Ibaraki is the new solo project from Trivium’s Matt Heafy, and Rashomon is released through Nuclear Blast, having been over a decade in the making. The name translates as “Wild Trees”, but is also taken from a terrifying Japanese demon of feudal legend, and the concept is a profound affirmation of Heafy’s Japanese-American heritage, incorporating a number of different musical styles. Although the main inspiration clearly sits within the black etal genre, taking influence from the experience of Emperor’s Ihsahn, who co-produced, and whose quirkier ideas from his solo work are peppered throughout the release.
Heafy sets the sombre mood with ‘Hakanaki Hitsuzen’, an intro of traditional folk music with the use of mouth organ, strings and haunting chanted vocals building through to a flamenco guitar and eastern- style percussion. The record then kicks into life with ‘Kagutsuchi, as Heafy screams over the top of a swirling guitar, before switching to clean vocals for the chorus. Of course there are shades of Trivium in the sound, however here the heavy vocals definitely have a blackened edge, and after the second chorus there is a section distinctly theatrical, as Heafy’s booming voice takes the sound into a new territory for him.
‘Ibaraki-Doji’ has a wicked groove to its heavier parts and eerie spoken word sections, while Heafy’s rasping emotional vocals will make the hairs on your neck stand to attention. As the track mellows in the middle he sings in a Serj Tankian kind of style, before the track explodes once more.
Heafy’s skills as a guitar player has never been in doubt, however with Ibaraki I feel he allows his playing to flourish even further, utilising a plethora of different techniques. We have beautiful acoustic finger picking at the beginning of ‘Jigoku Dayu’ as he also channels his inner Maynard James Keenan with some sumptuous clean singing, before showcasing virtuoso, sweeping arpeggio lead guitar work, as the track builds.
As we hit the half way point on ‘Rashomon’, it’s clear that Heafy’s vision is to create a powerful journey for the listener, with each track following a formula of blending pure aggression, with almost operatic sounding cleaner sections in parts, with the use of orchestral style synths to heighten the mood. This pattern follows suit with ‘Tamashii No Houkai’, ‘Komerebi’ and then ‘Akumu’, which is enhanced with some evil sounding guest vocals from Behemoth’s Nergal.
Prior to the album dropping, Heafy introduced us to this mysterious new sound of his with the release of a handful of tracks inc ‘Ronin’, which features vocals from My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way, some blood curdling black metal screams from Ihsahn, and a Satriani / Vai like lead guitar section, all of which combine wonderfully to create the albums stand out moment.
Ihsan also appears on the records penultimate song ‘Susanoo No Mikoto’ before the album closes with ’Kaizoko’ an oompah style accompanying piece to the intro, bringing Heafy’s vision full circle and leaving the listener to ponder over the opening vocal line “I want to break your soul in two, I want to do the worst things possible to you!”
The record greatly benefits from repeat listening, which allows the opportunity to completely immerse yourself into the complex delivery of Heafy’s vision. This is certainly a brave release, instantly recognisable by a distinct originality that while certainly not flawless, is nonetheless an intriguing journey of sound, into a mystical ancient world.
8 / 10