Many legends surround Toujinbou (Tōjinbō), an array of craggy cliffs overlooking the Sea of Japan. One of these legends tells of an unethical Buddhist priest from Heisen-ji (a Medieval stone temple) that was dragged from the temple to the nearby seaside cliffs by the infuriated townsfolk he had deceived for many years. Hurled over the edge of the cliffs, the priest perished on the rocks below and his ghost has been said to haunt the area ever since.
Another myth states that the name of the Toujinbou cliffs originates from a Buddhist monk named Tōjinbō, also a monk with a reputation for fraudulent behavior. Tōjinbō came to be scorned by everyone within the town, but fell deeply in love with a beautiful princess. A rival suitor decided to lure Tōjinbō to the cliffs under the guise of meeting up with the princess, but when the monk arrived at the cliffs, the suitor appeared from his hiding place and tossed the monk to his watery death in order to claim the princess for himself. After Tōjinbō’s death, whenever a storm descended upon the land from out of the sea it was said that the storm was the implacable spirit of the monk seeking vengeance as it sought his murderer. Another monk took pity upon the wrathful spirit and held a memorial service that released his ghost from torment, after which the storms were said to have stopped.
Whether these legends are true or not, the cliffs at Toujinbou are a popular spot for those wishing to commit suicide. With Japan’s suicide rate skyrocketing in recent years due to economic decline, and a glamorization of suicide as a noble way to end one’s life, the cliffs have become a prominent location for the suicidally despondent to fling themselves over the edge and have their bodies torn upon the rocks below and then washed out to sea. It has become so much a problem that police officers and volunteers have taken to strolling the cliff and offering support or a kind ear to any individuals who may seem intent on a final oblivion.
With all of this in mind, welcome to Destination: Toujinbou, Izanami’s Labour Pains‘ latest offering. It is a beast of an album where the listener has no other choice but to enter into the mind of a disturbed, suicidal individual who is determined to get to Toujinbou and go through with the deed. Harsh noise is the ultimate name of the game here, and the artist lets loose with an intense barrage of noisy weaponry throughout the album. Although I’ve never been in love with the tag Japanoise (it seems too broadly reductive to me), it works here as a genre label, given the gestalt of this album. From the album’s title and theme, down to the packaging and photography of the disc’s beautiful arigato-style packaging, we are clearly dealing with something that is influenced by noise musicians from Japan and the geography and old mythology of Japan.
Sharp blasts of harsh noise and occasional guttural (and unintelligible) vocalizations interspersed with passages of dread-inducing ambience make up the album’s tapestry. I’m reasonably certain that there’s also a fair amount of circuit bending and effects pedal craziness at work here. From time to time, we’re given a slight break from the insanity with samples of Japanese dialogue (I really wish I knew what was being said) or other sounds and melodies, but those reprieves are naturally all too brief before the next onslaught of stitched-up noise crashes upon us like a massive tsunami wave.
As to be expected, it all makes for a very uneasy and tense listening session, and I don’t see how it could (or why it should) be any other way when dealing with a harsh noise album that focuses on such a gloomy topic. Opening track, “Departing with a One-Way Ticket”, begins the journey with a malevolent power electronics thrum, and already we know that things do not bode well for us as we travel towards the inevitable. That sinister and ambient whirr remains the backbone of the track but is constantly interrupted by seemingly random and grating invasions of high-pitched destruction. The other songs that come after it swim in those very same noisy pools but offer up different variations of intensity and structure. “Nailing the Mind with Doubts” is quite similar, but feels more intense and vile with its disgusting and violating animalistic grunts that rape the ear and mind. The opening salvo of a harsh noise wall and bestial vocalizations in “Standing on the Edge” quickly turns into a haze of over-driven synthesizer madness that evolves into a frightening and soothing rhythmic pattern that ominously fades into silence. With this track, one could easily envision a lone jumper who, disturbed in heart and mind, eventually takes the fatal plunge over the edge, ending up a battered and bloodied corpse at Toujinbou’s rocky base, his body lazily pushed about by the waves as the spark of life slowly vanishes.
Whether or not Izanami’s Labour Pains is making light of the problem of suicide in Japan or hoping to bring awareness to the issue is up for conjecture. To me, the artist’s stance here is irrelevant. A relentlessly harsh noise album, Destination: Toujinbou creatively uses the suicide issue as a thematic springboard to form a collection of alarmingly noisy creations that are contained within an overarching theme of depression, desperation, confusion, and suicide. Being that this intense noise album aligns itself with equally intense subject matter, it’s likely that only the most hardened noise fans have what it takes to repeatedly stand up to (and even dare to enjoy) the insane blare that Izanami’s Labour Pains belches out. If acts such as Incapacitants, C.C.C.C. or the harsher side of KK Null appeal to you, then step up and take the plunge.
01) Departing with a One-Way Ticket
02) Nailing the Mind with Doubts
03) Approaching Fukui Prefecture
04) Explaining Reason to an Uninvolved Stranger
05) Accepting Mental Decline
06) Standing on the Edge
07) Drowning and Vanishing by the Cliffside