"some music was meant to stay underground..."

Column

Sunday Old School: X Japan

It's funny how far a name can spread. There are bands who are fortunate enough to receive international recognition almost immediately after releasing their debut album, or sometimes even before that, then there are those who made their name at home and had to wait a long time to visit other nations, or even release an album internationally. Today's band never performed outside of their home country in their heyday and had to wait until more recent years to do so, but their name was recognised far and wide as one of their country's greatest contributions to heavy metal, X Japan.

The seeds of the band were sewn in 1977, when two eleven year olds named Yoshiki Hayashi and Toshimitsu Deyama formed a band named Dynamite, which was later rechristened, Noise. Noise lasted until 1982, after which the two decided to create a new group, using the working name of X, though it soon stuck. They went through a series of guitarists and bass players, during which time they gigged regularly in the Tokyo area and in 1985, released their first single, "I'll Kill You" through Dada Records.

To make sure they could keep releasing their music, Yoshiki formed a record label named Extasy Records in 1986 and they band soon released their second single, "Orgasm" through the company. They continued to contribute to compilation albums before rounding out their best known lineup which featured guitarists Pata and hide, along with bassist Taiji. With this roster in tow, the profile of the band increased considerably after they released a home video, "Xclamation" and released their debut full length album, "Vanishing Vision" through their own label, Extasy, despite a successful audition for Sony/CBS Records a few months prior. They promoted the album by touring Japan extensively,a move which paid off as the album topped the indie charts and cracked the top twenty in the Japanese album charts. They even appeared in an American movie, "Tokyo Pop," starring Carrie Hamilton.

It didn't take long for a follow up to surface, coming in 1989 in the form of, "Blue Blood." This sophomore effort drew considerable praise and featured one of their best known ballads, "Endless Rain," as well as the single, "Kurenai," both of which entered the top five in their home country's chart. Once more, they performed regularly to support the album and released a second video, "Blue Blood Tour Bakuhatsu Sunzen Gig," which included a cover of the T.Rex classic, "20th Century Boy." Their hard work was recognised by the music industry when they were awarded the "Grand Prix New Artist of the Year" award at the 4th annual Japan Gold Disc Awards.

Shortly after this accolade, the band flew to Los Angeles to record their third album, "Jealousy." They spent a good while in the United States, returning in June 1991, where the crowd awaiting them was so large that five hundred members of the Japan Self-Defence Forces had to be drafted in to provide satisfactory security. "Jealousy" was a big success, debuting at number one in Japan and staying in the charts for almost a year. One of their first acts to promote the album was performing at the Tokyo Dome, Japan's largest indoor arena and later that year, collaborate with an orchestra for a show at the NHK Hall, also in Tokyo. They returned to the Tokyo Dome for a three night stint at the beginning of 1992, in what was to be their last shows with Taiji, as he was let go a few weeks later and ultimately replaced by Heath in August that year.

The band then made an attempt to crack the American market by leaving Sony and signing with Atlantic Records, as well as changing their name to X Japan to differentiate themselves from the American punk band, X. Their first release through their new label was "Art of Life," which consisted of only one song, the title track which lasted just shy of half an hour. Though it was a big success in Japan, with many critics citing it as the country's answer to "Stairway to Heaven," it wasn't released in the United States. Instead of hitting the road again, X Japan only performed two shows that year, on December 30th and 31st, beginning a tradition of New Year's shows for the following years.

Despite the success of X Japan, each of the members were interested in pursuing solo careers, causing the group to only perform four concerts in 1994, including the aforementioned New Years shows. The following year, they dropped their familiar glam look in favour of a much more stripped down and casual appearance of shirts and jeans. They had been releasing a number of sporadic singles since "Art of Life," which would appear on their next album, 1996's, "Dahlia." The record featured a considerable number of ballads, while promotion for the album was slow, mostly due to a neck injury sustained by Yoshiki. Nevertheless, the album went straight to the top spot in Japan and was praised by critics. Despite this, many felt that the lack of promotion signaled the end of the band and in August 1997, Toshi announced that he was leaving the group and the next month, the remaining members called a press conference to confirm that the band was going to break up after their New Years concerts.

As expected, the members of X Japan began solo projects or pursued other interests. Sadly, guitarist hide passed away in 1998 and in 2006, Yoshiki and Toshi began working on a tribute song to him entitled, "Without You." This sparked rumours that an X Japan reunion was on the cards, with the duo becoming more open to the idea as time went on and began discussing plans for a tour. Heath and Pata soon returned to the fold and in October 2007, the band made their first appearance together, recording a music video for a new song entitled, "I.V." which appeared on the soundtrack to the movie, "Saw IV" and featured guitar parts recorded by hide before his death.

From then on, X Japan became recognised in the public eye again, performing three sold out shows at the Tokyo Dome in March 2008, where they featured a guest second guitarist each night, including Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit. Eventually, they asked one of these, Sugizo to join as a permanent member and began making plans for their first shows outside of Japan, with a concert in Paris announced, though this would be delayed due to Yoshiki's health issues. They finally performed abroad in January 2009, when they held two concerts in Hong Kong and later that year played in Taiwan. They then headed to the United States to record four music videos in Hollywood, followed by their first performances in America, before returning to Japan for shows at the the Nissan Stadium, the largest in the country, where they were joined on stage by former basist Taiji, who sadly would pass away the next year.

Since then, the group has continued to perform somewhat regularly, including shows in the United Kingdom, Germany, The Netherlands and Brazil amongst other places, as well as a show at Madison Square Garden. A new album has been on the cards for years, though health problems for both Yoshiki and Pata has caused it to be delayed a number of times. In 2016, a documentary film, "We Are X" premiered at the Sundance film festival and the soundtrack was a considerable success, appearing in charts around the world and earning them an Academy Award nomination for the song, "La Venus," which plays over the closing credits.

Earlier this year, Yoshiki was required to undergo major back surgery, but instead of cancelling their scheduled shows, it was decided that they would be performed acoustically, with the drummer performing piano instead, as it is unclear at the moment if he'll be able to play the drums again. Whether or not he makes a return to the stool, Yoshiki, Toshi and all of X Japan have crafted a magnificent legacy for themselves, with a wealth of material that has made them one of the best loved heavy metal bands in the history of Asia.

X Japan - "Vanishing Love"

X Japan - "Blue Blood"

X Japan - "Silent Jealousy"

X Japan - "Art of Life"

X Japan - "Rusty Nail/ Week End"

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.

What's Next?

Please share this article if you found it interesting.


2 Comments on "Sunday Old School: X Japan"

Post your comments and discuss the article below! (no login required)

Anonymous Reader
1. Thaao writes:

First Devikah uploaded a drum cover then I read this article. I know what Im listening to all day. X!

# Jul 23, 2017 @ 10:57 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
2. Psyence writes:

Very well written. I have been a fan of X JAPAN since I was 17 and I am now 35. Their reunion felt absolutely unreal. I still remember that night, having just realized that they actually had a new song... and that it was playing at cinemas near me... Anyway, their story is pretty sad, but really cool!

# Jul 24, 2017 @ 3:31 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

To minimize comment spam/abuse, you cannot post comments on articles over a month old. Please check the sidebar to the right or the related band pages for recent related news articles.