When Mr. Sato asks you if you want to check out a band with him, you say yes. You don’t ask which band or check your schedule, you just say yes, because you know it’s going to be a good night. It also doesn’t hurt that I already knew he was talking about NINGEN ISU, whose name literally means “Human Chair,” a metal band in the vein of all our favorite old-school traditional metal heroes.

NINGEN ISU’s rise in popularity has been on a slow but powerful burn for decades, and with their upcoming performance at OzzFest this year, they are sure to be popping up on a quite a few radars. So check them out here now and get ready to tell your friends that you knew about these guys way back when!


In case you’re not familiar with the works of Edogawa Rampo, a Japanese mystery novelist who was highly influenced by Edgar Allan Poe (note the similarity of their names), Ningen Isu is the name of one of his more popular works. One of their albums is titled Ningen Shikkaku, which was also the title of Osamu Dazai’s most critically acclaimed novels, another is titled Rashomon, taken from the Akutagawa Ryunosuke novel, and yet another is titled Manatsu no Yo no Yume, which you might recognize as the Japanese translation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.



The point is that while Ningen Isu’s music was influenced by bands like King Crimson, Black Sabbath, and Led Zepplin, lyrically they draw much of their inspiration from literature. In the early days of the band, they tended to focus on Japanese literature, but now they happily draw on everything from H. P. Lovecraft (such as “The Colour Out of Space” below) to rakugo (such as “Shinagawa Shinjuu” also below). The band’s lyrics also sometimes reference religious imagery, for example the song “Senrei,” which means baptism in Japanese.

▼ “The Colour Out of Space”

▼ “Shinagawa Shinjuu”

▼ “Senrei”

Formed in 1989, Ningen Isu could almost be called the life work of Shinji Wajima, the lead guitarist, and Ken-ichi Suzuki, the bass guitarist, who share vocal duties and are the original founders of the band. These days, Nobu Nakajima is responsible for drums, and while he was not a founding member, he’s been with the band since 2004 and does his share of vocals as well.



Going to a Ningen Isu show feels just a bit different from your average metal show. For one thing, the audience ranges in age from fresh-faced teens to folks who could be (or likely are) their parents. When your band has been around for over 25 years, you’re definitely going to have a wide variety of fans — and walking into Shibuya O-EAST before showtime, we saw an amazing cross-section of Japan’s metal scene. As for the band, Wajima and Suzuki usually take the stage in traditional clothes, with Suzuki wearing what looks like monk’s robes and his entire head painted white. Their visual impact is almost as strong as their sound.




But people-watching is hardly the point of any show, so let’s talk about the music. I cannot put it any more simply than this: It was awesome. Obviously, for a band to be able to make a living playing music for over two decades, you’d expect them to be doing something right, but, personally, I found their music to perfectly hit that sweet spot between heavy and melodic. Of course, I have some of their recordings, but the true test of a metal band is how they sound live, right? Ningen Isu completely nails it live.


Take, for example, this performance of “Namahage,” which mixes vocals reminiscent of haunted howls, crunchy riffs, driven, ferocious drumming, and a growling bass line that tears at your ear like a bear.

In addition to rocking out, the band did an excellent job of getting the crowd pumped up, drawing laughter with their banter and wild cheers with each song. Wajima even broke out his best Jimi Hendrix impression and played with his teeth a few times.




Ningen Isu have been scheduled to perform at OzzFest 2015 in November, making this their second appearance in the international metal tour. You can check out their first appearance, in 2013, in the video below. It was recorded using a normal video camera, so it’s not the absolute best audio quality, but it’s definitely still enjoyable!

▼ The band comments on their upcoming OzzFest 2015 appearance.

Of course, Ningen Isu is excited about OzzFest 2015, but they have a lot of work to do, including more live performances and song writing. And writing is something they’re particularly good at — Ningen Isu has been around for around a quarter of a century and in that time they’ve released 19 full albums and three best-of albums. With a discography that large, it can be a bit intimidating for new fans, so I’d recommend grabbing a best-of album to begin with. I personally really liked the selection on Ningen-Isu Kessaku-Sen (which you might see as Ningen Isu Kessakusen) but with this much music, you’re sure to find something you like on any of their releases.

 ▼ Performing an encore in their street clothes


In other words, take Mr. Sato’s advice and check out this band! You can find their music on Amazon USA, Amazon Japan, and iTunes. Be sure to like them on Facebook to keep up with all their activities. And if you’re really lucky, maybe you’ll get to see them touring overseas sometime soon!

References: Ningen Isu, Facebook (Ningen Isu)
All photos © RocketNews24