Kirikyogen: early doom metal collaboration with a surprising amount of variety and flexibility

Kuni Kawachi & Flower Travellin’ Band, Kirikyogen, United Kingdom, London Records, vinyl LP SKK(L) 3003 (1970)

For a band that existed intermittently from 1969 to 1973 and then from 2007 to 2011, Flower Travellin’ Band made quite an impression on early 1970s hard rock and heavy metal, especially with their famous 1971 album release “Satori” which is still highly regarded as an example of early Sabbath-styled doom metal. On this earlier effort “Kirikyogen”, a collaboration between two original FTB members (singer Joe Yamanaka and lead guitarist Hideki Ishima) and keyboard player Kuni Kawachi, those doomy tendencies are already present along with Kawachi’s organ playing which lends a very Gothic feel to proceedings. (An unknown bassist / drummer rhythm section plays on the album as well.) The title track steps into FTB’s dark world with Yamanaka’s high-pitched wail, the emphatic stomping beat in parts of the song and the moaning organ. The song’s lyrics presents the world as a never-ending stage on which everyone is forced to be an eternal actor and from which there is no escape – surely not the most optimistic view of life, and definitely a downbeat one! Subsequent songs feature even darker mood and more melancholic tunes: second track “Works Composed Mainly by Humans” has quite a theatrical Gothic piano-organ interlude in a song of downbeat melody and sometimes quite dramatic, even near-operatic singing; and “Time Machine” features some very strange and befuddling free-form piano and guitar experimentation along with more droning organ, the occasional harmonica and Yamanaka’s repeated yelps of one line of lyrics which happens to be the song title.

After the strangeness of “Time Machine”, listeners might be forgiven for thinking the rest of the album will be anti-climactic but the drama continues with “To Your World”, a six-minute-plus opera of despairing lament and intense lead guitar soloing. Otherworldly progressive-rock weirdness with a sitar culminates in a highly emotional climax in “Graveyard of Love”. The cool acoustic-guitar sounds and choppy rhythms of “Classroom of Women” provide some relief but when Yamanaka is at his high-pitched soaring best, listeners can feel their nerves tighten in anticipation of a desolate yowl.

Each song on the album reveals a very surprising new aspect of this collaboration – the music ranges from very experimental to intense psychedelic doom to folksy and even a little country – yet all songs are overlaid by Yamanaka’s distinctive and heartfelt vocals and Ishima’s just as impassioned guitar playing. The style of music can be very powerful and tough, especially in the second song – while the rhythm section might not sound really heavy and deep, the emotion in the singing just pours out continuously. This album really deserves to be much better known than it is – perhaps it’s overshadowed by FTB’s other output – for the variety and standard of music featured, and the energy and enthusiasm of the musicians.

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