Maximum the Hormone – Yoshū Fukushū (2013)

Yoshu_Fukushu_frontIt starts with a gently picked guitar, before a sweet female voice begins to sing in sweet, pure Japanese.

Fifty seconds in, the song erupts with a huge wall heavy guitar riff, accompanied by a death metal roar.

The guitar falls away, but the riff remains, building back towards a crescendo, while a male Japanese voice rants, increasing in anger until again the massive wall of noise and the death scream return.

Then, at two minutes, the riff kicks into double time, the drums clashing away in a metal thrash, with screamed vocals over the top, two clearly different male voices trading lyrics.

Until a minute later, suddenly a great big catchy pop-punk chorus, four voices rising towards a triumphant refrain, something like a Japanese Green Day.  Before, boom!, we’re back into the thrash.

It’s insane.  It’s unpredictable.  I love it.

Yoshū Fukushū is the sixth album by Japanese rock / metal / everything band Maximum the Hormone.  And it may be one of the most exciting metal albums I’ve heard in ages.  So much fun, so much variety, so much musicianship.  They happily flit between a range of rock and metal genres; from thrash, doom metal, 80s hair metal, nu-metal, hardcore, ska, new wave and pop.  Often within the same song.

The band are made of blue-haired bassist Ue-Chan, who looks like Flea but whose playing style reminds me more of Faith No More’s Billy Gould; often funky but able to dive down and hold firm the bottom end during the faster, harder elements.  There’s Daisuke Han, board-shorts and t-shirt wearing vocalist, specialising in the harsh vocals, possessing a scream able to move up and down registers to fit the key of the song he’s roaring over.

There’s big, hirsute Maximum the Ryo, guitarist, clean vocalist and chief songwriter.  Very talented guitarist, and also possessed of a very voice, able to sing and shout within whatever genre he’s decided to take the song though.

Then, at the back, perhaps the band’s most important element, his sister Nao.  Band founder, drummer, and singer.  She’s able to provide the band with the sweetest J-Pop vocals, a real point of difference as the band’s songs flit joyfully between genres heavy and soft.  And, as well as the sweetness, she’s got a high-register scream that’s fills out the heaviest parts of their music superbly.  And she could arguably be one of the most spectacular drummers currently working in rock.  Seriously.  Her ability to chop and change styles and feels, to lay down a superb blast beat one moment then a nicely syncopated ska beat the next, is simply brilliance.

Yoshū Fukushū is an album I can’t listen to without smiling. Smiling often. And a bit of headbanging.  The sheer confidence and competency they show as the move a song from the heaviest thrash, to the bouncy pop-rock, to catchy pop, and back again is a joy to listen to.

A bouncy new wave pop song has a huge dirge-like doom metal breakdown in the middle.  A Hagar-era Van Halen sounding rock song breaks into a hardcore punk middle eight, before a surf-pop chorus sweeps over the top.  A fast, skate-punk thrash is held together by a Nao-screeched pop chorus.  A chorus as catchy as anything ever written by ABBA breaks out into a double-time detuned mosh.

And there’s even a self-titled theme song; which could be Tool if Maynard was singing in Japanese.  And if they had a female vocalist able to sing an addictive little hook over a heavy-as-fuck chorus.  And if Tool were able to relax enough to turn the middle of a song into a little rock-rap of the sort Red Hot Chilli Peppers used to do in the 80s.

The album’s catchy-as-fuck.  Apart from occasional use of English I don’t understand a single thing they’re saying, but yet I often find myself singing the songs out loud to myself.  In Japanese. Potentially awkward.

Yoshū Fukushū is intense, weird, surprising, and a huge amount of fun.  Maximum the Hormone are a band that clearly loves and listens to a lot of rock music across a huge spectrum of styles and feels, and enjoys mixing them together into some utterly unique combination of songs.    I struggle to think of many Western rock bands who can (or who did) flit between styles so confidently.  I keep coming back to Faith No More; but that just may be recognising an idiosyncratic approach to what they do – and a huge sense of fun – within both bands.

Ah, look, you really need to check them out yourself.  Below’s the video for one of the singles off the album, A.L.I.E.N, and it’s superb.  Keep watching.  If you think it gets a bit intense and odd when the bassist sprouts a second and third head, you haven’t seen anything yet.  Because just when you think it can’t get any louder, it goes someone where entirely.  Keep watching…

Beer match:  I reckon you want something a bit playful, a bit surprising, a bit rock-and-roll to go with this album.  Sounds like a Townshend beer to me.  I’m very tempted to suggest the Divine Intervention, the strong, hoppy Belgian pale brewed with Southstar’s Kieran Haslett Moore, but both Kieran and Martin Townshend might not like me co-opting their Slayer-inspired ale or a genre-mashing Japanese metal band.  Or maybe they won’t?

Ah, either way, instead I’d suggest the JCIPA instead.  One of my favourite beers; a superbly balanced “traditional” IPA; not a hop-bomb, not too sweet, just the right combination of malt and hops rolling over each other.  A nice punch of citrus, a nice lingeringly sweet bitterness, a lot of fun, and maybe a pleasant surprise if you were expecting a more American-style IPA.   Just like you’d be surprised by Maximum the Hormone if you were expecting American-style metal…

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