ONE OK ROCK is my favourite band of all-time. I discovered them many years ago with their song “The Beginning,” which was the theme song for the Japanese live-action Rurōni Kenshin film (the first film in the trilogy). I can still recall the chills that I felt from the lyrics and the passion behind the music I was listening to. The song was set on repeat for nearly an hour as I just took in the vocals, the timing and the precision of specific instruments, and finally the construction of the music video. Everything about their musical style had blown me away. Shortly afterwards, I hunted down all of their albums and have kept a watchful eye on their career, especially as it spreads around the globe.
With the release of their latest album, Eye of the Storm, I wanted to take a trip back to their earlier work, with one of my favourite albums, Kanjō Effect, and share with you some of their lesser known songs. Between the lyrics and the force of nature that is their musical artistry, there are morsels within ONE OK ROCK for fans of post-grunge and pop punk to find much enjoyment in.
“JUST” is a song about rising up and essentially saying “fuck you” to anyone who tries to put you down. The lyrics really emphasise banding together and fighting a world that strives to hold you down or makes you believe that you are less than; the people trying to devalue your existence.
“Get away Don’t wanna think about it
Far away You wanna take my name
Killin ‘me Don’t wanna think about You
I define it
I can hear it now”
When I first heard this song, I felt really conflicted. Letting others rise to their full potential to be the best they can be, in whatever they choose, feels like a common-sense sort of notion. But the world has taught me that this is far from reality. Growing up, my family tried to oppress me because I was born a girl. Then society tried and succeeded for many years, also because of my assigned gender, and also because I was brown-skinned, had an abnormal faith, and then later down the road because I was Queer.
The best way to fight those who seek to oppress us is for like-minded, marginalised folks to band together and support one another in the rise to the realm of equality and potential. That’s what I’m reminded of whenever I listen to this song, that we aren’t alone, and we aren’t losers or incapable of greatness.
4. “20 years old”
You ever reach a point in your life where you’re thinking, “Where the hell did the time go? What the fuck am I doing with my existence?” It’s as if your entire life is passing you by and you’re just going through the motions, the routine of waking, working, and sleeping without much awareness of what your life truly means to you as a person? Because that’s what this song is about.
“20 years old and you gotta let me know?
From something am I back to changing some doll’s clothes, to making a scapegoat?
If I go on moving forward without paying attention, how will I be 10 years later?”
Life moves forward whether we are ready for it or not. The lyrics of this song show us the struggles of that change of going forward. Some people are trying to force us into becoming something we are not, while we fear that we will get lost in the crowd of indistinguishable mundaneness. We’re stuck in one place and if we don’t start looking life in the eyes, years and years shall pass us by until there’s nothing left.
As I get older, I feel this song so fucking hard. We all struggle to leave our mark with our existence, whether it’s for ourselves, our loved ones, or the greater good. I believe that fear of being inconsequential simmers inside everyone. I love listening to this song because it reminds me of that. When I really struggle with these thoughts, especially when I’m experiencing Depressive symptoms, listening to “20 years old” helps to reignite my desire to be more than the motions and to live beyond the means of “breathing, waking, and sleeping.”
3. “Break My Strings”
“Break My Strings” follows the same vein of post-grunge with punk elements and some heavier use of drums sporadically throughout. This is one of those songs that sound spectacular when played very loud. I love listening to it with my Astro headphones because I can almost hear every note of every instrument so crisply; it’s wonderful.
Badass sounds aside, “Break My Strings” is a song I discovered while being in one of the darkest periods of my life. The entire song describes how they are being emotionally abused in a toxic relationship and how that regardless of how much the abuser tries, they can never reach the soul and core of the person being abused. That one day they shall “Break My Strings” and find their freedom.
“I break my strings in the direction they shine
tied on my skin so hard, you tell me what to do
you’ll never reach out to my soul
I’ll burn your skin so hard, desire in my hand”
The song is quite dark, but also describes the intensity and the blackness of being trapped in an abusive relationship. The heaviness of the music works as an excellent accompaniment at exhibiting the frustration and the depth of despair that goes with being treated like trash in such a manner. The song, as fucked-up as it may seem, gave me hope that I would be able to break my own strings and find my escape from the poisonous relationship I was trapped in. Luckily, I eventually burned those strings to ashes to move on.
2. “Living Dolls”
“Living Dolls” is a love song. It’s one of the first ones from ONE OK ROCK that really felt genuine with regard to my own experiences.
Typical of most of their songs off the album, it’s about a messed-up world where everything is in chaos or disarray. In a place where trust is a ghost and every individual is a manufactured version of just another person out there with no individuality, they find a person who breaks that mould and shows them a different side to this dreary existence.
“If I can touch your heart
I can tell how you feel
I’ve got the feeling that everything’s being manufactured
people without even names, except for me
they’re all looking like dolls”
My admiration for “Living Dolls” lies in the multiple meanings of it, as well as how beautifully poetic it is, not just the lyrics, but the music as well. The foundation is post-grunge with the vocal sections leaning more towards the pop side of pop punk. It shows two styles that are quite separate, yet they are brought together to create this wondrous thing. There’s a melding of both styles that is reminiscent across all of their work, but they are also highlighted as individual entities in this song, and I’m fascinated by it.
1. “Viva Violent Fellow”
My favourite ONE OK ROCK song from their early era, “Viva Violent Fellow” is an anthem from the band to their listeners about the music they are bringing into the world. With a handful of lyrics, they show the powerful passion they have for music and the joy they feel at sharing it with as many people as they can:
“The pleasant deep sound of the guitar
Travels from the ear to the heart to the foot.
Your body sways with the kick drum
Your eyelids drop with the high-pitched sound of the snare.”
The song also has a second element to it that makes it so addicting to listen to, as much as it is inspiring. “Viva Violent Fellow” is shout-out to anyone who has ever felt the need to just let go of their inhibitions and embrace themselves without regret or hesitancy. It’s sort of the epitome of living your best fucking life as you.
“Viva violent fellow!! (hey)
Viva violent fellow!! (hey)
Let go of your your elegance
The adrenaline makes you surrender yourself to the tempting sounds
It stirs up your hot body.”
This is another one of those songs that is best consumed loudly or with supreme headphones. Also, this is a brilliant song to race to. The adrenaline that’s already coursing through your body from the high of driving at insane speeds is further electrified with the energy of “Viva Violent Fellow,” making you feel that there’s nothing you can’t fucking conquer. There were a handful of races that I kicked arse in because of the sheer thrill that this song when suffused with that adrenaline had created.
ONE OK ROCK has evolved quite a bit from this era in their history. Their musical sound has changed so much, as have the messages in their songs. But I think it’s important to remember where they began as the foundation of their original sounds still exists in so much of what they do. Bands come and go; they start in one place and they end up miles away in a completely different realm. Yet, that never makes them of lesser quality. It merely highlights their growth as artists and individuals. I look forward to seeing where their journey shall take them next.