If there’s any doubt that you’re about to watch Church of Misery play as their new Emetic Records DVD, Terror in Tokyo, begins, it’s cast off in the first minute as a darkened semi-silhouette of founding bassist Tatsu Mikami straps on his instrument in his signature ultra-low-slung style. For years, Mikami has been the driving force for Japan’s foremost doom rockers, proffering Sabbathian riffs of quality unparalleled, and Terror in Tokyo captures the band’s show at 20,000 Volt in Kouenji, Tokyo, on Dec. 29, 2012, and includes a bonus disc of their full set from Maryland Deathfest earlier in the year. A foreboding rumble and shots of tuning, etc., start out as the four-piece gets ready to unleash “B.T.K.,” which also opens their 2013 album, Thy Kingdom Scum (review here), but soon enough Mikami is on his wah, jamming with guitarist Ikuma Kawabe as longtime drummer Junji Narita begins the tom thud under the stark lighting, yellow, red, bare. They build the groove from the ground up and soon enough the crowd — who are close enough to the stage to more or less be on it — are in full nod as “B.T.K.” rolls on. Church of Misery‘s tribute to Dennis Rader, who killed 10 people in Kansas between 1974 and 1991, the instrumental “B.T.K.” is among the most righteous of Thy Kingdom Scum‘s many killer (ahem) riffs, and it’s no less a standout on Terror in Tokyo, though the 17-song set on the band’s first DVD to be available outside Japan (fourth overall) goes as far back as the title-track of 1998′s Taste the Pain EP. Last to arrive on the small stage is frontman Hideki Fukusawa, who returned to Church of Misery in 2011 after previously serving as vocalist between 2004 and 2009 and performing on their albums The Second Coming (2004) and Houses of the Unholy (2009; review here), and who comes out to raised cups of beer from the crowd and. In Lennon sunglasses and a flowing shirt, he claps along, plays air guitar and takes an immediate driving position of the groove. Camera changes are fast and exciting — there are at least five at work, including the one on Narita — and a sense of motion is maintained throughout, but the editing is crisp at the same time and as much as it doesn’t linger, neither does it lose the rhythm of the songs themselves in its hard cuts from shot to shot.
“B.T.K.” is the first of three from the then-not-yet-released Thy Kingdom Scum played in a row to open the gig, moving right into “Lambs to the Slaughter” and the single “Brother Bishop,” and though Fukusawa seems out of breath with the timing of the first chorus, by the second one, he’s locked in and fully reactive, riding each groove in classic freakout fashion, tambourine included. Kawabe takes a lead over the crash of Narita‘s cymbals, and it becomes quickly apparent that if Church of Misery haven’t considered releasing the audio of this show, they should. In the high and low end, it’s full and clear, not overpowered by the drums but not missing them, with vocals cutting through sounding natural but not dominating. “Lambs to the Slaughter” comes to a glorious finish and transitions smoothly into “Brother Bishop,” which is even more riotous. For Thy Kingdom Scum’s release being months off at this point, the crowd seems to have an easy enough time getting into the songs, but that seems to just be an effect of Mikami‘s riffs, which are nothing if not accessible, however blown out they may or may not be on a given album. Dark in reds and yellows, “Brother Bishop” caps with raucous boogie and an arena-ready solo from Kawabe before “Candy Man” from The Second Coming and Houses of the Unholy highlight “Born to Raise Hell” take hold, transitioning from the initial opening bombast into the meat of the set — no less bombastic, has it happens. His synthsizer looming at the side of the stage, Fukusawa takes his sunglasses off for “Candy Man” and by the time “Born to Raise Hell” kicks in, Church of Misery are more than warmed up — they slam into the pre-solo slowdown in that song to raised fists and banging heads as Mikami and Narita hold together the groove from which Kawabe launches not his first impressive display of the show. “Taste the Pain,” “Killfornia” from 2001′s Master of Brutality and “Red Ripper Blues” from The Second Coming follow, continuing the dive into the ample and somewhat nebulous Church of Misery catalog, the former playing foreboding minimalism of thudding heavy descent while “Killfornia” finds Fukusawa at his synth as the lights transition from orange, red and yellow to greens and blues, a huge finish leading to a stretch of synth noise and humming feedback, light cymbal wash and ambient guitar jamming on a slow build.
Of course, “Red Ripper Blues” smashes back into form as the set approaches its halfway point with “El Padrino” and “Shotgun Boogie,” the opening one-two from Houses of the Unholy, moving well past the first hour. You can practically feel the heat of the room watching Terror in Tokyo, the longer-held shots of the end of “Killfornia” having since gone back to the sharp jump from instrument to instrument. “Shotgun Boogie” might be the highlight of the whole set, but as “Sick of Living” and “Badlands” gives way after more synth-led noise to back-to-back “I, Motherfucker” and “Blood Sucking Freaks,” I wouldn’t count either of them out of the running either. To the band’s great credit, they get through a set of two hours and 26 minutes without losing a step. Certainly they’re showing some sweat by the end — it’s not like they’re not working — and yeah, Fukusawa looks like he might fall over at the end of “Blood Sucking Freaks,” but no more than he did after “Brother Bishop.” That’s the show. Featured on the 2004 Emetic release Early Works Compilation as well as the band’s 1999 split Iron Monkey, “Where Evil Dwells” arrives paired with a considerable jam propelled by Kawabe and Mikami alike that comes to a vicious culmination with Fukusawa on keys before the May Blitz cover, “For Mad Men Only” launches the band once again into dead-on ’70s grooving that fits remarkably well alongside their original material — the main difference is it’s not about serial killers — but the closing honors go to “Filth Bitch Boogie” from The Second Coming, a fitting encore preceded by a quick thanks from the band to the crowd. As it should, “Filth Bitch Boogie” comes to the evening’s loudest finish, with Fukusawa the last on stage holding down the noise on his synth as the audience continues to show their appreciation. Eventually, even he leaves as the rumble and feedback continues, and Terror in Tokyo cuts to its ending, moving away from one of the lights like the sun going out of frame. There are no credits, even on the second disc, which holds the 50-minute Maryland Deathfest 2012 set in its entirety. That footage, run through a series of filters, is also professionally shot, though the outside stage surroundings, natural lighting and crowd distance from the stage make a pretty striking contrast from the 20,000 Volt show. In terms of the setlist, the Maryland Deathfest footage doesn’t have anything the Tokyo one didn’t, but it’s a cool nod to the American audience, and it makes a great memento of that tour and of course that show for those who were lucky enough to be there. If nothing else, a whole other concert as bonus footage makes Terror in Tokyo all the more worth the purchase price.
I’m generally not big on concert DVDs. They’re either poorly shot, over-produced and boring, or just impractical on a “when the hell am I going to have time to watch this?” level. Terror in Tokyo is neither poorly shot, nor over-produced, nor boring, and while I probably won’t have two hours a day to pay it regular homage, that’s more about me than the quality of the product itself, which is excellent. Whether you pick it up because you caught Church of Misery on that tour in 2012 or just because you want to see the kind of response they get on their native ground, Terror in Tokyo makes both an engaging document of a band hitting its stride and a must-have for fans tired of crappy clips on YouTube. Call it “video evidence.”
Church of Misery, “Blood Sucking Freaks” from Terror in Tokyo (2013)
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