Nu Metal in Japan – Loco in Tokyo
Nu metal: there is still no escaping it, so we’d might as well enjoy it. With the current revival going full-swing with festivals like Sick New World gathering all the dreaded and ADIDAS-wearing freaks, bands who were forgotten during the high-point of the genre from the late ‘90s and early ‘00s are getting a nu leash on life.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the bands from Japan – a country which has always embraced nu metal and with the look of 2023’s Knotfest, still does. From the days of Rottengraffty, Head Phones President and Gun Dog making their mark on the scene to current bands like Crazy N’ Sane, we take a look at Japanese bands who just want you to Jumpdafuckup a little.
Head Phones President
After playing Sailor Moon for thirteen musical productions, singer Anza Ohyama went on to form Head Phones President in 1999, with the band’s first single “Escapism” coming out in 2000. The band’s sound was a far cry from “Fighting evil by moonlight,” with Ohyama’s often traumatic lyrics blending in with the Korn-esque instrumental work. Their latest album was released in 2019, titled Respawn – put on your headphones and slip it into your discman.
Maximum the Hormone
Nu metal is a melting pot of several different styles, which varies from band to band. With Maximum the Hormone, funk, ska, hip hop, punk and of course metal are thrown into the laundry basket of sound. Are they nu? It’s debatable, but ff System of a Down (who they are compared with at times) can be argued into the nu metal family, so can Maximum the Hormone. From 1998 onwards, they have been the flippant kings of funkiness in the Japanese scene. If you’re in Tokyo this year, catch them at the Knotfest.
Formed in 1997 and debuting in 2000 with the single “Kaminari,” under Epic Records Japan, Rize are an example of a band from Japan who found quite a bit of success with the nu sound. In 2003, they toured America with the Kottonmouth Kings, in 2007 they played Live Earth with Linkin Park, to name just a few of their accomplishments. In true nu fashion, band members Jesse and KenKen were arrested for violation of Cannabis Control Law in 2019, thus putting the band on hiatus.
Supe started out in 1999 and made a splash in the scene by opening for some major gigs in their homeland. Wanting something bigger and better for the band, they relocated in California’s South Bay in 2002. They went back and forth from the US to Japan during different album cyclles, with shows with (Hed) pe and Mushroomhead further carving out their legacy. The band are currently on hiatus, but check out their video for “Crash” for a trip back to the glory days of prime Japanese nu metal.
From Kanagawa, Gun Dog were active from 2000-2004 and represent a high point in nu material from Japan. Gun Dog went off the usual nu path of rap metal by incorporating vocal styles reminiscent of Taproot and Cold, though visually, their videos still had that clean cut Linkin Park aesthetic. Listen to their album Humanity and mourn their vocalist, K, who after forming the band Pay Money To My Pain after Gun Dog disbanded, passed away in 2012.
Smorgas are like every frat party stereotype coming together like the Power Rangers to make one awesome JNCO-wearing Zord. This rapcore band formed in 1997, though split for a while in 2008 due to vocalist Kato Raimon getting arrested due to possession of marijuana (much like what happened to Rize years later). Really, what is more nu than that? A reformation came in 2010, though hopefully Mr. Raimon keeps his stash more concealed this time.
Originally a punk group, Dragon Ash started out in 1996. Their 1998 album Buzz Songs introduced hip hop beats while their 2001 album Lily of Da Valley rode that sweet nu wave – with crunchy guitars getting added to the mix, much like Cypress Hill’s Skull & Bones. The band has continued to evolve since, though with each track released, continue to provide hooks that prove this dragon will always rise from the ashes.
Crazy N’ Sane
Weird masks? Check. Two vocalists? Check. DJ/sample guy? Check. Rapped lyrics? Check. Forming in 2014, Crazy N’ Sane took every nu metal cliche and threw them together, in a Slipknot kinda way, to form a Slipknot kinda band (even featuring a bloated amount of band members). Hip-hop inspired verses, melodic choruses, electronic blips and bleeps and the occasional Serj Tankian-inspired mumbo jumbo make Crazy N’ Sane a must-listen for anyone looking for at least one Japanese band to add to their nu playlist.
Truly, Japan has embraced the rapcore element of nu metal. Several bands have a rapping lyricist mixed with heavy, down-tuned riffs which would slot the band on any nu metal revival tour with Crazytown and Adema across the Pacific. Praise, though, seems a cut above the rest – integrating modern production into the sound, while also focusing on making the songs memorable rather than them being more or less freestyle raps with guitar.
Minority Game are another band wearing their Western influences on their sleeve – Linkin Park’s “Points of Authority” immediately comes to mind when listening to the first minute of their track ”Realize Your Enemy.” Minority Game doesn’t need the extra paycheque of a second vocalist to trouble them, though, with their singing doing the rapping, the melodies and the screaming. The band also make good use of their electronic elements, which are featured heavily in their songs.
Looks like someone gave Mr. Potatohead some Linkin Park CDs to listen to. The Madpotatoman are essentially a rapcore band – sounding like the Japanese version of Linkin Park’s Shinoda-heavy tracks. The sound works for them, though – the beats, riffs and raps flow well together – though don’t come looking for much originality with the potatoman – though like a potato, it might taste better if you’re baked.
Knock Out Monkey
Kobe’s Knock Out Monkey incorporate various styles into their sound depending on the song, so it wouldn’t be fair to call them just a nu metal band. However, their video for “Black or White” undeniably features the band utilizing some tried and true nu sounds and imagery. An ADIDAS jacket, braided hair and an aggro chorus after melodic, hip hop verses makes this song an unofficial minor nu anthem.
Deal of Clown
When I see this band name, all I can think of is Shawn Crahan selling drugs to someone in an alleyway. So what’s the deal with Deal of Clown, then? Well, they are not to be confused with Growl of Clown, a nu metal band from Mongolia. This clown barters in raspy lyrics, boyish good looks and positive messages. Make the deal with this clown and don’t snort it all in one go.
Tokyo’s Choke mash up electronic, trap, djent and rap elements to make a varied, catchy and fresh nu presentation. The band have been active since 2007, so their style has evolved throughout the years. With the song “Act.1,” it does sound a bit like Robb Flynn has gone back to his spiky hair and tracksuits, though through the mouth of the white-haired singer of Choke, Reon. Listen to songs like “Crisis Phase” for some of those trap elements, and keep your ears open for more from this band.
When Sevendust just isn’t enough, look to the heavens. HeavensDust describe themselves as “Samurai metal from the land of the rising sun” and music-wise, they do have an ancestral aesthetic to them, while their vocals are moody and dynamic – basically making the band a sort of samurai/nu hybrid. The songs are well put together and their English lyrics are easy to understand and sing along to – so add them to your playlist after Animosity.
Mechanical Teddy were activated back in 2006 and uniquely offer a twin male and female vocal attack. You may be thinking of Evanescence and their “Bring Me To Life” track, but that’s not what you’ll find here, with the male vocals being quite harsh, offering a nice contrast to the clean female singing. 2020 saw the release of their latest album, Neostellar. Due to COVID, live shows stalled for a while, but look out for some new dates soon.
Starting in 2011, 6ft.down went through a few changes to become what they are today, formerly having a female vocalist before Makato joined after they performed overseas. Musically, 6ft.down represent the heavier side of nu metal, with their players constructing songs that might fit in on a Nothingface or Nonpoint album. Vocally, the band resemble Dir En Grey (who have some nu history of their own, playing the Family Values tour) so they are recommended for fans of that band as well as your standard nu warriors.
The masks Malissa wear make them look like the bedazzled version of Slipknot, and musically that isn’t far from the truth either. This band of “English speaking Japanese American mother fuckers who are nothing sort of sensational” craft punchy, albeit not too heavy, anthems with hints of hip hop. Sounds like all the right ingredients for a radio hit in 2000. Make sure to turn on their song “Uno” the next time you play a game with your pals.
Kanagawa’s Dolls Realize utilize a crunchy rap-metal sound which has benefited them with slots on shows from overseas bands such as Insolence, Subzero and (Hed) pe. Songs like “Sorico” go as hard as (Hed)’s stuff, though keep an ear available for their more progressive songs such as “Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself” (which is not a cover of the Ice Cube song, sadly).
Leake have not been active since the year the video below was posted, 2014, though don’t let that stop you from enjoying some rapcore from some fine young men (who are in their 30s now doing who knows what) that sounds like it came out in 1998. Leake represent the Japanese equivalent of C-tier bands like Shuvel, and came out way too late in the game – or is that too early? A new song from them at this time might ensure their success.