Album Title: Ryujin
Label: Napalm Records
Date of Release: 12 January 2024
Like all good New Year’s resolutions, I’ve broken another before we’re two weeks into 2024. I said to myself that I’d not review any album that is only available as a stream, because it’s so difficult to give it the time and attention that it deserves, as I’m severely hindered by a hectic life. A full-time job, children, a dog, family, friends, and the never-ending search for my ‘Mrs Of Much Metal’ (don’t ask!) means that I have precious little time to be chained to my WiFi listening to a streamed promo, especially as I don’t have the luxury of unlimited data on my devices. I need the flexibility of listening in the car, whilst walking the dog, or on my bicycle once away from the main roads.
I really wish Napalm Records would reassess their decision and offer downloads, but that’s probably about as unlikely as a Spurs trophy, so in order to avoid cutting my nose off to spite my face, I’ve reluctantly put my proposed boycott to one side. The upshot is that I am here putting my thoughts in writing about an album that was only available in a stream format, namely the self-titled debut album from Ryujin.
A debut album ‘Ryujin’ may well be, but the clientele involved are no strangers to the music world. Anyone familiar with the name Gyze will recognise the names of Ryoji and Shuji Shinamoto, the brothers responsible for Gyze’s creation in 2011 and before that, in 2009, the formation of Suicide Heaven. In 2024, the siblings return alongside bassist Aruta Watanabe to offer the metal world a new self-titled debut under the moniker of Ryujin, the name inspired by the Japanese Dragon God of the sea.
Being unfamiliar with all three names until now, I approached this record with an open mind. I cannot begin to imagine what’s meant by ‘Samurai metal’ as stated in the press release, but I do know a little more about death metal. And, what I do know leads me to question the genre description for Ryujin. Yes, there are elements of death metal and extreme metal overall within their sound. However, for large parts of ‘Ryujin’ and the twelve tracks of which it is comprised, there is so much more to the band than that.
After a very short intro piece that is strongly seasoned with the sounds of battle and Eastern-influenced instrumentation, we’re confronted with what is undoubtedly a brisk and thunderous slab of extreme metal in the form of ‘Gekokujo’. Again, the Eastern influences can be heard within the music, but they play second fiddle to the main thrust of the music, more as an embellishment and a creator of atmosphere. The driving force is the metallic bombast comprised of bruising drumming and fast, sharp riffing, alongside some gruff screams and growls, and tasty lead guitar accents both courtesy of Ryoji Shinamoto.
There is a strong thread of melody that comes through, despite the intense death metal battery, that reminds me a little of Children Of Bodom. And this reference point comes to mind thanks to the way that the music is both heavy and catchy, with plenty of deliciously flamboyant guitar histrionics courtesy of Ryoji. As the song develops, the folk influences come more to the fore, especially within a couple of the more jaunty, upbeat melodies. It’s a powerful and exhilarating start, one that led me eagerly into the album for a greater exploration.
The traditional Eastern instrumentation makes an early impression within the utterly beguiling ‘Dragon, Fly Free’. The flute sounds embellish the central melody that’s really catchy and thoroughly addictive, especially above the In Flames-like driving rhythms and riffs. This is a seriously cool song, one that just gets better with repeated spins.
Another string to the bow of Ryujin is the way in which they have managed to enlist the assistance of Trivium’s Matthew Kiichi Heafy and it’s with his introduction on ‘Raijin & Fujin’ that this album takes a turn to the left, leaving the melodeath and thrash trappings of the early stages in favour of a much more pronounced power metal approach. Heafy provides clean vocals on this track and the immediate follow-up, ‘The Rainbow Song’. The former still features gruff vocals, but there’s no mistaking the galloping rhythms and light-hearted melodies that scream power metal. The chorus once again explores more of a folk feel, which really works well and ensures that the song, complete with a killer groovy riff, symphonics, and blistering lead breaks, is a properly belting composition. ‘The Rainbow Song’ however, is pure and simple mid-tempo melodic power metal fodder. The gruff vocals are all but abandoned in favour of a sing-along stomper, but again, despite the fluffier feel, it is a winner thanks to the 100% commitment and the superb guitar work, not to mention strong melodic sensibilities.
That said, if you really want to delve into fluffy ballad territory, then look no further than ‘Saigo No Hoshi’ which emerges after the likes of ‘Scream The Dragon’ that reintroduces the melodeath trappings with aplomb, albeit alongside a soaring, saccharine melodic metal chorus. ‘Saigo No Hoshi’ is the unashamed radio-friendly ballad that would normally send me running for the hills but for two reasons. Firstly, I quite like ballads. Secondly, this particular one is exceptional. Yes, the chorus might sound as if it was lifted from a Eurovision entry, but who cares? When it’s this memorable and hook-laden, it’s time to just let your cynicism go and embrace the beauty that the song provides. The fact that there are two versions of the song on the record might test the patience of some, but when the second version, an English language version, that sees out the record again features the talents of Matthew Heafy, it’s hard to argue with its duplicated presence.
For many reasons, I can do nothing but recommend ‘Ryujin’. It may flit from idea to idea, thus robbing the band of a single, distinct identity, but each of the various sides of Ryojin are delivered with such style, panache, and full-on commitment, that it is difficult to argue with the final product. So, you know what? I won’t argue. I’ll just sit back and enjoy the final product. Are Ryujin melodic death metal trio? Are they a power metal band? Are they an extreme folk metal outfit? I have no idea. But more importantly, I really don’t care. The bottom line is that ‘Ryujin’ is a fun, enjoyable, slick, and well produced ride that has entertained me far more than I ever thought it might when I pressed play that first time a couple of weeks ago. If you’re looking for something to put a big fat smile on your face and air guitar with abandon, this might just be the record for you.
The Score of Much Metal: 85%