This interview was originally published by Nagasawa Tomonori on club Zy. Channel. This article is reproduced in English with the authorization of the author and it was provided by the artist.
CHOKE’s first digital single “No problem at all”, released in June, crossed national borders to earn enthusiastic support from fans of loud and heavy metal music around the world. With its constantly changing composition, unpredictable and incomparable to anything else, and timely lyrics that depict the hopeless feelings inspired by the coronavirus crisis in a sarcastic fashion, this song resonated with many people who are resentful of what has happened to their everyday lives. It has earned high regard both at home in Japan and abroad. For CHOKE, a band that ridicules modern Japanese society, this might be seen as a happy sort of irony. If anyone sees it any other way, the nature of Japanese people to fear and avoid any unexpected or unpredictable threat may be too deeply rooted in you, and you may need a bit of time to get used to a new standard.
CHOKE’s second digital single, “The Human Anthem”, was released on September 11th. It is now available for purchase in downloadable format at the CHOKE Official Shop along with its companion track, “Amyotrophic”. We sat down to talk with CHOKE about this latest release.
Seeing those stories in the news while knowing that context behind them makes me think,
‘What is justice, exactly?’
It hasn’t been very long since the release of your first digital single, “No problem at all,” and now you’re releasing your second one, “The Human Anthem”.
KYVA NONO: We had agreed that we wanted to step up our pace for releasing songs this year, and then coronavirus happened on top of that, which meant we were able to release these two singles just three months apart.
Does “The Human Anthem” follow the same themes used in “No problem at all”?
KYVA NONO: It does have the same sort of symphonic arrangement as “No problem at all”. But late last year, we were thinking about how to come up with CHOKE’s own style of catchiness, and that thought process was reflected in “The Human Anthem”.
REON: What’s most unique about “The Human Anthem” is the chorus part in the first half. It doesn’t have lyrics or anything, it’s just a line of “whoa, whoa, whoa” that you can sing along to. We made it sound like a choir while giving it the feel of a catchy song, which was a new approach that added a lot of impact. I think it’s one of the biggest steps in the evolution/growth of CHOKE to date.
That part does carry a lot of impact, doesn’t it?
REON: Layering many voices together is very meaningful. For example, at demonstrations and protests, many people come together for a common cause and deliver the same message via all of their voices. Assembling a lot of people and speaking in one collective voice is a behavior unique to humans, and a chorus is the same thing in the sense that it’s something where many people sing the same thing with a common goal. In fact, I was thinking that I wanted to create this song’s composition in a way that would affirm some unique characteristics of humans when the words “human anthem” came to mind, and I decided to make that concept the focal point of this song’s message, which led to the sing-along chorus I mentioned earlier.
So the concept of a “human anthem” is the theme of the lyrics?
REON: Even something as small as an ant will occasionally confront a much bigger opponent like a human, even if it stands no chance against it alone. I wondered if you could actually call that courage. Someone else also said that true courage is knowing your own weakness, not being reckless. All people have their own ideas of justice, their own wills and thoughts. But there are times when the world looks at those ways of thinking and calls them “bad”. No matter what people do that ends up labeled as bad behavior, it’s not as if they went into it thinking “hey, let’s do something bad”. They’re just pursuing a shared benefit or goal, and it results in society labeling their actions as “bad”. Basically, the people carrying out these actions are doing so under the common banner of what they consider to be justice. Of course, just as society might deem those actions “bad,” there will be others who judge their actions based on different criteria. Before even considering the basis for what’s good or bad, if it’s just having that kind of conviction that makes humans what they are, then I want to praise every human who possesses a will and thoughts like that.
That’s getting into the roots of human psychology.
REON: Buried in all the sensationalist news we see nowadays, there are also a lot of stories about people who committed really heinous crimes and terrible murders. And among murderers, there are some who were taking care of someone but just couldn’t deal with it anymore, so they killed the person they were taking care of. Of course, that’s a crime just the same, but there are quite a few cases where someone’s been caring for a parent who isn’t even aware of who they are anymore, so all the time and effort they dedicate to that parent causes such mental anguish and strain on their lifestyle that they decide to just end it. These people have their own selfish ideas of what justice is when it comes to caregiving, but there have also been murderers who went around indiscriminately killing people in nursing homes. There was also a case recently where someone was diagnosed with ALS, and they decided that if it came down to watching their own body deteriorate until they had to be constantly looked after, they’d rather take their own life. But the person’s body was already no longer capable of that, so they asked their caregiver to do it as a favor. Seeing those stories in the news while knowing that context behind them makes me think, “What is justice, exactly?” I wanted to write this song’s lyrics with a solid focus on delving deep into the psychology of people like that. Things like that happen because, for better or worse, they’re human. With “The Human Anthem,” I wanted to praise humans for what they are, including their weakness. And it was CHOKE’s characteristic cynicism that led to the title “The Human Anthem” instead of something like “Human Glorification”.*
*The Japanese title is “人間惨歌 (Ningen sanka)”, but CHOKE is making a pun with the reading of the kanjis to convey irony. The word “sanka” means “anthem”; however they exchanged one of the characters to make it sound the same, but actually giving it the meaning of “tragic/miserable song”.
“The Human Anthem” does express various psychological conflicts, but in the end, it also shines light on the future. Is that how you were hoping to guide the listener, REON?
REON: Joan of Arc led many soldiers under a great banner and took the lead in facing the enemy. Part of me does admire that, but I wanted to lean closer to the side of the soldiers, and the sound of many soldiers raising their voices together. Each individual is small on their own, but I wanted to focus on the voices of a large group of people shouting out their feelings with one great, collective will. Basically, if everyone can just raise their voice, anyone can clear a path to the future by declaring their own will and holding it high.
B5: People can often come to understand each other by deepening their communication, and they can get closer to each other that way. That’s just what you call communication between humans. But there are some things about other people that you might never understand. Our point is that it’s not right to reject those things just because you don’t understand them. It’s important to recognize that the things you don’t understand are not automatically “bad,” but to accept that people and ideas like that also exist and to start having discussions about them.
I feel like CHOKE’s unique style has reached a new stage of completion through ‘The Human Anthem’
What sort of image did you have in mind when you composed “The Human Anthem”?
KYVA NONO: The first verse uses diminished chords to create some heavy dissonance. On top of that, it starts out as the fastest two-beat composition CHOKE has ever made, then goes into some symphonic elements with choir-style vocals that give it CHOKE’s own form of catchiness, which gave it CHOKE’s unique flavor in the very non-standard way that I was going for. Creating something that would be catchy even without any melody or lyrics while constantly changing from one music style to the next is another trait that makes it very clearly a CHOKE song. As a result, I feel like CHOKE’s unique style has reached a new stage of completion through “The Human Anthem”
As you mentioned, “The Human Anthem” is definitely a speedy song.
KYVA NONO: It’s a pretty eccentric level of speed. And inserting a lot of break points throughout the composition is something that feels normal to us, but isn’t something you hear a lot in most music. Also, I included some of B5 and Toshiya Sato’s ideas this time, and they both did their best to express their performance in a way that matched the progression of the composition.
Toshiya Sato: The chaotic two-beat rhythm at the beginning is a metalcore approach that’s come about in recent years. Once the high-speed two-beat part stops, REON’s rap part comes in, and the instruments keep the beat. From there, I played the drums in a way that would bring out the best expression in each block of the song, like layering some cymbals to give a more solid feel, etc. I believe having different idiosyncrasies is what makes “The Human Anthem” what it is, as well as what makes CHOKE what it is. I’m just here as a support member myself, but I want to be able to keep playing together with the same amount of enthusiasm. When we wrote and released “No problem at all,” we were doing all we could to get closer to the worldview that CHOKE had worked to build up to that point, and that made it possible for us to convey our message with “The Human Anthem” and give it the new color of the current CHOKE. I think it’s a great thing that we were able to incorporate a new essence into CHOKE as a result.
B5: Toshiya Sato and I did want to add our own essences to the song too, after all. KYVA NONO did a great job of absorbing all of that and putting it together.
So you were also trying to see how much catchiness you could give to “The Human Anthem”?
KYVA NONO: That was the challenge I gave myself. With CHOKE, I don’t want to fall back on the standard practice of throwing in some empty lyrics and calling it catchy. There aren’t many songs out there with no established melody that are still regarded as catchy songs. In CHOKE, we’ve always been thinking constantly about ways to make a song catchy, and one of the things we thought of was putting emphasis on the combination of choral-sounding vocals with symphonic elements, as in “The Human Anthem”. We used some symphonic elements in “No problem at all” too, and it’s the sort of thing that can become CHOKE’s distinctive color depending on how it’s used, so we tried the same thing again with this song.
The most dangerous people aren’t the ones with eccentric behavior and appearances, but the ones who blend seamlessly into our daily lives
The music video for “The Human Anthem” is set in an abandoned hospital. That creates a pretty strong impact, doesn’t it?
KYVA NONO: The impact that REON had in the “No problem at all” music video had a really intense effect on the people who watched it, so right from the start, we were aiming to make this one even more intense. Since the theme of the lyrics is the psychological side of humans, we shot this video in an abandoned hospital that used to care for mental patients. The grotesque look was a product of all of our members’ musical roots. Also, we wanted to deliver this song’s impact through its music video first.
All of the members look pretty grotesque in the music video for “The Human Anthem”. Some of you were even eating bugs and raw meat in it.
Toshiya Sato: Those shots were pretty wild to film.
REON: “No problem at all” was set in an abandoned village, and “The Human Anthem” was set in an abandoned hospital. I think we really put our lives on the line for both of them.
KYVA NONO: Since we film and edit our music videos ourselves, we came up with the plot first, but the other members suggested some more ideas as we were filming, so we worked those in along the way. That made it a really exciting shoot and gave us more complete footage.
People might think that you all look pretty dangerous, judging only by what they watched on this footage. You’re all actually very mild-mannered, though.
REON: The most dangerous people aren’t the ones with eccentric behavior and appearances, but the ones who blend seamlessly into our daily lives. When people like that get just one misunderstanding in their heads, they become truly dangerous. In our case, we’re just converting that into our concerts and music videos.
You tend to portray a character who would be perceived as a threat in your concerts and music videos, REON.
REON: Most of the time, I’m totally normal. I guess that’s why I’m so drawn to the concept of being a dangerous person, and why I portray one in my performances.
Human emotions are prone to violent swings; they’re grotesque and chaotic. In both its composition and its lyrics, ‘The Human Anthem’ is linked to that portrayal of the human mind
At CHOKE’s Official Shop, “The Human Anthem” is on sale in a downloadable format along with a companion track that’s much more of a downer, “Amyotrophic”.
KYVA NONO: This song makes use of Toshiya Sato’s blast beat skills to give it his unique flavor, which I turned into a downer-type rapcore composition.
The lyrics to “The Human Anthem” and “Amyotrophic” share a common theme at the most basic level, don’t they?
REON: First of all, everyone should look up the meaning of “Amyotrophic” Once you understand the term, I think you’ll start to see how it links up to the concepts I mentioned earlier. Both “The Human Anthem” and “Amyotrophic” express hopelessness, but “The Human Anthem” still carries ultimately positive messages like “no matter what you’re feeling, you just need to do what it takes with no regrets” and “try raising your own voice more,” while “Amyotrophic” is just pure despair and hopelessness. It’s not necessary to force hope into everything. But the people who’ve been watching CHOKE all this time understand that this band is still facing forward while stirring up agitation in our own way, and that’s enough.
It’s true that in CHOKE’s case, the true essence of your work that doesn’t always come across clearly from just music videos and compositions is easier to understand once you read the lyrics.
REON: Yeah, though that’s pretty twisted in itself (lol)
B5: Human emotions are prone to violent swings; they’re grotesque and chaotic. In both its composition and its lyrics, “The Human Anthem” is linked to that portrayal of the human mind. That’s not a mistaken interpretation, since we want to glorify the individual values that make us all human. But we do want to keep that separate from people who commit horrific crimes and cause tragic disasters in the eyes of the law. I think if people can really understand those deeper nuances, they can enjoy CHOKE’s worldview even more.
REON: The current circumstances still prevent us from playing concerts like we normally would, and that just makes me even more eager to perform these songs live for everyone as soon as possible.
CHOKE – The Human Anthem
01. Ningen sanka -The Human Anthem- [人間惨歌]
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01. Ningen sanka -The Human Anthem- [人間惨歌]
03. Ningen sanka -The Human Anthem- [人間惨歌] (Instrumental)
04. Amyotrophic (Instrumental)
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– Lyrics sheet (jpg)
CHOKE is an emerging nu-metal/visual kei band from Japan. They started with the overall goal of creating a unique sound by mixing rap metal with djent. Their experimental music, nevertheless, does not stick to only one genre and has evolved since their formation in 2017. CHOKE have incorporated into their sound hard-core, trap-core, metalcore, thrash and groove metal influences while adding electronic, symphonic, or progressive elements into the mix. CHOKE offers a peculiar dissonant blend of heavy music with hip hop rhythm.
Their cranked-up songs feature dropped tuning instruments, intense breakdowns, distorted riffs with fast guitar licks, heavy vibrating bass lines along with thick punchy drum beats. The dynamic vocals combine clear rapping with growls and piercing screams. Harsh and edgy lyrics regularly express social criticism and dogma rejection. CHOKE will start a fire on the listeners to speak up their minds and tear the world apart!
REON – Vocal
KVYA NONO – Guitar
B5 – Bass
Toshiya Sato – Drums (support)