I cannot tell you how hyped I was when Matt Heafy announced he was finally creating the black metal album he teased for years. Add to it the fact that the legendary Ihsahn was a primary contributor, and I thought for sure Rashomon was going to be a killer black metal album. Unfortunately, the magic is a bit lost on what is essentially a glorified Trivium album with pretty minimal black metal influence throughout. That being said, fans of Trivium and Heafy are likely to be pleased with Rashomon, which manages to still be a captivating album. It opens with a polka-esque, jaunty intro piece that left me scratching my head on the first listen. Rashomon was touted as a visceral and dark foray into black metal for Heafy, digging into his Japanese heritage for inspiration. While a large portion of the album is many of these things, I can’t help but admit that “Hakanaki Hitsuzen” doesn’t really set the mood for what I’m sure many besides myself wanted. It doesn’t masterfully go into the next song like most Trivium albums begin. Instead, it slowly fades from a puzzling beginning and jumps right into the first track.
“Kagutsuchi” is a really cool song, and one of my favorites of the album. It’s a great song to really begin the journey into Rashomon, although once again it fails to capture a lot of black metal essence. Heafy has been at the top of the metal world for many years now, and love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny the caliber of guitar player he is. That being said, it seems the years of writing for Trivium are too ingrained in him, as any riff from Ibaraki could fit into a new album from his primary band with ease. Rashomon falls into the same safety net a lot of Trivium has for years now, with predictable (albeit very well written) song patterns – vicious verses funneled into powerful and catchy choruses. One thing that is a decent departure from most of Heafy’s music is the prevalence of more melodic interludes, clean breaks, and non-conventional instruments in moments that give Rashomon more room to breathe and feel like its own unique product. Unfortunately, these moments are stuck between what sounds like a lot of Shogun B-sides.
There is a nice black metal heavy moment in “Kagutsuchi”, where the instruments pick up after one of those clean breaks with a nice rhythmic blast beat and a quick tremolo-picked riff. It lasts very briefly, and that’s my biggest complaint with Rashomon as a whole. Most songs have at least one moment where you can say, ‘That sounds kinda black metal’, but an album with Ihsahn that presented itself as such shouldn’t leave someone digging deep for these bits. I think I personally would have liked this a lot more if I didn’t have my expectations set on that one thing so hard. The fact is, this is a really nice album. It’s incredibly well-written and if you’re a fan of Trivium, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too. Just don’t expect it to blow you away or be a sudden departure from what you’ve come to expect from his sound.
I would really like to see more solo work from Heafy after this – whether it be another attempt at black metal or just him writing whatever he feels like when not confined to pleasing Trivium fans. That said, we all heard Silence in the Snow, so maybe he doesn’t need to go solo to usurp expectations. Regardless, there are a lot of really interesting elements at play on Rashomon, and I didn’t expect it to be nearly as progressive as it is. The clean, acoustic-touched “Jigoku Dayu” is brooding and slow churning before finally erupting in a cacophony of screams and strings. It’s a really cool moment, and the riff that kicks off around the four-minute mark is one of my favorites of the entire year. The rest of this song is one of the highlights of the entire album and has some of Heafy’s best guitar playing, closing out with some of his iconic clean vocals overlaid with shrill fry vocals, which I wish I liked more. His voice has come so far over the years, particularly his clean singing, but his attempt at black metal vocals are really raw, and not in the good way.
The lead single of Rashomon had me concerned from the start, and in context with the rest of the album it kind of sucks to see that my biggest takeaways from it ended up being the glaring faults on the album that keep me from loving it more. “Tamashii No Houkai” Is heavy and dirty with some really vicious black metal guitars, but then it goes into these beautiful and melodic parts with soaring clean vocals and these squeaky-clean guitar melodies breaking through that grime to make it sound like just another Trivium song. Couple that with the fact that this song starts with a fucking Super Mario coin sound effect, and it leaves me scratching my head and upset at how close it is to really doing something amazing in the scene.
Behemoth legend Nergal’s feature on “Akumu” is easily one of the cooler parts of Rashomon, surpassed ever so slightly by the surprisingly visceral feature of Gerard Way. The vocals Nergal lends are absolutely filthy, and the really progressive instrumentals on the track work really well at delivering one of the most unique and worthwhile moments across all of Rashomon. Plus, I can’t help but to absolutely love the heavy-as-hell, rhythmic chugging through the middle of it. It’s definitely headbanging worthy, and Heafy’s slick-ass noodling around it keeps it from being monotonous or boring in the slightest.”Komorebi” probably sees Ibaraki at its most explorative, with really interesting distortion on all of the instruments lending it an eerie vibe that isn’t present on most of Rashomon. There are also these kind of spacey, glitchy bits that make you feel like you’re stepping into the Animus in Assassin’s Creed, and I love it because, realistically, it’s probably the closest we’ll get to having samurai and Assassin’s Creed close together at this point. This is not one of my favorite tracks on the album, but I do feel like it’s the one that reaches out the most from the roots of the album, and for that, it deserves a lot of praise.
Alright, I know why you’re here. You heard that Gerard Way did black metal vocals on a song and had to hear it, right? Well lucky for the majority of Ibaraki listeners who will fall into this category, “Rōnin” is, in my opinion, the best song on Rashomon. Equal parts Shogun B-side and the most visceral and black metal moments this album reaches, it works damn well at being epic and catchy while also stomping your shit in with thunderous force. Unless you’re missing out and never heard MCR at their most raw with 2002’s Bullets, you should know that Way had this feature locked in before listening. However, it’s been 20 years since we heard him really give it his all with this type of performance, and my god does he deliver on “Rōnin”. It starts off with melodic Heafy clean vocals and a really atmospheric guitar part that comes out full force with a predictable pre-chorus- soaring clean vocals and building guitars. Then, Gerard comes in like a demon over some slick black metal instrumentals that evolve into the coolest moment on the album. There is a melodic-ass screamed chorus with the atmospheric guitars from the intro playing over it and it has been stuck in my head from the second I heard it.
Ihsahn was a big contributor to Rashomon according to Heafy, but “Susanoo No Mikoto” is the only song on the album that he is listed in as a feature. I believe this is because it’s the only track he plays guitar on, and it’s also the only song that truly sounds kind of like what I expected from Ibaraki. Heafy’s screams are a bit more shrill than usual throughout, and Ihsahn‘s guitar playing is as flawless as it ever is, giving “Susanoo” a true black metal feel and setting it apart from any of the other tracks on Rashomon. It’s beautiful, and really evocative of his solo work in that really melodic black metal style that is making eyes at blackgaze from across a crowded room. There’s also a section of it that Heafy sings in Japanese, which is really fucking cool.
We were always told Rashomon would feel like an epic journey, paying homage to Heafy’s culture and to samurai. “Susanoo” is the only song that seems to really nail that, as it goes from crushingly heavy moments to epic, triumphant-sounding passages, and into even more interesting things. There is a sudden break in the middle which features boisterous horns, slow churning and rife with anxious energy that goes into similar instrumentals from the intro, except this time they fit and work well. It almost sounds like circus music, whimsical horns and wavering choral vocals – that is, until Ihsahn shrieks like a dying animal and then it picks up right where it left off before the interlude. It’s a 10/10 track in my opinion, and falls in with the other two tracks with features as the top 3 that leave the rest feeling a bit stale. We have “Kaizoku” to close the album, another weird folky-ass, polka-ass song that sounds like a bad Amigo the Devil track. I hope Heafy doesn’t choke me unconscious with his master Jiu-Jitsu skills for saying it, but it sucks so much in my opinion. If this were a website where we gave arbitrary star ratings for reviews, I’d take a whole-ass star off for the intro and outro of Rashomon. I love Heafy and think he’s a damn good musician, but maybe he should stick to writing slapper riffs and guitar solos rather than… whatever this is.
I am sorry if this review reads like watching a tennis match. To be honest, listening to Rashomon makes me feel like people are smacking a ball back and forth across different parts of my brain. On paper, pretty much everything here works for someone like me. I’m a huge fan of Trivium and Ihsahn both, and I love the way Heafy writes guitar. The rhythm section is fucking flawless thanks to the human octopus on drums – Alex Bent. The lyrics are really cool tales of samurai, ronin, and traditional Japanese tales. While I am not at all familiar with these things on an intimate level, they interest me and it’s cool to see Heafy creating music about the culture he’s so passionate about. All of these things being said, there’s just something about Ibaraki that doesn’t work. It feels like it’s trying really hard to be two diametrically opposed things – a Trivium album and a vicious black metal experience.
The fact that it does sound so much like Trivium is a bummer, and the fact that it fails to really feel like black metal 80-plus percent of the time is an even bigger one. Yet somehow, through the grace of superb writing, killer features, and channeling a lot of elements I adore in metal, Rashomon isn’t a bad album. In a lot of ways, it’s a really good album and there are definitely songs that I will continue to listen to for a long time. Rashomon may not fully be what was anticipated, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Heafy continues to be an absolute juggernaut in metal. Him branching out in this way and exploring new facets of metal can surely only lead to more interesting work attributed to him in the future.