Solitary Nightmare: 12 of the Best One-Man Black Metal Bands in Japan
“The crowd is the gathering place of the weakest; true creation is a solitary act” – Charles Bukowski
An artist’s views are best expressed through their own hand, and creative individuals often don’t play well with others. Just as the horror novelist doesn’t need assistance to write a book full of nightmarish visions that are the work of only one mind, one-man bands go with black metal like cookies and cream make an Oreo. From Burzum to Leviathan, Striborg, and Xasthur, these lone musicians have brought it all together on their own terms, learning every instrument and vomiting out the results in a black and white splendor.
Japan, despite being a heavily populated country, isn’t exempt from isolated artists. The one-man black metal artists represented here likewise funnel their dark, creative visions into this bleakest of musical outlets, and as the history of the genre goes, sometimes it is not without real-life disturbances and even death.
Sadness, grief, Kanashimi. Tortured by pain and inclined to share it on tape, the Japanese one-man DSBM project Kanashimi emerged in 2007 with the aptly titled Life demo before the even more apt, Romantik Suicide album in 2009. His style, while harnessing the anguish of depressive black metal, is also melodic and touching. The Chinese label Pest Productions handled the release of his latest album, Inori, which features enthralling piano melodies mixed with the bitterness of black metal.
Manierisme has been putting audio curses into record shops since 2003. This Jack the Ripper of Japan deals with the duality of man while being inspired by 19th century European gothicism. The project was put together in a dingy, secret lab by the lone musician Jekyll. This Robert Louis Stevenson inspiration was put into practice on Everyone Has Two Sides from 2013. Along with this band, he also fronts another project called Reminiscence. Gulp that potion and embrace the beast within.
Hatred brews within the cauldron of this one-man ambient black metal from Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture. Darkcell began in 2007 by a musician named Lemmy (is there another Lemmy we don’t know about?) and released a series of demos until Bone With Hatred was released in 2009. After this book of spire, nightmares were the subject and Darkcell released a two-part series, Nightmare Document 1 (a demo) and a full-length album bearing the sequel’s name.
Endless Dismal Moan
After years of watching Japanese horror films featuring long haired, pale faced, vengeful spirits, it’s fitting that some black metal acts from the country would adopt the aesthetic and mood of the wraiths. Endless Dismal Moan represented this wrathful anguish. The project began in 2001 but ended tragically in 2008 when sole member Takuya Tsutsui (Chaos 9) died by suicide. The albums left behind now hold a greater weight and should be viewed as bold explorations of the limits of darkness.
Juno Bloodlust is the symphonic black metal project of Anguis Dei’s Juno Nitta with drummer Summum Algor. The music here is fast, furious, and bloodthirsty, and the symphonic edge makes it sound like a morbid symphony, much like Fleshgod Apocalypse if they wore corpse paint. Listen to the 2012 effort The Lord of Obsession for a maniacally composed piece of noir-classical.
No Point in Living
No Point in Living is the project of the musician known simply as Yu. Yu comes from the Sapporo region meaning that he has seen plenty of dismal, cold and snowy days which have no doubt influenced the bleak, misanthropic music he produces, such as Snowstorm. He has kept himself extremely busy while being cooped up inside out of the cold by releasing up to six full-length albums a year, showing that there is no time to be depressed when there is work to do.
Along with No Point in Living, Retreat Neurosis is another depressive project by Yu, whose bands offer a double-dose of depressive black metal and were both formed in the mid 2010s. The albums Into the Mist and I Miss You are as epic as they are depressive, with pain and anguish wielded by Yu as well as Les Claypool wields his bass. His latest effort with Retreat Neurosis is a split also featuring songs from his own No Point in Living titled Nameless Emotions.
Suicidal Ideation is the project of Japanese musician Kaede whose first release came out in 2017. Suicidal Ideation perhaps represents isolation better than most one-man black metal bands from Japan, with his album photos depicting lone individuals suffering introspective nightmares. The wheel of misfortune continues to this day, though Kaede has recently teamed up with bands for a few split releases, so perhaps there are some friends to be found in the darkness.
A one-man band is the ultimate DIY project; along with making the music itself, promoting it all alone can be difficult. When no labels want to shine their light into the darkness, or perhaps the artist wants no form of outside help, they tend to become more mysterious and obscure, building their mystique in the underground. With Dolens, namesake K. Dolens seeks no assistance with his symphonic black metal madness. Still, there are two full-length albums under his spiked belt so far. Who said Mozart needed help?
Kyohei, owner of Pale Sunrise Records, has taken on the vocals, bass, drums, guitars and programming in the modestly named project Average Misanthropy. Another one-man workaholic, the project put out three full-length LPs in 2019 and a handful of shorter releases in 2020. Black metal fit for a funeral is what Kyohei produces, featuring wails that sound like grieving loved ones as the coffin lowers into the ground.
Fra Hedensk Tid
Black metal label Zero Dimensional Records, based out of Osaka, has played a part in helping a handful of artists get their work out into the world including one-man projects Juno Bloodlust and Mass Kontrol Genocide. Fra Hedensk Tid, meaning “From Heathen Time” in Norweigian, is one of these artists. Kawana, featuring a man by the name of Sin on vocals, released a handful of demos starting in 2014 until 回帰への祈り(Prayer for Return) came out through the label in 2013, a descent into pitch-black caverns that’ll have you begging and praying for a return to the light.
The reaper stands in front of Tokyo Tower on Shadow Gazer’s debut LP, Blackgaze Cinema. For those citizens heavily leaning towards the DS of DSBM, he may be uncomfortably close to your door. As the title implies, Shadow Gazer plays a type of blackgaze, aided by piano, which follows the path set by acts like Heaven In Her Arms and 明日の叙景 (Asunojokei). Shadowgazer was started by melodic death metal band Alphoenix’s Sinpay Biljee and is a representation of a solo artist doing something more progressive with the genre, proving that blackgaze is one of the more interesting offshoots of black metal.