There are many brands of horror, but one that is particularly hard to write is horror that packs an emotional punch. Most horror is visceral; some is haunting; but only the rare horror story can make one cry. Ryunosuke Akutagawa is the uncommon writer able to make it happen; his masterpiece “Hell Screen” provides ample evidence. The story twists one way, then another, and finally wraps itself in a knot and wrings out the raw emotion. Just as the story is winding down, Akutagawa adds one last twist of the cloth, and leaves the reader’s jaw agape. Because the tale involves a twist, I won’t spoil it here; some may see it coming, but foreknowledge does not reduce its awful power.
Who might be called upon to score such material? Miasmah’s roster comes to mind, and Jigokuhen is in fact reminiscent of the darker works of Kreng and related artists. But the honor was given instead to Marihiko Hara & Hideki Umezawa, two artists not known for their darker tendencies. In fact, in his Pawn guise, the latter artist is known as a chronicler of sweetness and light. On this EP, both artists venture far from their comfort zones, and this counter-intuitive choice pays off.
A wide variety of sounds is on display, but arrives in unexpected combinations. The duo places fragments of music in unoccupied corners like rocks in a Zen garden. This keen attention to detail makes Jigokuhen as precise as its source material, in which a host of plots and sub-plots co-exist and finally convene. Even at the very beginning, the tolling of a bell is accompanied by a strange mist that travels between speakers like a ghost waiting to burst from the walls. Other sonic oddities develop: in “Akome”, the gentle ticking of a clock is offset by slippage in the tonal qualities of the keys, while “Shitomi” is rife with creaks and shuffles, steam and knocks. “Shitomi”s full sonic stop is repeated in every track from here to the end: an inability to face the horror, a drawing in of the soul and mind. But the fire of “Homora” brings the greatest chills, reflecting the narrative’s ugly truth.
This is not music one might have imagined Hara and Umezawa capable of producing. Perhaps every life contains a dark side, or at least an ability to reflect darkness. We now have a new appreciation for both. (Richard Allen)