Church of Misery are more or less the sole breakthrough banner-bearers for Japanese psychedelic doom metal these days; besides them, you’ve got Eternal Elysium, of whom only we have heard, and you’ve got Merzbow’s mates Boris, who aren’t really the same thing at all. That seems to be about it.
One thing all these bands have in common is that their buzz seemed to hit a peak about a decade ago—and then vanished. All three were signed to important, influential labels like Southern Lord, Man’s Ruin, and MeteorCity, and together they appeared to anticipate a new, influential wave of rumbling Japanese sludge.
That didn’t really happen, obviously. Those three bands are still Japan’s biggest exports when it comes to downtuned drone and flare-trousered riffing. Nevertheless, as the sole remaining founder CoM member, Tatsu Mikami has spent the past ten years plying his low-slung, heavy-bass riffs all over the globe, garnering fans everywhere he goes, and now he has a lovely new album to show for it. If you’re really, really lucky, we might bring you a review of Thy Kingdom Scum soon, but in the meantime, here’s an accurate account of our lovely cosy chat with Tatsu.
Demon Pigeon: Before we get started, can you tell us who is in the band now, since you’ve had more line-up changes than Spinal Tap have had drummers?
Tatsu Mikami: Well, Hideki (Fukusawa) on vocals, analogue synth. Ikuma (Kawabe) on guitar. He is the new member and the youngest guy at 26 years old. “JJ” (Junji Narita) has been our drummer since 1999, and me, Tatsu—founder of the band and primary song composer.
Yeah, I also don’t want to do line-up changes, it’s really tiring. But I’m really satisfied with this line-up – it’s perfect. Along with band activities, we are good friends. So I hope we can make another new album with this same line-up.
DP: What can you tell us about the new album?
TM: First of all, sorry for making everyone wait a long four years to put this out! We are really satisfied with this new album. New guitarist Ikuma did his best. This album has great riffs, improvisation, good voice and the best sound quality we’ve ever had. We can’t wait to play new songs at overseas shows!
Also, make sure to watch our new video for Brother Bishop on Youtube!
DP: It seems you’ve become a bit more laid-back in places, letting in more of the psych rock to sit alongside the balls-out doom groove you are so well-known for. Was that a conscious effort?
TM: As you know well, I wrote all the songs and lyrics, and it was not conscious at all.
Maybe because our new guitarist Ikuma is from the underground psychedelic scene, and his playing style is far from metal. So maybe that lends a more laid-back feel on the new album. As for song writing, the one thing I focus on is to write cool DOOM songs.
DP: The whole album feels very natural, very groove-laden, and very ‘you.’ Is it a struggle to achieve that level of consistency when you’ve had to deal with so many changes in personnel?
TM: Yeah, I understand what you’re saying. Every band changes their music style by member replacement. But we never do that, I have a strong will to keep Church of Misery’s style the same—great guitar riffs, brutal heavy sound and, of course, the ‘serial killer’ concept.
DP: The new album picks up where the others have left off with the serial killer theme, do you ever worry that you’ll run out of mad bastards to sing about?
TM: I don’t worry about that. There are so many mad men and mass murderers and serial killers everywhere! So don’t worry.
But there is a story about that with Rise Above Records. First, we had a plan to use photos of Myra Hindley or Ian Brady. And we already finished the artwork for that. But then they refused it and said: “It’s very dangerous. This murder case is still sensitive for England’s people. We will get in trouble”. So we changed the artwork to Peter Kürten, the ‘Vampire of Düsseldorf’ instead.
DP: They were probably right. In the event that you did run out of crazed killers and you had to sing about something else, what would be your number one topic?
TM: Uh… it’s a really difficult question. Always, serial killers are number one interest to me. Oh! My second interest is spaghetti western movies! Yeah, next topic is this.
DP: You remain one of the few big players on the doom scene from Japan, is there a big doom scene out there that we should be paying more attention to?
TM: First of all, I would like to say this: There is NO doom scene in Japan. Except for us, there’s virtually no doom bands. So we always organise our own shows, but every time, our fans always come out. With little to no doom scene in Japan, that’s a big reason why we keep on continuing to tour worldwide.
DP: Does it annoy you that every interview you ever do asks about coming from Japan like I just did?
TM: No. We are from Japan. But our activities are worldwide. It’s the same playing in Tokyo or playing at Berlin, London, Helsinki, New York, Los Angeles… I don’t feel the distance.
DP: I saw you play at Desertfest last year, and even though you only got a truncated set you absolutely flattened the place. I presume you’ll be bringing Thy Kingdom Scum to a sweaty room near us soon?
TM: Desertfest! We really enjoyed playing there but we wanted more time. We had only 30 minutes playing, maybe. Yeah, I remember, we just arrived at the venue 15 minutes before we played! No soundcheck and no time to drink beer!
Well, we tour Europe every year and yes, we have a plan to tour Europe again. Maybe later this year or early next. We just released the new album and so we will play new songs at our show. Give me two hours this time, haha!
DP: Are you excited about the new Black Sabbath album? It’s the first time I can remember when an upcoming landmark album had everyone more worried than excited.
TM: Uh… it’s difficult to say something. Not so excited, and I’m also worried, haha! I think that already they don’t have the “chemistry” or “magic” like their 70s sound now. So I really don’t expect to listen to the new album.
DP: I first came across you when I got the split EP you did with the legendary Iron Monkey, and you’ve done more split releases with other bands than pretty much anyone else I can think of. Any of them stick in the mind as a band you’re really happy to have been alongside?
TM: I’m really satisfied with every split release. As for our split release with Iron Monkey, they were already split up but still remain a legendary act. And going back to 1996, our split with Sheavy! It was the first release of ours put out worldwide. They still continue to release good material. And we released two split EPs with Sourvein! We toured Europe with them in 2006. I remember that tour was really crazy. Every day was chaos!
DP: Finally, what is your favourite cereal?
TM: My favourite serial killer??? Richard Ramirez—he rocks!
Thy Kingdom Scum is out now on Metal Blade.