Album cover.

Shogun Kunitoki


(Fonal; 2006)

By Mark Abraham | 13 April 2006

This is really bad for all of us. I mean, I could never beat Shogun Kunitoki in The Last Ninja with any finality. After he murdered my entire ninja clan, burdening my young self with a solemn destiny, a vengeance curse, and a seemingly endless supply of shurikens to battle his insane arcane-arts-wielding ass, I tried. I thought I had. But then he time-condensed himself into the future, took over Manhattan, and a bunch of wise-old monks raised me from the grave and sent me to fight him again. Not a pleasant experience. Or at least I thought it wasn’t, until I had the even worse experience of having to fight Space Lord Kunitoki soon after. Can’t an evil lord just die and give a humble hero some peace? ‘Cause there he is, back again, lobbing polygonal synth implosions at me like he’s conducted some horrific Tetris stem cell experiment and the blocky notes are all so mutated I can’t fit them together.

Okay. I know you’re thinking, “awkward.” Fine. Maybe this is all just unwarranted suspicion, or a critic still smarting from formative videogame trauma, but this “Helsinki quartet?” I’m just trying to protect the rest of you. I mean, I’m probably not even on Kunitoki’s radar anymore (I was far chubbier at the age of eleven), but if he is involved with this band (likely), it seems the bastard’s gone and chosen M83 for a new arch-nemesis, hell-bent on that placid world’s destruction. He’s probably creeping through Anthony Gonzalez’s MIDI cables right now. Ethernet Kunitoki will destroy your gigabytes, Tony! Watch yourself!

What? Oh sure—it could be just like the press release says: a “band” that took their name from the villain of The Last Ninja because it was famous for it’s full-length original score. Don’t be guillable. When this “band” started producing music on Commodore 64s in the late ‘90s, did nobody explain to them the miracle of the powerbar? People, come on! Their entire system got fried, and I’m pointing my finger at an immortal villain who just hasn’t got with the technological times. You can gloss it up all you want in reflective sighs and assertions about the difficulty of being faithfully retro, but my money’s on ancient evil.

And, anyway, if you don’t believe me, just listen to this stuff. The full band version of Shogun Kunitoki is all Four Horsemen on your puny abilities right out of the gate, with its shifting angles and seething drones tied down with thick drums patterns and thunder bass. You’ll have no defense against this, I promise. We’ll all be cowering, wondering which side of the audio spectrum the next assault will come from.

This stuff is dense. “Montezuma” is at least six signs of the apocalypse on its own. Ignore that hypnotic melody that keeps working away in the center channel, it’s there to distract you from the furious synths mounting in the background. If you don’t watch the changes, the drums will napalm your immediate vicinity before you’ve even had a chance to adjust. And—god! Those clipping organs on “Leivonen” sound like somebody being flayed alive, all tension in the high treble and pins and needles bass. You have to keep your attention on the mid-range; when the knives come out, duck. Know what? You may as well stay down; you’ll need to be limber to dodge the Finnish folk waltz barrage of “Tropiikin Kuuma Huuma.” (Hint: that idyllic moment in the middle? With the Hansel/Gretal dance moves? Total ruse! Kunitoki’s trying to fatten you up to weigh you down.)

“Daniel” is super-tricky. Those cascading melodies and pulsating chords may seem triumphant, but notice how they keep frothing at their apex? Those waves will try to drown you, and if they don’t, you’ll have to power roll your way through the wash of lazer beam synths that immediately follow in their wake. Then comes the tricky part, as buzz saws begin emerging from the thick multi-instrument chords that close in around you. Make yourself as small as possible to fit through those holes, and you’ll find yourself locked inside “Tulevaisuus Miinus Menneisyys = 1,” a torture chamber with no windows, and thousands of mystical instruments to make you scream. The detuned melodies produced from scrapes and bumps recreate Kunitoki’s favorite aria to whistle as he decapitates his surrendered enemies: dark, unhurried, and chaotic. Emerge gasping into “1918 – 1926”; it may seem like a reprise but, guess what? The labyrinth that forms around you is easily the heaviest offense here. I’d tell you to try not to get lost, but the thing moves too quickly; the walls of distortion are rigged with electric synth waves that constantly shift, covering up your footsteps as you move further inside. Face it: “Piste” will be your last rites. Slow and meandering, its bells and picazzo strings buzz indifferently about your corpse until, finally, it reverses itself, erasing your very existence.

Look, I’m not crazy, but without mystical intervention, how could a band possibly use such unwieldy synths and still drop these insidious melodic bombs so precisely? This shit has got to be evil. It has to be the first step in another plan for worldly domination by Shogun Kunitoki. If it’s not…shit, how could mortals possibly be this good?