The Japanese Surgeon-Turned Grindcore Musician – Kandarivas
by Ryan Dyer
The grindcore scene in Japan is rich, with bands like Self Deconstruction and Flagitious Idiosyncrasy in the Dilapidation making waves in the past decade and Butcher ABC leader Naru’s Obliteration Records giving many of the bands a vessel to release their content.
One band that immediately stands out though, are a group of individuals wearing face paint, happi coats and including traditional Taiko drums in their live presentation. Unique visual presentation aside, it is not the most interesting aspect of the band known as Kandarivas – that being that band leader Tomoki is a surgeon-turned-grindcore musician.
Tomoki started Kandarivas in 2015, though his story as to when and why he started the band at that time is unique. “When I was 13 years old, I started a thrash metal band and played in it until I was 17,” says Tomoki. “When I turned 17, I realized it was so hard to make a living and survive as a musician. Because I am not really that talented a musician, I decided to pursue a real career and got a job as a surgeon (partly because surgeons know about the human body, internal organs, bones, etc, which are things brought up commonly in metal music, especially grindcore).”
Tomoki knew that fronting an extreme metal band was risky at best when considering how lucrative it could be, and that having a marketable skill was crucial to make it in life, so he formed a plan. “I was thinking that when I turned 40 years old, I will then finally start my band. So, I was waiting to start Kandarivas for 23 years. The year 2015 is when I turned 40, and that’s when Kandarivas was finally born!”
His vision for Kandarivas was also unique – with Tomoki culling from his hometown of Kanda City for inspiration. “Kanda has many pieces of historical architecture and big festivals One of the wonderful buildings in Kanda is the Kanda Myojin Shrine, which was used on the cover of our EP, Grind Surgical Shrine. My family has lived in Kanda from the Samurai era and has a deep connection with the city and shrine.” Even the name Kandarivas is devolved from the Kanda River, “I changed it from Kanda River to Kandarivas（Kanda＋reverb),” explains Tomoki. “I chose the name because I wanted to spread the name of Kanda all over the world just like the reverb effect! There is a song about it called “Kanda River,” which is a very famous Japanese song.”
The Taiko drums bring the tradition of the Kanda area to life in the songs of Kandarivas. When infused with grindcore, the songs get an extra layer of texture, making them that much more aggressive. “In the beginning, Kandarivas were a trio. However, when our bassist left in about 2016, the bassist of crossover/nu-metal band Cocobat recommended using the Taiko drums as a bass sound instead of bass guitar,” says Tomoki. “We have one of the biggest festivals in Tokyo called the Kanda Festival, and this is where we usually use Taiko drums. So, to keep the band in the spirit of tradition and in the festival spirit, Kandarivas also uses Taiko drums. Kandarivas’ sound comes from the Kanda Festival!”
Kandarivas’ first EP, Grind Surgical Shrine, features the Kanda Myojin Shrine with zombies surrounding it on the cover. Tomoki has a close relationship with the shrine, “When something happens to me and my family, we go to this place. When Kandarivas made our first EP, I wanted to use the shrine’s design somehow. Naru asked the artist Timbul Cahyono（Bvllmetalart）to make our EP cover. Zombies are the audience of the Kanda Matsuri Festival and the Kandarivas members are hiding in the hoard like Where’s Waldo?”
The band also wears special jackets for their gigs called happi coats. The coats are like battle jackets worn mainly for Japanese festivals. “I am a surgeon in the University Hospital, so I wanted to hide my face,” reveals Tomoki. “Normally, doctors don’t play grindcore and death metal. I also wanted to erase my individuality when I played.” Tomoki was also partly influenced by fashion designer Martin Margiela in this respect. “Martin Margiela wanted to erase the models’ individuality on collection photos because the company wanted the audience to watch the clothes and not the faces of the models.”
Since its inception, Kandarivas has had a relationship with fellow Japanese grinders Butcher ABC, with the band releasing their albums on Naru’s Obliteration Records label and doing a few split releases with Butcher. “Of course, I knew of Butcher ABC and Naru before starting Kandarivas. When I organized the Everloud Fest Japan vol.1, I invited Butcher ABC. That was the first contact I made with Butcher ABC and at this time, I knew Naru’s hometown was near my hometown and Naru had a very similar mind with the traditions and customs of his hometown, like me.” Since that moment, the relationship between the two bands blossomed. “We decided that we liked each other a lot and when Kandarivas made our first EP, I asked Naru to release it on Obliteration Records. Obliteration Records is the best label for death metal and grindcore in Japan! In 2020, Naru booked a gig with Butcher ABC vs Kandarivas and we made a split live album of this gig and a split demo album!”
Aside from the following Kandarivas have in their native Japan, the band has strong ties with Indonesia, having toured there five times and building relationships with bands like Noxa by doing split releases with them and touring with them. three-way split with Noxa and Inlander after touring with them in 2018. “The Indonesian people really respect the Japanese underground scene, so, in turn, I love them back! On the other hand, the Japanese only know of a few Indonesian bands, even though there are many amazing bands in the country.”
Tomoki organized the Everloud Festival in Japan with his comrade Stevi from Deadsquad in order to introduce some of these Indonesian bands to Japanese people and to do a kind of cultural exchange in the underground scenes. “The big differences between the two countries that I can see is that J-pop and rock music are the main styles of music for young people in Japan, however death metal and grindcore are the main types of music for Indonesian young people, so they have a huge underground scene (or is it the overground scene…). In Indonesia, we played at the Noxa Fest for over 3000 people – it’s really an unbelievable grindcore and death metal festival. On the other hand, the Japanese underground scene is not so big, but the Japanese underground is so hot and enthusiastic!”
When COVID-19 struck, Tomoki found himself in the unique position of having to deal with being on the front lines of the pandemic. This influenced Kandarivas’ Blood Surgical Death EP, which is about the horrors seen within Japanese hospitals during COVID. Tomoki recounts the details of this time period which influenced the album, “At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to fight against an unknown virus and we had to perform surgery on many different patients who had cancer, infections, and so on. Normally, we have a team for medical practice, however, during this period I was alone for much of the time. I met many patients that were dying of COVID-19 and I saw many body bags. The government asked us to save the COVID-19 patients, though they also sent a lot of body bags as well. It seemed like a contradiction, and I became confused and depressed. To combat this, I started to make songs about that situation in that chaotic hospital. These songs became our second album, Blood Surgical Death. The album cover art is a photo of my blood. Blood is the only organ that can be removed while still alive.”
Currently, Kandarivas is experiencing a new era, with a new vocalist, Kneeya, who is also in the band ovEnola, “Kneeya is a wonderful vocalist and a big guy (186cm) so we couldn’t think of a better fit.”
Aside from his duties in the hospital and in Kandarivas, Tomoki has also joined the project GravavGrav with his old friend Naru from Butcher ABC. “During the pandemic, Naru formed this band, which he labeled “Bored Death Metal.” The members are Naru, Ryohei, Ragnar, and myself. I am playing guitar between these two big-boned extreme musicians and am so happy to be doing so.”
In late 2022, Kandarivas hit another milestone, releasing a split album with the legendary Osaka-based grindcore band SWARRRM, entitled Layered Chimera via Daymare Records. The band has kept busy besides, performing with fellow grinders Sete Star Sept and at the annual Asakusa Deathfest in Japan. As for performing outside of his native country again, Tomoki wants the world to see this new version of Kandarivas, so keep your eyes peeled for the grindcore surgeon in your city.