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Matt Heafy’s black metal passion project Ibaraki hits hard with debut album Rashomon

Album review: Trivium’s Matt Heafy teams up with Emperor man Ihsahn and MCR’s Gerard Way on Ibaraki’s stellar debut Rashomon

(Image: © Nuclear Blast)

If ever there was a passion project, Matt Heafy’s expedition into the world of black(ened) metal is it. The Trivium frontman’s solo venture has been rumoured for more than a decade and now arrives, with impeccable timing, just as its creator’s main band are enjoying their greatest level of popularity and prominence yet. Drenched in the imagery and mythological themes of Heafy’s ancient Japanese heritage, Rashomon is plainly much more than some self-indulgent side- project. The music – complex, crafted, tumultuous and tender – is both frequently surprising and more or less along the lines of what one might expect, particularly given Ihsahn’s ongoing role as this project’s spirit guide.

At its best, Rashomon is revelatory. Trivium have long exhibited a solid understanding of heavy metal’s dynamic potential, and those sensibilities have enabled Heafy to let his imagination run riot here. After a disarmingly wistful, accordion-led overture, Kagutsuchi sets the tone with swathes of white-knuckle extremity, progged-out structural twists, flurries of traditional Japanese instrumentation and Heafy switching from scabrous screech to a sonorous baritone croon that stays just the right side of overwrought. Similarly, Ibaraki-Do¯ji verges on celebratory in its maxed-out over-the-topness, as Heafy channels his inner Emperor, but meddles with the Norwegians’ formula with thinly disguised glee, veering artfully from all- out blackened fury to sombre, somnambulant waltz and back again.

Thereafter, Rashomon ebbs and flows with an acute sense of high drama, as the crazed ideas and epic flourishes continue unabated. It’s all sufficiently immersive and elegantly conceived that cameos from Ihsahn (Susanoo No Mikoto), Nergal (Akumu) and, erm, Gerard Way (Ro¯nin) pass by without fuss, each one neatly assimilated into the bigger picture.

Too progressive for black metal purists and arguably too extreme for a good chunk of Trivium’s audience, Rashomon is a brave, heartfelt and pointedly progressive move from a sincere student of the dark, metallic arts. Well worth the wait, as it turns out.

Dom Lawson has been writing for Hammer and Prog for 14 intermittently enjoyable years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He listens to more music than you. And then writes about it.