Japan: Miyavi

In a very different style than the rustic Finnish Forest Clan, I would to like to present the electrifying Japanese urbanite Ishihara Takamasa aka Miyavi. The above picture was my first encounter with this artist, and I wanted to share the experience with others. Born from a Zainichi Korean father and a Japanese mother in Osaka in 1981, he joined the visual kei band Dué le Quartz in 1999, before starting his solo guitarist career after the band’s dissolution in 2002. He has since then released seven studio albums: Gagaku (2002), Galyuu (2003), Miyavizm (2005), MYV Pops (2006), Miyaviuta -Dokusou- (2006), This Iz the Japanese Kabuki Rock (2008) and What’s My Name? (2010).

As a visual kei artist, Miyavi targets visual overload, be it through his osentatious costumes, experimental hairstyle or dizzying music videos. But this characteristic is only an accessory to his incredible, supersonic guitar play. The whole is blended as a uniquely Japanese sensory overload, inspired by early 1990s visual kei pioneers such as X-Japan (the term visual kei actually from X-Japan’s slogan of “psychedelic violence crime of visual shock”; see also their songs Desperate Angel and Weekend) and Kabuki Rocks (Kabuki being a style of traditional Japanese theater that often makes heavy use of heavy make-up and flamboyant costumes; you can get more of them by copying their Japanese name カブキロックス in youtube). You may judge by yourself how this comes out nowadays with young Japanese artists like Miyavi:

.If you are looking for some visual violence, I recommend Pop is Dead (the audio on this video needs to be turned up a bit), Joushou Gaidou or Neo Visualizm. If you want the audio side of Miyavi, some concentrated guitar awesomeness, have a look at Selfish Love, Are You Ready to Rock?, What’s my name?, Strong or Survive. Talking about surviving, I hope you ears will have done just that, after all these vids.


Finland: Korpiklaani

Today I would like to present to you a authentic Finnish band, Korpiklaani. Korpiklaani now numbers six members: Jonne Järvelä (vocals, guitar), Teemu Eerola (violin), Kalle “Cane” Savijärvi(guitar), Matti “Matson” Johansson (drums), Jarkko Aaltonen (bass) and Juho Kauppinen (accordion). The band finds its origins in Shamaani Duo, an in-house restaurant folk music band founded in 1993, which released an album before switching from folk to folk metal as the band Shaman. Shaman released two albums (Idja, 1999, and Shamaniac, 2002) before being renamed to Korpiklaani. As Korpiklaani, the band had released 7 albums by 2011: Spirit of the Forest (2003), Voice of Wilderness (2005), Tales Along This Road (2006), Tervaskanto (2007), Korven Kuningas (2008), Karkelo (2009), and Ukon Wacka (2011).

Taking with them the experience of playing folk music in the Shamaani Duo years, the band members of Shaman sung in the Sami language (the Sami people being an ancient ethnic minority of northern Europe) and used a shamanic drum and yoik vocals (you can find a video of traditional yoiking here). Shamans are tribal priests, messengers between the material and spiritual world, and though the archetypical shaman is Siberian, the figure of the shaman actually exist in a variety of different cultures (spanning the width of the globe, from Korean to Native American). The change to Korpiklaani meant the adoption of a style closer to more conventional folk metal. However, according to the vocalist Jonne Jarvela, Korpiklaani’s music is still a bit “too finnish” for Finland as he claims it would be seen as “old people’s music with heavy metal guitars“. Indeed, many “traditional” elements were kept, such as the fast music style of humppa (see this video for an example of humppa). Also, as indicates the meaning of “Korpiklaani” (Forest, or Wilderness Clan), the band has kept a very Finnish attraction to nature (Finland has the largest forested area in Europe, with 86% of the country being covered by forests), which gives birth to unique music videos showing the band members coming out of little huts in the middle of the forest:

For those who prefer something more calm, I recommend music from their Shaman period, such as Odda Mailbmi, Kanohtalavlla or Il Lea Voibmi. If you like the heavier Korpiklaani style, you may want to have a look at Keep on Galloping, where you can admire them playing electric guitars in the middle of a forest (without huts this time), with antlers on the microphone, and protecting the trees with a Finnish voodoo (shamanic?) puppet. Hunting Song is great too, with its snippets from the old Finnish countryside, as well as Vakirauta. Heavy drinking being also traditionally Finnish, you may also find contentment in Korpiklaani’s powerful, lightning-speed drinking song: Happy Little Boozer, Beer Beer and Vodka. Oh, they also made one called Tequila and sung in Spanish, probably for South American fans. Don’t forget Let’s Drink. And Gluc Gluc Gluc. Ah, no, wait, the last one is actually an Italian parody. Well, anyway, you get the idea…

Mongolia: Altan Urag

Ah, Altan Urag! This Mongolian folk rock band is one of the hidden pearls that motivated me to start this blog. Altan Urag now counts seven members (though I was only able to find a picture from the time where they were six): B. “Erka” Erdenebat (Yoochin, piano), M. “Chimdee” Chimedtogtokh (pipe, throat singing vocals), Ts. Gangaa (Great Fiddle, bass), P. “Oyunaa” Oyunbileg (Moriin Khuur, throat singing vocals). B. “Tungaa” Bolortungalag (drums, percussion), and B. Burentogs (Moriin Khuur, throat singing vocals). The band was formed in 2002, and according to its website (designed as a Mongolian ger, I recommend you check it out), the band’s vision is “both to promote Mongolian culture to the world and to introduce traditional music to the young people of their country“. In pursuit of this noble task, they released seven albums by 2011: Foal’s Been Born (2004), Made in Altan Urag (2006), Hypnotism (2008), Blood (2009), Nation (2010), Once Upon a Time in Mongolia (2010) and Mongol (2010).

According to a Mongolian friend, Altan Urag are very famous in their country, and are even listened to by people who would otherwise only listen to “mainstream music”. Their work featured in the movies “Khadak” and “Mongol“. The latter movie depicts the life of Genghis Khan and its considerable international success gave Altan Urag a very positive image in their home country, where Genghis Khan is still seen as the “father of the nation“. According to their website, the name of the band itself, Altan Urag, “can be loosely translated as “Kin of the Khan” or “Golden Lineage”, referring to Genghis Khan and his ancestors“. Altan Urag’s music video “Blue Mark” features scenes of the movie accompanied by their unique blend of traditional Mongolian instruments and throat-singing:

If you are interested in more music from Altan Urag, I recommend: Beast (my personal favourite, featuring a singer called Naran) and Requiem. You may also want to have a look at this Mother Mongolia music video, as it features scenes from the movie Khadak. If you are interested in throat-singing, you might be happy to know that there are a number of throat-singing tutorials to be found on youtube.

Germany-Korea: Krypteria

I decided to start slow with the metal-culture relationship by starting with the presentation of a hybrid East-West band that includes a ethnic Korean lead singer. The band is interesting from a cultural dialogue perspective because it managed to be well received both in Germany and Korea, although the latter country has not seen a deep overall penetration of metal in its music culture. Krypteria is a German-Korean symphonic metal band that was founded in 2004. Athough Chris Siemons (guitar), Frank Stummvoll (bass) and S.C. Kuschnerus (drums) initially intended, as part of a music project, to do without a fixed vocalist, singer Cho Jiyin stayed with the group from 2005 on (if you read German and want to know more, you can have a look at this article). Krypteria released four albums by 2011: In Medias Res (2005), Bloodangel’s Cry (2007), My Fatal Kiss (2009), All Beauty Must Die (2011).

The vocalist Cho Jiyin grew up in Cologne as part of the Korean diaspora community in Germany (the second-largest in Europe, at more than 30,000 members – here is a German documentary about three of its members). She seems fully integrated in German society, as suggested her flawless German in this short interview. That being said, Cho Jiyin described her debut in Korea as the most important event of her musical career (see the above-mentioned interview), as she was excited and perhaps a bit apprehensive as to how she would be received by her compatriots. Fortunately for Cho Jiyin, Krypteria came to enjoy a wide popularity in Korea: Krypteria’s album In Medias Res topped the charts in 2005, despite being mostly sung in English (the popular track Victoriam Speramus was apparently also recorded with Korean lyrics). I don’t know enough about Korean society to explain this, but my gut feeling tells me that it could be linked to Krypteria’s use of gregorian chants (these angelic chants are arguably one of the most attractive characteristics of Christianity, and more than 30% of South Koreans are Christians) and Korean attraction to kyopo (교포, overseas Korean) success stories.

Although the music they are doing now is fairly “standard” symphonic metal, not folk metal with native instruments or traditional music influences (besides the gregorian chanting), Krypteria’s popularity in Germany and Korea (as well as South America, judging by the number of Spanish comments I see on youtube) stands as a testimony to the unifying force that metal can have across cultures. Those who are interested in the type of music Krypteria is doing now may want to have a look at the music videos for their songs “For You I’ll Bring the Devil Down” or “Live to Fight Another Day”:

I forgot to mention that Krypteria has an amusing relationship with football. The band actually recorded a single in Korean (Na Ga Ja) as supporting hymn for the Korean national team during the FIFA World Cup 2006 in Germany. This in turn apparently inspired Borussia Dortmund (a German football team) to hire Krypteria for celebrating their success in the 2010/2011 Bundesliga (German national football competition). It is indeed undeniable that football is a very important part of both German and Korean culture. As the Korean joke goes, the three recurrent discussion topics among Korean men that Korean women are most fed up with are: military service, football, and football during the military service.