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violent magic orchestra
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Violent Magic Orchestra: the extreme black metal gabber group from Osaka

On DEATH RAVE, the Japanese group brings a fusion of black metal, techno and visual art as an ‘absolutely new and overwhelming experience’

In the 90s, avant-garde “Japanoise” band Boredoms were known for incendiary performances, achieving prominence in the States after touring with Sonic Youth and Nirvana. In 2006, Boris delivered a sludge metal shoegaze “frenzy” on Pink, the ninth best album of the year according to Pitchfork. Bo Ningen has soundtracked everything from the 2011 Venice Biennale to psychedelic film screenings in East London with their ear-bleeding brand of acid rock. And “kawaii metal” band Babymetal mixed J-Pop with heavy metal to become the highest-charting Japanese band of all time in the UK in 2016.

Flash forward to 2024, and we’re now on the cusp of new levels of noise depravity with the imminent release of DEATH RAVE, the second album from Osaka six-piece Violent Magic Orchestra. It arrives after a string of show-stopping performances that have left audiences incensed across the globe. With an unlikely blend of 100 gecs and Cradle of Filth at their disposal (delivered at intense velocities), the band pledge their fusion of black metal, techno and visual art as an “absolutely new and overwhelming experience”.

Speaking via translator, the mysterious band, who answer questions as a collective on our Zoom call, offer a run-down of their unlikely genesis. Violent Magic Orchestra (whose name references the band “who brought the poisonous drug of pop into electronic music” in Japan in the late 70s, Yellow Magic Orchestra), it turns out, assembled at one of the UK’s biggest gurn-fests, with members of Osaka experimental metal group Vampillia, visual media artist Kezzardrix, and European collaborators found on the web meeting up IRL at Bangface 2015.

Inspired by YouTube footage of the 1992 Fantazia rave in Donnington and the 1997 Thunderdome rave in Antwerp, as well as Michael Moynihan and Didrick Söderlind’s tome Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground, the band sought to fuse two subgenres “on the opposite ends of the universe” to create something that would have once “made people very angry”. With members’ stage monikers taken from classic Norwegian death metal bands – Darkthrone, Mayhem, Emperor, etc. – and a live show incorporating 5000W of power (“equivalent to 56 guitar amplifiers”), the stage was set for their profoundly disruptive sound.

And it is through their boundary-pushing live performances that VMO’s reputation has been established thus far. At events as far-flung as Berghain in Berlin and Dark Mofo festival in Tasmania, the outfit has become notorious for a supercharged live show that combines relentless strobe effects with brain-melting digital displays, topped off with corpse paint make-up and an “energetic overworking of the body”. Audience members not willing to rush the mosh pit sometimes have even more extreme reactions than those who do: “They’re prone to receiving a huge amount of complaints,” the band’s translator tells me, reeling off a succession of memorably OTT performances.

Where to begin? At Bring Me the Horizon’s NEX Fest event, at Tokyo’s Makuhari Messe convention centre in 2023, members of a 5,000-strong crowd were seen covering their eyes and ears due to the glare and noise before heading for the exit en masse, VMO tells me. On Instagram, the band proudly recalled the show having “the sound pressure volume” of My Bloody Valentine and the “lightning carpet bombing radiation” of Aphex Twin. 

At the Brutal Assault ‘extreme metal festival’ in the Czech Republic in 2019, meanwhile, the band’s complex visual tech proved incompatible with that on the ground. Instead, they played the entire gig in pitch blackness drenched in smoke and strobes, resulting in an experience akin to “Napalm Death barging into an Autechre show”. 

And on home turf, in Shibuya, one band member was forced to leave the venue in an ambulance after a recent show. “Darkthrone attempted to leap the gap between the stage and the crowd,” VMO remember. “He managed to smash his jaw so severely with his own knee that it broke, leaving him with an injury that the doctor described as a ‘reverse cleft chin’.” 

It’s incidents like these that have prompted fans like Valnoir to testify to the band’s unique power. “You take the shittiest venue,” says the French visual artist, whose schismatic, monochromatic video for 2023 single “Supergaze” offers perhaps the closest thing to the live experience that you can get from the comfort of your own home, “and they will transform it in a stroboscopic death arena filled with epileptic hakken-dancing cyborgs.”

Translating all of this into an effective recorded work is no mean feat, especially given that the lion’s share of the work forming DEATH RAVE took place in a bedroom studio featuring no bed, but instead “just a chair used for living, sleeping and making music all the time.” It’s here in the hot seat, though – with a noisy highway as backdrop – that the dark magic dirge was conceived. Described as an auditory experience “filled with imagination and violence”, DEATH RAVE is an album designed to “build a bridge between 2099 and the present, where mystery and reality intersect”, they say – and the results are as bewildering as they are bewitching.

Once the furore begins, there’s barely a safe place to hide. 170BPM industrial happy hardcore headbanger “Martello Mosh Pit pounds relentlessly amidst an electronic glitter storm. “Welcome to the Death Rave”, meanwhile, climaxes into a glitching kick-and-boing like a vintage video game gone wrong. And between guitar-shredding gabber convulsions, “Satanic Violence Device” unleashes the demonic vocals of Dylan Walker, from US grindcore band Full of Hell (“one of the most extreme bands of our time”, says VMO). He’s not the only hair-raising guest tossing his hat into the inferno, with Icelandic post-punk band Kælan Mikla, Italian donk and gabber enthusiast Gabber Eleganza, and vocalist Attila Csihar, of Norwegian black metal pioneers Mayhem, all popping up elsewhere.

But the hi-NRG sound vortexes and serotonin-blasting trance explosions do occasionally give way to unexpected moments of ethereal beauty. “Planet Helvetech”, a portmanteau of the words ‘Helvete’ (referring to the renowned black metal record store in Oslo, named for the Norwegian word for ‘hell’) and ‘techno’, is one such highlight, offering up a kind of euphoric, ambient white noise that harks back to the briefly-influential, goth-infused witch house genre of the late 00s (wherein bands like SALEM fused dubstep drones and heroin addictions with ethereal synths and vocals). “We are always looking for beautiful things,” say VMO, who refer to the ideas of eternity and memory as cornerstones of their musical conceptualising – “above all, we value the beauty of the melody.”

Despite this claim, the next thing on the band’s agenda sounds far less whimsical: to celebrate the album release, VMO will hold two “death rave” shows in Tokyo and Osaka in March, with the concept described as “a ritual where we and the audience come together to tune our brains, use our bodies, and apply alcohol, light and smoke to create a dragon.” Given their reputation, European audiences should expect much of the same when the band arrive at Sónar in Barcelona and Roskilde festival in Copenhagen in 2024.

And while their next UK shows have yet to be announced, VMO promises that their symphonic doom-gaze live show will make a profound impact when it does. “We’re working hard to create the best visual art, and to build bodies that withstand the madness,” they tell Dazed. At least we’ve got time to brace ourselves.

DEATH RAVE is out via Never Sleep on March 13