Japan’s fascination and adoration with Traditional Heavy Metal is well documented and a boon that has provided us with a veritable buffet of incredibly passionate and well executed metal. Comparatively (and to my disappointment) the country’s abilities or interest never really made their way to doom metal. The Metal Archives lists only 86 doom metal bands in Japan of which traditional and epic doom metal makes up only a small percentage. Outside of notable bands like Bellzlleb and Church of Misery, very few ever gained any real attention. Despite the massive influence that Black Sabbath has had over heavy metal, it seems that doom metal just completely failed to draw the attention that heavy, thrash, or black metal did in Japan.
Millarca were a 90s band who were condemned to the realms of obscurity in a country who didn’t appreciate the style of metal they played. Their first self titled demo, which was released in 1994, completely went against the grain and modus operandi of many of their fellow countrymen. Rather than wade in the shallows lapping up the waves that Japanese traditional heavy metal giants like Anthem, Loudness and Bow Wow made or adopt the visual flair that found glam metal snare a deep current through Japanese heavy metal, Millarca chose instead to look towards European epic doom metal for their sound. Utilizing much influence from Solstice and Candlemass, Millarca stands as one if not the only Japanese epic doom metal band. Their self titled demo was a very solid Candlemass like affair with impactful riffs, an epic atmosphere, and mournful vocals.
However it is with Drunstall, their 2nd demo (released in 1996), where they truly found their stride and released a gem. What is evident from the moment the intro track “Into the Forest” plays is the masterful cohesion between a hauntingly beautiful melody and an ever looming dark despair. These two forces permeate consistently throughout the record and form much of the framework for the instrumentation. Much of the melody owes itself to Koutetsu Kimura’s excellent vocal work. While very much influenced by the operatic flourishes and dramatic flair that many epic doom metal vocalists employed, he tempered his clean vocals with a reticent quality. While he does have no issue reaching those high notes, I found his slightly deeper, more yearning and subdued vocal style to suit the atmosphere incredibly well and maintain that melodic beauty while still providing the underlying current of depression and despair.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than on the 2nd track “Devices” which also stands as the demo’s best track – one which would have no difficulty finding itself on albums like Lamentations or New Dark Age. The tracks oozes charisma and passion with very meticulous songwriting and a very graceful yet catchy chorus. This is all topped by by a great solo that really showcases the technical skill of Hiroshi Furuta’s guitarmanship that still meshes very well with the melodic atmosphere. This is followed by “The Road of Drunstall” – a 3 minute interlude that includes heavy keyboard usage and serves as a pleasant ambient like soundscape ultimately building up to final track “Carmilla”, the fastest song on the demo. The opening riff is heavy and menacing which paves the way for a galloping march that eventually intersects with another excellent guitar solo.
The production quality is standard for a 90s demo. It gets the job done and doesn’t detract too much for from the instrumentation, but as with many demos from this period it could have been improved. The vocals deserved to have been more of a priority in the mix, the drumming can sound a bit weak at times, and you will most likely need to raise your volume as it can sound a bit too quiet. However, overall the production does stand up well reasonably well for a 90s demo, although i do find myself wishing a modern label would pick it up for a remaster.
A underappreciated demo like this one deserves more attention. Thanks to the internet it has become recognized as an epic doom classic in underground circles, but as with so many bands it’s a shame the recognition only arrived after the band’s lifespan. All we can do now is appreciate the incredible music Millarca left behind and spread the word of it’s brief existence to as many as possible.
Favorite Track: Devices