NECRONOMIDOL / Season of Ghosts / Yukika
Live @ Camden Underworld, London, 16/07/2019
You can usually guess what kind of show is happening from the queue outside the venue, but anyone walking past the Camden Underworld last night would’ve had their work cut out. The esoteric word “NECRONOMIDOL” plastered across the marquee wouldn’t offer clues to the uninitiated and the crowd ranged from school age to retirement age, hardcore metalheads in battle jackets to kawaii kids in light-up rabbit ears. It would be anyone’s guess what was happening inside. One thing would be clear to anyone though – whoever NECRONOMIDOL were, their fans were certainly into it.
But we’ll get to them later… It was a big night for London otaku all round, with an impressive line-up of Japanese and Japanese-adjacent music put together by Orion Live.
First up was Yukika (not to be confused with K-pop disco diva Yukika), who describes herself as “a singer, songwriter, Youtuber and STUFF… very fun!” and who am I to try and put it any better than that? Accompanied by a backing track and her electric guitar, she plucked a few songs from her repertoire of perfect perky power pop and sprinkled them over the audience like sweets.
As a songwriter, she writes the kind of music that could feel simplistic because it’s so instant – even if you don’t know the song at the start, you’ll know it 3 minutes later – but, as any pop fan knows, this is harder than it looks. Yukika’s songs are cleverly sophisticated in their easy, three-chord joy, with Godzilla-size hooks and inventively infectious vocal lines. If you can listen to latest single Flow Cytometry and not have it stuck in your head all day, you must’ve had some kind of vaccination against earworms because honestly, this is catchy, catchy stuff. High contagion pop virus.
Yukika’s stage presence is equally irresistible. With her anime blush make-up and endless supply of energy, she bounces around the stage with the kawaii factor turned up to 11. Swapping to an acoustic guitar a song called London and the bogglingly upbeat Everyday is a Beautiful Day, Yukika then took the audience through the sketchbook she’d been keeping over the last week, showing her drawings of all the things she’d experienced in London; Borough Market, Piccadilly Circus, Harrod’s, the local pub…! It’s always strange, as a Londoner, to see the city through the eyes of a visitor but seeing it through Yukika’s eyes made it seem momentarily a lot more delightful than it feels most of the time. It was a pleasure to spend half an hour in her colourful world and by the time she ended with Welcome To Japan, a wryly hyperactive ode to tourism, the crowd were all fist-pumping and chanting “JAPAN! JAPAN!” along with her.
At the other end of the spectrum are Season of Ghosts, a band who will be of some interest to J-Metal enthusiasts despite none of their current members actually being Japanese. Flashback some eight years and frontwoman Sophia Aslanides was a member of seminal Japanese band Blood Stain Child, writing and performing on their 2011 masterpiece, Epsilon. After an acrimonious split with BSC and a spiral of personal and health problems, Sophia met Zombie Sam and together they formed Season Of Ghosts. Their debut album, The Human Paradox, was a natural development of the J-Metal sound but Sophia’s powerful, borderline-operatic vocals and Sam’s epic arrangements won them fans from a symphonic metal audience too. While they’ve largely been a studio project, the release of their second album (the aptly-named A Leap Of Faith) and the group’s relocation to the UK has meant they’re active as a live band too…
What I love about Season of Ghosts is how consistent and earnest their themes of rebirth and self-improvement seem. Beyond just a lyrical focus, you can feel it in their live performance. The whole band (Sophia and Sam, flanked by ferocious rhythm section Paul Dark Brown and Declan Doran) feel like they’ve been caged and waiting to spring into action, and onstage they’re set free. Even Sophia, who arrived onstage covered entirely in a hoodie and sunglasses, shed them after the first two songs and soon felt gloriously defiant; in her own words to the crowd, spurred on “by your love”. It’s not surprising, given the back story that’s led up to where they are now but it’s quite a catharsis to witness.
The songs are dramatic and bold metal, heavy on emotion and big riffs. Tracks like How The Story Ends (with its catchy refrain of “We are, we are, like fire in the wind”) and between-song quotes from Neil Gaiman show Season of Ghosts are unafraid to embrace the gothic. but there’s a light to their darkness too. It shines bright on pop bops like A Place To Call Home and the fearsomely heavy Genesis (who can’t love a song with a cry of “I am reborn, I am revolution!” in its chorus?). By the time they ended on an unexpected but note-perfect cover of Blood Stain Child’s Stargazer, they left the stage with the confidence of headliners.
It really would take a special band to follow all that but NECRONOMIDOL rise to the task. Of course they do. They’re brilliant. The venue’s sound was a little ropey when they first took the stage to the catchy goth-pop of Children Of The Night (from their latest offering, Scions of the Blasted Heath) but it soon righted itself in time for the witchburning black metal of Salem, allowing the full NECRONOMIDOL effect to take hold.
What I learned last night is that it’s very hard to take photos of this band, as the five idols – Okaki, Rei-chan, Himari and new members Kunogi and Michelle – are rarely still for more than a second. Their choreography is a witchy whirl of hair and expressive hand gestures, like a gothed-up version of Kate Bush in the Wuthering Heights video times five. It’s quite something to get immersed in, especially in the more intense metal numbers. They trade vocal lines at a similarly rapid pace and trying to follow it will make your eyes and ears crossed. The sheer intricacy of it and the five members’ control over this is something to behold.
The Underworld setlist ran for a full 80 minutes with songs spanning their prolific five-year career. There were a number of ‘deep cuts’ on display, tracks like the gorgeous synthwave of Starry Wisdom, the hocus pocus pop of Hexennacht and fan fave Dirge Of Baldr. By and large, the songs were upbeat and focused on getting the crowd moving, although the epic black metal number Psychopomp pretty much stopped everyone in their tracks for 6 minutes, with its astonishing display of vocal control and creepy tremolo riffing. The biggest reactions came for the raw and punky NWOBHM-style Lamina Maledictum (recently added back to set rotation after a period of absence), the maniacal Sarnath (during which Himari takes centre stage for some gloriously creepy laugh-singing) and the anthemic show-closer, Skulls In The Stars (complete with hand signs and call and response vocals from the more knowledgeable members of the audience!). There was, of course, an encore with Ankoku Shoujyo Sentai offering some manga-pop calm before the full metal storm of Ithaqua enfolded the evening in one last dark spell; Okaki taking centre-stage and showing off her emotive vocal talent for its chant-like climax.
I admit it’s a lot to take in, such a breathless explosion of musical styles but what keeps it together is the fact that whatever they’re doing, you can always guarantee they’re doing it at full pelt. NECRONOMIDOL are not a band who deliver anything like half-measures in their live shows. And this is their greatest quality. If you ‘get’ it, if you connect with this utterly mad, irrational thing they’re doing, then you’ll get it shot into you like a soul-stealing bullet, and it’ll feel great. Who needs a soul anyway? They can certainly have mine. With the new line-up proving stronger than they’ve ever been, this year’s brace of activity – a new EP, relentless touring, their short horror film Beyond The Red – feels like it could push them to newer, bigger audiences who are ready to embrace this perfectly orchestrated chaos.
So yeah. What kind of music does NECRONOMIDOL make? You’ll never guess by just standing outside the venue. But, if you do go inside, be careful, you can really lose yourself in there…