FEATURES Violent Magic Orchestra’s All-Inclusive “Death Rave” By Patrick St. Michel · March 15, 2024

Violent Magic Orchestra’s singer grips a flashlight in her mouth as strobes flash around her. The other three performing members (covered in face paint, looking somewhere between death metal icons and Weekly Shonen Jump villains) generate walls of feedback. All of them are named after metal bands, but prefer to be identified using katakana characters: メイヘム, or Mayhem; エンペラー, or Emperor; and at the center of it all, the aforementioned vocalist, ザスター, or Xasthur.

After some build-up, ザスター points the light at the audience before delivering a deep growl cutting through the noise around her.

“We use a lot of lighting effects and strobes when we perform live,” the group’s primary trackmaker, ダークスローン (Darkthrone) says. “Like…when the lights and music are going, and I point my finger at the audience, it feels like I’m attacking them. It’s so much fun.”

Sensory overload is a hallmark of Violent Magic Orchestra (VMO). Formed in 2016, the group presents themselves as an art project rather than a band. “We want to perfect the visuals, and the people involved on that end are just as active as the regular performers,” the outfit’s behind-the-scenes manager, referred to as ヘルベテック (Helvetech) but who also goes by Kei, says. Whether operating out of a small livehouse or appearing on a festival stage as it has more in recent years VMO aim to overwhelm, to the point where one of its go-to fun facts when introducing what they do is that it consumes the equivalent of 56 guitar amps of power live.

The group’s earliest music weaved in elements of electronic music, but was built around feedback and howled vocals, as heard on the constricting 2016 debut album Catastrophic Anonymous. With this March’s DEATH RAVE, VMO doubles down on dance mayhem. Claustrophobic guitar riffs and throat-wrecking screaming remain, but now VMO have added frantic synth stabs and machine beats, pushing its work towards digital hardcore or even gabber. Death metal vocalists guest as does Ican Harem of Indonesian electronic duo Gabber Modus Operandi.

“I was never really interested in music until high school…I might have disliked it up until that point,” ダークスローン says. “But there was a late-night show I was watching one day, and they played The Prodigy. My whole body felt electrified. I started liking hardcore or intense music, stuff like Atari Teenage Riot. I love the combination of rock and techno together…that’s my background.”

VMO spun out of “brutal orchestra” Vampillia, an Osaka-born project merging death metal energy with a dash of the baroque courtesy of strings and pianos. ダークスローン refers to Vampillia as “the mothership,” but the VMO project allowed them to indulge in more electronic inclinations that weren’t possible in what Kei says is ultimately the more purely metal outfit—hence the name, a nod to pioneering Japanese techno-pop trio Yellow Magic Orchestra.

Kei says VMO—now consisting of, at Kei’s count, 10 members between performers and those crafting visuals (“sometimes people just…disappear for a while”)—knew exactly what it wanted to do for its follow-up, stemming in part from his and ダークスローン’s love of electronic music.

“When I heard Aphex Twin, I loved how imaginative it sounded and how you could picture the landscape they were trying to convey,” he says, also adding the “coolness of their logo” left a deep impression. “I liked that mysterious side of techno when I listened to it.”

DEATH RAVE leans more into the high-BPM sides of Kei’s beloved Aphex Twin and ダークスローン’s Atari Teenage Riot, wrapping it all up with death metal energy. It’s also more interested in fantasy imagery than Catastrophic Anonymous. “I really like dragons,” ダークスローン says, while explaining how his interest in the creatures and films like The NeverEnding Story (1984) helped inform what he wanted to do while constructing the music on VMO’s second full-length, which trades heavily in fanciful worldbuilding, complex lore, and time travel.

Kei and ダークスローン say they had a clear vision of merging metal with techno, but that their typical process of creation—exchanging ideas, one suggesting something vague and the other bringing out something more specific—resulted in them trying to perfect everything.

The two also have a big-brother-little-brother-like connection, which includes butting heads on certain issues. During our interview, Kei emphasized how much better Aphex Twin is than ダークスローン’s preferred rock-meets-electronic acts.

“Eight years passed really fast,” Kei says, noting that this wasn’t the plan. They kept tinkering with DEATH RAVE, aided by the return of live shows post-pandemic to further get a sense of the song and overall concept. “One year ago, we performed at the CTM Festival in Berlin, and somebody told us our music sounded like a death rave,” Kei says. “We loved that…it incorporated the destructive and violent side of what we do.”

The other critical change and the vocal force running throughout the album is Xasthur. She joined the project in late 2017, practically by accident. “We were looking for a vocalist for Vampillia, and she was looking for opportunities. She sang in the studio for us…it’s a little mean to say, but her singing was just so-so,” Kei says. “We asked her…can you try a death voice. She had never tried it before.” Xasthur gave it her best…and wowed them for how “twisted” it sounded. “She is better suited for VMO.”

“It felt like the group was just dudes,” Kei says. “Having this young woman’s view created a whole new worldview for the project, and it just clicked perfectly.” There’s also an element of freshness to Xasthur, as Kei says she was more into hardcore rock and K-pop before VMO forced her to learn all about techno and death metal.

Fittingly, DEATH RAVE aims to be open to all. “Techno and metal are both very closed communities, and it’s kind of hard to approach them as an outsider,” Kei says. “VMO is two closed communities coming together, and maybe when you first listen to it, it can be hard to digest, but I want people to really feel it with their body.” Both he and ダークスローン pride themselves on VMO’s holistic approach and their refusal to be tied down to any single genre or subculture.

“We look forward to seeing different people at our live shows, whether they are ravers, metalheads, fashionistas…whatever,” Kei says. “I love seeing different cultures mix together into something new.”

Read more in Electronic →

Top Stories

Latest see all stories

On Bandcamp Radio see all

Listen to the latest episode of Bandcamp Radio. Listen now →