The promise of a solo project from Matt Heafy is tantalising just on its face. Being as respected as he is within metal as the frontman of Trivium and champion of so many great up-and-coming bands, the pedigree feels built in already, but there’s just something else intangibly there that’s another elevating factor. Maybe it’s the exploration of black-metal, or the influence that his Japanese heritage so intrinsically plays; they aren’t sides that collide all that often, and a performer as adept as Heafy can really unlock something excellent from it. That’s certainly how Rashomon plays out, as epic and powerful as you like with the heft left in and amplified by how distinct this feels. To save the knee-jerk reactions from music’s biggest pedants, it isn’t ‘trve’ black-metal, not that it really matters when Heafy can so easily embolden that sound and make it so much more colossal. It’s melodic to a fault throughout, which makes the moments of rumbling discord on Kagutsuchi all the more thrilling, in what can be seen as fairly natural extensions of Trivium at their most lethal. It’s the layering and intricacy that makes this stand out the most though, in how the adornments of Japanese instruments and strings lend such a rich texture, and make the likes of Jigoku Dayū or Susanoo No Mikoto sound simply enormous. Production-wise, this is comfortably in the higher end of black-metal, free of deliberately low fidelities that wouldn’t accommodate a concept like this anyway and really embracing the grandeur that it allows. It’s also a case where an extended length actually feels beneficial; it runs for over an hour with multiple tracks crossing seven or eight minutes, though it never drags or feels as though they’re overstepping. There’s such a deftness to how Heafy arranges them, and how the momentum is so consistently strong across the board.
It really is Heafy who’s the star of the show here, to be expected, for certain, but not to be taken for granted. He’ll have support from Nergal, Ihsahn and Gerard Way (yes, that Gerard Way), but it’s his show first and foremost, and he’s commanding throughout. His cleans probably shine the most, booming and imperious against a metal backdrop that’s such a natural fit, and filled out with screams that honestly sound better than ever. Even down to just his performance, it’s emblematic of a creative vision going forward unimpeded in blending metal’s shades to make something fresh and different. It captures an essence that feels exclusive to Heafy within this scene, heralded by track titles named for mythological figures and entities in Japanese folklore that’ll delve into their stories and parallel them with the modern world. Even just on a surface level though, it’s truly gripping just for how clearly individual it is. The blend of cultures and influences is totally authentic, really only stumbling on the less-serious coda Kaizoku for how its theatrics don’t tend to gel with everything prior, but it’s the most miniscule of detours that’s hardly a blemish on the greater package. There’s so much that works that it’s hard to see how this could be derailed too much; Heafy’s mighty presence combined with a sound that’s so powerful and vital is naturally a winning formula, the lack of obvious standouts simply being a result of how uniformly strong Rashomon wholly is. Where a lot of metal side-projects can feel more like uninspired detours, this is anything but, instead building on existing bones for its own independent, towering presence.
For fans of: Trivium, Ihsahn, Behemoth
‘Rashomon’ by Ibaraki is released on 6th May on Nuclear Blast Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall