Monday, June 24, 2013

Gotsu Totsu Kotsu - Legend of Shadow

Future Drug, track 13

Bear with me folks, I'm just gonna gush for a few paragraphs here.

Gotsu Totsu Kotsu hails from the land of Ho-oh and Lugia, and they take great pride in their ancestral lineage.  I'm going to be honest, the cover art for Legend of Shadow is one of the first things that attracted me in the first place.  I can't explain it, but I adore that old style of Japanese art, and any band that utilizes it gets bonus points pretty much automatically (the initial reason I checked out Sigh in the first place wasn't because of the pretty saxophonist or because everybody was ejaculating over Hangman's Hymn at the time, it was because the cover for Infidel Art was just fucking awesome to me).  So yeah, it wasn't really my interest in Japanese metal nor my love of death metal that drew me towards GTK, but something as simple as their aesthetic choices and album art.  Fleshgod Apocalypse should take notes here.

Underneath the vibrancy of the cover art lies some of the most energetic, pulse-pounding death metal this side of Bolt Thrower.  Really, it took Legend of Shadow a mere three minutes to rocket itself into my top 5 albums of the year thus far.  The album starts off on a high note and just never falters afterwards.  One would really expect this to wear thin considering it's gargantuan running time of 75 minutes, but unlike fellow trio Krisiun's latest flop, The Great Execution, it never even comes close.  This is extraordinarily impressive considering that each song doesn't do a whole lot to throw curveballs at you within itself.  Many of them ride on two or three riffs for most of the duration, which is scary considering the average song length is like ten seconds shy of seven minutes.  But this is one of the biggest strengths of the band; their ability to take simple ideas and let them grow on their own.  Most of these tracks play out like very high tempo death metal jam sessions.  Instead of playing out like highly choreographed technical exercises like a huge contingent of death metal seems to do nowadays, it feels more like the band told each other what the general idea, tempo, and main riff of each song was, and then just kind of rode on it for a while while chucking in a couple solos and the occasional new section.  Legend of Shadow is a really "organic" album in this sense, and the old timey feeling and emotion that is poured into every song should really make the album impervious to the classic criticism of "there's no feeling, it's all just wankery, yadda yadda" that death metal can seem to attract at times.  The last track, "Fukeyo Kaze, Yobeyo Arashi" showcases this the most literally, as it really just feels like the bass jamming on a riff for a minute or two before the drums start complementing it and the guitar starts building a riff over it.  It doesn't even break into something that feels like it was rehearsed until the last minute and a half or so, the rest has a really laid back improv feel.

It also needs to be highlighted that Haruhisa Takahata has pretty much figured out exactly how to do everything right.  He's the vocalist and the bassist, and I feel it's no small coincidence that the vocals and bass are by far the two most interesting things on display.  Most longtime readers of mine have probably noticed that whenever I'm giving an example of top tier death metal vocals, I'm usually pointing to Mads Haarlov from Iniquity.  Takahata fucking nails what I love so much about Haarlov.  What comes out of his mouth is not a voice, nor a style of growling, it's simply the sound of a thousand demons condemning you to eternal damnation.  Seriously, these are some of the most hellish vocals I've heard in ages, they're so goddamn throaty and punishing.  The man is a beast, nothing less.  And his bass, oh lord his bass.  He plays like a death metal Flea, adding these slick flourishes of slap bass runs all over the place.  It feels like it could be gimmicky, especially since three songs come right out of the gate with a ridiculously fast slap bass part ("Harakiri", "Marishiten", and "Miburo no Ken"), but it's really not overdone in the context of the entire record.  Some tracks will go by without it ever rearing its head, others will just have it do it in the background, not at all hogging the limelight, while other times it'll even complement the frenetic fretboard fireworks of the guitar (like the end of "Fukushu no Syukushi").

Speaking of the guitar, the other two members of the band are great in their own right, but Gotsu Totsu Kotsu always comes together as one cohesive unit as opposed to three showboaters vying for the spotlight like you might expect judging by the bass's intensely flashy style.  One thing I really enjoy is that the drums are pretty much the opposite of what you'd expect for the genre.  Apart from one picosecond in the intro of the opening track and for a small bit during the drum solo that opens "Bushu no Kagerou", there is absolutely no blasting throughout the entire album.  Yeah, that's right, no blast beats, and no double bass above a relatively leisurely pace.  The percussion certainly takes a few cues from Bolt Thrower and Autopsy, that's for sure, but it injects it with a huge thrash presence.  Yeah, the thrash influence is very high on Legend of Shadow, but it'd be misleading to refer to the band as a death/thrash band despite the drums almost always being rooted in the hyperfast, German thrash style and the riffs sounding like they were written by Kreator but downtuned a few steps and covered in slime.  The feel here is 100% death metal, even when the other interesting little bits pop up.  Like the title track, "Kage no Densetsu" (thank you, Virtua Fighter and Legend of Mana for helping me translate that), rides on a riff that is decidedly rock n roll in flavor, but put through a death metal filter.  Pretty much everything about this album, even during the numerous high tempo segments, feels very laid back in its mentality, and that, to me, is the X factor with this album.

Everything feels very natural and organic, and despite how much I adore bands like Hour of Penance, I really can't slap that adjective onto many modern death metal albums.  Seriously, how many can match the sheer joyous feeling of victory in the outro of "Saigo no Rakujitsu"?  I'd wager next to none.  Gotsu Totsu Kotsu, with Legend of Shadow, aim for a fringe sound and nail it so decisively that I almost wish no other band even attempted to sound like them.  The whole idea of a death metal jam band with super high tempos, no blast beats, and slap bass sounds like a damn mad-libs exercise instead of a proper ensemble, but GTK have figured out how to make it work, and good lord I will not get off my knees about it.  I hate to hint at or give away my year end list as it grows and as the year goes on, but if this doesn't end up in my top 5 by year's end (most likely top 3, to be perfectly honest), I'll be utterly floored.

RATING - 96%

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