If you were a disenfranchised kid like Ryoji Shinomoto, “a shy kid with long hair, prone to being bullied,” heavy metal – with its massive following in Japan, and its tendency to lead youths to band together in army-like fashion in sometimes small, and often sweaty spaces – was akin to an oasis in a desert.
“When I was about eight years old, I became interested in my father’s guitar,” Shinomoto tells Guitar World. “I was learning classical guitar, but I only really wanted to play an electric one. That was absolutely clear. I didn’t want to hang out with anyone; I only wanted to play my guitar.”
Classical would aid him later – but he soon jumped to “traditional metal guitar” after hearing the genre for the first time. “The first rock music I got into was Kiss. I loved Ace Frehley’s unparalleled solos and vibrato!
“After that I got into Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Ozzy, and then I fell in love with Scandinavian and European death and speed metal. Bands like Helloween, Dragonforce and In Flames were also huge.”
With a burgeoning love for heavy metal leaning towards the melodic, powerful, and symphonic, Shinomoto and his brother, Shuji, formed GYZE in 2011, and they used that name until major lineup changes prompted the siblings to become Ryujin – after the Japanese dragon god of the sea – in January of 2023.
It couldn’t have been easy to rebrand; but with a bit of help from Trivium’s Matt Heafy and a few namechecks by Marty Friedman, Ryujin’s self-titled “debut” – which features contributions from Heafy, who also produced – is perhaps the brothers’ best yet.
“Ryuin’s music is not very Kiss-like,” Shinomoto laughs. “But sometimes you can see some influences. I think the direct link to the past is European metal – especially if you compare our new album with GYZE’s third album, Northern Hell Song.”
The most significant change is in his technique: “It comes down to picking. I used to play with my wrist, but now I use my fingers, wrist, arms, and shoulders. It's all-encompassing.
“But one thing that will never change is my favorite moment, which comes when I play a beautiful melody with perfect vibrato. It’s all a matter of ear rather than pure technique.”
Asked if that thought process extends into Ryuin’s writing, he responds: “Solos are often written on piano, with the idea that I’ll work them out on guitar later. But riffs are different; I often write those on guitar directly.
“If I can write a song with Japanese flavor on the shamisen [a traditional three-stringed instrument] and then play it on the guitar directly, I can keep the shamisen’s unique atmosphere. But overall, I stick to what I’m doing and don’t look at others. I could care less about what others do.”
From humble origins, which included “my father’s Greco ES-335 and a mini classical guitar for kids,” to brandishing gorgeous custom mirror-finish Jackson Kelly guitars, Shinomoto has come a long way. He’s not only a gear hound who loves to try different amps – “though not too many pedals” – he also seems to be writing now more than ever.
“I have plenty of demos I’d like to continue composing after we’re done touring for this album,” he says. “When I was a kid, I recorded my ideas onto tape and made them up as I went. I still do that, only now it’s with Pro Tools. I can’t wait to get the next album out in 2024!”
Asked to articulate his increasingly lofty ambitions, Shinomoto reveals the perfectionist within: “As a guitarist, my short-term goal is not to miss even a single note for an entire tour’s worth of gigs."
“As for the longterm, I want to write a symphony. More specifically, I want to write songs that people will listen to for a long time, like classical and folk music. I don’t think that’s too much to ask of myself. That’s where I’m heading next – along with more Ryujin music and more shows.”
- Ryujin is out now via Napalm Records.