At this point, Takafumi Matsubara’s story is a familiar one for most grindcore fans. However, since I’m guessing that not all of our loyal Vault Hunters are devotees of the genre, I’ll give a quick recap. Matusbara is arguably best known as the guitarist for Gridlink, whose three albums contain some of the most forward-thinking grind ever committed to (virtual) tape. Then just as the band was about to release their artsy 2014 masterpiece Longhena, the band’s vocalist Jon Chang announced that Matsubara was being forced to retire from music due to complications from a brain infection that doctors expected would leave him unable to ever play guitar again.
However, doctor’s aren’t always right about these sorts of things, and last year Matubara returned with a new band called Retortion Terror, who made their explosive debut on one half of an October split with Minnesota’s Invidiosus. Less than a year later, Retortion Terror are back for Round II with a self-titled EP that Horror Pain Gore Death will be releasing on September 14 (preorder here), and its six tracks make for some of the most frenetic seven minutes of music you’re likely to hear this year, as well as some of the best.
We’re thrilled to be premiering one of those six tracks here today at the Vault. “Quagmire” also happens to be my favorite song on the EP, largely because of the manic burst of lead guitar near the end of the track. I also had the honor of interviewing Matsubara for this piece, which I highly recommend giving a read while you listen to “Quagmire” on repeat.
Indy Metal Vault: As far as I’m concerned, you may well be the most creative, innovative guitarist to ever play grindcore, and it’s an honor to be able to interview you. So before starting with the questions, please allow me to very respectfully say dōmo arigatō Matsubara-sama. Since it’s basically impossible to talk about Retortion Terror without first mentioning that it was only four years ago that doctors thought you’d never play guitar again. How is the recovery coming? You told the site Metal Invader in 2016 that you “suffer from [a] terrible headache after playing the guitar over ten minutes.” Do you still get those headaches after playing for too long, or have you continued to get stronger since then?
Takafumi Matsubara: Thanks for your interview. I really appreciate that you have interest in my current activities. I’m very fine. Though I can’t say I recovered perfectly, I can play the guitar better than a few years ago because I spent a lot of time and money for rehabilitation. And I have practiced Karate. That is very good for blood circulation. But that is sometimes dangerous, lol. And I have practiced the guitar. Sometimes I gave up. But some friends encouraged me and I believed in my recovery. Rehabilitation and practice made my body better and stronger. From 2017, I have been doing recording works for my solo album. I had to play over two hours in the studio. That makes me get used to playing for a long time. Recently I played over four hours. I had a terrible headache then. 2016…ten minutes. 2018…four hours. That is the proof of my recovery. Maybe I can play ten hours next year, lol.
IMV: For our readers who may not know, can you talk a bit about what happened four years ago that temporarily forced you into retirement from music? You somehow contracted a brain infection, correct?
TM: Ok. I had a brain infarction four years ago. And parts of my throat and left fingers were paralyzed. Fortunately there was no threat to my life. But I could not play the guitar at all then. I went to rehabilitation almost every day and took some medicine. And I started practicing karate to make my body better.
IMV: After the infection, how long did you go before picking up a guitar again? Which did you return to first – guitar or karate? I’ve read elsewhere that your doctors didn’t actually want you to start doing either. Is that true? Assuming so, what made you decide to go against their instructions and do it anyway? In your mind, did you always know that you were going to return to both regardless of what anyone said?
TM: It took seven months to pick up the guitar again. Of course Karate was first. My left hand and foot did not work well. But I practiced with my right hand and foot. I have been taking a medicine called Bayaspirin. If I am bleeding, it takes a lot of time to stop bleeding due to the medicine. So my doctor never permitted karate. My karate is full contact style. I understand it dangerous, lol. My friends called me crazy and my wife cried to see my practice, lol. My doctor always said “Get some rest.” ” Don’t work too hard.” But I wanted to go ahead and go back to my karate dojo as soon as possible. And I want to make grindcore music again. My dream was to make my solo album with my favorite musicians. I wanted to make my dream come true. They needed hard practice. So I selected the hard way. To give up is easy. But I can’t endure “regret.”
IMV: I know that I’m far from the only one who was beyond thrilled when I first heard that you were returning to grind with Retortion Terror. What made you decide that you were ready to start a band again? Did you have a certain goal in mind where you were like ‘once I can do this, I’ll know it’s time,’ or did it just kind of happen?
TM: One day I met Nicholas. He was looking for a guitarist. He was a beginner drummer. I was one finger guitarist. I thought we could practice together. That became Retortion Terror. He practiced so hard. His improvements were amazing. I had to use some fingers to catch up with his playing. So I practiced harder and harder. And I could endure headaches longer and longer. For us, that was all. We were satisfied with our studio practices. One day Nicholas said he wanted to support the live show of Chiens (French grindcore). We decided to do the live show. And we named our band “Retortion Terror,” After that, we practiced much harder. That made my fingers much better. At that time, we talked it was good to do live show and make demos rarely. But recently we are so busy, lol.
IMV: How did the split with Invidiosus come about? Were you familiar with them before then, or was that something HPGD Records put together? If I’m not mistaken, you did meet Invidiosus when they toured Japan, and even sparred a bit with their vocalist Matthias Joyce, right?
TM: Matthias contacted me when I retired. He said he liked my music and encouraged me so often. I understood his enthusiasm. When he said he wanted to work with me, I suggested the split. So we had to practice much, much harder, lol. And Matthias contacted HPGD. Mike from HPGD said OK. I was really surprised. Because we were the band of beginner and handicapped men, lol. And yes, after releasing the split, Invidiosus did an Asian tour. We supported their Osaka show. After sound check, we did light sparring. That was his request. He practices kickboxing and Ju Jitsu. That was so funny, lol. We are good friends.
IMV: For that split, Retortion Terror’s lineup was credited as being you plus “a mysterious lineup of international grinders.” The promo materials for the Retortion Terror EP mention that Kiyo “No-Kon” Nishihara of World End Man has joined you for vocals. Is the rest of the lineup the same as it was for the split, or does Retortion Terror have a ‘permanent’ lineup?
TM: Haha. No, no. Not mysterious, lol. Retortion Terror now…drums Nicholas, guitar Matsubara, vocals…some guest vocalists. By the time we make our first album, we are going to make some split with some guest vocalists we love. That is just an experiment. Originally we were a practice band. We have nothing. We practice our own grindcore. That is all. We are enjoying what we can do now. The guest vocalists understand that and they give us a good chance and experience. In the near future, we look for a permanent bassist and vocalist. When we find good members, we will start making our album.
IMV: The riffs you’re writing for Retortion Terror aren’t quite as angular (if that makes any sense) as what you were doing on the last two Gridlink releases, but they’re no less incredible. Has your songwriting process changed at all since the infection, or is your approach to writing riffs still essentially the same? Are you still using the 9-string guitar that you rehabbed with for Retortion Terror?
TM: Yes. Gridlink songs are very difficult. And I must use all of my fingers. Though my fingers recovered almost, the middle finger still doesn’t work well. So I must write riffs without middle finger. I agree my riff style is changed. And the 9-string guitar…I couldn’t play it at all. I sold it and bought a six-string guitar, lol. When I bought it, I had forgotten my fingers are very short, lol.
IMV: We’re premiering “Quagmire” along with this interview. What can you tell me about the song? There’s a short burst of lead guitar near the end of the song that, much like your guest solo on Daggra’s “Setsuna,” absolutely blew me away.
TM: Ummm…All of my songs, solos, and riffs are based on the passion for grindcore. The answer is ok??
IMV: Retortion Terror has played live a couple of times, right? Is that something you plan to do more of, or will that only be an occasional sort of thing?
TM: Yes. We must do many live shows and make some splits. Originally we were “Kyoto city grindcore.” We acted only in Kyoto city. We are satisfied with only song writing and studio practice. But we know live shows and recordings make the band better. So we do them.
IMV: Once again, thank you for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the last word to the artists – anything else you’d like to add?
TM: I really appreciate you!!!! I have been making my solo album. And Mortalized will make something new in near future. I can do these because “I am the guitarist of Retortion Terror.” I keep on practicing. I keep on fighting with myself and the posers. Thanks!!!!!!