You should always be sceptical of a Japanese girl band playing metal. Five pretty maidens that look like teenagers and shred like graduates of an elite music academy sounds too good to be true and has the whiff of corporate rock about it. (I mean, what the fuck is Baby metal?) But you can rest assured Nemophila are not imposters or interlopers and can just as easy bludgeon you as their idols in Arch Enemy. Those virginal smiles and cute poses might be more coquettish than they seem.
The international release of Oiran includes their debut EP, plus the ‘OIRAN’ single and its associated b-sides on one CD. If that reads like a hodgepodge collection for the band’s overseas debut, wait until you hear it in chronological order. The track-listing and flow of the songs is impressive for a band that only opened their YouTube channel in 2020 and navigated their way into the metal scene with Iron Maiden and Kiss covers. ‘OIRAN’ is a beast of a track to fire up the cauldron with its Motorhead-meets-metalcore adrenaline and vicious contralto screams from frontwoman, Mayu. Any doubts you had about this band’s metal credentials should subside when you hear the crushing breakdown and stupendous guitar leads. Guitarist and songwriter, SAKI, released her solo album earlier this year to celebrate a decade in the Japanese music industry as a song-writer and recording artist, and it’s clear she loves the metal gods of the 1980s as much as the thrash maniacs and bombastic metal lords of the twenty-first century. ‘MONSTERS’ is like Children of Bodom with pinch-harmonic verses and a sultry rock voice that will remind you of Lizzy Hale from Halestorm. It would be a colossal song if they didn’t spoil it with an irksome Euro-pop synthesiser hook. ‘Life’ is similar in its promise, although the Belinda Carlisle verses will put you in two minds whether to laugh or punch the air in triumph. Look beyond this, and you’ll find an ambitious song that’s dying to be picked up by a blockbuster film soundtrack.
We’ve got this far and not mentioned the ‘n’ word i.e. novelty. Some of the choreographed poses in the promo videos will make you cringe and the inevitable shades of J-pop will raise an eyebrow, but this should not deter you from head-banging to ‘RAITEI’ with its high-octane combination of thrash drums and low-heavy riffing. Mayu’s vocal performance switches from vicious hysterics to a Hayley Williams (Paramore) chorus with the same effortless ease as Vicky Psarakis from The Agonist. Indeed, the latter might be the best comparison for the type of technical metal slicing through the amps on this record. ‘SORAI’ sounds like The Agonist teaming up with Bruce Franklin from Trouble. The lyrics might be incomprehensible to non-Japanese speakers, but the chorus delivery is sensational in the way it goes from incandescent rage to illuminous optimism in the space of five seconds.
If there is a novelty on this album (besides the band’s pristine doll image), it’s the way they aim for a harmony between crushing metalcore rhythms and pompous pop choruses. Few metal artists get away with this and retain the respect of the puritans, but ‘DISSENSION’ might be one of the few occasions where it works. Be under no illusions – this is a heavy song that mixes down-tuned thrash with bizarre teen pop chants and a medley of shredding solos. It’s too brutal for a stadium audience yet too polished for an underground dive bar. This may be the enduring paradox of OIRAN, but it’s one that takes you beyond curiosity and into a thorough technical analysis of the music that most bands would not warrant. That alone is worth your time.
Yes, Oiran suffers from an excess of flamboyance, but it hits hard and lands heavy on your skull. Nemophila might commit the sin of having a good time on stage and waving at the camera like schoolgirls at Disneyland, but they’re not a pop band, nor are they hard rock. The music on this album is metal-thrashing mad and unapologetic – just how we like it.
Release Date: 25/06/2021
Record Label: JPU Records
Standout tracks: MONSTERS, RAITEI, DISSENSION (English Version)
Suggested Further Listening: The Agonist – Orphans (2019), Children of Bodom – Follow the Reaper (2000), Halestorm – Vicious (2018)