NATSUMETAL - NATSUMETAL
A band for all seasons…and eras.
When NATSUMETAL first presented themselves to the world in 2019, jokes abounded about whether their activities would be strictly seasonal. The notion wasn’t completely outlandish, what with the impressive list of other commitments the five members have between them. However, the ‘NATSU’ part of their name is entirely unrelated to the Japanese word for summer.
As vocalist IBUKI explains on her website, the band’s name is derived from ‘natsukashii’ – a Japanese term for nostalgia – and ‘heavy metal’, the style in which the band has covered a selection of classic pop and rock tunes from between 1969 and 1997.
NATSUMETAL itself was founded by the aforementioned metal songstress IBUKI and her old Art Of Gradation bandmate, ex-Octaviagrace keyboardist Reanne. Zigoku Quartet guitarist Shinichi Kobayashi, WHY SO NERVOUS bassist Ryota Terasawa and BLINDMAN drummer Shun Minari joined shortly thereafter. Following a crowdfunding drive, their self-titled debut album was released at home and abroad in June 2020.
There are certain inconsistencies in how NATSUMETAL approached their various source materials. For instance, any tweaks they made to Ann Lewis’s Aa mujo or THE ALFEE’s Hoshizora no Distance, both ‘80s rock anthems in their own right, are hardly noticeable. Saori Yuki’s 1969 easy-listening classic Yoake no Scat is left similarly intact, including ninety seconds of tuneful humming by IBUKI.
Elsewhere, less restraint was exercised. This is particularly true of Ryuichi Kawamura’s piano ballad glass, which receives a comprehensive heavy metal makeover, complete with a suitably freewheeling solo by Reanne. Mayumi Itsuwa’s Koibito yo is handled more delicately. In spite of some SNES-worthy synthesized strings, Kobayashi’s howling guitar work turns the stately ballad into a slow-burning tour-de-force fit for an arena full of lit cigarette lighters (or smartphone flashlights, depending on fire code regulations).
As fans of ANIMETAL and Powerglove will attest, albums like these are rarely without one or two outright novelty tracks and NATSUMETAL is no exception. Whether the organ-laced treatment of Seiko Matsuda’s wistful Akai Sweet Pea qualifies as such is debatable, but the same can’t be said for MONKEY MAGIC or S.O.S..
The cover of the former, Godiego’s disco-inflected theme song for cult TV series “Monkey”, is remarkably straight-faced: rarely will you hear a singer recite the lyrics “the punkiest monkey that ever popped” with such earnest conviction. For better or worse, there was no such attempt to solemnise Pink Lady’s S.O.S., a piece of vintage ‘70s bubblegum pop, which takes on the vibe of a sea shanty thanks to some accordion-like keyboard flourishes.
As the band’s logo (an homage to hard rock band Whitesnake’s) may infer, NATSUMETAL aren’t quite the metal purists their name might lead some to expect. So, while this doesn’t rank as high on the surreal-ness scale as, say, the Studio Ghibli-meets-death metal project Imaginary Flying Machines, it can certainly make for a novel introduction to classic Japanese pop. It’s just too bad they didn’t tackle any enka or city pop this time around.
As IBUKI recently told UniJolt, the question of whether there will be a NATSUMETAL II is very much a wait-and-see situation. Even in the midst of the pandemic, the quintet are tied up in various coaching and recording duties. In addition, IBUKI has had some publicity to do ahead of the release of the European special edition of her solo album ExMyself on CD and vinyl on January 29th, courtesy of Setsuzoku Records.
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