Ibaraki – Rashomon (Album Review)

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What do Ihsahn (Emperor), Adam “Nergal” Darski (Behemoth, Me and That Man), and Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance) have in common? Aside from being musical legends in their own right, each is a featured vocalist for metal’s latest innovation: Ibaraki’s debut album “Rashomon.” The brainchild of Trivium frontman Matt Kiichi Heafy, Ibaraki is Heafy’s most extreme – and most personal – release to date. Far more than just a solo project, Ibaraki is an inspired exploration of extreme metal with strong roots in Heafy’s Japanese-American heritage.

The seeds for Ibaraki were laid many years ago: Heafy had mulled over the possibility of doing a black metal project as early as 2009. It was around this time Heafy had his first contact with the renowned black metal artist Ihsahn, and the two sparked a creative friendship that has spanned to the present day. After years of conversation and camaraderie, it was the pandemic that manifested more than a decade of dreams into something more: Ibaraki was finally alive.

Heafy may be a relative newcomer to this particular flavor of metal, but this is also new ground for the otherwise experienced Ihsahn: the talented artist stepped up to be the producer for “Rashomon.” And naturally, this is yet another creative endeavor Ihsahn has proven to excel at, as the stellar production value of this album is one of its defining characteristics. With their combined experience and artistic vision, the pair have created something truly unique, something beautiful with a sublime sort of wonder woven throughout. 

This isn’t just extreme metal with an eastern-folk flourish, like one might experience with other Japanese-inspired bands like Whispered. From the opening track “Hakanaki Hitsuzen” to the very name “Rashomon,” it’s clear that Ibaraki digs much deeper into authentic concepts with a firm commitment to evocative storytelling. Gerard Way’s voice enlightens this winding narrative on the towering track “Ronin,” and he brings to life a ten-minute epic that swells with the might of untold legend. “Ronin” captures the inspired aesthetic of Japanese folklore and mythology with the same sense of reverence black metal bands have paid to Nordic mythology for decades. With Ibaraki, Heafy has laid claim to something truly exceptional: a cultural motif that binds to metallic fury with rare ingenuity.

To separate Trivium entirely from this album would be a futile endeavor. Not only have decades with Trivium shaped Heafy’s fundamental evolution as an artist, but Trivium bandmates Alex Bent, Paolo Gregoletto, and Corey Beaulieu have offered instrumental contributions in various tracks across “Rashomon.” These thoughtful touches of familiarity compliment appearances from guest vocalists, including the hellish screams of Behemoth’s Nergal on the fiery “Akumu.” Each contributor’s talents are interwoven gracefully alongside Heafy’s own artistic identity, perfectly chosen to accentuate the project’s mastermind as he simultaneously tackled the roles of vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist.

Heafy’s clean vocals are at the absolute top of their game, a talent highlighted most acutely on the hard-hitting “Kagutsuchi.” With somber melancholy and a warm background ambiance, Heafy leans on a memorable riff before wrapping the listener in his vocal caress. With hypnotic allure he carries the verse into the tenderness of an instrumental interlude before ripping through the quietude with a magnanimous roar. These earth-shattering screams persist in the fierce thunder of “Ibaraki-Doji,” a track that rains down furious hellfire with relentless percussion and an explosive display of raw instrumental talent. The march across “Rashomon” is unceasing, each song painting a new tale, every chorus pulling the listener deeper into the throes of beautifully crafted chaos. From the softly sinister to the near-cataclysmic, there is a shade of darkness for every season to be found here.

These early tempests are split by the enticing acoustic notes of “Jigoku Dayu” and its deceptively peaceful opening. Instrumental and atmospheric variety are skillfully employed to soothe the wounds opened by the album’s introductory hymns, and it is yet another taste of the compositional mastery Heafy displays in this latest outing. Varied pacing across the album keeps the dynamic necessity of extreme metal without losing a more heartfelt touch in its softer moments. Smooth transitions between speed and intensity, as well as from clean vocals to harsh vocals, keep the listener on their toes without ever jarring them from pure sonic immersion. There is also a delicate treat hidden in an otherwise extreme album: “Tamashii No Haouki” is carried by a memorable chorus that floats gently above rabid drum beats. The riffs and melodies from the album have incredible staying power, clinging like ghosts to gentle hums and fingers tapped across a table, whispers that continue long after the album has concluded.

Perhaps what stands out most in this album is the pure intention that drips from every note. Heafy has chosen to bare his soul for the world to see, and he has done it with the utmost care for all he holds dear. There is no hollow aspiration to imitate or emulate, not a breath of hesitation before committing to something both bold and brave. Heafy once voiced worry that he would be perceived as too “commercial” for the black metal scene, but “Rashomon” is proof that there is nothing but pure authenticity in this artist’s poignant music. No narrative thread is ended prematurely as tracks span from six to ten minutes long, not one story overstays its welcome, and each blends seamlessly into the next. The heartbeat of this mammoth endeavor is carried by a comprehensive approach that renders “Rashomon” as a decadent treat meant to be devoured whole, lest one be left with the hollowness of longing in their chest. Best of all, there is something new to discover buried in its multifaceted depths with each repeated listen.

If you are seeking something new, something brilliant and beautiful and transcendent, something that exceeds the bounds of your imagination, look no further than “Rashomon.” You will find yourself swept up in one man’s journey to tell a story that soon takes on a life of its own, awestruck by its power and beauty. Whether you seek the comfort of its tempestuous darkness or the gentle touch of its grace, your own experience with “Rashomon” awaits.

Released By:  Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: May 6th, 2022
Genre: Black Metal

Musicians:

  • Matt Heafy / Vocals, Guitar 

“Rashomon” track listing

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9.3 Excellent

Beautifully crafted and fiercely original, Matt Heafy’s new extreme metal project Ibaraki is an awesome storm of sonic reverie. Brilliance and inspiration collide to bring “Rashomon” to life, and this album offers up Heafy’s very best beneath the lights of a truly unique aesthetic.

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 9.5
  • Production 9.5
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