How, exactly, to describe Tokyo’s Coaltar of the Deepers? They’re frequently filed away under the “shoegazer” tag, and indeed, the band — which was founded in 1991 by singer/guitarist Narasaki — is often touted as one of the shining lights in Japan’s vibrant shoegaze scene. Not surprisingly, there are moments on Revenge of the Visitors where the band makes no effort to disguise their shoegaze bonafides, moments that feature shimmering guitars and ethereal vocals aplenty (e.g., “Snow (Revenge),” “Blink (Revenge)”).
But there are just as many moments, if not more, where Coaltar of the Deepers leaves you scratching your head and questioning the “shoegazer” tag. Be it Narasaki’s death metal growls, a metric ton of chugging riffs (including an homage to Randy Rhoads’ classic “Crazy Train” riff on “Earth Thing”) and blazing solos, or robotic vocals, there’s always something here that’ll take you by surprise.
Take, for instance, the band’s cover of The Cure’s “Killing an Arab” (here, titled “Killing Another”). Now, a shoegaze band covering The Cure isn’t too surprising. What is surprising, however, is Coaltar of the Deepers’ approach to the song. They begin with a Morricone-esque trumpet arrangement before descending into the pit thanks to headbanging riffs, furious drumming, and more of Narasaki’s throaty growls. And if that’s not enough, the song takes a quick detour to the beach with a short, surf-inspired bridge awash in Dick Dale-ish reverb. (In fact, I didn’t even realize the song was a “Killing an Arab” cover until my third listen.)
Suffice to say, Revenge of the Visitors — which is both a total rework of the band’s 1994 debut, The Visitors From Deepspace, as well as their first official release outside of Japan — is an absolute mess that a lot of listeners will find off-putting (especially, perhaps, if they come to the band expecting to hear Japan’s answer to Slowdive because of their shoegaze reputation). But here’s the thing: it all kinda, sorta, makes sense and works together.
Regardless of whether Narasaki and his bandmates are thrashing away with death metal abandon or delivering more “traditional” shoegaze atmospherics, their particular brand of sonic lunacy and whimsy is never not intriguing. More importantly, it’s never not eminently catchy and listenable, as is the case with a song like “Amethyst,” which jumps from one style to the next in a hyperkinetic, caffeinated rush that’s as exhilarating as it is baffling.