Album Review: Japanese Fighting Fish – Just Before We Go Mad

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There’s no doubt that the Internet has done many wonderful things for humanity. Yet when it comes to music, the Internet’s impact has been a little more… ambiguous. Millions of bands have come forth from their squalid little garages and found themselves with an international audience, and some have gone on to find the fame, riches and alcohol poisoning that their hearts and livers desired. But since the general musical output of the internet is so unfathomably huge (and even more unfathomably crap), it’s often nigh on impossible to find stuff that actually warrants a listen. Bands need to make a huge impression in order to get themselves noticed.

And it’s here where Japanese Fighting Fish step into the picture. Well, actually, no, they don’t simply step into the picture; they smear themselves in war-paint, set their hair alight and fire themselves out of cannons into the picture, chanting loudly and wielding blood-spattered chainsaws. In short, they’re absolutely mental. And bloody brilliant.

It really comes as no surprise that a band as original as Japanese Fighting Fish hail from Leeds, which has produced some absolutely jaw-dropping acts over the past five or so years. With recent releases from Pulled Apart by Horses, Grammatics and Lone Wolf in mind, Japanese Fighting Fish’s first album, the very aptly named ‘Just Before We Go Mad’, is the latest entry in Leeds’ very long list of great débuts. The influence of their fellow Leodensians is obvious too: elements of PABH’s abrasive riff-driven rock clash with a ¡Forward, Russia!-esque penchant for unconventional song structures, and there’s a dash of This Et Al’s sonic intensity and general oddness sprinkled on top for good measure.

Though even though the album’s inspirations are obvious, it succeeds not simply through amalgamating its myriad influences but by pushing the boat out further and developing a unique, chaotic sound of its own. Overdriven, scratchy guitars are frequently juxtaposed with latino-sounding bass-lines and beautifully complex drums. But what really sets this album apart are the vocals of lead Fighting Fish, Karlost. I’d like to tell you more about them, but unfortunately, despite the wonderfully inventive range of the English language, there are no suitable adjectives with which to describe them.

Just Before We Go Mad really doesn’t waste any time in pulling the listener into its gloriously insane world and makes a lasting impression in the very first seconds of the cracking opener, ‘Johnny Sideways’. There’s no time for any airy-fairy, post-rock ambient guitar here; ‘Ladies and gentleman, gather round!’ bellows Karlost, before breaking into a maniacal cackle. Like I said, his vocals are indescribable, but think of a cross between Serj Tankian and possessed circus-ringmaster and you’re quarter of the way there. Johnny Sideways veers smoothly into the latino-inspired Jesta., which is a song that somehow manages to pull off (with remarkable aplomb) the enviable trick of fusing very artsy Spanish-sounding rhythms with guitars drenched with so much overdrive that they’d make Metallica weep. The excellent ‘Boots’ pushes the boundaries even further. Delicate, crystal-clear guitars clash against aggressive, abrasive chords, whilst Karlost, undeterred, continues to croon over the top of it all.

The next tracks, Sick of Waiting and Blood and Sand, take a slightly different approach. They ditch the Spanish-sheen of the first few songs and turn out as something that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Muse album. It’s a fairly big jump stylistically, but this is an album that thrives on its own eclecticism, so it gets away with ridiculous stunts like that. At first, Blood and Sand threatens to get a bit repetitive, but the massive, infectious riff that runs through the second half of the song makes it a stand-out.

The next trio of songs – Baltic Whisperer, Blue Eyes and Dry One – mark the stunning, insane zenith of the album. Baltic Whisperer is without a doubt one of the weirdest pieces of music that humankind has ever produced – ‘He has my cash? He has my tools! That man just stole my wife!’, Karlost sings. I haven’t got the slightest idea what he’s on about, but it sure as hell sounds great. Blue Eyes and Dry One are energetic, aggressive masterpieces, abandoning whatever restraint Japanese Fighting Fish had in the first place. It’s unfortunate then that the final song, Sa La Lar, feels a bit dull in comparison – it’s just a bit too similar to the earlier tracks, and not quite as interesting.

Yet aside from this final song, the only bit of criticism that can be levelled at the album is that it’s pretty weak in terms of production. The whole thing has a bit of a demo-quality to it, and if it had been produced a bit better then it might well have brought out another layer of awesome in the songs. These minor qualms aside, this is an outstanding début from a band that aren’t afraid to go a wee bit crazy. It certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste. But I think that in a time where so many bands make music that is same-y, boring, and just plain bad, Japanese Fighting Fish are a blazing beacon of hope.

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