School’s Back In Session

School’s back in session, but this semester we’ll be getting a lesson in serious rock– courtesy of Jrock’s best-kept secret, full-throttle super-group abingdon boys school.

Although they could be called a ‘kid-band’, as they only started in 2005, there is nothing kiddie about this hardcore Jrock group. abingdon boys school, fondly contracted to a.b.s by fans and the band alike, was founded by programmer and keyboardist Kishi Toshiyuki and vocalist Nishikawa Takanori– perhaps better known for his pop-prince solo act, T.M. Revolution. They recruited guitarists SUNAO and Shibasaki Hiroshi, both of whom have worked closely with Nishikawa on his “Revolutionary” activities throughout the past decade.

However, let me say this: for anyone who came to a.b.s expecting more of T.M. Revolution’s futuristic sub-Gundam electro-pop, two words: Not. Happening. Seeing as three of the members have indeed (and do still) work together in the Mobile-Suit pop world, I think (yeah, I read the blogs too) a lot of people were surprised that this amazingly (absolutely no offense intended) fruity, and possibly the shortest pop-star in Japan, could front a project so dramatically opposite his solo work, as abingdon boys school.

Well you can put it in red marker and add a star-shaped sticker too, for the versatility of Nishikawa’s unbelievable vocal style. Whether he’s draped in supple snow-white  leather suits, or nerding out in thick-rimmed glasses and a private-school uniform, Nishikawa’s high, heady, terrifically strong wail is unlike any other. Honestly, I have to say that Nishikawa’s vocals are some of the most impressive, innovative, and mind-blowingly awesome in the pop/rock world.

Aside from the singular vocal talents of Nishikawa, the rest of the a.b.s lineup may be names you haven’t heard– but we can quite quickly decapitate that disturbance and move on, because the sooner you hear them, the sooner you’ll be thanking yourself.

Part of the problem may be that these are not blooming heartthrobs. Nor are they young, with the most-junior member scraping a mature 39. I mean– Nishikawa has this kind of aura of studliness, but let’s face it, it’s an aura. If you look at the aesthetic of today, and it’s being represented by Visual Kei hot-topics such as the GazettE and Alice Nine… and all those guys, they’re like puking good-looks. (BUCK-TICK’s early lineup was concerned about their vocalist being tall enough…they apparently never considered hiring Nishikawa, who maxes out at 5′3″.) Well, I’ll tell you, a.b.s may not look like much, but these guys know where and how to pack a helluva punch. These guys are deadly.

a.b.s is comprised of the aforementioned 4 members: Nishikawa (vo.), Kishi (keyboards, programming), SUNAO (guitar), Shibasaki (guitar). The other two necessary organs that make a band breathe and pump blood properly, drums and bass, are supplied by session musicians. And by session-musicians, I mean that these two musicians have a pact with holy deities so advanced and beyond us, that they can’t really officially join bands. Although these two backing members are mysterious strangers to most of a.b.s‘ non-Japanese fan-base, let me try and shed a little light.

Bassist IKUO, who can slap and pop so hardcore you practically want to die, is an extremely in-demand figure in Jrock. In summer ’09 he tore a hole of throbbing thick-stringed bass madness on GACKT’s Koakuma Heaven. And that’s just one name– wherever fame has been mixed with Jrock, IKUO has probably been at some point or another. Any guess as to where GACKT picked this guy up? Possibly on a certain [b]ass-kicking (forgive the inexcusable joke) album that rocked the custom-shredded socks of the Jrock kingdom in 2007…

However, the drummer, who incites the greatest rage of curiosity within, is carefully hidden, his face turned at every sneaky shot during TV performances and lives. You see a sharp cheek and some wild long hair, and that’s about it. His name is Hasegawa Kozy, and he has surpassed being “the drummer” and become “the drums”. Hasegawa Kozy has worked with pretty much every influential Japanese pop and rock band ever– and guess who has him now?

The mastermind behind the project, as it were, is really Kishi Toshiyuki, programmer and keyboardist, who splits most of the compositional duties with guitarist Shibasaki. ‘Programmer’ ‘keyboards’ yes– turn tables.

NO, just don’t even say it. Turn-tables in a rock band? Gundam-suited pop princes in a rock band? Yeah, I know. No, no, no, I’m not trying to rope you into some kind of weird sub-trance group…This is rock– no, this has transcended rock. Turn-tables. And rock. These oh-so-questionable turn-tables spin a.b.s into a whole new arena than the other rockers out there– turn-tables allow for incredible mixing both on stage and in the studio. Kishi adds layers of intense effects and remixing to the already heavy hard-rock style double guitars. You can hear the mixing, but Kishi’s taste is impeccable, and by the end of the first song, it’s all you’ll be talking about.

Not only that, but this is pioneer work as far as Jrock is concerned. Few to no bands up until this point have been interested in mixing turn-tables and rap elements with rock. However, since a.b.s has seen a spike in popularity in the past two or three years, many notable Visual Kei and rock bands have been inspired by them. This includes D’espairsRay who, in 2009 released FINAL CALL, which was produced by Kishi; and girugamesh, whose latest album, NOW is all rap and turn-tabled-out.

On top of the unique music, their image is incredible. However, it’s sort of like, what’s with the getup? What’s in a name? The name abingdon boys school comes from the name of the school in Abingdon-On-Thames, England. The story goes that Nishikawa, after some research, chose the initials a.b.s, partly because he likes sports cars and the initials corresponded to automatic-breaking-system, and partly because when spoken with a Japanese accent, the pronunciation (ee bii essu) is very similar to that of the word “Ebisu”, which is the name of the town where the band was founded.

Abingdon School

However, after some further research, they discovered the school, which is renowned for being the birthplace of famous British rock band Radiohead.  Since the four members [of a.b.s] would all be in the same year at school, they agreed that it would be a fun image to all be school boys together once again. Therefore the image is in keeping with this ideal– the members dress in private-school uniforms (with an a.b.s badge, of course), and one would be hard-pressed to find any one of them devoid of some good old tartan.

As mentioned earlier, the band is only 5 years old. Started in 2005, a.b.s runs alongside T.M.Revolution’s solo projects, to which Nishikawa, Shibasaki, SUNAO, and occassionally even IKUO devote time both in composition and touring aspects. So in all that time, what were the boys up to? Good question, really. It wasn’t until 2009 really that a.b.s took on a full-time project quality from the members. From ’05-’08 they had only released one full-length album and 4 singles, however, ’09 saw the release of 4 more singles, their participation in the major V-Rock Festival in Tokyo, and an intl. debut with their hit European tour. January ’10 saw the release of their new album, Abingdon Road, in March a DVD of music clips and documentary footage from the Europe tour, and a nationwide Japan tour.

As well as having done the OP song for the ultra-popular anime series D Gray Man, many of a.b.s’ singles have been used in shows and anime. This has been credited to a personal love of anime and video games by Nishikawa. Nishikawa claims that he’ll never make a song for a series he doesn’t like, but if he likes it, then the game is on. But it doesn’t stop at anime. a.b.s has been invited to work on several memorial albums– Nishikawa belted out stay away for fictional punk rockers THE BLACK STONES on the Love for Nana ~Only 1 Tribute~ album; their cover of Luna Sea’s Sweetest Coma Again was a hit on Luna Sea~ Memorial Album, and their cover of Buck-Tick’s DRESS absolutely stole the BT cover album: Parade~ Respective Tracks of Buck-Tick.

Check out the original:

a.b.s‘ discography may be relatively small, but it is growing as the band is expanding and growing themselves. Each song is a powerful tornado of musical experience that is, quite frankly, unlike anything else in the music scene today. Their utterly unique sound and image set them apart from the mainstream influx of 20-something cutie-boys, and their devotion to amazing music elevate them among the ranks of long-standing classic favorites. Do yourself a favor and pick up their hot-off-the-press album Abingdon Road, released January 27th ’10.

Class dismissed.

Official Website

Official Fan-club (A.B.S.F.C) [Japan only]

Further reading

For a full list of related links, click


Two-parts god, one part man


Most of you have probably heard the name ‘Gilgamesh’ tossed around in your ancient civilizations classes, usually paired with long-winded and incredibly cool words such as ‘Mesopotamia’ and ‘Babylon’, and references to a huge wall and the invention of the written-word.

In the legends pertaining to Gilgamesh, king of ancient Mesopotamia, he was described as being “two parts god, and one part man”; a demigod of superhuman strength.

How, or more importantly why, the Japanese know about Gilgamesh and his wall, I have no idea, but two-parts god and one-part man about sums up head-bangable Jrock bad-boys girugämesh.

giru's Satoshi (vo)

If you’re looking for screamo, metal, hard-rock, hard-core, hip-hop, mixed, howler, boy-band Jrock with a twist of balladic poetic license, you came to the right place. Refusing to be labelled, but preferring to have their genre put through a blender, girugämesh is exactly the breath of fresh air you may need to give the coming New Year a grand spike.

A relatively new band full of youngsters, girugämesh was founded in 2003, but didn’t form its current lineup until 2004, when the former vocalist Cyrien (sometimes credited as Tora/Cyrien) and guitarist Hotaru left the band, and Satoshi came on to fill the silent hole left by Cyrien. Pretty standard start-up; started playing gigs, a few singles and EPs were released, high Oricon indies ratings, etc.

Although their early years (what do you mean, “early years”? The band’s only existed for 5 measly years!) may be typical for an indie rock band, unlike most J-indies bands, girugämesh just went hog-wild and shipped their black-suited selves overseas to take part in the 2007 U.S. Jrock breakthrough, Jrock Revolution– a massive Jrock festival in L.A…..What did their mothers think?

They must’ve been damn proud. girugämesh performed on the second night of the festival along with big-deal Visual Kei bands Merry, D’espairsRay, and Mucc. This phenomenon of Japanese musical experience which yours truly missed by a freakin’ long shot resulted in some of the band’s music becoming available on the iTunes music store, as well as moderate international success– which is more than can be said for many a Jrock band.

The band has had a steady lineup of lives and tours (with performances in the US, Europe, and Japan), as well as consistent releases. Since 2006 they have released an album annually, including the upcoming album NOW, to be released Dec. 16th ’09. They have released 16 singles between August 3rd 2004 (distributed single, Jelato) and October 7th 2009 (Crying Rain).

Much of the band’s work includes plenty of hardcore and metal, with growly Satoshi howling and screaming himself hoarse, but don’t let that scare you off. Their music is original, unique, and professional; with very high compositional quality. Although the music can be rough and ready, the vocal melodies are often beautiful, and whoever was in charge of the screaming was well-appointed. They never get out of hand, and the screamo stuff is tastefully done.

And if it’s pure-pop you’re looking for, the band showed their versatility and covered the much-sung Glamorous Sky, written by HYDE of L’arc~En~Ciel, originally performed by Nakashima Mika.

They really showcase their talents in moody, tribal ballad Kowarete yuku sekai, blending seamlessly a dash of emo, a sprinkling of drums that could only have been supplied by the Mongol hordes, and again, the brilliant, just-enough screamy-ness. Eerie, thought-provoking, and exquisite, all in all, this is the perfect ballad from hell.

Although the band started up with a pretty heavy Visual Kei feel, in 2008 they mellowed their hardcore look and evened out their style. Face-cloths and great orbital Panda rounds of eye-makeup turned into a steadier, less-the-VK face and black-suit or hoodie and black jeans ensemble.

As usual, many people categorize the band as still being Visual Kei–and if it comforts you, go ahead–, they do nothing to be part of that culture or aesthetic. Their style is not beautiful or particularly parallel to the Visual Kei effeminate androgyny, but has its roots more in a grunge/goth arena, where we will let them fight it out~ a group of matador’s waving black flags at the raging masses of Visual Kei-labelers.



Satoshi (vo/lyricist)

Nii (guitar)

Shuu (bass)

Яyo (drums/ primary songwriter)

+Years active+

2003 (with Cyrien)/2004 (with Satoshi) – present


Chiba, Kantou region, Japan

(gif image credit unknown. If it’s yours, I’ll credit you happily-gp)

Get umbrellas out for girugamesh, Oct 7th

For goth-metal band girugamesh, the sky is weeping…hopefully over the amazingness of their new single, crying rain.

crying rain / girugameshThe single will be available tomorrow! the 7th of October, ’09. It will be available for JPY 1890 [USD$20.00]. The limited edition comes with an external bonus of a mini-mirror. The single is slim, but hopefully killing regardless, with only 2 tracks: CRYING RAIN and S.T.F.U.


abingdon boys school’s album leaves you ‘HOWLING’ for more


After a brief drought, during which we were abingdon boys school deprived, the sensitive band graces us this spring and summer with a selection of promising new singles. Feb 25th saw the release of STRENGTH, a high-powered, glittery silver hard-rock new-comer. May 20th delivered JAP, heavy pop/rock with brand-new overtones for our classicist band, and 8/26 will bring Kimi no Uta.

However, what comes would never come without what already is already being there. So let us take a step back to a 2007 release that set a whole new mood for Jrock. To be honest, I don’t remember 2007 so well– hey, while we’re at the confessional, I don’t remember last week that well…But if there is one thing that stands out clearly in my mind, it’s the advent of glory: the incredible ABS’ first full-length album, abingdon boys school.


abingdon boys school is heavier than most of the Jrock we’ve been listening to lately. (Excluding those evil VK bands that are just basically jousting vocally for supreme darkest band). But that being said, the heavy duo guitar riffs, drum track, up-front bass lines and tricky real-time remixing are smoothed out perfectly by a level of creditable temperance, taste, and lyrical melody. Even through the heaviest songs (HOWLING, Innocent Sorrow) there’s a balladic beauty to Nishikawa’s high but powerful vocals, and as in the best of Jrock, an unshakable loyalty to damn good melody.  These guys are obviously not trying to nuke the water– they’re just trying to create waves, and waves they are creating.

The sound of the album is extremely even– no insane genre bobbing that Jrockers need to get used to–and fast– and tend to learn to love. This creates a very particular texture to the aural satisfaction of the album; it’s like listening to a story told through from beginning to end; a novel, rather than a collection of shorts or poetry. Each song, or chapter, has its own unique texture, but the underlying qualities tie it to the songs that precede and follow, so there is a congruency, a connectedness. Listening to the album feels like getting swept into a whirlpool, where you spin around and around, whipped along in a cacophony of extreme awesomeness, and then at the end you are set back down on the ground.

The album is peppered with English lyrics, from the all-English pieces  (As One, LOST REASON, stay away,) to pieces with English lines or words (HOWLING). Yeah, you remember my rant on English lyrics. Surprisingly, ABS recruited lyric-advisers to work with them on the English lyrics, so they make sense– grammatically, anyway. Nishikawa doesn’t slur through them, either, but belts them out with a passionate pride, and they hit their mark with surprising (or not, as the case may be) satisfaction.

abingdon+boys+school+abs28908abingdon boys school opens with AS ONE. A melodic, low-key opening that sets us up for a not-so-steady, yet euphoric, ascent to heavy. An all-English album opening may sound sketchy, but trust me and trust them and all will be well– AS ONE is the perfect garden-gate into the vintage English castle where one could easily imagine tiny prince Nishikawa ruling over no one and driving old-fashioned and expensive cars down dusty dirt roads.

AS ONE pushes us easily into HOWLING-INCH UP-, and things really get going here. Nishikawa shows his many-colors brilliantly, getting a little metal-head (Nishikawa style, of course) in with lusty howls that soar along on metal-style heavy shredding. From AS ONE the band immediately begins stirring up the whirlpool, which they preserve majestically throughout the entire album, sealing you in with Nishikawa’s vocals (although you’re really locked in the world created by the incredible musical backing). That tremulous voice is the Virgil to our Dante, and Kishi and Shibasaki have written an Inferno all of their own for us drifting mortals to wander in.

Although I have heard Howling as being the “heavy” song for the album, that’s sort of a great leap to malformed conclusions, IMPO. ABS likes to use a blend of ballad-style melody with ultra-heavy guitars and drums. The beauty of the vocals is supported by the tinkling notes of a piano and the heavy thrum of the bass, which creates an exciting experience of aural confusion. It’s hard to tell if you’re listening to a ballad, or “the” heavy track. This collage of styles is showcased brilliantly in the third track on the album, Via Dolorosa, which begins with some wicked hardcore guitar riffs and then plays neatly into a melodic, lilting instrumental break, and downright pretty break with vocals on top of light piano backing. The track swings right back into the huge, thick backing of the full ensemble to close, but the pure, exquisite vocals keep up, playing perfectly with the heavy accompaniment and yet defying it at the same time.

SUNAOShibasakiFor people who had collected ABS’ previously released singles, you may feel a little jipped, as (then) 3 of 4 singles are repeated on abingdon boys school. The exceptions are BLADE CHORD and FrE@k $HoW. Yup, you guessed it– the 4th track on the album is ABS’ ‘crowning glory’, their ‘making song’, INNOCENT SORROW. This song won them a brilliant debut due to its use in the anime D Gray Man (which I hear is hugely popular, although I personally am not of that ilk). Undoubtedly an amazing song, somehow in the extensive garden of other songs, it feels strangely overrated, and it’d be laughable to say it was their best.

On the other hand, the album finds its footing in the highlight of songs such as DOWN TO YOU, アテナ、Nephilim, and DESIRE.

A few prizes that weren’t expected were two songs released on other more difficult to acquire albums, one being a track ABS wrote for use under the BLACKSTONES name for the Love for Nana ~ Only 1 Tribute~ album which is now out of print, and you’d be lucky to find it in a used CD shop in Japan. The song is a truly cool, bass-heavy rock’n’roll piece that screams BLACKSTONES, its guitar and drums melody rolling with a curious rhythmic quality that flows along like water into the great tsunamis of the tres Nana Osaki-esque lean-and-mean choruses.

Another side-project inclusion, and really one of the albums’ true moments of glory– Hoshino Higurashi  and Sakurai Atsushi de BUCK-TICK‘s ドレス [DRESS,] covered masterfully to such perfection that it actually might rival the original masterpiece, were they not so drastically different. What BT did with deadly class, ABS elevates to supreme hard-core. DRESS is one of the highlights of the album, an intricate dance of vocal melody (which sticks true to the original), extreme turn-table-remixing and keyboards, and a guitar solo to kill.


Ok: the controversial song on the album. The one song everyone hates, which is surprisingly still one of ABS’ best songs: LOST REASON. So, what’s wrong with it. Well, here’s the thing, ABS took the original LOST REASON and, y’know…sort of, well, changed it. Yeah, they changed it. They decided it would be fun to kind of, I dunno, remix it. Don’t flee in horror– really it’s not as bad as it sounds. Why does everyone hate this new version? Because it features MICRO from Home Made 家族 [HOME MADE KAZOKU]– yes, he’s a… rapper. Well, when I first learned this, I know I was fleeing in horror. I have this tentative truce with Japanese hip-hop– like, if it doesn’t mess with me, I don’t mess with it. Therefore it can be sort of mortifying when it encroaches on one of your favorite bands. Well, it encroached, it’s very present on this song, and let me say this– it’s kinda cool. Crazy, but cool. LOST REASON, yup, the album-version, is one of my favorite songs on the album. Granted this is purely a matter of personal opinion, let’s try and look at it this way– granted the instrumental-break-filling rap is somewhat bizarre and incongruous, the inclusion of MICRO’s lines during Nishikawa’s vocals is somehow cool. You have to admit– these guys can get away with some pretty crazy stuff. Obviously the people who spend so much time bashing this song are taking it all too seriously– varied taste much anyone?


At 12 songs, the album is just long enough that you’re left feeling fulfilled, but also just a few tracks short enough that you can easily have the time and energy to go back and listen to several tracks over again before needing a glass of water or, although I can’t understand why, a venture out into the world– but if that’s the case, I can promise you’ll be taking abingdon boys school with you.

Official website [Japanese, sound, load-time]

abingdon boys school / abingdon boys school

Gazette: new album

the GazettE to release first full-length album in two years: DIM

Pre-order to receive ltd. ed first-press release with DVD and possible external bonus (not yet unveiled). Includes a separate-volume booklet.

Release date: 7/15/09

The GazettE

The GazettE

Just do it do it do it….

“God said that when you die, your life will pass before your eyes. If you want to feel it right now, just do it do it do it….”

Possibly the best advice I’ve ever received– and one of Gackt’s more articulate English phrases, as extracted from his recent single, Jesus. Some of us are still trying to figure out what “a crew sees cryin knees” means, but maybe we’re slow on the joke.

Both from my original assumption, and from my recent trip to Japan, I almost have to say you’d think Gackt has sort of lost his cover-issue appeal in the Jrock industry. Music magazines (which took up about half my suitcase, needless to say) seem to be packed with Alice Nine, An Cafe, D, Buck-Tick and other such names these days.  I stabbed unforgiving fingernails into the spines of magazines,scratching out preceding names until I found those Roman letters I was searching for. He’s there. It’s just that Alice Nine is about ten years more recent. Understandable. Most of those names had just released exciting new albums, including several leaps to major labels. And all Gackt did was start a huge, nationwide, incredible looking “Visual tour”. No big deal. From the magazines, you might be worried about his claim to fame as the god of Jrock. Don’t worry. He has it all under control. I’ve got proof. It’s called one of Gackt’s three latest singles: JESUS.

After that uncertain moment where I just had to sit back and trust Gackt (I refer to the period of time he spent deliberating over whether or not he was going to join Yoshiki of X Japan fame for some weird band.), Gackt changed his theme. In 2005 he was sporting ringlets and cornrows and a definite homage to Vampirism. In 2007 he had become some sort of evil samurai warlord (a fitting image.). Now, in 2009, he’s turned into a…(I guess Gackt is trying to tell us something) an evil, militaristic…badass. Not only did he change his look for something sleek and modern, he changed his music, too. There’s a distinct difference between the early Gackt and the music he’s releasing these days. Right in a nice little clump, Gackt released three singles– and if you think a nationwide tour could throw off Gackt’s perfectionism one little bit…maybe you should switch to decaf.

To say that Gackt is settling down would be a vast insult to his latest work. In fact, I think that Gackt keeps getting more and more intense with each new album and single. Enter: JESUS.

The single itself is a portrait of excellence. The case is a grim shot of a grim-looking Gackt turning back to look from amidst a staggering group of….the back of the case reveals delightful zombies lurching forward, all wearing the same Nazi-esque suit. The disc itself depicts a wryly smiling Gackt, heavily eye-lined, holding his hand to his temple in the shape of a gun. The imagery, the corresponding PV and live TV performances, and the song itself are all darker, heavier, and more intense than much of his earlier stuff. Although it’s not uncommon for Gackt to thrash about in some kind of possessed state during a performance, I was impressed by the intensity he throws into Jesus. Watching him perform it (and even just hearing the track) never fails to give me goosebumps.

JESUS is grungier than a lot of Gackt’s earlier pieces. It’s dark, it’s totally edgy, and the sound is full-throttle metal. His bestial-howls of ‘Jesus’ and ‘Maria’ tear through the guitars and drums’ heavy-metal riffs. His hoarse, pre-solo English phrase (page header) is less the mellow recitation found in pieces such as Lust For Blood and more grunge screamo.

His style here is, and is expressed particularly well in the PV, almost that of a grim Hades-type figure, dolling out judgment– cold and merciless. In contrast, the lyrics are emotional, and deeply threaded with intense questions, such as “Real or dream, real or dream, real or dream, please tell me!” and “Answer me….Jesus!!”  This creates an interesting play of imagery between Gackt, who is singing the words, and the third-party character whose finger is trembling on the trigger of a gun poised at his temple.

The follow-up track is a re-mastered, re-written, re-performed Sayounara (taken off the album Rebirth). In typical Gackt style, he just took the most heart-wrenching melancholy song on earth and….made it sadder, if you thought that possible. Where Jesus lifts you up to a state of euphoric battle-craze, Sayounara drags you right back down to open weeping (forget the tissues, get me a mop). Sayounara is a beautiful piece that gives Gackt’s liquid-gold voice priority, curtained with heart-breaking violin and a piano track. You listen and then you cry and then you somehow glue your heart back together enough to listen to Jesus again (for the ninth time).

The single comes with instrumentals of the two songs.

Although we won’t get into his other recent singles, I have to say that I’m impressed (although not surprised) by the direction Gackt is taking his music these days. He’s going for fresh and different (including remastering older songs such as Sayounara), while still keeping with, if not enforcing further, his level of perfectionism and dedication to his music, his integrity, and the expectations of his fans. And even though his latest singles are quite a different style from his older music, they all settle down together into a perfect harmony– it’s all Gackt. Just the way we want it to be.

If Gackt ever decided to release another “best singles collection”, Jesus would have my vote. So if you were wondering whether or not you should pick this single up, my advice to you is just do it do it do it…

Gackt official website