As guitarist Gou Takeuchi points out in the interview below, the old-school melodic speed metal scene in Japan may be small, but its patrons are dedicated and its bands are fantastic. With the likes of Hell Freezes Over, Military Shadow, Evil, Hellhound, Metalucifer, and Crowley throwing patched up battle jackets over Canadian Tuxedos and penning modernized pieces of fiery speed metal that ooze as much classy sophistication as gutter slut looseness, the Japanese scene is making upwards leaps from strength to strength.
Leading the pack are Tokyo’s Significant Point as they summon the power of Screaming for Vengeance, Kill ‘Em All, Show No Mercy, and Fistful of Metal and cram those seminal works into a confined space with classic albums by home nation heroes like Loudness and X Japan. What gets created is a quick and wicked brand of melodic thrash/speed metal that keeps one eye looking forward while the other meticulously scans the rearview. After forming a decade ago, the band is finally releasing their debut full-length, Into the Storm, a highly anticipated headfirst two-and-a-half somersault with a two-and-a-half twist dive into how precise, refined, and classy metal can sound while still retaining the heart and soul that has driven this music since 1970.
We sent Takeuchi a handful of questions via email and with the help of time, patience and Google Translate, we present the result: an introduction to one of the most exciting heavy metal bands presently making the rounds.
Let’s start off with the question that everyone hates asking, answering and reading, but still needs to be asked when introducing a new band like yours: can you give a brief history of the band?
Gou Takeuchi: “Thank you for giving me this opportunity for an interview! The band was formed in March, 2011, and all the members at the beginning were high school classmates. After several member changes, the current lineup formed in 2018 is as follows: (myself) and Kazuki Kuwagaki (guitars), Kazuhiro Watanabe (bass), and Itormentor (drums). The two guitarists are the original members. We had self-released demo CDs in 2012 and 2014 and a live album in 2017. Then, we released the 7’ EP Attacker on Inferno Records in France in 2018 and now we will release our first full-length album, Into the Storm on Dying Victims Productions. Since we don’t have the regular vocalist, George Itoh (Risingfall/Military Shadow) supported us as the guest vocalist for the album recording.”
Is George a confirmed member of the band or is he at the “helping out” stage?
“George Itoh is a guest vocalist for this album only. In tandem with his main bands, he did an awesome job for our album recording. We really thank George and also his bandmates who willingly accepted our asking. We wish him the best of luck in the future. And please check out his bands!”
Over the years and through the member changes, how would you say Significant Point is different today than the past, both in how you sound and how you go about business as a band?
“As for the sound, I think the current lineup is the best. The previous members were great, of course, but there were times when the direction and feeling didn’t match. The current members have no such problems at all. The big difference between now and the past is that now we can go ahead heading in the same direction. Actually, I haven’t given much thought to the business side, but I would like to talk about what I think about the music aspect.
In the world of music, each person has a different feeling. There is no one who has the exact same feeling as someone. This is the one of the great things of music, but it also means that the standard of what is considered good is different for each person. This is what I’ve come to realize. This is a big difference from the past. Therefore, I think it is important for a band to keep mind clear standards for itself. It allows the band not to waver from their assertions.”
With almost a decade between forming and releasing your debut studio album, you must have tons and tons of ideas you wanted to include on Into the Storm. Was it difficult to not load the album down with stuff from the past?
“That’s true. I’ve written many songs in my life. All of them are very important to me. I had decided to have ten songs on the album. So, the number of songs that can be packed is very limited. This is a very important decision that determines the direction of the album. I thought very carefully about the overall composition of the album, the balance between speed and melodic songs, and the feeling.”
There’s material on the album that goes back to your first release and references all of your releases, but how much of the album actually consists of new material? And how recent is the newest material on the album?
“Eighty percent are new songs. The remaining 20 percent are ‘Attacker’ and ‘Danger Zone.’ These are the two songs that we have been playing since the beginning of the band and I’m really attached to them personally. I wrote these songs when I was 18 or 19 years old. Most of the other songs are new, written between 2017 and 2019. The most recent song is ‘Deathrider.’ It came to me when I was thinking about adding another catchy, straightforward speed metal song on the album. It was completed in no time at all. ‘Run for Your Life’ and ‘Night of the Axe’ are also relatively recently completed songs. So, the album is a mix of old and new songs. I think you can feel the ten-year history of the band.”
How was Into the Storm impacted by COVID-19?
“The impact of the COVID pandemic was very big. The recording took place from March 2019 to September 2020, but during that time, there was a period of time when a state of emergency was declared in Japan and we needed to stop recording. This caused a delay in the completion of the album. We are really grateful to Dying Victims Productions, they waited for us. And we are very happy that we were able to complete it.”
Was there anything that was done differently about how the album was written or recorded when compared to what you had done in the past?
“I used to write songs with my initial impulses. The initial impulse was very important and I still have it in my heart. However, now I am able to look at music from a higher perspective. This helped me grow a lot since the past. To make music is to face ourselves, the rival is not someone or other bands. The most important thing is whether or not the quality of our music achieves the level we want. In the past, I hadn’t realized this yet. Since I realized this, the range of my composition has expanded considerably. If we can make such a sense of the level, and create songs that achieve the level, the music will have a kind of consistency. In the process of making Into the Storm, I was able to work with this mind. I feel my growth from the past is expressed in the sound of this album.”
What is the significance or story behind the album’s title? And what can you tell us about what’s going on on the cover?
“As for the concept of the cover art, the monster on the cover is the same character that has appeared on our 7’ EP’s cover. On the previous EP, people are attacked by the monster. So, this time I wanted to make a cover where people are fighting against the monster. There is the sound of thunder at the beginning of “Into the Storm’ and I had decided that I wanted to show thunder on the cover as well. The album title was naturally decided as Into the Storm. We asked Mario López (Crystal Viper, Evil Invaders, Sabbat) to create the cover art. We gave him a simple sketch and image and he created that wonderful cover art. Mario’s cover art fits perfectly with our musical style and we think it’s a really great piece. We feel very happy to have worked with him.”
At what point did Dying Victims come into the picture and what about working with them was attractive to you?
“We were thinking of starting making an album in 2019. At that time, Dying Victims Productions offered us the opportunity to release our album. We were very happy when we received the offer. We are honoured to be able to release our album from Dying Victims Productions. They are always supportive of us and it’s been a real pleasure working with them. We can’t wait for the release.”
I’m presuming that with Into the Storm coming at this point in the band’s existence this must mean there’s probably a wealth of material ready for a second album that’s coming sooner rather than later?
“I have a few good ideas for new songs, but they are still incomplete. But there are a lot of interesting phrases. I will need some time to prepare the songs for the second full album. I’m going to take my time in making the songs.”
What can you tell us about how the Japanese metal scene is today in comparison to when you were growing up and how does Significant Point fit into your nation’s scene?
“When I was a kid, I think the popularity of old school heavy metal was lower than it is now. I have been listening to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden since then, but there were not many in my generation who had the same taste. I remember that around 2008, Enforcer and other bands became a hot topic in Japan, and it led to a reevaluation of old school metal. However, there are still few old school heavy metal bands in Japan. We are the minority. So, we sometimes play with thrash metal and hardcore bands, but it’s very stimulating for us.”
What are some of the challenges facing a speed/heavy metal from Japan these days? Is it pretty easy to get attention in Tokyo and throughout Japan? Or do you find more people from other countries paying more attention to you?
“Here in Japan, there are very few young old school or speed metal bands. The old school metal scene in Japan is small. So, bands like us are very rare and in the minority. Recently, some good young old school bands like Risingfall and Hell Freezes Over have appeared on the scene. These young bands, including us, have interaction with each other. We are working hard and encouraging each other. So, I would like to see more young bands and more excitement in the old school metal scene in Japan. I am proud of old school heavy metal. I hope that young people who listen to this album will start a band and jump into this scene.”
What do you feel Significant Point provides for you that other bands you’ve been a member of didn’t? And what do you feel is different about Significant Point in comparison to the large number of old school speed/heavy metal bands that exist these days?
“My experience of working in other bands has been great. It helped me to grow a lot. But Significant Point gives me the opportunity to express 120 percent of what I want in my music, because I am the main composer. This is very significant for me. Of course, when I get ideas from other members, I positively adopt it. I think there are two things that make Significant Point unique. The first is that speed metal songs and melodic songs coexist. I wanted to create an album with a lot of variety, like a storybook. I think the fact that I was able to mix them well leads the band’s individuality.
The second point is that the guitars have a big presence. I always consider a guitar solo is another song in a song. This also contributes to the band’s uniqueness.”
How is the COVID-19 situation in Japan? Any signs of when shows and live music might be making a return in your part of the world?
“The number of infected people in Japan continues to increase. I think we are in the worst situation now. Japan is unable to legally impose a lockdown, and the government is just asking the public to refrain from activities causing infection. Recently, the government declared a state of emergency. It contains a stronger message, but as mentioned above, this is not a lockdown, but a request for self-restraint. We are not sure how effective it will be. The medical system is in a severe state, so we hope that after few weeks it will get better. I believe that the live scene will come back. In order to do so, each of us needs to take the right actions to end this pandemic as soon as possible. I think it is important to do what we can do now, little by little.”