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Balzac never really denied being the Japanese answer to the Misfits (down to skeleton costumes), but then again, they wouldn't have become the country's premiere horror-punk band by being plain copycats. Balzac's songs are often dark and moody, and their sound incorporates the occasional bouts of noise rock and industrial, but the bandmembers are also remarkably skilled as melodic punk songwriters who hold dark humor and campy imagery dear to their hearts. And that's to say nothing of their veritable entrepreneurial skills: many of Balzac's releases come with toy figures, and the band runs a chain of shops selling its own brands of clothes.
Balzac date back to 1992, being the project of vocalist Hirosuke Nishiyama, who created the group after dissolving his "zombie-core" unit Astrozombies. The first lineup also featured guitarist Tetsuya, bassist Yoritsugu "Anti" Azuchi, and drummer Naoki, all of whom played on the band's debut ultra-rare demo, Scapegoat 666 (1992), released in only 13 copies. Tetsuya and Naoki left in 1993, replaced by Atsushi Nakagawa (guitar) and Koji (drums), both appearing on Balzac's first single, The Lord of the Light and of the Darkness, released on their own Evilegend13 Records label in 1993. Two years of laborious touring and small releases followed, before Balzac got a deal with Alchemy Records and released their debut album, The Last Men on Earth (1995). Around that time the band was hit by another string of lineup troubles, losing Koji in 1995 -- he was replaced by Hajime Nishio -- and then seeing the rhythm section depart in 1997 when Balzac shifted to Diwphalanx Records, one of Japan's biggest indie labels.
Nishio and Azuchi were replaced by Imai Akio (bass) and Masami (drums), but the latter left during the recording sessions for the band's second album, Deep Teenagers from Outer Space (1997). Balzac's old buddy Futoshi Okano filled in as a session drummer, with the permanent position filled by Kill in 1998, when the band released the album 13 Stairway -- The Children of the Night and got the chance to open for the Misfits on their Japanese tour. The exposure gained by Balzac helped to facilitate their breakthrough at the national level. The next years saw a flurry of small releases guaranteed to give a collector a headache, all leading to the ultra-busy 2000, when Balzac toured with the Misfits again; played with the Mad Capsule Markets; opened their first clothes/merchandise shop; and released their fourth album, Zennou-Naru Musuu-No Me Ha Shi Wo Yubi Sasu, a conceptual industrialized affair. The torrent of singles resumed in 2001, when the band had also worn out another drummer: Kill stepped down to give the spot to Takayuki.
In 2002, Balzac released a split single with the Misfits, followed by the album Terrifying! Art of Dying -- The Last Men on Earth II (its second CD was a re-recording of their debut) and then the band's live debut in the U.S. (on-stage with the Misfits, of course). High-profile international touring ensued afterwards, with Balzac playing the U.S. with the Damned, the Dickies, Agnostic Front, and Rancid, and touring Europe. Despite the packed schedule, Balzac found the time to release three albums in two years -- Beyond the Darkness (2003, out in the U.S. as well), Out of the Light of the 13 Dark Night (2003), and Came Out of the Grave (2004), which was released in Europe and Japan. They also started a side project called Zodiac, which debuted with the EP Zodiac Killer in 2004.
The Balzac EP Dark-Ism followed in 2005, and the album Deep Blue: Chaos from Darkism II came out in 2006, its extended edition getting stateside distribution via the Misfits' own label in 2007. Another Zodiac release, Beware on Halloween, and more live appearances under that alias happened in 2006, with one show seeing them perform as both Balzac and Zodiac. They also found the time to rework Balzac songs in a trashier fashion under the name of the Deranged Mad Zombies (the project's eponymous release came out in 2006). The group returned to its darker roots on the 2008 album Hatred: Destruction = Construction, both predated and followed by big tours, including a stint in Germany with visual kei rockers Mucc in 2007. ~ Alexey Eremenko
- Osaka, Japan
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