with the essential knowledge of all those jobs. But it was my belief that I should pick at least one of those jobs and master it.
And I chose what I am…a writer. I was the only one in my entire class that finished a feature length screenplay within a month’s time. This included, writing out a beat sheet, treatment, and shorter synopsis. How did I do it? Novasonic and the Japanese rock band Dragon Ash helped tremendously…but it wasn’t until I tapped into the metal stylings of Maximum the Hormone that I really took flight and I no longer saw the project as an assignment, but an indulgence.
I discovered Maximum the Hormone the same way most people did around that time. The opening theme song to the wildly popular anime, “Death Note.” the name of that song was “What Up People.”
I have to give the creators of “Death Note” so much credit when it comes to my growth as a writer. Not only did it introduce me to Maximum the Hormone, but it really unlocked something deep within me as an artist. It was honesty. The pure, brutal, unadulterated honesty. In my opinion, this is every artist’s greatest weapon, the thing that differentiates one artist from another. If an artist pours out their true feelings on the situation, the conflict at hand, not what you want a character to do, but what a character truly would do based on the circumstances…in that, you’ll create something new.
“Death Note” and another program I obsessed over, HBO’s “Rome,” showed me a different side to humanity. It may be fiction, but the philosophies featured have a lot of truth in them based on what I saw in the world. For instance, in “Death Note,” a strong point I agree with is society doing the right thing when they’re identities are exposed for all to see. However, anonymously, morality and virtue goes out the window…as you see with commenters on Youtube and blogs. With “Rome,” I learned the mastery of ulterior motives. Everything is happening for a reason, sometimes (a lot of times) more than one. Life isn’t so simple, black or white. And the label of who the protagonist is in a story, is really based on a person’s interpretation of the story.
All these things, just exploded in my mind. My earliest writings dealt with that kind of struggle. My main characters were always one who “appeared” to do the right thing, but they had dark ulterior motives that they wrestled with and hated everyone else for being so oblivious to their own motives. The anti-hero, the avenging cop…I can go all day with this.
And I wrote all day to this, to the music of Maximum the Hormone.
Maximum the Hormone in a lot of ways reminded me of System of a Down. I believe it’s called groove metal, where the guitar riff is often repetitive, in a groove. A quartet, Maximum the Hormone consists of Ue-Chan on bass, Daisuke-han with the harsh vocals, Nao on the drums and her brother, Ryo-kun as a guitarists and a vocalist.
The dynamics of this band were astounding. Daisuke is the main front man providing those screaming vocals every metal band must have…but really it’s Ryo’s voice that appealed to me. I honestly think he’s an awesome singer who could go solo. He doesn’t sound like any other Japanese singer I’ve ever heard. Also, his sister, the drummer Nao sometimes provides vocals on songs. So here, you have a Japanese metal band rockin’ out harder than most with just four members. And essentially, they consist of three vocalists. Take this song for example. It’s one of my favorites. Here, you have Daisuke opening up the song as the lead vocalist, then Nao blesses us with her pipes @:56, with Ryo coming in @1:16.
Maximum the Hormone – SHIMI
This was such a significant time in my life and I couldn’t imagine that summer without the music of Novasonic, Maximum the Hormone, ACid, and Back-On. There were countless nights where I’d finish work depleted at 1am…and yet, I’d hear their music and get amped enough to hit the gym at 330lbs. By 3am, I’d shower off and head to my school’s computer labs where I’d write until the sun came up around 7am. This was a daily routine for me and I absolutely loved it.
Honestly, looking back…I have no regrets. You’d think with college students, the best part of college were the parties, the clubs, the festivals and football games…For me, it was those long nights where I’d crank out pages. In the coming years, I’d explain it as… “I’m addicted to production and I get my high off of accomplishment.” Because at the end of every day, I can step away from the keyboard and know that progress was made. Whether it was crap or not was irrelevant. The fact is, I was doin’ the damn thing.
And as much as I loved the metal that kept it rockin’ that summer of 2008…It’s like K-Pop saw what was going on with me and said, “Hold my beer.”
Because the latter half of 2008 would be dominated by a war to determine who’s the best group in S. Korea. It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for ever since I saw the way Big Bang was treated for being different from the other pretty boy groups. In the latter half of 2008…Big Bang and DBSK would face off on the same stage and I was honored to witness it all.