Hailing from Japan and foremost among the Visual Kei movement, Inugami Circus-Dan are nothing if not prolific. An annual schedule comprising albums, albums masquerading as EPs (of which Setakamui is one), genuine EPs, singles, heavy touring and on/off side project Angelique is relentless. But does the quality of the output match the quantity and, given there’s nary an English word spoken, is it worth your attention? Oh indeed yes…
‘Hone’ (lit. Bone) kicks off with some thumping stabs and drum fills, alternating the slabs of crunchy riffing with snatched solos, as as Kyoko’s restrained vocals float over the top, keeping the powder dry for track 2. ‘Zankoku Paradaisu’ (lit. Cruel Paradise) shifts into a higher gear, dancing bass drum pedalling and galloping bass recalling the best early days of both Motorhead and Iron Maiden.
‘Kurutta Yoru’ (lit. Insane Night) is a slower but slippery exercise in treble-heavy scales and call n’ return group vocals, the snide lyrics interlinking with some judicious complementary wah-wah soloing. Kyoko slips into chattery mode for ‘Hako Onna’ (lit. Box Woman), the boozy blues riffing buttressing the machine gun vocal verses just before things take a typical turn for the weird…
With ‘Yoru Afureru Omoi’ (lit. Night, Overflowing Emotions), merely the prelude to track 6 ‘Dogma No Noroi’ (lit. The Curse Of Dogma), is a creepy spoken skit, building in speed and intensity to the strains of howling wolves and male backing chorus. The succeeding song is a suitably full-throttle stop/start assault as 6-string, 4-string and drums pummel away in unison despite leaving space for some inspired fret-tapping.
In contrast, ‘Kami No Ko’ (lit. Divine Child) is a swinging almost jaunty affair, veering close to stadium rock power chords as Kyoko is reinforced with that full male chorus for a rousing fade-out finish. However, best things come to those who wait: ‘Toki wa Tobira’ (lit. The End Is Nigh) is the standout track. The final offering is a culmination of everything for which Inugami Circus-Dan stands: 1970s British metal, Goblin-style giallo theatrics, Kyoko’s enka-inflected vocal delivery and deeply disturbing lyrics punctuated by a seriously wicked sense of humour.
Key to the success of Inugami Circus-Dan (a band title which, inspired by the gruesome goings on in a Japanese horror film, translates as “Circus Troupe Of The Dog God”), are the eclectic staples which have become their trademark. In this respect, Setakamui is no exception (although it thankfully lacks the inner ear shredding shrieked poetry of early albums) and is an illustration of how, having started out in 1994, the band have been able to outlast all their Visual Kei contemporaries.
Visual Kei (lit. visual style) is an artistic movement, similar to Ero Guro (lit. erotic grotesque), which favours ostentatious visuals over actual content. While Inugami Circus-Dan have all the pseudo-imperialist or geisha garb, caked ghoulish makeup and S&M trappings on the surface, it’s all supported by genuinely great guitar musicianship, pounding percussion, skits for unfilmable horror movies, Kyoko’s subversion of enka (traditional lilting Japanese folk) vocals and sick humour.
How much of this is straight up and how much is tongue-in-cheek? With Inugami Circus-Dan you’ll never be sure and that’s just how they want it. And how much will you actually “get” if you’re not partial to the lingo? Translations and some subbed videos are always available online although, given the wordplay within the labyrinthine lyrics, the veracity of the double-entendres are perpetually open to question. Nonetheless, even failing to understand a single word, there’s a whole heap to enjoy.