Review Summary: A dark, surreal mindfuck of avant-garde thrash metal from the far east, circa 1988.
The 80s thrash metal movement is known for its mainstream success stories like Metallica and Megadeth, but among more hardcore devotees, it's also known for harboring some of the forward-thinking, weird, truly progressive metal bands up to that point. Common names thrown around are early prog metal innovators Watchtower, the dark and artsy Coroner, and of course sci-fi punkish-prog-thrashers Voivod, darlings of the weird late 80s metal underground. But then there are bands that, in spite of their boundless innovation and creativity, went unsung even among many weird-thrash aficionados.
The Japanese band Doom were one such case; their geographical isolation from the American-and-Euro-centric thrash scene certainly didn't help, nor does the existence of an unrelated band from the UK called Doom, nor does their record company's insistence on not putting their music up on Spotify or YouTube (for Americans) as of this writing. But those interested in the technical, experimental side of thrash metal would do themselves well to track Doom's music down, and the EP Killing Field
is both where their music got really good, and, at five tracks, it might well be their most consistently killer release.
As for why Killing Field
is so extraordinary, that has to do with the extraordinary aspects of Doom's sound on this release. Like most of Doom's work, the music on this EP molds the speed and especially aggression of thrash with highly technical, progressive musical sensibilities. But I say "progressive" not necessarily in a manner evocative of prog rock (though the playing is quite involved and there is a melodic interlude or two), but rather in uniqueness and innovation; truly forward-thinking metal music. And this creativity largely manifests in making these songs sound seriously ***ed up
. The atmosphere they create is a sort of middle-ground between Coroner's unsettling darkness on Mental Vortex
and Voivod's surrealism on Dimension Hatross
...except those Coroner albums came out in the early 90s, while this was released in early 1988, four months before Dimension Hatross
. Doom were really ahead of the curve.
One good example of this is right at the beginning of the EP. Instead of a raging thrash riff, opening track Rocking Russian kicks off building suspense with the sound of birds chirping before some kind of messed up distorted synth or guitar drops these long, foreboding notes. Strange eerie screeches, filtered lightning sound effects, and booming bass guitar build things up further, before finally, over a minute in, the drums kick in, playing a deceptively "regular" thrash beat. And then, at just
the right moment, vocalist + guitarist Takashi "Taka" Fujita lets out his first raw, hoarse shout of the album, along with his first dissonant, heavy, intricate guitar riff. Think of that one moment, with the EP's first riff, drum pattern, and shout, as the moment in which Doom collectively fling open the doorway to their macabre, paranoid world. Think of the next moment, where bassist Koh Morota (RIP) takes center stage of your ears for about four seconds to play a delightfully menacing booming bass riff, as the moment where the most underrated bassist in metal truly introduces himself...if the heavy ass riff he was playing accompanying the guitar a moment ago weren't introduction enough. All three of these guys of course display a lot of talent in these five songs, but Koh especially shines on this, and on nearly all of the band's other works on which he was featured before his death. Thankfully, he is LOUD in the mix, too! The production on here is great by the way, gets the balance between rawness and clarity just right.
Oh, and the rest of Rocking Russian is an incredible opening track, not the least thanks to the tempo change right around the halfway point where the song locks into this crushing
bass-driven odd-time groove that comes across as a much slower, heavier version of what Voivod were doing on Killing Technology before getting even more dissonant and ***ed up. And yet after that there are four more songs to go, nearly all of which nearly meet or exceed that song's memorability and creativity. A good thing about a five-track EP as opposed to a full album is that it's easier for each song to have its own unique identity. And each of the songs on here do indeed stand apart. In terms of heaviness and technicality, the closest match to Rocking Russian would probably be Ghosts of Princess. That intro is just mind-bending, like a trippier, scarier Watchtower. The rest of the song goes hard too, but in addition to the intro, I'd like to point out that the part at 2:07 after the solo is quite the premonition of Atheist's jazzy metal freakouts on Unquestionable Presence
. And listen to how Koh's bass just piles on the low end, making everything ten times heavier.
In terms of the slightly more melodic (but still heavy and technical and weird), we have Killing Field and Bad-Priest, both of which use Koh's bass acrobatics to craft a sort of psychedelic atmosphere. In the EP's title track, the clean guitars, bass, and heavily accented spoken word passages (Taka mangles the English language on pretty much all the band's works, both in pronounciation and in grammar, but this only serves to add to the band's style) give way to some metal riffage that's a different kind of trippy. The tempos and time signatures are particularly apt to change in this number, but it all flows well as a composition. Bad-Priest's bass riffs during the parts in 4/4 are ***ing genius, but if you think that's cool, just wait until the song's bedazzling melodious interlude, which further shows Doom as in a league of their own at this point without being particularly heavy. The final track, Fence and Barricade, ends things on an impressive note as well; the riffs and rhythms here are particularly jerky, with Jyochi "Joe" Hirokawa going ham on the drums, but there's quite a bit of atmosphere in the verses, with these open sounding riffs and slightly more melodic vocals (by thrash standards). The bizarre high-pitched effect on Taka's vocals in the choruses is yet another contribution to the strange atmosphere, and if I haven't fanboyed enough about Koh's bass playing, he pulls off some godly fretless work in this song's own quiet interlude.
Although this isn't classified as a "full" album, there are enough ideas in these songs that it feels like you've listened to one after its 28-minute runtime lapses. Doom's Killing Field is really impressive stuff, but partly because they're from Japan, Doom's music is unfortunately far less known than quite a few thrash bands--old and new--that pretty much copied the archetypal Bay Area thrash metal sound to varying degrees of competency. It's a shame, because for early 1988, this is really ahead of its time. I 100% recommend it to those who are interested in the weirdest side of thrash and have worn out their Voivod cassette tapes. Here's hoping that Doom's record label comes to their senses and lets us baka gaijin legally share their music online with ease.