Things move fast in the idol world. Groups come and go, line-ups change with head spinning regularity and if a group isn’t constantly performing or releasing new songs, they’re getting left behind. The dark idol group NECRONOMIDOL have recently gone through this sort of upheaval following the graduations of Hina and founding member Sari, but they haven’t let the grass grow under their feet. A swift regroup and they’re relaunching with a new, slightly raunchier look, two new members and a new EP, scions of the blasted heath.
The EP’s cover is another striking entry in their discography, produced by mangaka Jun Hayami. Girls in bondage, stepping up to be burned at the stake might seem a bit near the knuckle but it’s remarkably restrained compared to his usual work in the ero-guro (erotic-grotesque) genre. It’s an interesting reflection of where NECRONOMIDOL are these days. The EP’s cover isn’t as dark and disgusting as you’d expect from Hayami and the group’s music is a lot less dark and difficult than their early days.
The EP is led off by SALEM, from regular NECRONOMIDOL songwriter Kei Toriki. This track has featured in their live shows for a few months now and it gets its first release here. The song’s style follows the same pattern as Toriki’s previous contributions, psychopomp and thanatogenesis, with eerily serene vocals backed by frantic guitar and drums. It’s something of a symphony, running to six and a half minutes, with extended instrumental passages building to a mid-song crescendo then finishing with a quiet, melancholy acoustic guitar. If anybody was concerned how the departure of Hina and Sari would affect the group’s vocals, there’s no need to worry. The two new members, Kunogi Kenbishi, formerly of Gokigen Teikoku, and Michelle, a newcomer to the idol business, seem to fit in with no trouble at all and the vocals are clear, bright and well produced.
phantasmagoria cosmos sees a new songwriter join the NECRONOMIDOL crew. Marianne Shinonome of Kinoko Hotel, who normally have a heavily retro 60s style, has traded her Hammond organ for a synth right out of the 1980s. She’s created a Frankenstein’s monster of a song, stitching together parts from various genres; 80s synth pop, power metal shredding and frantic chiptune. It’s a strange mix for sure, but she’s nailed that signature NECRONOMIDOL sound straight away.
Zero-2 of Osaka punk outfit Poikkeus returns with another cracker. Opening with a marching snare drum beat, as if a creepy circus is parading into town, it breaks out into a good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roller and rattles along at top speed, giving the EP a blast of high energy fun.
CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT is a departure for NECRONOMIDOL and hints at their future ambitions internationally. It’s not unusual for Japanese pop songs to have sprinkle of English lyrics just to add something cool, but this is NECRONOMIDOL’s first song entirely in English. This track is from the metal side of the house and gallops along with some gloriously over the top gothic keyboards. For their first stab at all-English lyrics they make a pretty good job of it. No subtitles required once you’ve tuned into the slight accent.
The release of this EP was quickly followed by a UK and European tour and, combined with their international marketing via their Idol Underworld website, clearly shows they have their hearts set on winning overseas followers and are making a determined effort to be as accessible as possible from outside of Japan. It’s something the Japanese music industry has been historically and willfully terrible at, and it makes a refreshing change to have this easy way into the somewhat impenetrable world of chika idols.
The EP’s final track switches authors from HP Lovecraft to British horror writer Clive Barker to find its inspiration. Fans of the “Hellraiser” movies will recognise LAMENT CONFIGURATION, the puzzle box that serves as the key to a hellish alternative dimension and unleashes the demonic Cenobites on the world. Given the subject matter, it might be expected that this song would drip with chilling menace, but synth pop idol producer Okoyan has penned a retro 80s disco banger instead.
NECRONOMIDOL songs always manage to generate an atmosphere fitting with their theme and it’s the ironic juxtaposition of mismatched elements such as cute idols, horror imagery, metal and synth pop that makes their high concept act fly. Perhaps the irony is stretched almost to its breaking point with this track that, lyrics aside, conjures images of the hugely backcombed hair and garish costume jewellery of 80s J-pop idols.
scions of the blasted heath is a strong start for NECRONOMIDOL’s new line-up, as its mix of styles visits all points of the group’s musical compass. Losing a character as singular and enigmatic as Sari could well have put a big dent in their ambitions, but they’ve managed to keep up the momentum from their last album, Voidhymn, without missing a beat.