Japan's Funeral Sutra has been active since 2011, but the band's first release, the four song Meditations, came out just this past month. Some digging will show that Funeral Sutra spent the intervening time playing gigs in and around Tokyo, supporting the likes of Tokyo's long-running black/thrash band Abigail and Australia's Thrall along the way. Now, the band emerges on a broader scene with a seemingly singular focus—Meditations' four songs, titled "Emptiness Sutra," "Hope Sutra," "Time Sutra," and "Death Sutra," make clear enough that there's ambition, here, for something akin to a spiritual experience.

All that time practicing paid off. Meditations is a black metal/post-hardcore* gem, where musicianship, songwriting ability and lofty goals meet on a slightly lo-fi tableau. The EP is set up as a four-part life cycle, with "Emptiness" followed by "Hope," "Time," then "Death." A bleak outlook, to be sure, and "Emptiness" lives up to its name with lyrics like, "Therein lies nothing, a skin bag of blood and shit," and "The greatest works of man come to nothing, monuments to delusion, monuments to shit." (No, they didn't rhyme "shit" with "shit.")

The song sets the mood and it's a monster. "Emptiness" kicks off with a chorus of toad-croaked mantras that are drowned out by building guitars that settle into a menacing march and straddle that black metal/post-X divide, a zone that Funeral Sutra finds comfort in but doesn't wear out. Soon enough the song takes a dive into a measured black metal blast cut through with pained, earnest and desperate screams, muted just enough to suggest that you can scream, but no one will hear you, etc.—futility.

Funeral Sutra plays with emotional ups and downs, moving from moments of reflection to moments of despair, the moods evoked by awesome guitar work that buzzes away and churns out big riffs at will. Not to ignore the drumming—that's great too, but the guitars on Meditations get center stage. The second track, "Hope," is a guitar-forward beauty that takes cues from post-hardcore more than black metal, suggesting that the muscularity of the genre invites possibility. Going by the rule that songs over seven minutes can't be singles, "Hope" is Meditations' single—gruff, massively headbang-able and stupendously righteous. It's also a bit of the odd man out, and, fittingly, it's short lived—"Time" delves back into (often gorgeous) black metal depression.

"Death" bows the album out in glorious fashion, flexing songwriting muscles by hitting the highs and lows like "Emptiness" but with a bigger focus on ambient textures and strokes of post-black metal genius. It's an awesome end to a very promising EP, one that experiments with a lot of building blocks familiar to this style of music but nevertheless feels fresh, and, perhaps even better, refreshingly sincere.

Meditations is out now and is available as a digital download from Funeral Sutra's Bandcamp.

— Wyatt Marshall

*A blend close on paper but in practice quite different from fellow countrymen Envy.