HeavensDust integrate traditional Japanese instrumentation into their brand of metal – does it make them a gimmick or pioneers?
Gimmick bands are weird creatures. Even if a group does manage to produce legitimately good music, they still have an albatross dangling from their necks, screaming “Look at how unique and special we are!” Rather than impressing the fans, bands can often find themselves scorned and ultimately dismissed precisely for what is essentially meant to be a sales point. (Though it obviously hasn’t hurt GWAR.)
Of course, the issue here is defining exactly which bands are gimmicky and which bands are simply doing something new and creative. I would wager that this categorization largely depends on how the listener feels about the band on the chopping block—after all, who wants to be the first to admit they love a marketing tactic?
Which brings us to HeavensDust, a Japanese nu-metal band (for lack of a better classification) that incorporates the koto, taiko and shakuhachi. In case you’re unfamiliar with the instruments, the shakuhachi is a large flute which produces a truly ethereal and haunting sound. The koto is a thirteen-stringed instrument with a long and regal history in Japan and is somewhat similar in appearance to a zither. The koto and shakuhachi are often found together in classical Japanese music, particularly in gagaku (traditional imperial court music). I imagine most people are already familiar with taiko, but in case the word doesn’t ring any bells, it’s traditional Japanese drumming.
Now, cards on the table, I love traditional Japanese music. I’m fully planning to ambush Quigs with some tsugaru-jamisen songs when he’s not looking eventually. (And you can read about one of my favorite group, Ki&Ki, at RocketNews24 where I also write.) For today, though, we’re going to focus on something that is more clearly identifiable as metal.
So, HeavensDust. They’ve been around for a while—I first encountered them in 2006 when they still had a woman singing clean vocals, thoughthey actually got their start in 2000. They’re on their seventh album, The Ashes Still Warm, which was released last year, but today we’re just looking at the music video “Annihilation,” which they released this March.
The video isn’t really anything new—the band performs against a white backdrop while a young woman swings a sword around and calligraphy ink splatters across the screen. To be perfectly honest, it’s a bit clichéd—but maybe I’m just a judgemental asshole.
However, let’s leave that aside for now, since the music is really what I want to talk about. Though ultimately a nu-metal band more than anything, the shakuhachi, taiko and koto are used to surprisingly competent effect. Though the riffs and vocals haven’t really been fresh since 2002, the traditional instruments add a beautiful accent to the tune. They’re played well and worked into the mix at just the right point to allow them to accentuate the “metal” instruments instead of fighting for attention.
And, most importantly, I really do find myself enjoying the music, despite the staid nu-metal core. The koto and shakuhachi weave a beautiful melody, and the guitar riffs do exactly what nu-metal is supposed to do: give you a little energy boost while making you feel angry at nothing in particular.
And thus we’ve come full circle: is this just a gimmick band or they doing something new?
Liking this song (and most of what’s on previous albums), I’m tempted to give them a pass. But the reliance on such well-trodden genre stylings is a bit disappointing. That said, considering their lengthy history and excellent use of traditional instruments, it would hardly be fair to write them off as merely a gimmick. Furthermore, I obviously have a bias against nu-metal, so it’s really not fair for me to try to say if they’re really doing something “new” or not within the genre. So, I guess that, ultimately, they’re more than just a gimmick band.
Still, I can’t help wishing that they were working with a slightly more engaging musical palette.