Review Summary: Ibaraki’s expansive opening chapter is ingenuity peppered with head-scratching moments.
It’s taken me a while to fully wrap my head around Matt Heafy’s debut “black metal” album. That’s mostly because Rashomon
sits neatly over the top of what most usual fans of Trivium would expect from Heafy and co. I say this with the assumption that most of the guys and gals reading this will have at some stage listened to the Floridian four piece to which most of this album will inevitably be compared. Sweeping vague statements aside, Rashomon
is a more than solid metal album that bridges the gaps between the familiarity of mainstream festival rompers and the worlds of black metal both “trve” and avant.
Okay, that is a bit of a generalization. Mostly because Ibaraki loosely translates to “Heafy going solo and completely missing the point” (not literally of course, stop googling Honshu, Japan and never leave Sputnikmusic’s humble catacombs again okay) as the Trivium frontman brought over the group’s other members, that Ihsahn dude from the prolific Emperor, Ihsahn’s family and a smattering of other featured artists to help write and perform on the bulk of the new projects tracks. That’s fine, but I take more issue with how Rashomon
has been branded, hyped as a black metal record, featuring legendary black metal grand-pappy Ihsahn and somehow has fallen short of achieving the hype in design, it’s aesthetic too cleanly wrapped in the typical Trivium wash. What Ibaraki does have in spades is reach
. Despite the flaws, the misgivings, the “this is not not black metal-isms”, Rashomon
is a bridge between the worlds of mainstream, of black metal, of extreme metal, and of “was that some video game noise f
uckery?” No, Rashomon
a pure black metal album, and I suspect it would’ve been less of a talking point if it had been. Put simply, Ibaraki is a Trivium record, featuring one ol’ grand-daddy of the black metal genre and in most ways the next logical step from Shogun
that should have, and
could have been.
I digress. Rashomon
is the schrodinger's cat that lives outside the box. We know where it is, but is it still dead? Putting aside its flaws and misconceptions there’s an undoubtable whole host of good ideas going on here. After experiencing a new Heafy mainstay in the shape of a small cinematic introductory track, “Kagutsuchi” throws jagged dissonant riffs into the fray. Heafy’s usual, distinct scream pierces the veil and cements the album’s more angular, black metal leanings. It’s a formula that’s short-lived, sharing a similar clean meets heavy dichotomy found within just about every other Heafy penned composition…ever
. As much as I want to throw salt at this, I can’t. In providing some lighter, more melodic sections, “Kagutsuchi” allows itself a chance to breathe, while providing some faux-Shogun
vocal familiarity for the listener before churning out some of the most Opeth-ian like melodies you’ve heard in a hot minute.
“Ibaraki-Dōji” and “Jigoku Dayū” move the record away from the aesthetic of Trivium with blackened leanings, but somehow closer to that of Shogun
’s titular track. Heafy’s clean vocals have always had a contentious quality to them, however the proggier, less hook focused framework of Rashomon
provides ample room for unforced, well-executed cleans to really deliver the mythos behind the album. The latter of the two is an expression of contrast. Take the simple, graceful beginning, give it a gentle motif and run until before transitioning into more extreme nuances. Even as we venture into the record’s later half, and of that of the all-important
features, Heafy and co. still manage to unearth a few hybridized stylistic treats. “Akumu” (featuring Behemoth’s Nergal) offers a gruff, rougher edge to the project’s already varied soundscapes (Satan, yo!), while “Rōnin” with Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance just about highlights this entire hour long effort with a blistering nine minute opus. Still, Rashomon
’s faults lie in its inability to craft something truly unique, special or make proper use of the black metal landscapes to the extent to which the years of hype promised. Maybe it’s got something to do with the constant use of recurring ideas, especially in regards to choruses (something to which black metal isn’t especially known for) or the recycling of ideas, but this project would’ve been better sold as a Trivium and Ihsahn album, rather than a terribly familiar, but somehow its own band.
I’d also raise an issue with the circus pomp that helps close the record. “Kaizoku” just sounds so damn out of place within the context of the rest of Rashomon
that it’s a wonder this wasn’t released as a stand alone, by itself, far away from what the rest of Ibaraki has to offer circa 2022. As such, the song could easily be trimmed off the run-time. All in all I can see why the purists would hate this, but I could in equal measure see this as the next logical step for a band so primed for festival crowds and sickly sweet contrasts between heavy verses and oh-so clean sung choruses. Looking closer to home, Rashomon
is a quality record, just different enough to get heads turning. Ibaraki however doesn’t have the mainstay to grow into the fully fledged individual it so needs to be.