Once a year one of the biggest heavy music fests Waken Open Air (W:O:P) takes place in Germany. This year it was held on 2nd-4th of August near small town called Waken thus the origin of the name of the fest.
Every year in different countries take place so called Metal Battles which provide an opportunity for bands who don’t have strong support form labels to participate in W:O:A. This year for the first time in history Japan held it’s own Metal Battle.

Metal Battle Japan was held on 19th of May in a Shinjuku MARZ club well-known among the underground music fans. Eight bands participated in the Battle: ARGUMENT SOUL, ETHEREAL SIN, Gyze, HONE YOUR SENSE, Shatter Silence, SENATIVE, SURVIVE and WINDZOR.

Each band had only twenty minutes time on stage to make their best. The winner would be chosen by judges with people from W:O:A among them. Fans had only opportunity to help their bands by supporting them by all means.

The MC part of this evening took Koh Nishino from Belfast, a well-known in Japan folk metal band. He stepped out of the curtain to the edge of the stage and introduced the first band of the evening.

WINDZOR appeared on the stage. The band’s style is a fusion of heavy and power metal like Iron Maiden and Helloween with female vocalist – Kinoppy. Who was striding across the stage in a ballet like short skirt and fishnet stockings looking exactly like metal diva should look.

SATOMI (on bass) stayed out from other band members with his gothic outfit with lots of chains and with his clear shaved head.
Despite that the band was the first band of this evening fans were supporting them by furious headbanging and putting hands in the air. The band played only three songs with a long and emotional MC form vocalist in between in which she thanked the audience and judges for the opportunity to be on the stage at this club. Fans were screaming in approval. The set ended with Go Ahead to Tomorrow with Blood Tear, the song which will be release on the band’s debut LP.

The next band Survive had in the past several releases and lots of live shows. These four guys with long hair wearing leather vests and worn-out jeans with their arms covered with tattoos made the atmosphere really brutal which suited metal party the best. People started to reach closer to the stage. In the crowd you could see girls looking typically like metal divas. They were holding their hands with sharp long nails and thorned bracelets towards the band. It was real metal madness. Many of people in the crowd came to support Survive. They were crying out lyrics together with the band, headbanging, pushing fists in the air. After two songs vocalist Nemo said a short speech to the audience and judges expressing his pleasure to be able to take part in the event. His voice was trembling and eyes flickering. The short speech ended by the motto from the band’s logo – “My inner rage, fuck you all” repeated several times. The crowd was crying these words each time louder and louder. It was the beginning of the one of the most popular killer-songs of the band – Nothing left on My Path which was awaited by the audience. During the last song of the set the band tried their best. Nemo was crying out loud in the mic changing his vocal to clean on the choruses and headbanging in between. GO on guitar and SHINJILOW on bass were running across the stage changing places on each verse and singing alongside with Nemo. The song ended and the band left the stage supported by screaming crowd.

The curtain went up again and GYZE (ex Suicide Heaven) a young band form far away Sapporo appeared on the stage. They bring to the party the slight mood of visual kei. Partly because of the guitarist with long blond hair and light lenses in his eyes. He was clad a little bit like some visual kei band members. Partly because of girls looking more like for visual kei party then for metal event. They appeared from nowhere and pushed away metal-girls from the first row. VK-girls started furious headbanging during their idols set. The idols themselves were mercilessly and intensively splashing into the crowd death-metal songs with melodic intermissions, harsh voice and rhythm section sounding like thunder. No children’s games, people. Despite of their young age the three musicians were very confident on the stage giving audience plenty of good-quality sound.

And the moment came for a very respected Japanese band to show all their abilities during the short set. The stage was given to ARGUMENT SOUL. VK-girls disappeared form the front row leaving space for heavy-metal fans. More foreigners appeared in the crowd apparently they came to support their favorite Japanese band in this “battle”.
ARGUMENT SOUL gave away a good portion of perfect heavy metal with classical high vocal of Kamiya whose singing skills and voice is a trademark of the band. Experienced musicians gave the crowd their best during that short set.

And time come for authentic sons of darkness. The stage was given to sympho metal band ETHERNAL SIN. Taking the whole space of the not so big stage of Shinjuku MARZ, shimmering with thorns on their formidable black clothes, they had created for the crowd atmosphere of dark ancient legends. Fast and melodic guitar melodies, plaintive sound of keyboards combined with female vocal suppling form time to time severe growling of YAMA gave a little break for the mosh guys. YAMA‘s whitish eyes were shimmering while he was telling about demonic creatures of dark forests and fast drums made people headbanging speeding up the pace.

After the set was over ETHERNAL SIN left the stage taking the darkness with them and leaving stage for gamy and energetic HONE YOUR SENSE. It seemed that the it became lighter and you could smell the mosh mood in the air. True hard-core spirit you could feel form the first sounds of the set. Vocalist wearing the cap on one side of the had and clad in bright red shorts were playing with the crowd sharing his energy with fans. It seemed that he wanted everybody to scream and jump like him. He was piercing his eyes from the stage to observe crowd. Bassist of the band was as much energetic as vocalist he was standing at the edge of the stage and encouraging the crowd for the mosh. But the set was to short and the fans who just caught the mood had to say good-bye to HONE YOUR SENSE.

After a short break death-metal band Senative appeared on stage. The band is still looking for frontmen so they bring live vocalist with them. This guy was a little bit different comparing to other band members but people in the crowd knew and supported him. First rows filled up foreigners who were standing deep in the crowd during previous sets. It seems that Senative was the most awaited band of this evening. Atmosphere among the fans was white heated. They kept swaying their hands towards guitarist imitating his play, someone was furiously screaming in the mic of vocalist bending over the crowd. Energy form the crowd powered by previous sets transmitted to the stage and musicians gave their best enjoying the support. Despite of unstable situation with band members and absence of the really big releases the band gained many fans with live shows. Death-metal from Senative despite of the name bring the whole house to life.

And time came for the last band of the evening. Before this Koh Nishino again appeared at the corner of the stage to announce the band but for this time holding a glass of beer in his hand and a wide smile on his face. As he started to talk girls began to hold out hands towards him and one of the girl fans managed to reach under his shirt clapping on his torso. Nishino‘s smile became even wider and he, swaying a little, announced the next band but he stumbled forgetting the city from which the band came from. People from crowd were shouting “Osaka, Osaka” and laughing. It was true, Shutter Silence who were closing the “battle” indeed came from Osaka.

Clad in all black with serious gloomy faces they began the set. Vocalist of Shutter Silence Daichi Murata with long dark hair falling over the face and wearing long black coat delivered one of the most artistic performances of that evening. His every gesture was empathizing emotions of the songs, his eyes were filled with grieve and he was absorbed in performance. Yet after the first verses he had blood on his face, maybe he just accidentally hit himself with mic and hurt his nose, maybe it was planned from the beginning, it’s hard to say. Anyway he wasn’t even trying to stop it and blood was running on his chin and later on his hands giving his act more expression. Covered with blood with his eyes fixed upon unknown distant point in the space and stretching his arms towards it he made the final set of the evening totally unforgettable. And the band catching his mood filled the club with heavy sound. Looking very young and simple Shatter Silence become the most serious and melancholic band of the event. Their faced didn’t have a single hint of a smile and their eyes were all time serious. They were gone, curtain fell down and judges took their word.

Despite of the genre differences every set was really successful and received a lot of good emotions from the heavy music fans. It was clear that people would like to have more than twenty minutes set for their favorite bands. Strict time limits didn’t allow band to show all their power and left feeling of slight incompleteness. The first Metal Battle Japan came to an end.
People started to walk across the club waiting for the decision. In the crowd appeared band members receiving friendly clappings and wishes of luck from their fans. Among the people was noticed Ina vocalist of Metal Safari wearing Survive‘s promo t-shirt and leaving no doubts whom did he support that night. You could feel slight tension among the audience, everybody would like to know who will go to Germany and will take part at the final battle. At the end, twenty minutes later, judges appeared on the stage to announce the winner. One more minute of waiting and “HONE YOUR SENSE!” sounded from the stage. Immediately you could hear screams of winners who didn’t seemed to believe that they were chosen. They came to the stage receiving congratulations from fans and judges but they looked slightly concerned. The most “nonmetal” band of that night won. But it seems that the expression of the band made a good impression on judges from Waken and so the band received the ticket to the next round.
We would like to wish good luck to the HONE YOUR SENSE.

All photos by Riento (more photos here)

Translation by Cressy.