浅葱 (ASAGI) // Japanese folklore in a musical format through “斑 (Madara)”

In the ヴィジュアル系 (Visual Kei) world the name “ASAGI” probably immediately makes you think of the vocalist from the popular band “D”, and even now you wouldn’t be wrong. But today we’re not going to talk about D, but about some of ASAGI’s other activities.
Aside from D ASAGI also makes music without the help of the other members of the group, and he has been doing so for quite a number of years, starting with the single “Corvinus” in 2006 and following up with “Seventh Sense/屍の王者/アンプサイ” (Seventh Sense/Kabane no Ouja/Anpusai) in 2016.

But on January 31st of 2018, ASAGI didn’t only change the name of his solo works to “浅葱” (which is still “ASAGI”, but in Kanji), he also released a full album with a completely different theme than the two works before it. The album has been given the name 斑 (Madara), which means “spots”, “speckles” or even “blemishes” in English. (Note: there is another meaning in the form of “unevenness” or “irregularity”, but that changes the pronunciation to “mura” rather than “madara”, which is what 浅葱 (ASAGI) himself refers to this release with, so we’re going with “madara” from now on.)
Like I already said, the theme is also changed for this release. Rather than being a more gothic or “usual” style like before, 浅葱 (ASAGI) has chosen a much more traditional theme which obviously fits his roots as a native Japanese musician. With this theme also come traditional instruments like a traditional Shamisen, Koto and Taiko in addition to the modern guitar, bass and drums. And while 浅葱 (ASAGI) has written and composed all of these songs himself, he did ask other musicians from not just his own band or just the ヴィジュアル系 (Visual Kei) genre, but also other genres to help him with the creation of this album.
Listing all of these artists here would probably be at least as long as the review for the album itself, so if you’re curious to who is in involved in which songs, please check 浅葱 (ASAGI)’s own page on the God Child Records website, here.

The album was released in both a “Limited” and a “Regular” edition, but since the Regular edition has an extra track that isn’t found on the Limited version, we’re going to use this one for our in-depth look today.
And yes, I am aware this album came out a good four years ago at the moment this review is published. But when I looked online, I barely saw non-Japanese coverage for it, while there is so much to be said. If nothing else, I wanted to introduce you to a world that you might not have noticed on your own. I do want to point out as a disclaimer that I am not a native Japanese speaker, so there might be small inaccuracies here and there, but I do think I captured most of what is important for the references for you.

Now, with this unusually long intro out of the way, let’s get into the album, shall we?

 

天地行き来る小船 (Ametsuchi iku kuru kofune)

There isn’t too much to say about this 20 seconds spanning introduction track now is there? We already know that this album has a traditional theme attached to it, and you can actually hear this introduction at the start of the music video for the next track. So yes, it serves as an introduction making use of the traditional theme, with a name that roughly translates to “small boats going between heaven and earth”.

 

月界の御子 (Gekkai no Miko)

The cover of “竹取物語” (Taketori Monogatari), an e-book available through Amazon.
While the release date for the album was set for January 31st 2018, the music video for “月界の御子” (Gekkai no Miko) was already revealed on D’s Official YouTube channel in early October of 2017. Which isn’t that strange, knowing that 浅葱 (ASAGI) is still a full time member of D and works on his solo works along the side. “月界の御子” (Gekkai no Miko) is related to the world of “竹取物語” (Taketori Monogatari), or “The Tale of the Bamboo-Cutter” in English, and connects to the past, present and future with the descendants of “かぐや姫” (Princess Kaguya), but with the unique expression and views from, you’ve guessed it, 浅葱 (ASAGI).

The story of “竹取物語” (Taketori Monogatari) is written by an unknown author in the late 9th or early 10th century during the Heian period, and is considered to be the oldest surviving work in monogatari form. It details the life of Kaguya-hime (Princess Kaguya), a princess from the moon who was discovered as a baby in the stalk of a growing bamboo plant. After she grows, her beauty attracts five suitors who seek her hand in marriage, but she turns each of them away by challenging them with an impossible task, until she catches affection of the Emperor of Japan. At the end of the story she reveals her celestial origins to the Emperor and returns to the moon.

 

浅葱 (ASAGI) – 月界の御子 (Gekkai no Miko) (MV)

 

 

畏き海へ帰りゃんせ (Kashikoki umi e kaeryanse)

The next song translates to “Return to the awe-inspiring sea”, taking the form of a slower tempo ballad conveying a lot of emotion for a song that in comparison doesn’t have as much lyrics to do so as you might expect. Traditional and modern meet somewhere in the middle through the use of modern instruments and again a traditional way of storytelling about leaving one’s hometown for a while, with a dark twist hidden somewhere in the lyrics.

 

花雲の乱 (Hanagumo no Ran)

If you’re familiar with 浅葱 (ASAGI)’s work in D, this song will sound familiar from the very first notes. (And not just because guitarist HIDE-ZOU is also involved on this track.) The higher tempo with a more powerful core would easily fit in D’s own discography, but are combined with the traditional influence of this album to create a higher pace metal-like song with 浅葱 (ASAGI)’s familiar vocal style. “花雲の乱” (Hanagumo no Ran) translates to something like “flower cloud turbulence”, making use of the final Kanji symbol (乱 / Ran) to indicate it’s rebellious nature that also returns in the lyrics themselves.

 

隠桜 (Ome Zakura)

Just like it’s predecessor, “隠桜” (Ome Zakura) is a song that wouldn’t surprise you if it appeared on a D album rather than 浅葱 (ASAGI)’s solo album. Making use of the typical speed that 浅葱 (ASAGI) is known for with his work (regardless of which project it’s for) he manages to turn “隠桜” (Ome Zakura), which translates to “Hidden Sakura” in English, into a slow-starting but powerful speed metal song. In the chorus he asks “Hidden Sakura, can you make me crazy with a smile?”, but the real question probably is, can he make us as the listener smile as well with his typical style?

 

螢火 (Hotarubi)

With “螢火” (Hotarubi) the speed is lowered slightly opposed to the previous two songs, but the Koto instrument is also introduced into the mix, creating a much friendlier and calmer atmosphere while still combining traditional with new thanks to the heavier core of the song. “螢火” (Hotarubi) translates to “the glow of a firefly”, which in my opinion 浅葱 (ASAGI) has managed to translate into music with the help of the Koto instrument while the lyrics loosely describe the feeling of an army which is preparing for battle.

 

大豺嶽〜月夜に吠ゆ〜 (Ooyamaimedake ~Tsukuyo ni Hoe yu~)

“大豺嶽〜月夜に吠ゆ〜” (Ooyamaimedake ~Tsukuyo ni Hoe yu~) absolutely does honor to it’s name, which is roughly translated to “barking on a moonlit night”, with both it’s music and it’s words. There is a certain type of determination that can only be described by something that would bark, like a wolf or a large dog, but also in battle. While “螢火” (Hotarubi) already captured the essence of samurai if you read between the lines, “大豺嶽〜月夜に吠ゆ〜” (Ooyamaimedake ~Tsukuyo ni Hoe yu~) captures this same element of samurai, but with a little bit of determination sprinkled on top, creating a relatively high-paced combat-like song with it’s instrumentals while the words echo determination above anything else. The traditional instrument of choice in this song is also the Shamisen, which is subtle, but does add an extra layer to the song with it’s unique sound between all of this roaring chaos.

 

冬椿 〜白妙の化人〜 (Fyuytsubaki ~Shirotae no Kenin~)

Where the previous track was all about determination, “冬椿 〜白妙の化人〜” (Fyuytsubaki ~Shirotae no Kenin~) is all about the aftermath. Slowing down the pace to a ballad and once again making use of the Shamisen and the Koto to add some extra power to the sad words sung by 浅葱 (ASAGI). The title of the song translates to “Winter Camellia ~White Mysterious Person~” in English, and the lyrics tell a poetic story of loneliness and mourning.
While I personally don’t think 浅葱 (ASAGI)’s voice lends itself very well for the ballad-style of music, he does manage to convey his story in an emotional way that one would expect in a theater. The main attraction in this song are the instruments however, who add a lot of dimension to the song in combination with 浅葱 (ASAGI)’s voice.

 

白面金毛九尾の狐火玉 (Hakumen Kinmou Kyuubi no Kitsune Hidama)

An image by SQUARE ENIX featuring a Kitsune.
If I asked you what one of the most familiar mythical creatures in Japanese folklore is, you’d probably have the kitsune (or nine-tailed fox) in your top 5 of answers, won’t you? So with a theme of Japanese folklore, it’s no surprise that 浅葱 (ASAGI) incorporated this creature into this album as well, isn’t it? Foxes are quite graceful animals, but they’re also quite playful. And the nine-tailed fox in this song is no exception. The entire setting of this track is playful, but in a graceful way. Supported by the traditional sound of both the Shamisen and Koto, 浅葱 (ASAGI)’s voice dances it’s way through the words of this song, much like the kitsune herself. Since the life of this specific nine-tailed fox is described as playful, drinking sake, eating rice cakes and dancing throughout the song. After all, a nine-tailed fox is known for it’s shapeshifting ability, fooling the humans she encounters on her path.
This song is also another prime example of “traditional meets modern”, since both the Shamisen and Koto are playing in perfect harmony with the electric guitar, drums and bass from the modern world, bringing both together as one. “As far as the world is concerned, yesterday’s flowers are today’s dreams” can also be interpreted in more ways than one, don’t you think?

 

鬼眼羅 (Kimera)

Another common appearance in Japanese folklore are demons, or “鬼” (Oni) in Japanese. And with them comes a type of chaos only they can create. “鬼眼羅” (Kimera) embodies this type of chaos from start to finish, easily turning it into a high speed metal song with a traditional twist, even though there are no traditional instruments used on this track. I haven’t really mentioned which artists are involved with the tracks so far, but for this one I’m making an exception, because you can clearly hear the styles of both Leda (Far East Dizain) and MiA (MEJIBRAY) in the guitars of this track. If you’re familiar with their work that is, otherwise these names mean nothing to you. But both guys are well known in the ヴィジュアル系 (Visual Kei) genre for their high speed guitar riffs, which clearly return in this song.

 

雲の通ひ路 (Kumo no Tsuuhiro)

Pulling down the speed of the album with another ballad, “雲の通ひ路” (Kumo no Tsuuhiro), or “the cloud’s passage” in English, talks about opposites in different forms. But it’s also the only song where there is no use of modern instruments, instead it is only a Wadaiko (Japanese drum) and Koto. The pace of this song is also slower than the previously mentioned ballad, “冬椿 〜白妙の化人〜” (Fyuytsubaki ~Shirotae no Kenin~). Where the element of choice in the previous ballad was snow, in this ballad it’s water, and the progression of the song is also reminiscent of a river in it’s own way.

 

妖刀玉兎 (Youtou Gyokuto)

“妖刀玉兎” (Youtou Gyokuto) is, other than the very first track, the shortest song on the album, and only found on the regular edition to boot. The title roughly translates to “Magical Sword of the Moon” in English, but I admit I am taking quite some liberty with that translation (other translations are “bewitched sword” or “demon sword”, but I can’t find a clear reference of which version is intended here so I am going with personal preference on this one).
Like I said it’s a short song that only has a short part of the story this album wants to tell you, and even if you listen to the Limited edition it’s not even noticeable that this track is not present. It merely details that the treasure stored in the palace of the moon is well, you can guess by now, this sword.

 

物の怪草子 (Mononoke Soushi)

Continuing the turbulent story of 斑 (Madara) with “物の怪草子” (Mononoke Soushi), which immediately earns the label of most aggressive song on the album (even though it’s occasionally a close call with the chaos that was presented with “鬼眼羅” (Kimera)). Meaning “Monster of Things” in English, “物の怪草子” (Mononoke Soushi) paints a clear picture of a 百鬼夜 (Hyakki Yagou), which is literally “Night Parade of One Hundred Demons” in Japanese folklore, in which the Youkai (the Japanese supernatural beings) take to the streets during summer nights. Anyone who comes across this procession would die, unless they are protected.
While 浅葱 (ASAGI)’s lyrics do not describe this event in detail, it does paint the picture very well with suggestion and the instruments who create the atmosphere that the words cannot. The Shamisen also plays a rather prominent role in this song, as it mixes with the two electric guitars, which are in this case played by the lead guitarist of D, Ruiza, and SYU from GALNERYUS. Who, just like Leda and MiA in “鬼眼羅” (Kimera), are pretty well known guitarists in the ヴィジュアル系 (Visual Kei) genre because of their spectacular riffs, and combined they too form a unique combination that absolutely adds to the demonic aspect of “物の怪草子” (Mononoke Soushi).

 

アサギマダラ (Asagimadara)

A Parantica sita butterfly, also known as a Chestnut Tiger in English, or Asagimadara in Japanese.
The very last song of the album is once again, a ballad one. It doesn’t make use of the traditional instruments we’ve heard throughout the album, but it does make use of the most instruments overall, including an electric piano, two violins, a viola and a cello. And of course the familiar instruments of guitar, bass and drums.
The name of the artist is ASAGI, and the album’s name is MADARA. Combine the two and you get ASAGIMADARA, right? Well, that is correct, but that’s not the connection that is being made here. The Regular edition of the album has a different cover than the Limited version, featuring a “Parantica sita” butterfly. And what is the name of this butterfly in Japanese? That’s right, “Asagimadara”. Additionally, the lyrics also reference butterflies, in case you weren’t sure about this connection yet.
“アサギマダラ” (Asagimadara) serves as a wonderful closure of the journey that is this album, and I have to say, personally I am very glad that I took the time to look deeper into this album than just listening to it’s music. I understand completely how a lot of these references and traditional folklore have missed the mark internationally, but I do hope that this review has helped you understand this work, and how unique it actually is both in the world of ヴィジュアル系 (Visual Kei) and modern music in general.

 

Conclusion

浅葱 (ASAGI) has created a solo album that’s both a new direction and a familiar direction at the same time. Combining traditional instruments and folklore in his lyrics while the visual presentation of the entire project very much fits within the realm of the ヴィジュアル系 (Visual Kei) genre. And while some of the references are quite obvious, like the story behind the second track “月界の御子” (Gekkai no Miko), others are a lot more subtle and require the listeners to literally read between the lines of the lyrics of the songs.

But even if you know nothing about traditional Japanese culture or folklore, 浅葱 (ASAGI) manages to entertain with his music. Which is again a new direction, but with his familiar style. If you enjoys D’s work then you will most definitely be entertained by 浅葱 (ASAGI)’s solo works as well, regardless of the traditional culture and references being obvious to you or if they go straight by you.
浅葱 (ASAGI) has a certain performance style that he has perfected over the years, and that comes together as a complete package with 斑 (Madara). While D has dipped it’s toes into more traditional works (think songs like “桜花咲きそめにけり” (Ouka saki some ni keri)) or even Chinese (“皇帝 ~闇に生まれた報い~” (Huang Di ~Yami ni Umareta Mukui~)) influence, it’s no surprise that 浅葱 (ASAGI) turned the dial to eleven with this new album, bringing this traditional culture to a modern audience who might never have searched for this by themselves.

The use of not only modern but also traditional instruments gives the albums multiple layers, but so do the guest musicians he invited for pretty much every single track. And everything is combined into an album that doesn’t speak to only one genre, but actually covers quite a number of genres.
If you’re looking for a journey, then definitely give 斑 (Madara) a listen, because again, even without the knowledge of the stories that are told it’s a very enjoyable album that appeals to more than just the regular fanbase he normally would reach with D alone!

 

Release information

Are you interested in supporting the artist by getting your own copy of the release? Here is something to get you started:

斑 (Madara)
(Limited edition)
01. 天地行き来る小船 (Ametsuchi iku kuru kofune)
02. 月界の御子 (Gekkai no Miko)
03. 畏き海へ帰りゃんせ (Kashikoki umi e kaeryanse)
04. 花雲の乱 (Hanagumo no Ran)
05. 隠桜 (Ome Zakura)
06. 螢火 (Hotarubi)
07. 大豺嶽〜月夜に吠ゆ〜 (Ooyamaimedake ~Tsukuyo ni Hoe yu~)
08. 冬椿 〜白妙の化人〜 (Fyuytsubaki ~Shirotae no Kenin~)
09. 白面金毛九尾の狐火玉 (Hakumen Kinmou Kyuubi no Kitsune Hidama)
10. 鬼眼羅 (Kimera)
11. 雲の通ひ路 (Kumo no Tsuuhiro)
12. 物の怪草子 (Mononoke Soushi)
13. アサギマダラ (Asagimadara)

DVD
01. 月界の御子 (MV) (Gekkai no Miko)
02. 月界の御子 (MV with lyrics) (Gekkai no Miko)
03. 月界の御子 (MV Making) (Gekkai no Miko)
斑 (Madara)
(Regular edition)
01. 天地行き来る小船 (Ametsuchi iku kuru kofune)
02. 月界の御子 (Gekkai no Miko)
03. 畏き海へ帰りゃんせ (Kashikoki umi e kaeryanse)
04. 花雲の乱 (Hanagumo no Ran)
05. 隠桜 (Ome Zakura)
06. 螢火 (Hotarubi)
07. 大豺嶽〜月夜に吠ゆ〜 (Ooyamaimedake ~Tsukuyo ni Hoe yu~)
08. 冬椿 〜白妙の化人〜 (Fyuytsubaki ~Shirotae no Kenin~)
09. 白面金毛九尾の狐火玉 (Hakumen Kinmou Kyuubi no Kitsune Hidama)
10. 鬼眼羅 (Kimera)
11. 雲の通ひ路 (Kumo no Tsuuhiro)
12. 妖刀玉兎 (Youtou Gyokuto)
13. 物の怪草子 (Mononoke Soushi)
14. アサギマダラ (Asagimadara)

Artist: 浅葱 (ASAGI)
Release: 斑 (Madara) (album)
Release date: January 31, 2018
CD number: YICQ-10401 (Limited edition) / YICQ-10402 (Regular edition)

 

雪 (Yuki) is the owner and driving force behind both Arlequin Magazine and Arlequin Photography.  
She started in 2009 as a photographer with Arlequin Photography, but due to a growing interest in journalism, translation and behind-the-scenes work in general the project burst out of it's seams in 2021 and expanded through the addition of Arlequin Magazine.

雪 (Yuki) is a native Dutch speaker and maintains both the English and Dutch sections of both Magazine and Photography with original content, translations and photography as well as all the behind-the-scenes work for both websites.
She speaks Dutch, English, Japanese and German.

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