Boris is the first name that comes to mind when most people think of Japanese Metal, and it’s hard to blame them. The band has a huge cult following. But Boris has deliberately avoided genre labels throughout their career and has experimented with many styles other than Metal.
There’s much more to the Japanese Doom Metal scene than Boris. And the roots of Japanese Metal music go back further than one may think.
Flower Travellin’ Band, an obscure Japanese Proto-Metal act formed in the late 1960s, was surprisingly the first band to ever record a Black Sabbath cover. The band covered the classic track “Black Sabbath” on their 1970 album, Anywhere, and that turned them into an underground influence on many early Heavy Metal acts of the ‘70s.
Japanese Heavy Metal began to develop more in the late ‘70s and then blossomed in the ‘80s, eventually giving way to more extreme genres like Doom. There were plenty of cheesy Hair and Power Metal bands in Japan and more traditional Metal acts during that era, including Bow Wow and Earthshaker.
But The Land of the Rising Sun began to get in touch with its darker side with the formation of bands like Sabbat, Sigh, and Bellzlleb in the 1980s.
By the mid-90s, a Japanese Doom scene began to form. Church of Misery started in 1995 in Tokyo, a band with heavy Black Sabbath influences. Boris had already been playing together for a few years by that time, releasing its debut album Absolutego in ’96. Eternal Elysium and Corrupted formed around this time, too, undoubtedly influencing legions of Japanese Doomheads.
The past two decades in Japan have seen the explosion of Girls Metal and “kawaii metal,” with viral YouTubers like Babymetal and Band-Maid. But that’s what’s happening in the mainstream and, obviously, of no concern to Doom Metal fans. Despite the kawaii frenzy, there’s a relatively small but growing Doom Metal underground in Japan today.
Top 8 Japanese Doom Metal Bands
Before we dive in, first a note about the list. We decided to include active, newer bands, as well as some non-active bands that have made big contributions to the Japanese Doom scene. There are plenty of great newer Doom Metal acts in Japan right now, but some are still barely on the radar.
Check out Doom Fujiyama Volumes 1, 2, and 3 for a taste of newer, more obscure Japanese Doom. They are compilations of Doom/Sludge/Blackgaze from Japan that dropped in 2020 and 2021 on Bandcamp.
We’ve numbered the bands on this list to assist in readability purposes. The numerical assignments aren’t necessarily a ranking or indicative of importance in Japanese Doom Metal history or contemporary music.
As with any listicle, there are bound to be some points of contention, so drop a comment and let us know what you think!
1. Church of Misery
Years Active: 1995-Present
Essential Doom Album: Master of Brutality (2001)
Church of Misery (チャーチ・オブ・ミザリー, Chāchi obu Mizarī) is a great place to start, as they’re one of Japan’s first true Doom acts and perhaps the most well-known. They formed in the mid-90s and are still somehow active, despite changing band members so frequently that it’s hard to keep track.
They’ve played the Roadburn Festival multiple times, toured with the likes of Monster Magnet and Electric Wizard, and released five albums of wicked Doom mixed with Psychedelic rock over the years.
Bassist Tatsu Mikami formed the band and has been the only constant member through the years. Mikami played for a Thrash Metal band, Salem, which broke up in ’94 before starting Church of Misery. The band is heavily influenced by Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus, and they’re known primarily for their obsession with serial killers and mass murderers in their lyrics.
If you like true crime, horror movies, and general debauchery, there’s really no bad album to start with these guys. When listening to them, you can also hear some influences from Southern U.S. metal acts like Pantera and Down. We recommend checking out their first LP, Master of Brutality, a nod to the classic Sabbath record, Master of Reality.
Years Active: 1992-Present
Essential Doom Album: Akuma No Uta (2003)
Boris is a band that defies convention, genre, and category, and they probably wouldn’t even want to be on this list. But we’ll put ‘em here anyway because of their unquestionable influence on Japanese metal music.
The band formed in Tokyo in 1992, named after a song on The Melvins’ album Bullhead. Boris (ボリス, Borisu) has a loyal legion of followers worldwide who love their experimental and highly eccentric style.
There isn’t much Boris hasn’t done over the years, as they’ve released more than twenty studio albums and a variety of live records, compilations, EPs, singles, and collaborative albums. The band has worked with acts such as Sun O))), Merbow, and Michio Kurihara. They also got tons of international exposure when they opened for Nine Inch Nails in 2008.
The funny thing about Boris is they don’t even consider themselves a Heavy Metal band, although plenty of people categorize them as such. They’re like the King Gizzard & Lizard Wizard of Japan, having experimented with a dizzying array of styles, including Post-Metal, Drone Metal, Psych Rock, Ambient, Dream Pop, and Shoegaze. Boris has something for everyone.
3. Eternal Elysium
Years Active: 1991-present
Essential Doom Album: Resonance of Shadows (2016)
If there’s one thing about Eternal Elysium (エターナル・イリジアム, Etānaru Erishiumu), it’s that the band is resilient. They initially formed in 1991 as a Stoner/Doom Metal power trio out of Nagoya, Japan, and were pioneers of the Japanese Doom scene with Church of Misery.
But they struggled through obscurity throughout the ‘90s, issuing independent releases, appearing on compilations, and then almost getting a record deal only to be turned down by Japan’s Eclipse Records.
Eternal Elysium developed a cult-like following, though, and they got a deal with MeteorCity Records to release Spiritualized D in 2000. The band is still rocking with guitarist/vocalist Yukito Okazaki as the sole original member.
They’ve released six studio albums since forming in ’91 and have toured worldwide, making them one of Japan’s longest-running Stoner/Doom acts.
Okazaki’s trio combines several elements into a hard-driving Rock, mixing the psychedelic with a Classic Rock groove. They’re definitely stoners, as their lyrics hit on stoner culture often, along with spiritual concepts in songs like “Ancient Soul” and “Reefer Happiness.” And some of Elysium’s songs feature enough sludge and down-tempo vibes to be properly Doom.
Years Active: 2003-2013
Essential Doom Album: The End (2011)
On the more extreme fringes of the Japanese Metal scene, Gallhammer was a unique, all-female Doom and Black Metal trio that played together for about a decade and released three studio albums.
The band formed in Tokyo in 2003, but they drew their inspiration from Swiss Metal bands like Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. Gallhammer picked up some attention and critical praise throughout the 2000s, eventually touring Europe with their blend of pessimism and crust Punk/Metal.
The band’s last release in 2011, The End, was possibly the most Doom Metal album of their brief career. The title track is like a seven-minute death march into hell, and tracks like “Wander” are also slow, sludgy, and downright evil.
Years Active: 1994-present
Essential Doom Album: Noothgrush / Corrupted Split (2017)
Corrupted has been a heavily influential but deeply mysterious Japanese Doom Metal act with a career spanning over 20 years and still going. It’s tough to write about Corrupted because the band shuns any type of publicity, having never done an interview or professional photo shoot.
Forming in 1994, Corrupted is known for lyrics primarily sung in Spanish with occasional sections of Japanese or English and a bruising style similar to Earth and Sun O))). Much of their catalog has appeared on split albums with other Doom Metal or Grindcore bands, and they produced one album, El Mundo Frio, of a single song longer than an hour.
And, yeah, they like the dark subject matter, too. Corrupted’s albums usually have extensive liner notes with twisted black-and-white pictures of war-torn areas and other depictions of human suffering.
Corrupted has been instrumental in the Japanese Doom scene, but they rarely tour outside their home country, though they have occasionally toured Europe and the U.S., most notably coming to America in 1997 as part of the “Fuck the U.S.A.” tour with Hellchild, Disassociate, and Noothgrush.
Years Active: 1995-present
Essential Doom Album: The Earth Beater (1998)
Greenmachine (グリーンマシーン, Gurīnmashīn) goes way back, forming in 1995 and naming themselves after the Kyuss song on Blues for the Red Sun. They released two albums on Man’s Ruin Records in the ‘90s but disbanded in 1999 after intra-band squabbles.
The band resurfaced in 2003 with a new bass player and released a new record, playing The Wizard’s Convention in 2005 with fellow Japanese Doomers Boris, Church of Misery, and Eternal Elysium, but disbanded again in 2007.
A reunion show brought Greenmachine back together in 2013, and they released an EP, split, and two full-length records in the ensuing years. They’re still going, too, having released a new split in 2022 with Fistula and a single called “Dreaming of You.” Greenmachine are Japanese Doom/Stoner legends and have influenced countless Japanese rockers. Check out The Earth Beater (1998) for a taste.
7. Funeral Moth
Years Active: 2005-present
Essential Doom Album: Transience (2016)
Funeral Moth is an underground extreme Doom Metal act formed in 2005 from Kanagawa Prefecture that hasn’t gained much of a following outside of Japan, but not because of a lack of talent.
The band released their second studio album, Transience, in February 2016, which includes only two songs that are both more than 17 minutes long. Funeral Moth has an expansive and somewhat ambient sound, making them very similar to Drone Metal icons like Earth. Their last release in 2019, the single “Polar,” clocks in at more than 10 minutes.
Funeral Moth is an excellent find for Metal fans, a pretty obscure Japanese act that veers into Post-Rock at times, although bandmember Makoto Fujishima swears he’s a metalhead and doesn’t listen to Post-Rock that much.
Years Active: 2019-present
Essential Doom Album: The Origin of Hyper-Doom (2021)
Abiuro is a brand-new act of young bucks from Tokyo who are starting to make noise in the Japanese Doom scene. Their most recent release in 2021 is the EP The Origin of Hyper-Doom, five tracks of unadulterated sludge.
The trio from Tokyo recently got featured on an excellent Bandcamp compilation by WEEDIAN called Trip to Japan, which includes other Japanese Stoner, Doom, and experimental acts like Eternal Elysium, Church of Misery, Greenmachine, and underground Psych Rock heroes Kikagaku Moyo.
Abiuro has released two singles and two EPs so far, but they should be primed for more Doom and Sludgecore madness in the years ahead.
Ningen Isu (人間椅子, Ningen’isu) has been around since 1987, a heavy metal act that veers into Doom and takes its name (which literally means “The Human Chair”) from a short story by 20th-century Japanese author Edogawa Ranpo.
The band has high-pitched vocals and a cinematic style, owing much of their sound to ‘70s Classic Rock acts like King Crimson and Deep Purple, so they’re not exactly in the Doom purview. Nevertheless, they’ve been influential in the Japanese Metal scene, having released 22 full-length albums as of 2020.
Birushanah (毘盧釈那) is a unique, extreme Doom and Sludge Metal act formed in 2002 that’s released four studio albums over the years. These guys also have high-pitched vocals, mixed with some screaming, but an interesting addition of metal percussion and traditional Japanese scale.
Birushanah sounds a lot like the more experimental stuff from the mysterious and aforementioned Corrupted, also owing some of their sound to traditional Japanese music.
Hebi Katana (蛇刀) is a newer act, formed in Tokyo in February 2020, mixing Stoner and Doom sounds and what guitarist/vocalist Nobuhito Matsuo refers to as “samurai doom.” Their latest release from April this year, Hokage Headache, is a groovy record with some Kyuss-like vibes. Not exactly Doom, but awesome nonetheless.
Floaters formed in 2013, also in Tokyo, releasing a demo in 2015 and two full-length albums since then, including 2020’s Roman Holiday. These dudes are definitely sludgy and crazy enough to be up-and-comers in the Japanese Doom scene, with wicked riffs and lunatic vocals on songs like “Contaminated.”