Review Summary: Tomorrow's scenery, today's treasure.
When Envy released The Fallen Crimson
in 2020, longtime fans of the Japanese screamo heavyweights could finally breathe a deep sigh of relief; almost two decades prior, the group brought well-concocted blends of frantic post-hardcore and cathartic post-rock to underground international acclaim, but from the mid-2000s onward the formula grew increasingly stagnant. The Fallen Crimson
was an internal revitalization as much as it was a re-prioritization of what made their peak period albums such a force to be reckoned with: larger ranges in dynamics, chord progressions that inverse-jumpscared from expected minors to buoyant majors, and crisp production that actively propelled every physical impact. Even if their best days were indeed behind them, a late-career resurgence that powerful left a statement; if simply played straight, this genre’s tools aren’t inherently impressive, and it takes keen songwriting and passion to remain dazzling.
But this isn’t an Envy review. As those guys were buckling down to reclaim their lost glory, a small group of fellow Tokyo-dwellers, Asunojokei, dropped their debut Awakening
in 2018. The appeal of each band is similar—enough so to warrant that whole paragraph of preface in my eyes—but crucially, Asunojokei’s roots were watered by the nimble blast beats and wall-of-noise guitar techniques of black metal. Sprinkling in bits of calmer, melodic clean sections and spoken-word vocals, Awakening
was true to its name, a first flash of promise from an act who seemed willing to take up the mantle of that vein of bombastic, Japanese climaxcore. Their ambition was only slightly stymied by amateur production and the necessary trial and error that comes with getting your first release out to the world. If they learned well and continued blazing forward, Asunojokei seemed destined for great things.
Three weeks early, it’s arrived on our doorstep: Island
is everything you could expect from an Asunojokei follow-up, and yet so much more. Don’t let the bubbly cover art deceive you; the album is first and foremost packed to the brim with yelps and dissonance and octopus-limbed breakdowns. But don’t let that disclaimer also deceive you; from beneath the angst and muck bloom an ever-present notion of uplift, permeating both the songcraft and the lyrics, which the band has provided official English translations of, should those be of interest to you. For every predictable roaring crescendo (and there are many; “The Forgotten Ones,” “The Sweet Smile of Vortex,” and “Thunder” form an especially effective arc across the album’s back half), there’s a subtle surprise—the shimmering, groovy “Footsteps” or the danceable, poppy (yes, you read that right) pulses of “Chimera” and "Diva Under the Blue Sky." None of these genre experiments register as too lopsided or obtrusive, just unsuspecting, captivating spins on the core sound. It's as refreshing as the genre has sounded in years.
And I can’t applaud the cleaner production enough, either; drummer Saitoh’s work has substantially more punch to it here than on Awakening,
the guitars titillate with shoegazey wash at several highlights, and Daiki Nuno’s vocals display more character now as well—raspier and louder, uneven at times, but more colorful nonetheless. Every single aspect of Island
is not only a welcome improvement from its predecessor release, it represents a proverbial passing of the torch. Asunojokei is following the footprints of giants, and their shoe size is wide enough to fill the holes laid down as early as album number two. If it doesn’t bestow upon them as much praise as the work of their forebears, I don’t know if anything will.