If you’re not familiar with the Japanese doom band Church Of Misery, formed by bassist Tatsu Mikami in Tokyo circa 1995, you’re missing out. Blending Black Sabbath style riffing and heaviness with a more esoteric psychedelic rock, the band have released five albums in their own time on labels such as Southern Lord, Metal Blade and Rise Against since 2001. I had the pleasure of seeing them in a small club style venue, back when going to gigs was a thing you could take for granted, and I can still remember their insanely bombastic delivery.
In the downtime between COM duties Mikami decided to form Sonic Flower as a side project, presumably to release some of the overflowing creativity and energy that didn’t fit with his full time band. Assembling a troupe that would feature the current (at the time) Church Of Misery guitarist Takenori Hoshi, female guitarist Arisa and drummer Keisuke Fukawa.
Rather than the heavy, heady influences of the founders of heavy metal and the aesthetic of Timothy Leary, Sonic Flower embraced more classic seventies rock sounds like Grand Funk Railway, Cactus and Savoy Brown which was critically received well all round the world.
Sadly despite this wave of success they imploded and the recordings made for their second was shelved until this year when, having reformed in 2018, Tatsu and co have managed to rejuvenate the band in preparation for new material with singer Kazuhiro Asaeda being unleashed next year.
Back to the matter at hand and Sonic Flower’s self-titled debut. Harking back to the opening of this review, Church Of Misery onstage are visually the sound that Sonic Flower creates and by that I mean they’re high tempo, chaotic and full of showmanship.
Cosmic Highway starts frantically almost like an excited puppy, not quite tripping over itself, but definitely letting you know it’s pleased to see you. In between this whirling dervish, the band carve out huge grooves, down-tuned bottom end that is heavy and energetic, with blistering, pyrotechnical guitar solos. Given that this album is an instrumental, it’s almost like they’ve thrown everything at you in order to ensure the lack of vocal hook doesn’t allow you to become distracted.
Black Sunshine thankfully takes its foot of the pedal a little and creates a monstrous head banging track that is dripping with blues heritage that manages to capture both the spirit of Hendrix and Deep Purple. It’s temporarily captivating but after a while it repeats the patterns, which in comparison to the frenetic opener makes it seem a little less engaging.
the band carve out huge grooves, down-tuned bottom end that is heavy and energetic, with blistering, pyrotechnical guitar solos…
Astroqueen addresses this immediately by creating a huge stomping vibe that grabs your attention by the scruff of the neck and shakes out of any mental wandering that may have crept in. Riding in on a funky bassline and snaking guitar lick, this is pure seventies homage and indulgence writ large, propelled by the dancing lead and the taut percussion, not to mention at a just over three minutes, it never outstays its welcome.
The title track is pure stoner rock that touches closer to the drug fuelled jams of the early Sabbath albums. It’s a bit of a conundrum as parts of it hit hard and flow well, but the track doesn’t really go anywhere despite sounding fantastic. This is almost perfect for the 2am red eyed journey into drifting hypnotised moments where the room isn’t quite level and focus flits in and out.
Indian Summer is probably my favourite track on the album with the rich, slamming dynamic, managing to be both laidback and intense at the same time, broken up by delicate moments of introspection. Closing out with Going Down in a heads down sprint to the finish ensures the album rounds off on a high point, particularly with its moments of hard hitting chugging that definitely makes the experience feel more vital.
This album is a much better prospect than Rides Again which suffers from the original material never being completed, feeling disjointed as a result of the hiatus. Sonic Flower are a band with great promise, which sounds odd considering they’ve existed for nearly two decades, hopefully the addition of a vocalist will lift them to another level because the musicianship on display is fantastic.
However I do feel that they’re a band, who left as an instrumental ensemble, have thrown so many ideas at the wall that they could do with a more simplistic arrangement to allow each member to shine. That said, if you’re after an enjoyable set of retro influenced jam tunes then you could do far worse than getting your hands on this and giving it a chance.
Label: Heavy Psych Sounds
Band Links: N/A
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden