Aokigahara was formed in 2007 as a tribute to Japanese hardcore punk-bands, in the same way as some Japanese bands (such as Laukaus, Poikkeus and why not Conclude as well) have shown their respects to Finnish hc-bands. After one public demo in 2008, the band now presents us their debut EP.
"Jukai" is clearly divided into two sides, each presenting a different side of the band. The opening one presents their faster and darker material. "Hitori" is a nicely simple hc-tune with a good, rhythmic riff. The chorus ain't bad, and it has a nice guitar solo as well, making the song a perfect opener for the EP. The lead vocalist's growling howls might not please some people with their monotonal and inaudible style, though. The second tune is a bit worse aside of its guitar solo and the backing shouts bringing some welcomed variation to the main vocals, but the third track raises the bar again with its faster pace and bouncy chorus. "Samui Sekai" ends the hostility in a bit less interesting way, although I'm sure this song is a great one to play at live gigs.
Overall the four songs leave a positive feeling, but the sudden switches from a pure 82-style verse to a "wilder" Japanese-styled chorus make the songs sound a bit unfinished. The instruments sound raw but still sharp and a bit thin, as usual for the Japanese style, and the growling vocals sound rather over-the-top on top of them. The band seems to have their own thing in progress, but they haven't nailed it yet.
The B-side holds two longer and somewhat more positive songs that are served with more prominent Heavy Metal-influences. "Imminent Nirvana" gets into motion with a good punk-styled rock'n'roll-riff and a slighly harsher vocal style which fits the songs really well. The follow-up is a more emotional song, with the overall feel being somewhere between melancholy and sentimentalism despite the more-or-less brisk pace. It has a a nicely pounding bass guitar and a really stylish guitar solo, and serves both as a flattering presentation of the artists' skills as well as a nicely memorable end to the EP.
The dull-looking cover image almost screams gloom, and especially so as (to my knowledge) the forest in the picture is the Aokigahara-forest, a popular place for suicides. Lyrically the A-side doesn't stray from this path, staying focused on themes such as loneliness and despair, but the two last songs carry a more positive vibe.
As the title "Jukai" seems to suggest, this record is just the initiation to the world of Aokigahara. I hope that this means that the band acknowledges the things in their expression that they need to focus on more in the future. I like the fact that the 7" presents two different faces of the band, but despite all the good things it's still clear that they need to work quite a bit to find their own approach. Promising, but not ready.