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Friday, Sept. 11, 2009

Electric Eel Shock stays metal, man

Special to The Japan Times

'I am 'Metal Man,' " states Akihito Morimoto matter-of-factly. "I love heavy metal, and I also studied metal materials and die-cast manufacture at university. So all my life is about metal."

News photo
Headbanger's ball: Electric Eel Shock (from left: Kazuto Maekawa, Akihito Morimoto and Tomoharu "Gian" Ito) put the pedal to the metal this month on a cross-country tour. CHIAKI NOZU PHOTO

At the live shows of his band Electric Eel Shock, it shows. Coming on stage 150 times a year to their own twisted, tortured version of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man," guitar-vocalist Morimoto and chums Kazuto Maekawa (bass, gurning) and Tomoharu "Gian" Ito (drums, nudity) rock up a sweat, blasting out tight, powerful metal with a fistful of Osaka humor.

Over 10 years of almost constant touring, the band have become one of Japan's best-known musical exports, playing at venues and festivals all over the U.S. and Europe. It's not only their staggering stage show that has earned them a reputation — though watching Morimoto lurch around the stage with his Flying V guitar in his mouth before calling everyone in the audience "bastards" while Gian, wearing nothing but a strategically placed sock, whacks his kit with four sticks and Maekawa lurches into the crowd certainly has its charms. No, it is also the members' unfailing belief in the power of metal, which has seen their albums grow increasingly essential despite their low-budget recording.

Their sixth album, "Sugoi Indeed," is their best to date, a short but sweet bundle of power chords, guitar solos and fierce rhythms. Its songs feature lyrics in English (which Morimoto, with his limited vocabulary, describes as "difficult") and Japanese, and include the aforementioned "Metal Man" as well as garage-rocker "Out Of Control" ("The song's character thinks he loves his girlfriend, but really he just loves thinking of himself as a caring lover," explains Morimoto) and the dark "More," whose chorus contains a subtle warning against wasting food ( "More! More! More! It's gross!").

To fund the album's recording and promotion, the band raised $50,000 from their loyal fans via the Dutch Web site SellaBand, where roughly 3,000 people in over 40 countries pledged cash in exchange for a small revenue share and various Eel Shock goodies. The album was then licensed to Universal in Japan and other labels around the world.

"It's our first time to release an album through a big record company," says Morimoto, who is also a onetime competition fisherman. "Normally, I don't care about how big the record company is, but the staff at Universal seem to love Electric Eel Shock, so it's good. Also, our parents know Universal, so they think we're growing up."

The band also won a spot at this year's Summer Sonic festival through an online fan vote, surely cementing their position as the people's choice. ("I wish we were also the record companies' and booking agents' choice," jokes Morimoto.) As they took to an outdoor sideshow stage at the festival, the clouds burst, drenching the audience and nearly toppling Morimoto, thanks to a slippery stage. At least he had his clothes on, unlike poor old Gian.

While metal is enjoying something of a worldwide resurgence — new music from an on-form Metallica, a proliferation of metal bands at festivals in Europe, movies about metal bands from Iraq, and so on — Japan is pretty much a metal-free zone. Pointing to such examples as comedy band Sex Machineguns and last year's movie based on the manga "Detroit Metal City," Morimoto says that Japan today sees metal as nothing but a punch line; ironically, he puts this down to Japanese metal bands in the 1980s being too serious.

"In the '80s, heavy metal was really popular in Japan, but people only wanted to hear bands with amazing technique," he says. "It didn't have much passion. So if you listen to that stuff now, it's not exciting.

"The balance is very important to me. I don't want to be just a party band, but I also don't want to be too earnest about our message. I don't want to be a teacher; I want to be a friend. So that's why we make serious songs with humor."

And the world is laughing with them. Electric Eel Shock have toured roughly 30 countries, often in a beaten-up van that Morimoto describes as "scrap" (he once had to rig up "manual windscreen wipers" when the van suffered an electrical failure during a night of heavy snow in Switzerland; they worked, but the delay caused them to miss their show). And despite this, Morimoto is keen to play in yet more new places. "Some of my friends tell me that South America is a great place to play rock 'n' roll music," he says. "So I want to go and make sure!

"I've never felt bored of touring," he says. "It's hard work physically — long drives, long journeys, lots of alcohol, and we miss Japanese food. But we always enjoy playing the shows. I get bored in sound checks or rehearsals, but I've never felt bored on stage. Never."

"Sugoi Indeed" is out Oct. 7. Electric Eel Shock tour Japan throughout September; for details, see www.electriceelshock.com

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