Published on July 23rd, 2016 | by The Beige Baron0
Interview | Cataplexy
Cataplexy has the distinction of being one of Japan’s longest-running black metal outfits, with founding member and guitarist Sadis Gordinn assembling an initial lineup that would go on to create “the coldest and most infernal sounds ever” back in 1991.
With the sounds of black metal fomenting on the other side of the world right around that time, it’s tempting to assume Cataplexy simply borrowed from that infant genre and passed it through their own cultural filter.
While they acknowledge traditional black and depressive metal as an influence later in their career, the reality is that Cataplexy’s music developed independently (just as it does for most metal bands over the world), seeds of the same genus taking root in different soil.
I was always aiming for a fast and melodic sound.
“Cataplexy originally started out as a death metal band,” confirms Sadis Gordinn. “My main influences at the time were Entombed and Autopsy, and that shaped the music I was composing. I was introduced to thrash around 1985, it totally blew my mind, and it affected me a lot around that time. We evolved into a black metal sound [from around 1994].
“But I was always aiming for a fast and melodic sound.”
Cataplexy came out of the gates with daggers unsheathed, gigging frequently and self-releasing demo cassettes every year in limited runs that sold out almost immediately: Phenomenon in 1993, Teardrops Veiled Black Desire in 1994, and REH in 1995. All, sadly, long out of print.
Lineup difficulties sidelined the band until 2003, when they reemerged with a self-released CD demo the year after a successful tour with SABBAT in 2002 — a band Cataplexy holds deep respect for and maintains a lasting friendship with.
Fields of the Unlight saw the band packing tightly wrought passages of melodic tremolo guitar and relentless blastbeat pierced by blood-curdling vocals. The record showed great promise and the band continued to build on a reputation for being an authentic and formidable live act.
However, further lineup instability again halted progress until later in the decade, when incoming vocalist Sigil ov Baphomet and drummer The Final Slaughter settled in. The band signed with local grindcore label Bloodbath with international distribution through German imprint Twilight, who issued … Luna Eclipse, Chaos to the Ruin … in 2008, the band’s first long-awaited (and, eventually, widely acclaimed) full-length album.
Recorded by legendary sound engineer Harada Hidekazu (bassist of the influential two-piece sludge/noise outfit Ryokuchi) in part at M4II Studios in Osaka, … Luna Eclipse, Chaos to the Ruin … saw Cataplexy reach new musical heights. Blending the frostbitten malice of early Burzum with a gut-tightening threat of barely restrained violence, the songs are infused with bile so bitter it corrodes your ears: for some listeners, … Luna Eclipse, Chaos to the Ruin … serves as Cataplexy’s defining statement.
“Cataplexy couldn’t release albums easily because our lineup of members wasn’t stable…”
The full-length Devangelight followed on local label Zero Dimensional in 2012, now with a new bassist Nihilistic Familiar Spirits.
The album retains the band’s old-school depressive core with clear progression both in musical and emotional dynamics and songcraft. The long gaps between releases, however, prevented the band from gaining momentum and much deserved international recognition, although the band hints this could be about to change.
“Cataplexy couldn’t release albums easily because our lineup of members wasn’t stable,” Sadis Gordinn says of the band’s turbulent career. “For this reason, I was playing in a lot of other bands. The music I was listening to and was affected by up to now is expressed in the music of all those bands, kind of like a big landing net.”
Part of the intrigue of Cataplexy, and Japanese black metal generally, is the alignment of traditional anti-Christian, Pagan, and Satanic aesthetics, which seem incongruous in a culture where Christian influence is vanishingly small. I first wonder if the sense of hopelessness present in the music is a reaction to Japan’s high-pressure environment, and frame this by asking Sadis Gordinn about suicide in Japan. Just that morning, two teenage girls tragically jumped in front of a train to their deaths.
Perhaps, for Sadis Gordinn, school was an isolating or painful experience?
“I was on good terms with a similar people throughout my school days…”
“Others will commit suicide, but it’s not something I relate to,” he says. “At school, I was absorbed in various kinds of music, and was on good terms with a similar people throughout my school days. In fact, the rate of suicide in Japan is not as huge any more, and places like [the South American state] Guyana have a higher rate of youth suicide than Japan or South Korea.”
What about the apparent dissonance between the anti-Christian attitudes, the occult, Satanism, the concept of a Christian hell that defines traditional black metal, and the secularity of modern Japan… why does that resonate with Japanese musicians and audiences, and with Cataplexy?
“I’m not interested in any kind of religion, really. I can only believe in myself. I think that in itself is an ideology,” says Sadis Gordinn, perhaps in reference to LaVeyan Satanism.
But he defers the question to vocalist Sigil ov Baphoment, also lyricist for the band, who comments: “Let’s put it this way: the difference in ideology arises from the places in which we live.
Occultism is at the core of Cataplexy’s message musically and lyrically. The European sense of that does fit for Japanese bands
“For example, Asia is an ancient land, and here in Japan, Shintoism could be considered part of an ‘occult’ thing [for Christians], and on the band side, for sure there are veins of traditional Satanism and Paganism.
“But more likely, Occultism is at the core of Cataplexy’s message musically and lyrically. The European sense of that does fit for Japanese bands when you start to dig it out. When you dig deeper, you find there is not a huge gap in a religious context.
“Paganism is itself anti-Christian, but the idea that Paganism equals Satanism is buffoon’s stuff.
“All who turn away from the Vatican’s doors, all who do not accept their god, are Satanic, everyone who does not sell their soul to them for a cross.
“So yeah, Christ represents the soul of a divine thing; it’s a way in which they strongly control you, to say in this matter, ‘Look, there’s politics in here, too.’
“The word ‘god’ is comparatively meaningless…”
“The word ‘god’ is comparatively meaningless,” he continues. “It gives no hint of the gender or dignity of Divinity other than merely signifying ‘good’.
“Since either a masculine or a feminine term is inappropriate and obviously incomplete, and a neuter term entirely too negative, a word is needed which will express the undivided potencies of both positive and negative in equilibrium.
“I hope you can dig out further meaning yourself,” the singer concludes.
What about the elitism within black metal, the widespread preference for anonymity, and the scorn for promotion of their music outside select and insular circles? Does that aspect of the culture also translate in Japan?
“I have absolutely no interest in this,” says Sadis Gordinn emphatically.
What about the compositional techniques and musical approaches of other bands?
“I don’t care. I’m not interested.”
“I think our music attracts people from all sides, within and without the community…”
Another cultural difference apparent to non-Japanese is that local fans’ appreciation for extreme music is not generally advertised with graphic t-shirts, or a style of dress that announces the wearer as an “outsider”.
It still surprises when your middle-aged doctor turns a consultation into a discussion about Carcass. You’re never sure what’s trickling through the benign-looking salaryman’s earphones on the train: Beethoven or Bathory? Perfume or Peste Noire?
“I think our music attracts people from all sides, within and without the community, and it’s up to the individual how they enjoy the music. Sure, there are some who come to our gigs to mosh or for stress relief, wearing corpse paint, and doing what music makes all of us do.
“Our shows attract random kinds of people who come to have fun with us. So it’s just metal.”
So what is next for Cataplexy? Happily, the band is gigging regularly as has confirmed an appearance at Far East Death Cult Festival August 28 in Osaka, and Sadis Gordinn tells us with obvious enthusiasm that the band is writing new material for an upcoming recording, promising: “it will be Cataplexy’s masterpiece”.
For fans of extreme music, this is really excellent news.