Even before he first picked up a guitar, Tokyo resident Yasuyuki Suzuki had been obsessed with extreme music, specifically metal and hardcore punk. In 1992, after picking up that guitar, then the bass before learning drums and taking up position in front of the vocal mic, he put together black/thrash trio Abigail and has since released close to 100 singles, splits, full-lengths, live albums and EPs. When he started writing music that didn’t fit Abigail’s milieu in the mid-’90s, he did what any multi-instrumentalist, hermit with a ridiculous work ethic would do: he started a one-man which he christened Barbatos.
Since 1996, his Barbatos project has foisted an equally impressive number of releases onto the innocent world, including 2003’s Rocking Metal Motherfucker and 2006’s Let’s Fucking Die! the pair of which are being reissued by Ohio-based boutique label, Hells Headbangers. Join us as Yasuyuki (with the “help” of Google Translate) takes on a journey that began as an ankle biter captivated by loud guitars and louder drums to a grown man still captivated by those elements, but one who’s made metal his life’s work.
Tell us about the early Japanese metal scene and how you discovered metal and what made you take the step from being a fan to being in a band?
Yasuyuki Suzuki: “Back then, when we were in junior high school, metal was very popular and everyone was listening to it: Japanese bands like Loudness, 44 Magnum, Earth Shaker, Action, Sniper, etc. I got influenced by my group of buddies. We wanted to buy lots of records but we didn’t have the money, so when one of our friends did buy them, we would ask him to dub them onto tapes. We were hooked. We were listening to overseas heavy metal at the same time like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Accept, Night Ranger, Motorhead, Black Sabbath, Ozzy, Metallica, etc., so we decided to start a band and I began to play the guitar.
After that, I got into black and thrash metal like Venom, Slayer, Bulldozer, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, Carnivore, etc. However, there were a lot of people that made fun of Japanese metal and the major Japanese metal magazines were very critical of it. Since we were singing in Japanese, they dismissed us saying that we could never make it abroad if we didn’t sing in English, but then Casbah became very popular in underground thrash metal scene. Then, Genocide and Sniper got deals with overseas labels in the ‘80s.”
Great music has always come out of Japan. Do you feel that this is because strictness and conformity breeds a strong counterculture? Or possibly based on the law of averages that result in the chances of something awesome coming out of a place with such a large population?
“We Japanese, like melodies, and we listen to traditional Japanese lullabies from a very young age. Japanese lullabies have unique melodies and Japanese people are good at copying. At first, we copy music from the West, but in the end it becomes Japanese. Rock was imported from Britain and America and while it was difficult to put Japanese words on a rock beat, a band called Happy End was the first to make it happen in 1971. I think Loudness was the first heavy metal band to put Japanese words to their music.”
How is the Japanese scene different today compared to the past? Are there more people involved and do you feel it’s stronger?
“I think the metal scene in Japan is definitely getting better and the new bands are definitely better than we were. Spiral Wheel, Fastkill, Return, Anatomia, Evil, End All, Significant Point, etc. Also, it’s now easier to promote yourself abroad — all because of the internet. In our days, it was all air mail, which was difficult. It’s also easy to release an album on Bandcamp. It’s a shame that we don’t have a younger audience. Teens listen to rap and melodic punk more than metal. But it’s ok, real metal is underground in Japan.”
For yourself, why did you decide to form both Abigail and Barbatos instead of one band to focus on? As the main songwriter and leader in both, what are the differences between the bands?
“Originally, I wrote some songs for Abigail, but I thought they were a bit too punk, so I released those songs with a new band because I consider Abigail a black metal band. I’m glad I started with Barbatos because it gave us a lot of different songs to write. And back then, the rest of Abigail’s members didn’t listen to punk rock. I think Barbatos is metal-punk and I don’t think there was a band of that same style band in Japan at the end of ‘90s.”
Given that musical progression isn’t high on your list of priorities, what do you set out to do with each bunch of new songs you write? And how do you keep from repeating yourselves and keep things interesting when your core sound and influences haven’t appeared to have changed much over the years?
“Barbatos songs haven’t progressed at all since the first album, War! Speed and Power. There’s no need for progress. With Barbatos, I want to make simple guitar riff songs with a D-beat, like GBH, The Exploited, Warfare, Motorhead and New York punk like the Misfits and Ramones. It’s fun. The only thing that has progressed is that the latest album, Straight Metal War are sung in Japanese. It’s close to Japanese metal songs and this album is very popular Japanese metal fans.”
Was the idea of reissuing Rocking Metal Motherfucker and Let’s Fucking Die something that Hells Headbangers had planned all along, or is part of pandemic boredom or trying to keep in the public eye? Had you thought about reissuing either album previously?
“The reissue of the album was due to an offer from Hells Headbangers. This was before the pandemic. I wanted to release the LP for a long time, but couldn’t since (original label) From Beyond Productions went bankrupt. I managed to find the owner of Displeased Records and we were able to clear a deal and release it. Unfortunately, the label lost the jackets, album cover art and layout, so they had to be changed.”
What’s different about the reissues?
“Let’s Fucking Die!’s jacket/cover had to be changed. I wish it didn’t have to be. That was perfect jacket design. I guess Rocking Metal Motherfucker is close to the original, though. It being an LP jacket/cover made it powerful. The layout of the reissues were done by my friend Annick of Morbid Tales ‘zine/Temple of Mystery Records. It’s so cool and I’m looking forward to getting the albums!”
What are the stories behind the titles of these two albums?
“I wanted to use a ‘Rocking Metal’ name. I thought it’d be a good title to mix it with punk and metal. Let’s Fucking Die! just came to my mind. It was during a period when I was tired of life at the time. I think this title sounds very fitting.”
Have you experienced any resistance or blowback from people about the sexual tone and misogyny in some of the lyrics from those older songs/records?
“I didn’t and haven’t had any major problems because nobody could understood the bad Japanese English (laughs). If a problem arises in the future, I just won’t include the lyrics at all. And it’s no problem for me to sing in all Japanese. I don’t mind if people laugh at the lyrics. They are hideous Japanese English lyrics and I like to write things like that. I want to be a humorous band. I’m tired of serious lyrics.”
Those two albums were both originally released over fifteen years ago. What are your thoughts about them now? What do you remember about those records at the time and do you have any hilarious/exciting/terrible stories about writing and/or recording them?
“I’m surprised that it was 15 years ago! I’ve played better on the Rocking Metal Motherfucker album than on the first album, War! Speed and Power. I got friends from high school to play guitars and drums on this album and they were punk musicians. That’s why it’s more of a metal punk sound. Since this album was recorded on A-DAT Recording system, it can’t be played anymore. It also sold better than Abigail’s album (laughs). I recorded the Let’s Fucking Die! album by myself with beers. Almost all the tracks were recorded in one or two takes. I made it much easier. This album was recorded on an eight-track analogue recorder and the sound quality is primitive, like black metal. The jacket design was made by the label. I was so surprised when got the jacket design. I said ‘This jacket is perfect!’”
What has the pandemic-imposed lockdown taught you about yourselves, your music, your government, your country, your environment, etc.? How do you think Barbatos/Abigail will be doing anything different in the future?
“With the pandemic, all our plans were gone. I had a lot of Abigail tours lined up. To be honest, I was so demoralized that I thought I might quit the band; I didn’t want to see anyone, I was drinking alcohol every day. My only salvation were the albums that my new project bands, Volcanic War and Bitcheater, had recorded before the pandemic and when I got both those albums, I decided to start over again. Also, I started other new project bands call Iron Savage and Orgasm 666 this year and I’ve recorded demos already. If possible, I want to record new Abigail and Barbatos albums next year.”
Are you surprised at everything you’ve been able to accomplish with Barbatos over the years and to this day? Are you surprised the project still exists and that you’ve been able to command enough attention and demand so that you can release material as regularly as you continue?
If present-day you could give advice and important lessons to younger you, what would you say?
“I didn’t think it would last this long either. I’m really grateful to everyone. It’s so easy to record at home now that I think you should just put out the songs you like. Don’t worry about what the world thinks. I’m not going to change what I do, and I’m not going to progress. Compose my songs, drink beers, play gigs, meet fans. I just want to have fun with everyone.”