Published on January 29th, 2016 | by The Beige Baron0
Tokyo’s King Goblin has been through a lot in a decade together. As kids in the late ’90s, they started out playing extreme metal—no doubt influenced by anti-heroes like Carcass or Cathedral—but soon intriguing elements of progressive rock such as King Crimson and Mountain crept into the music.
The band today name-checks metal chameleons Voivod as an influence: perhaps the Canadian band’s evolutionary arc from ’80s thrashers to prog-metal innovators describes a similar parallel.
“We were playing the same songs over and over. I felt it was a punishment.”
After shedding members to form a guitar-and-drums trio, the band switched to the “more stable” configuration of bass, drums, and guitar, and released its first full-length GOBLIN KING in 2007.
The album blew the collective minds of the local underground community with its stubborn refusal to follow conventions, and for the contempt it had for musical cliques.
The band tore up the genre labels that were slapped on it, and moved into darker and more inventive musical territory: assuredly it was still metal, but metal moving backwards to explore the past, but at the same time its eyes were looking to the future. The Roadburn Festival awarded it Album of the Day.
“We needed to make new songs after the GOBLIN KING recording,” says the band’s drummer, vocalist, and recording engineer Naoto ‘Araking’ Araki. “Before the release of our first album, we were playing the same songs over and over. After releasing it, we were playing the same songs for the promotion. I felt it was a punishment. I wanted to be free from this situation.
“The songs 2020 and Garadama were written in that time. We were influenced by an old Japanese science-fiction television drama ULTRA Q. The music took a fresh approach; I think it was a result of being created in a constrained environment. Cheap technologies produced more imagination.”
We were influenced by an old Japanese science-fiction television drama ULTRA Q
Things were going great for King Goblin. But while finalizing material for a follow-up to GOBLIN KING in 2009, guitarist Suzuki departed the band. Kelly Churko (from experimental band Hospital and grindcore band AKBK) stepped in and King Goblin was back on track.
“It’s regrettable that Suzuki left even though we’d almost finished the record,” says Araking. “After that, Kelly Churko joined. Kelly and I were playing in a grindcore band called AKBK.
“His big brother was working with Ozzy Osbourne as a producer. Kelly used to write songs for Ozzy, but they were never chosen because the songs were a bit difficult for him. But we used to try to write songs from riffs for Ozzy.”
Having toured with Church of Misery, Eternal Elysium, and Coffins as well as international acts like Black Cobra, Blood Duster, Kylesa, and Saviours, King Goblin was desperate to capitalize and get into the studio to finish their second record.
But tragedy stuck. Churko fell seriously ill in 2013 and passed away less than a year later in Canada.
“We were waiting for him to return and we were writing songs with [ex-Inside Charmer member] Marcy. It’s very sad that Kelly didn’t survive. I’m using a guitar track he recorded before on the Cryptozoology record [also featuring noise artist Hiroshi Hasegawa of Astro].”
With Marcy signed up and with the band back together they finally finished Cryptozoology. It’s out next week, February 5, on Bonten Records, nine years after the band’s debut.
A first listen through reveals an album that moves seamlessly from clanking grooves and cookie monster vocals to smooth dub vibes and floating, jazz-flavored guitar leads. It’s impossible to wrap your head around in a single listen, but keep dipping in and it reveals itself.
This is an album made by musicians that refuse to compromise on moods they wish to create or the ways in which they create them: recording in one take and mixing in ways that sound warm, authentic, and organic. It’s music made by people, not machines.
So is the band happy with how it turned out?
“I’m very happy to have gotten such a good response. I was surprised people hadn’t forgotten us,” laughs Araking. “It was a very hard project because we needed to change guitarists so often.”
BNU: So when it came to recording, did you try anything different in terms of mics or equipment? It seems to sound a little bit clearer than your first record? Also the bass sound is on-point.
Araking: I recorded the basic tracks in live sessions. I didn’t do overdubs so much. Well, that’s probably the reason you feel it sounds clearer, I guess.
There are big differences in the sound with how vintage plug-ins have changed over nine years. And one more difference in the sound on GOBLIN KING is the ceiling height. I chose a different studio and recorded all the instruments in one room at the same time to make sure that any “cutting and pasting” was impossible. This is the constrained environment I was talking about—but I do apologize for the edits in some sections.
The sound of CREAM and The Pretty Things were very helpful for mixing. The bass sound is occupying the left channel.
It feels a little strange, but it sounds powerful. In the right channel, the guitar is free from any disturbance from the bass sound.
Who made the formulaic rule “the bass is in center”?
[The Mountain cover on Cryptozoology] Birmingham Queen is mixed down as mono. And it feels great, right?
BNU: You are known for being able to move between different styles of music and so create something new. When you jam, do songs come out fully formed ideas, or do you take out some parts that are not working and save them for another song?
Araking: There are two songwriting processes we use for King Goblin. If I have a clear vision, I tell the story to the other members, then we construct each part around from what arises from each feeling.
The other way is that someone brings guitar riffs and we cook and arrange them on a dish. Possibly it will be a California roll made by Ivorian. I care only if it tastes good. The last thing to do is adding contrast in the sound. I can make heaviness without sludge. I can open the door without acid.
BNU: Why do you think King Goblin has such a unique sound? You felt like “metal” was getting boring
Araking: I feel bored by almost all music expression these days. I’m interested in ’70s music. The reason why I can’t find good music nowadays is because of the sheer number of bands. We are surrounded by awful stinky shit. Maybe a few good-tasting shits are buried into it, though they’re difficult to find.
I love the old-school scene but there are no new students. It’s turning into a nursing home.
I think musicians worry about trifling matters too much. It is a neat rhythm or precision pitch or the eyes of the people in the sub-genre to which they belong. We have got such vast territory we can explore in the recording engineering.
The evolution of technology for making music makes that possible. But what’s happened is we have lost our imagination instead of gotten freedom. We have lost the balance in the trade-off between the two.
I love the old-school scene but there are no new students. It’s turning into a nursing home. NWOTHM (New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal) seems like a prostitute if there are no young people in the venue.
King Goblin has no deal with this mortal world. I’m writing songs for some young guy who is listening to music 50 years from now, just like how I’m listening to May Blitz today.
BNU: How often do you get together and play? Is King Goblin a primary project or do the members all play in different groups?
Araking: We get together about twice a month and gather in a studio. I belong to some other bands such as ele-phant and AKBK, but King Goblin is the highest priority project. Marcy plays with noise musicians in the improvisation scene often.
What do you have coming up this year? Any plans for a tour locally or internationally? Where can people from outside of Japan buy your music?
Araking: We have some shows in Japan to promote Cryptozoology. I’d like to tour overseas as well as Japan. Especially in Asia. I’m interested in Indonesia, because it’s home to a lot of original music, like Senyawa.
You can get Cryptozoology on Bandcamp and from Japanese domestic record shops. The cover art is made by [Japanese grind-rock legends C.S.S.O] Sumito is super! He made the box-art for us. This is a photograph, not a drawing. This is a historical, great job. We recommend the CD with 7’’ jacket in your hand, if you can, not a download.