SKREEEOOOONNNKK: A Kaiju Adventure!
Twenty years ago my father brought home a worn VHS recording of Godzilla, King of the Monsters! Since that day, I’ve been harboring a nerdy obsession with the colossal, irradiated kaiju. Twenty years later, my affection for the mutated Godzillosaurus and the associated kaiju eiga remains unabated. With the American Godzilla reboot stomping the Japanese market in its final major opening this past weekend and with Legendary teasing three other well-known Toho monsters for a sequel, I thought this would be an appropriate time to discuss some metal bands named after kaiju. There will likely be a few familiar names in this post, but I also hope to introduce you to some new faces.
Kaiju is a Japanese word meaning “strange beast,” but it has come to literally stand for monster in English, with daikaiju being the term for giant monsters (like Godzilla). For a lot of you, your first introduction to the word kaiju may have been Pacific Rim, an action film chock-full of gigantic, lumbering beasts. Kaiju come in many forms and varieties, although Japanese and American kaiju tend to each have their own typical characteristics distinct from each other. In my humble opinion, Japanese kaiju tend to be a bit more anthropomorphic and fantastical, whereas American kaiju are often more bestial and extraterrestrial in appearance.
Similarly, there are several groups called Kaiju. However, I chose to include the Kansas City incarnation who released their debut this year. This is a pretty standard death metal group that manages to work in some solid groove and atmospheric flourishes. Not really my cup of tea, but fans of Job for a Cowboy and War of Ages may find something to like here. Plus, their album is available for any price on bandcamp, and free tunes are always welcome.
Godzilla is easily the most infamous of all kaiju, and his indomitable presence has been a mainstay in monster movies since the 1950s. There have been a total of 30 different Godzilla movies, and I’ve seen all but four of them. Throughout his long career, Godzilla has held many differen roles, ranging from a terrifying analogy for nuclear war to a goofy icon for childhood imagination, but I’m a big fan of even his cheesiest incarnations. If you’ve never bothered to watch a Godzilla film, I would recommend that you watch the original 1954 film Gojira, Mothra vs. Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, and Godzilla, Mothra and Knig Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.
Similarly to Kaiju, there have been quite a few bands named after Godzilla (the highest-profile group with the name inevitably changed their title…), but I’ve chosen to highlight a deathgrind band from Jakarta. This group plays a sludgy/lo-fi deathgrind, and it doesn’t seem that their music is easy to find. However, the violent sound they produce harkens back to Godzilla’s rampaging origins, so if you need something to jam while you smash your cubicle, check this group out.
Rodan is one of the oldest kaiju, making his first appearance just two years after Godzilla. Rodan is in my opinion one of the best giant monster films of all time, blending together horror, mystery, and city-smashing action into a cautionary tale of mankind’s tampering with the natural environment. The titular monster is a super-sized pteranodon that flies at super-sonic speeds, leaving a swath of destruction in its wake. Rodan would go on to appear in a number of Godzilla films, both fighting against and alongside Big G, and his potential appearance in the sequel to this year’s Legendary Godzilla film is hotly anticipated by kaiju fans.
Rodan was a little-known but influential math-rock group that released their sole album “Rusty” in 1994. Although not technically metal, the sinewy instrumentals and churning rhythms were definitely an influence on later mathcore and metalcore groups, and for that reason “Rusty,” much like the veteran kaiju for whom the band are named, deserves respect. Check out all of “Rusty” below.
Gigan is a weird cyborg chicken-monster thing that made its appearance in 1972’s Godzilla vs. Gigan. This goofy monster from the Nebula M Space Hunter galaxy, despite its comical appearance, proved to be quite the adversary to Big G. He would later go on to get a revamped and deadlier appearance in Godzilla: Final Wars, but I’ll always have a soft-spot for his nutty original design.
Much like their namesake, Gigan initially appear as just another cheesy technical death metal band. However, as the swirling notes and eerie atmosphere pull you deeper and deeper into a black hole, you suddenly realize that this band is very good at what it does. Gigan are definitely unique in the ever-growing technical wankery pile of death metal groups, and their second album, “Multi-Dimensional Fractal Sorcery and Super Science” is a creepy monster of an album. Stream it at bandcamp.
Zilla is the rechristened name of the monster from the oft-maligned 1998 American Godzilla reboot. Apparently die-hard Godzilla fans were so distraught over Roland Emmerich’s creation that they refused to refer to him as Godzilla, instead calling it G.I.N.O. (Godzilla in Name Only) and other disparaging titles. Eventually, Toho scooped up the license for the monster and rebranded him Zilla; they even pitted him in a quick battle against Big G in Godzilla: Final Wars. The monster, now as a rival rather than pretender to the King of the Monsters, has been reaccepted by the fan base and continues to be featured in various Godzilla media.
Zilla are a relatively new death/thrash band, and I’ve admittedly had some trouble hunting their material down. Apparently they’ve released an album called Pragmatic Evolution, and based on the video below, I would be curious to hear the rest. They play a lithe, agile death-hybrid that, much like their namesake, is more nimble than the plodding Godzilla. This is less rampage and more incursion, much like Zilla’s appearance in the recent Rulers of Earth comic run.
Jet Jaguar is one of the stranger characters to make an appearance in the Godzilla franchise. This bizarre robot made his debut in 1973’s Godzilla vs. Megalon where he, sensing the wishes of his child owner, somehow supersized himself and helped Godzilla pummel Gigan and Megalon. The super-fast, super-flashy Jet Jaguar has since become a fan favorite among Godzilla fans, despite not making any additional appearances in any other movies. He’s definitely a unique entry into the Toho roster.
My investigation into kaiju-themed bands unearthed an underground power metal/thrash band from Mexico called Jet Jaguar. The moniker is an apt description of their flashy riffs and soaring vocals. If you dislike power metal, you’ll hate this. However, if you need some fun metal tunes, check out “Battle of the Gods” below.
I thought I’d wrap up this piece with the biggest and baddest of them all. Gojira is Godzilla’s original name in Japanese, and the original 1954 movie is easily the best film in Toho’s entire catalogue. Before evolving into an anti-hero and Earth-defender, Godzilla was a metaphor for man’s recklessness, unleashing horrific devastation on Japan similar to the looming nightmare of nuclear annihilation. Godzilla’s original incarnation was a raging force of nature, and the cheesy special effects used in the film are still fun to watch today.
Gojira is a band that probably needs no introduction. Their sound is a crushing testament to the fury of Mother Earth and pays glorious tribute to the King of the Monsters. For those of you who have only recently checked out Gojira, I’d like to introduce you to a brutal track from their debut album.
Well, there you have it. Now that you’re all experts on giant monsters, go blast some metal and destroy your respective cities. It’s what Godzilla would want.