There’s an ancient Japanese legend in which a horde of demons, ghosts and other terrifying ghouls descend upon the sleeping villages once a year. Known as Hyakki Yagyō, or the “Night Parade of One Hundred Demons,” one version of the tale states that anyone who witnesses this otherworldly procession will die instantly—or be carried off by the creatures of the night. As a result, the villagers hide in their homes, lest they become victims of these supernatural invaders.
Such is the inspiration for the latest album from Earthless. “My son is really into mythical creatures and old folk stories about monsters and ghosts,” bassist Mike Eginton explains. “We came across the ‘Night Parade of One Hundred Demons’ in a book of traditional Japanese ghost stories. I like the idea of people hiding and being able to hear the madness but not see it. It’s the fear of the unknown.”
Whereas 2018’s Black Heaven featured shorter songs and vocals from guitarist Isaiah Mitchell on much of the album—an unprecedented move for the San Diego power trio—their latest is a return to the epic instrumentals Earthless made their unmistakable name on. Night Parade Of One Hundred Demons is comprised of two monster songs—the 41-minute, two-part title track and the 20-minute “Death To The Red Sun.”
“Originally, we were trying to figure out how to condense the title track so it would fit onto one side of an LP,” drummer Mario Rubalcaba explains. “But the more we kept playing, the more we kept finding different places to go with it. We eventually just decided to let it breathe and go long.”
The scenario that allowed for this kind of exploration was a stark contrast to that of Black Heaven. At that point, Mitchell was living in the Bay Area, which made it difficult for the band to get together and work on the type of long instrumental pieces they’re known for. But in March 2020, the guitarist moved back to San Diego. More specifically, he moved back the night the pandemic lockdown kicked in. Bad timing, perhaps—or maybe perfect timing.
“With Isaiah here, we were able to get together once or twice a week to work on these jams,” Rubalcaba says. “We got back to our original songwriting process of just playing and building off each other little by little. And we actually had the time to do that, which was creatively inspiring.”
Plus, they were all on the same page about not wanting to do another record with vocals. “In a way, I think this album was a reaction to our last record,” Eginton says. “Black Heaven was outside our comfort zone. I think it was a good record, but it was challenging to write songs in a more traditional verse-chorus-verse format. This one was more enjoyable. I’m sure we’ll do more vocal tracks in the future, but for the time being I see that album as a one-off.”
Given the record’s inspiration, it should come as no surprise that Night Parade Of One Hundred Demons strikes a more sinister tone than the rest of the band’s catalogue. “It definitely has a darker, almost evil kind of vibe compared to stuff we’ve done in the past,” Rubalcaba says. “There’s more paranoia and noise, and some of Isaiah’s whammy-bar stuff kind of reminds me of these Jeff Hanneman moments in Reign In Blood, where it just seems like everything is going to hell. It’s pretty fun.”
Night Parade Of One Hundred Demons was recorded in San Diego with Rubalcaba’s childhood friend Ben Moore, who’s worked with everyone from Diamanda Galas and Burt Bacharach to Ceremony and Hot Snakes. When Eginton wasn’t tracking his bass parts, he worked on the album’s incredible sleeve art. “He really dedicated himself to the project,” Rubalcaba says. “He’d be drawing in the studio with, like, a coal-miner’s lamp on his head while we were doing overdubs. He really knocked it out of the park.”
“I basically wanted to draw my interpretation of the folk story,” Eginton explains. “I started researching the different Yōkai—the demons—and really got into it. It was really cool reading about where they came from and what their interactions with humans were. Then I tried to create what I imagined the event might look like. I didn’t get a hundred in there, but I got quite a few.”
All told, Night Parade Of One Hundred Demons isn’t just a return to the band’s traditional format—it’s a return to their very beginnings. “This album actually has the very first Earthless riff in it,” Eginton reveals. “We just recorded it 20 years after we wrote it. But we’re really happy with how this record came out. We feel it might be our finest to date.”