After years of familiarity with a bunch of oddball horror, sleaze and psychobilly punk rock bands embracing violence, war, peace, sexual depravity and other general lawlessness, it’s difficult not to feel a little bit jaded when you come across a band like Barbatos. Ok, there’s something about those crooning vocals that’s oddly intriguing. Somewhere between the guttural moans of the fatally wounded; someone trying to sing their way through an extended climax; and Zed, the emotionally unstable biker from ‘Police Academy 2’. Appropriately, Zed’s gang’s B-movie hangout would have been the perfect place for Barbatos’s soundtrack. A kind of 1980s entry-level thrash metal meets punk with guitar solos that could’ve been lifted from a 1960s rock n roll band which give the whole thing its band-out-of-time-and-place appeal. What people who shop at Topman might assume ‘extreme’ heavy metal sounds like.
Sound good so far? Then read on. Because no matter what I say next, these Japanese bonkers merchants (otherwise known primarily as Abigail’s Yasuyuki Suzuki who has also toured with Sigh) might just be the missing piece in the jigsaw of your life that you’ve been searching web-wide for years.
I only speculate here: but I can’t help guessing that the “rock n’ roll comic-horror meets sexual-depravity” genre in Japan can’t be one that suffers from a lack of subscribers judging by the general output of other areas of the country’s popular culture. But I must admit my general knowledge of Japanese deviant punk bands is not something I’d like to have tested as my specialist subject on mastermind – so I should probably not make sweeping judgements. Actually, scratch that. This review is packed full to the brim of sweeping judgements… But even so, I was surprised to find out that Barbatos were so prolific. The trademark ‘Zero’ fighter profile – the Japanese navy fighter plane that became synonymous with the kamikaze suicide tactics in World War II – has plastered countless releases (many of the more recent ones, admittedly, live and split releases) that I’m sure would be fascinatingly collectable for some people. The covers of the late 1990s, when the band had more of a blackened edge, featured scenes to reflect the horror of war-style lyrics in the early days of the band.
But, then, as the band matured like an over-ripe cheese, into some kind of party thrash band, the cartoon horror scenes, that wouldn’t so much as make your mother blush as have her stopping your pocket money for years to come and dragging you to a therapist, took over and most now seem to feature zombies performing indecent acts on still-living females. Although this latest release has, admittedly, shown some indication of the band’s new levels of maturity with a less-subtle-than-ever ‘large pair of breasts and Samurai sword with skulls against a tasteful Rising Sun background’ theme – but then we all have to grow up sometimes, I guess.
With social commentary apparently melting into the background and being replaced by new depths of style-over-substance that’s something akin to a Superdry marketing director with Tourettes, the question is whether this would have any appeal for anyone other than a 16 year-old who wanted to like a band whose offensive patches he could sew onto his combat satchel? Well, ‘Goodbye High School Girls’ is quite catchy and the driving thrash of Straight Metal War is soaked in guitar solos and the kind of all-out-urgency that I can imagine would cause havoc in small underground clubs all over Tokyo and anywhere else.
There’s no doubt this stands out as an alluring style in some respects. The vocals alone, alternatively a kind of ‘drunk’ Elvis (anyone not familiar with this infamous recording need only Google it) and blackened rasps, provide this with a nice standout originality. But for all its charm that could be best described as Lemmy on a night out with The Misfits overdosing on the kind of porn most popular with 1970s Radio 1 DJs and lethally concentrated Japanese sake, it feels like Barbatos, like my sense of humour, might be on thin ice. The joke, a bit like the ‘new’ horror punk masters themselves, has been pedalling along on increasingly worn tyres for close to 20 years now.
There will always be a part of me that thinks tracks like ‘Seven Teen’ (I don’t even want to try to guess what that’s all about), ‘Fly To The Sexual World’, ‘Satanik Holocaust’ and ‘World War 3’ have a place in this world. A place where there’s a small part of us that will always be 14 and find songs about sexually active zombies and the idea of the world exploding into a billion pieces, and, so presumably, making life much simpler for everyone, still holds fascination. For that, Hells Headbangers deserves a sack full of medals.
But, at the end of the day, I suspect if you’re the kind of person who wants to listen to this with any level of any commitment – financial, emotional or under the influence of hard liquor or drugs – then you will have seen the cover, locked in on the words ‘Japanese’, ‘Horror’, ‘Punk’, ‘Thrash’ and ‘Zed From Police Academy 2’ and are already busy downloading the shit out of this band in between trying to find copies of Zombie High School Orgy in the original Betamax version. For you, I say, this should get at least a 9 out of 10. But I would also say: you need to get out more. Please switch off your computer now and go for a walk in the park (preferably not anywhere near a school playground). For everyone else it’s a…
(5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)