I had a good nightmare a few nights ago. A translucent, white sheet veiled the stage at Akasaka Blitz. Like demented shadow puppets, male figures writhed around a stock-still silhouette. The sheet lifted to reveal interpretive dancers covered in black soot as power metal guitars directed their bizarre and animalistic movements. No, I didn’t fall asleep watching a Marilyn Manson video (again). This was Matenrou Opera’s Eyes of Justice tour final on May 4.
The (mostly) power metal band was a mish mosh of overdriven guitar highlighted with clear, strong vocals. Like the dancers featured at the beginning of the show, there was an overall doom and gloom to their music that was meant to be slightly grotesque yet entirely stimulating to feed that charcoal-covered modern dancer that lurks in our darkest nightmares. (Surprise! It eats metal music.)
I say Matenrou Opera is mostly metal because the band hits all the basic stopping points on the trail to the metal peak: the guitar is heavily featured, bass lines border on random string slapping, and the drums look aerobically challenging. But not four songs in did the style suddenly turn to the gothic-inspired, staccato, borderline pop rock number “Diorama Wonderland.” I’m not going to inquire on the meaning of the song title (it might be a Community inside joke), but the melodic chorus accented with the distorted tuning of the synthesizer made it closer to Top 40than something deep in the dark basement of metal.
Then you have tunes like “21mg,” which feels bipolar as it swings from overly gleeful arena rock guitars to a moody fit of a vocal melody. Vocalist Sono stomped around the stage like a brash child before the song changed so drastically, I initially thought they started the next number.
The band continued to turn on a dime whenever they got too comfortable in one mood or genre. While not as extreme as the “21mg” example, there was some genre swapping going on from the typical visual kei “Mermaid” to the thrash and menace of “Murder Scope” and “Adult Children.” Between these two songs, I went from wanting to dance around gaily to feeling the urge to sob hysterically in the fetal position, afraid of the monsters under my bed.
Even Sono’s voice seemed to mimic this as he frequently switched from a low croon to a spastic, high-pitched vibrato. In some instances he sounded like an entirely different person. My instinct is to call that a bad thing, but I have to appreciate how nature bestowed quite a set of pipes on that man. Sono floated through the mid-range melodies without much fanfare, but the more challenging vocals are nothing short of impressive. “Kizuna” was not an easy song to pull off with its wide range and key changes, but Sono approached the challenge with a cool head before revving up his voice to explode on the dramatic bits. Though he was a bit inconsistent when it came to quality, occasionally sounding breathless or swallowed up on the lower notes by the rest of the band, when he hit those high notes, the whole audience shivered.
Matenrou Opera is not your typical dark and scary metal band. And that’s their appeal in a nutshell. They’re a nightmare in the entertaining sense. There are pleasant parts like “Kizuna” or how the impossibly effeminate Ayame bounced around with his keytar. And then there are the frightening bits with little to no melody where you’re beaten over the head with a cacophony of guitars and pounding bass. All this is emotionally exhausting, but allows the band to display what makes them unique. Matenrou Opera isn’t quite genre-specific or even genre-bending, but a mélange of everything that’s a little spooky. They’re a nightmare from which I don’t want to wake up.Official Matenrou Opera website – http://opera.syncl.jp/ [svgallery name="matenrou_2012"]