(I got this post by e-mail from DemiGodRaven, with this message from him: “I’m going to post about heavy metal Japanese movie theme songs. Let’s see how NCS readers handle that. Come at me, bro.” So go ahead, come at him . . .)
Holy crap, they made another one of these.
That’s literally the only way I can describe my sense of somewhat wild bewilderment at the fact that there’s another Princess Ghibli disc after the last one. Princess Ghibli is a project by Imaginary Flying Machines, a moniker taken up by a bunch of different groups in order to release a compilation of metal versions of various Studio Ghibli movie theme songs.
Studio Ghibli is a legendary animation house over in Japan. They’ve made some incredibly beautiful and incredibly popular movies over the years. In some senses they’re a cultural landmark in the same way something like Disney is over here. I studied Japanese for three years in High School (I remember fuck all, don’t ask) and that is where I was exposed to a large chunk of these songs and films.
Given Japanese artists’ usage of hair-metal and glam-metal styled music to open their various anime programs, the concept of something like this isn’t too far of a stretch. Then you actually listen to the first release and you realize the whole “this” is off-the-wall nuts. None of the groups really change their style in order to match the songs; instead, the songs are filtered through each specific band. Thus, you wind up with stuff like Claudio from Disarmonia Mundi screaming a bunch of Japanese at the top of his lungs and having at best, a very rough idea of anything that he is saying. When I interviewed him for TNOTB, he admitted to this, saying the whole project was crazy. That is why I am somewhat shocked that there is another one.
I never knew that any of this project was successful; it just seemed like an incredibly amusing one-off compilation. Now we have a second one, and a large part of the roster from the first Ghibli disc returns in full force once again, along with some new surprises.
For those who have been following Disarmonia Mundi, you may have caught on to their new project, The Stranded. So far, very little music from the Disarmonia Mundi + Pro Skateboarder Elliot Sloan and friends has been released, yet it is here that you’ll apparently be receiving your first dose, though I can’t imagine that playing this brand of craziness will have anything to do with how they’ll sound outside of this context. Other than that, the bulk of the weight carried here is once again the Disarmonia Mundi guys and Blood Stain Child lead singer Sophia.
In order to really enjoy what is offered here, it helps to have some sort of attachment to the songs/films already present, because if anyone tried to approach this whole shebang from the outside it would just seem nuts. All of the melodies and choruses from the different theme songs are sung spot-on, but what makes the Princess Ghibli stuff as crazy as it is, is that each band still incorporate a huge part of their original sound into the mix. That means that although you’ll hear some ridiculously cheesy keyboard packages and incredibly upbeat (as in J-pop level of annoying) singing as the main part of the song, behind it is still a bunch of crunchy guitars and screaming.
The concept of it reminds me a lot of those punk-goes-pop compilation albums that go around every once in a while, but instead of people taking on silly pop songs (and being shitty -core bands), you instead wind up with some fairly proven groups ratcheting up the cheese level to eleven and going whole hog into anime theme songs. “Tonari No Totoro” is already a pretty upbeat song for instance, but see what happens when you add keyboardist Nero Argento and do a remix of the recording that they did for the first disc:
I’ll be the first to say that I find most Japanese pop to be completely annoying on a whole other level. Even movie theme songs will grate my nerves, so even though one of my personal favorite groups is doing the recording, it still is on a level of annoying that is unfathomable. That is why I keep using the word “amusing”, because the Princess Ghibli compilations are incredibly well-recorded, and hearing my favorite bands go nuts like this is pretty fun. They just can’t save the music, so the whole thing sounds like schizophrenia in disc form.
The guys in The Stranded, and by extension Disarmonia Mundi, do a great job with the backing tracks. They’re heavy and incredibly fast. Blood Stain Child’s own contribution is pretty good and marks some of the first new music you’ll have heard from them since last year’s Final Fantasy XIII Epsilon release. Even though she’s a bit polarizing amongst the OG BSC fans, I think Sophia is an excellent singer. She’s not too high-pitched and has a very low, smoky voice. It fits well with their sound.
She’s probably one of the main driving forces in a lot of these songs, because without her, you’d wind up with the various bands’ main vocalists just screaming their lungs out. Whilst I think that would be incredibly hilarious (and it still kind of is), Sophia providing the main melody at least helps the songs become recognizable if you’re not familiar with the instrumentation of any specific song.
Credit also deserves to be given to melodeath group Rise To Fall (who have a new disc hitting soon) and Living Corpse. While they provide most of the music, they do get other people to provide the lyrics, and their songs turn out about as well as you’d imagine, given the amount of context I’ve provided.
At the end of 2008/beginning of 2009 I actually went to Japan for two weeks. I basically whirlwinded my way across a quarter of the country with a group of friends, most of whom have now found jobs teaching over there. Since they stay there, I’m consistently asked if I am ever going to visit again, and the answer is pretty much, “No”.
You see, Japan has a way of overloading your senses (if you stick to the cities like I did), which not a lot of people realize. There’s so much visual and noise stimulus if you’re out on the town that even the quiet streets seem like they’re located next to the Las Vegas strip. Everything about them seems to be screaming “HOLY FUCK GUYS. IT’S JAPAN”. By the end of the two-week trip, I literally could not have given a flying fuck about seeing anything more. I even turned down going out one last time in order to just pass out in my golden janitor’s closet (cheap hotel room, the walls were painted gold, and it was the size of a closet) before going home.
I went to Japan for the culture shock and to see something new. I came back with Pneumonia.
As tortured as this metaphor is, in some ways the experience is comparable to listening to one of the Princess Ghibli releases, II included. It’s this weird rush of stimulus, with every thing hitting you at 11, and yes, you do get the OMG IT’S JAPAN feeling from listening to this — but man, you hit track six and you’re toast.
As a whole listen, by the end, you’ll literally never want to hear this thing again. So far, I’ve never been able to keep either one of the releases on my iPod because, after listening to the whole release once, I can’t even bear to land on any of these songs on shuffle, and I’m already familiar with the bands. I can’t fathom what it is like for a fan of these bands to come across this and go, “Oh man! New music from _____!”. It’s like getting a sugar rush by jamming a whole bag of sugar down your throat.
That first listen, however, is gloriously absurd. The production talents of Ettore are not wasted here. I can imagine if you’re really into these films and Japanese culture, this thing is right up your alley. That is one hell of a specific niche though. Liking these bands, Studio Ghibli films, and these songs the way they are done is like the planets aligning.
Everyone else, I do suggest giving this thing one listen because it is — like it’s concept — as crazy as you can get. The songs are upbeat and poppy as all hell, but in one listen they are interesting. However, if you’re not the aforementioned holy trinity of a listener, after that first experience I can’t suggest ever going back to this. It’s an amusing listen the first time through, and the second time? God help you.