A portal to eternal sadness you need to enter.
Every person this music touches never emerges quite the same. Shizuka’s Heavenly Persona is the group’s – and band leader Shizuka Miura’s – defining statement, a whirling vortex of almost preternatural sadness, masterful guitar hurricanes, gloomed and doomed atmospherics that are forever falling with Miura’s be-woed vocal performances. In the mercurial underworld that was the 80s and 90s Japanese psychedelic music scene – and particularly that documented by the label PSF – Shizuka stand out, powerful in their ferocity of vision.
Forming in 1992 around the songs of Shizuka Miura, an artist, poet and renowned puppet maker, she soon paired these with legendary guitarist Maki Miura and a soon-to-be-revolving door of rhythm sections. Having previously wrought guitar chaos in groups Les Rallizes Denudes and Keiji Haino’s Fushitsusha, Maki Miura here brings a restraint to his playing that only occasionally erupted into geysers of feedback and distorted echo. Shizuka Miura’s songs are so heavy in their space, weighty, atmospheric liturgies of sadness that she intones with an at-times unbearable melancholy. Each song gracefully, slowly picks apart the singer with a tension between the singer and the tease of a distorted eruption. What the band achieves, specifically on Heavenly Persona, their only studio album, is something truly magical, like angels dying and falling into a vast ocean of bittersweet tears. Really, Heavenly Persona is so deep it seems to feed off a well of emotion beneath the surface of reality and transmogrifies it into something magic and raw, a real beauty you can only really get from an artist expressing their lived reality.
When I first heard Heavenly Persona it was on the recommendation of the shop’s Russell, somewhat of an expert in the PSF canon. As someone who’d dipped in and out of the whole 80s and 90s Japanese guitar/noise scene, it struck me as of that environment but also more timeless and permanent than a lot of it. Personally it was probably Les Rallizes Denudes that hooked me and Shizuka don’t only share a band member but a spirit with them, a ferocious dedication to a vision and raw expression that often transcends music. It’s a feeling of being on the edge of breakdown, being at the sharp end of an intense emotion. Shizuka offer a portal to another universe that you might not escape so easily.
It’s not for the faint hearted. Shizuka Miura’s songs, sung entirely in Japanese, cut across language barriers to convey a pain that can knock you off kilter. They remind me of the post-Strawberry Switchblade work of Rose McDowall, particularly her Sorrow project. Both bands creep forward in tempo and use their respective musical tools to crescendo into towers of emotion. As someone who doesn’t speak Japanese I’m not privy to the meaning or lyrical content of the songs but it doesn’t matter. Miura and her band present almost a full spectrum of sadness rendered in guitar and song, each word, each chorus, each song is deeply affecting: it doesn’t feel like entertainment, but a nourishment. It’s a sadness flipped into connection, ecstasy even.
Shizuka Miura sadly died in 2010 leaving, frankly, not enough documentation of her musical vision. While every live recording they released is also great and shows different sides to the band, Heavenly Persona is the one. A step into the portal of eternal sadness and I urge you to take it.
Michael / Monorail