The Japanese “Samurai metal” band Ryujin (formerly Gyze), recently released a self-titled album. It was produced by and features guest appearances by Trivum’s Matthew Heafy. We caught up with vocalist/guitarist Ryoji Shinomoto, who fills us in on the name change, working with Heafy, the new album, touring and other topics. Heafy was also kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
Chad Bowar: What led you to change the band name from Gyze to Ryujin?
Ryoji Shinomoto: I am proud of Gyze’s activities, but it seems difficult to pronounce, so I’ve always been called “Guys.” Matthew didn’t understand it at first, so they talked about changing the name. We weren’t doing any activities due to the coronavirus crisis, so it was the perfect time to make a fresh start. Also, the name Ryujin fits the music as well. My name is Ryoji, which means “Dragon Master,” and from there it became Ryujin.
How did the songwriting process for Ryujin compare to your previous albums?
Ryo: Basically nothing changed. However, this time it includes more of Matt’s advice and more clean vocals. I also worked with him on excerpts of the songs. “Raijin & Fujin” was an idea that Matt brought to me, and I was in charge of the rhythm track, lead guitar, and orchestration, so this was something I had never done before.
How did you come to work with Matt Heafy?
Ryo: At first, after a recent interview with Metal Hammer, the reporter and Matt were talking about us and X. It was around the time that his Ibaraki album was released, and he was also talking about the three tones. Both he and I were using the shamisen. We saw them talking and got in touch! We were just getting ready to start our new activities after Corona, and we wanted to try something new. So I asked him to be my guest at first and he agreed to do more work for me!
How did Ryujin get on your radar?
Matt Heafy: I first learned about Ryujin from El Goodman from Metal Hammer UK. We chatted about Japanese culture, bands, and the like; and it was then she introduced me to Gyze.
I was hooked. Gyze was exactly the kind of band that I so desperately wished existed. I believe I posted about Gyze, Ryoji hit me up, and the rest is history. We became friends quickly, and it was then we discussed the idea of working together.
What was Matt’s role in the album, and how was the experience for you?
Ryo: He taught me the possibilities of clean vocals. He also coached me a lot on vocals. I think it was a lot of work for him, because I was a screamer. Also, as I said earlier, it expanded the band’s possibilities. In other words, it opened my eyes to the possibility of playing many different types of music. I never thought the day would come when I would sing a ballad. I also like making pop songs, but I try not to play them in a band. But he also broke those chains. I’m sure that what he gave me will continue to live on forever.
What will be your strongest memory of working on this album with Ryujin?
Matt Heafy: Finally seeing the majesty of the artwork by Mathieu Noizeres and listening to the spectacular record by Ryoji Shinomoto.
When I was a kid, I would listen to my CDs with headphones while staring at the artwork and liner notes in the booklets; once I finally got to do this with this masterful record – I knew we had accomplished exactly what we set out to do.
What was the biggest challenge in recording the album?
Ryo: As I said earlier, there were a lot of clean vocals this time, so it was difficult to choose the best singing style. Ballads in particular are delicate, so I had to pay more attention to them.
How has the band’s sound evolved from Asian Chaos?
Ryo: It’s basically an extension of the sound created by Asian Chaos. In other words, it’s melodious, folky, and speedy. I guess this is also a vocal. Also, the songs that Matt has chosen have a rich variety, so I think expanding the range of music is one of the evolutions.
What lyrical topics do you cover on this one?
Ryo: Every song is different, but I incorporated a lot of thoughts about dragons. In the East, dragons are auspicious and peaceful. In the West, dragons are dark and villainous, right? The dragon god is considered the god of water. Japan is surrounded by the sea. Because of the proximity of mountains and oceans, he probably exists as a god of nature as well. When you go to shrines, you see dragons everywhere. The basis of my music is nature worship and a wish for peace. That’s why the name Ryujin fits so well. Besides, when you think of metal, you think of dragons, right?
What inspired you to cover Linked Horizon’s “Guren No Yumiya”?
Ryo: The cover of this song was suggested by Matt. Actually, I had never heard it until I covered it. It was such a wonderful arrangement that I struggled to figure out how to make it an original cover! As a result, the dialogue between Matt and I became very interesting.
How did you come to sign with Napalm Records?
Ryo: To tell the truth, during the stage of our last album Asian Chaos, there was talk of signing with Napalm Records. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that time, but we got in touch again to make a new album. And Matt’s work led to the contract. Matt did all the management for us up until startup. Napalm also had a positive impression of the rebranding to Ryujin. Lea, who I always work with, takes the band seriously and is the most comfortable person I’ve ever worked with. We usually chat about casual things and we have such a good relationship that I can call them friends. I really love working with her and them!
Does being on a new label affect your goals and expectations for the album?
Ryo: Yes. I’ve always loved Napalm Records and I’m very proud to be a part of their team. For example, it’s a good song to listen to metal on shuffle! When I looked at the credits, I noticed that most of the songs were released by Napalm Records. I think we match the label colors, so I’m really looking forward to the future. Also, we are the first Japanese Napalm artists, so there is no other honor like this. I’m very lucky to have a good relationship with my label manager, Lea, and I’ve never met anyone at a music label who treats me as kindly as she does. Also, although I haven’t met her yet, Natalie from the U.S. office is always kind to me, so I’m really grateful.
Matt, what will your role with Ryujin be going forward?
Matt Heafy: I told Ryo early on that I wanted to basically be there to help arm them for the next step in their career. I assisted with the music, production, interim management, getting them signed, etc. I’m so thankful that I was able to get Ryujin represented by the incredible Heart Of Music management under my good friend Moritz; signed to Napalm Records; and now off to create their own destiny.
How was the video shoot for “Gekokujo”?
Ryo: First, let’s create a Japanese-style horror image! We talked about it. So Shuji wore Kabuki makeup, and Aruta and I both had our faces whitened to remind us of Japanese horror movies. Japanese horror is often very unique, so I wanted to express that. The song also has some black metal elements, so it was a perfect fit. One interesting story is that the guitarist in Hannya no Mask is a videographer. In other words, he was in charge of both filming and acting. His acting is an integral part of this video. Plus, he played guitar at our local concert.
What were some of the highlights of your recent tour with Ensiferum and Pain?
Ryo: The nightly show was the highlight. After all, it was my first time in Europe in five years. This may be a boring answer, but it’s true. It was great to spend time with everyone in the band every day, especially since Ensiferum and I were on the same bus, so we talked a lot. Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Croatia, which I visited for the first time, were also wonderful countries!
What are your tour plans for 2024, and do they include North America?
Ryo: We recently signed a contract with my agent Continental, so I hope to be able to go to North America in the not-too-distant future. It’s been a dream of mine to tour America for a long time, so I’m looking forward to it. This year, we are planning to perform at a few festivals in Europe.
You were inspired by KISS as a young musician. What was your reaction to their recent “final” show and announcement that they will continue the band as digital avatars?
Ryo: KISS always offers the best. I definitely think they made the right choice. If we were to become an anime in the past, I would be able to continue making music even after I retire. That’s what I was thinking. They shaped my life and are the most meaningful band in my life. These too forever.
With the success you and some other Japanese metal bands have had internationally, do you think more will try to follow in your footsteps?
Ryo: I don’t know about that. However, I have high hopes that Samurai Metal will become a world standard! In metal, we tend to look to Western bands as models, but I believe that each band has its own merits.
What are some of your non-musical interests and hobbies?
Ryo: I love fishing, especially lure fishing. Hokkaido is an island with lots of trout. Actually, I fish every day in the river behind my house. There was a time when I was so hooked that I received fishing equipment and even appeared in a magazine.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
Ryo: I often listen to movie music and classical music. Lately, I’ve been enjoying listening to symphonies by Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, and Beethoven while reading them. I learned a lot.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Ryo: Arigato! Thank you for reading to the end! If you want to listen to Japanese samurai metal, please visit Ryujin! The merchandise is Japanese and cool, so I believe it will be enjoyed not only by metal fans but also by anime fans! See you in your city someday!
(interview published January 26, 2024)
Watch Ryujin – “Gekokujo” Video