Even amid the myriad offshoots that frequently peel away from the supersized parallel universe inhabited by Acid Mothers Temple and The Melting Paraiso UFO, Psyche Bugyo deserves much note, primarily because it manages to out-weird its parent band. Ostensibly a concept album based on a loose narrative surrounding samurais and ninjas, Psychedelic Judgeman Comes, He Has The Cherry Blossom On The Shoulder is mostly an opportunity for AMT bassist and vocalist Tsuyama Atsushi to go wild in a majestic homage to classic British heavy rock, and he and his team blow the fucking doors off in the process.
In essence, the concept and storyline behind Psychedelic Judgeman are immaterial, and I doubt even Japanese speakers would be able to get much of it, given the sparseness of the way Tsuyama deploys his lyrics and how nonsensical the delivery is. His eructations sound more like mantras, peppered by scattered woops and hysterical laughter; they’re both silly and unsettling, even when he lapses into deranged English on ‘Psychedelic Judgeman’. What really marks Psychedelic Judgeman as a mini triumph of modern day psych is the way in which obvious influences (Cream, King Crimson, Free, Van der Graaf Generator) are fed into a magimix, reduced to a seamless paste and then spat back out as three tracks of burning, broiling hard-edged trippiness.
Take the wacky opener ‘Ore No Abarenboshogun’. Driven by circular organ riffs and open-ended twin guitar solos like the improvisational parts by In The Court Of The Crimson King-era KC, it builds into a typically AMT-esque wall of constant playing, a jam session elevated to rock & roll art. At intervals, when Tsuyama takes to the microphone, the band lurches into a soaring coda based on The Animals’ ‘House Of The Rising Sun’, which dissolves back into the main melody as Tsuyama’s vocals descend into ominous babbles and grunts. The drummer sounds like Michael Giles, the saxophonist more like Van der Graaf’s David Jackson, whilst there’s no end of references for the organ: take your pick from Wakeman, Emerson or Banton. At fifteen minutes in duration, ‘Ore No Abarenboshogun’ sounds like the middle section of ‘Twentieth Century Schizoid Man’ extended into an endless, freeform jam throughout which Psyche Bugyo are somehow able to keep things together, their interplay bordering on the telepathic. It’s probably the most ferociously gleeful and hard-hitting of the album’s three tracks; a teleport through time to the height of seventies’ prog-rock’s gestatory phase, when it viscerally promised so much more than its later decades would ultimately provide.
After such an unfettered opener, the 34-minute title track and centrepiece is more conceptual and varied, starting with a similar driving opening section as ‘Ore No Abarenboshogun’, although sounding here more like John Peel’s erstwhile protégés Tractor merged with Cream than King Crimson. Drums crash and thunder, organs are overloaded to the max and the guitars rip up an almighty tornado of ecstatic feedback and noise. Just over ten minutes in, the pace switches instantaneously to a slow-paced heavy ballad akin to Neil Young’s ‘Cortez The Killer’, or, perhaps more pertinently, ‘Kokoro’ by Japanese seventies explorers Far East Family Band. The solos here are exquisite, aching with bluesy emotion, the space opening up behind the guitarists to really pour out their notes. This section builds and builds, exploding with stadium-wide intensity, before disintegrating into a miasma of noise that betrays the band’s roots in Acid Mothers Temple. ‘Psychedelic Judgeman’ ends with a rapid-fire proto-metal dash to the finish line, mimicking ‘Siberian Khatru’, the finale from Yes’ seminal Close To The Edge.
After such a dramatic central track, closer ‘Son of Mr Livingfellow’ feels tacked on, its folky acoustic guitars, massed vocals and ever-changing tempos at odds with the burning intensity of ‘Psychedelic Judgeman’. Maybe that’s for the best, and a folk-rock closer that nods towards the weird end of British psych (The Incredible String Band or Jan Dukes de Grey, perhaps) is no hardship. It also feels a lot closer to a number of Japanese bands like the aforementioned Far East Family Band or J.A. Caesar, proving that Psyche Bugyo are much more than the sum of their influences. Psychedelic Judgeman Comes, He Has The Cherry Blossom On The Shoulder is an album that sits out of time, for it could have been made at any time since 1968. There’s no higher compliment one could pay to a band bearing their inspirations so brazenly on their sleeves.