CHAPTER 1
Above Heaven Below Heaven I Respect Myself Alone

SAEKO’S STORY — BIOGRAPHY (1974 to 2006)

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BEGINNING OF A BIG DREAM

Saeko was born in 1974 in Osaka, Japan. At age 14, at a time when she was suffering a lot of emotional turmoil in her life, she happened to hear “heavy metal/hard rock" for the first time, such as HELLOWEEN, EUROPE, PRETTY MAIDS, QUEENSRYCHE etc. She felt messages through this powerful music-‘Live! Believe in yourself!', which was an amazing, pivotal experience for her. She felt something in her heart told her that she was born to do this music, and she vowed to herself `I'll go on tour overseas with my own heavy metal band someday`. This determination stayed with her. She formed several bands at schools, but couldn't be satisfied with none of them. Playing overseas was a too big dream for a small Japanese girl, and she gave up her dream in 1992.

However, after sleepless nights from the feeling of getting lost, she began the pursuit of her vow again in 1994…putting up notices in music shops all over Osaka and nearby cities, looking for members who were serious about music. The following year, 1995, she formed the band called INSANIA .
FAIRY MIRROR
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Final Gig of FAIRY MIRROR (Tokyo, April, 2001)
In the summer of 1999 the band changed it's name to FAIRY MIRROR, and expanded their scope of activities. In the winter of 1999 and spring of 2000, they independently released several compositions. It was a time when young Japanese heavy metal bands were getting noticed in the Japanese scene. For FAIRY MIRROR, the chance for their big break was coming ever closer, and Saeko herself was also receiving offers to record a solo album by Japanese labels, but this was the start of her suffering. The people around her expected her to make a success and to be famous following the fashion, but what SAEKO wanted to achieve was neither a success nor fame. Music had always given her strength in her darkest time, especially the strength to believe in herself. Her music had to be true to herself, not to the fashion. By singing true to herself, she wanted to give strength now to others in despair. This was all the reason of her singing, or rather all the reason of her life. These gaps between others' expectation and her reason to sing came to effect on her mind and body.
BETWEEN DREAM AND REALITY
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A month after getting out of hospital

Her pure and idealistic principles in life, which didn't fit in the society, caused lots of opposition from her family and many others. Besides that, stress as a leader of FAIRY MIRROR, strain of only 3 hours sleep everyday from too much work to keep her life going…they had been accumulating for a long time, and finally took it's toll on Saeko's body and mind. Finally she suffered a severe breakdown, which forced her to enter hospital. For her love of music, she continued playing shows, going from her hospital bed to perform and returning there afterwards, exhausted.
After the final show in Tokyo in Spring 2001, the state of her body and mind had reached its limit. She reluctantly realised she must listen to the doctors who had been against her continuing to perform, the ultimate cause of her fatigue. To concentrate on medical treatment, she was forced to quit FAIRY MIRROR. She asked the band to continue activities with a new singer, following the dream they had shared together.

For Saeko things were spiralling out of control. Now she had to give up music itself, for she knew she had to recover before she could sing again.

After getting out of hospital, her condition was so fluctuating that she couldn’t get along without medicine, which frequently made her doubt a complete recovery. The doctors were also unsure about how long it'd take for her to get recovered, and they told her to forget about music. In such a situation, it was like going through Hell for Saeko to see her friends in the music scene, while spending all her time for treatment. Saeko was the one who had devoted all her passion to music and to FAIRY MIRROR. How could she forget about music?
Her family, watching Saeko spending her days crying, even worried she would die losing all hope. That is why they, taking a chance, supported her when Saeko said to them, “I wanna leave Japan for a while”. In the summer 2001, Saeko flew to Switzerland with a suitcase full of medicine.
REBIRTH
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Once in Switzerland, surrounded by the country's natural beauty, she was able to contemplate her life and began to accept what had happened to her.

During her 2 and a half month stay, she attended WACKEN OPEN AIR festival in Germany. The bands with their energetic music and the metallic atmosphere were exactly as she had imagined in her dreams. She began to believe in the possibility of a new life. She called her family from WACKEN, “Now I can see a future! When I recover I will come back here again to sing!" It was the moment of her rebirth. Believing in her new start, she resolved to return to Europe to take on this next challenge.
However, once back in Japan, she had to continue medical treatment, so she decided to go to Canada, staying there 2 months to study English in preparation for her next challenge.
LEAVING FOR GERMANY, A STEP INTO THE UNKNOWN
Time had been passing achingly slowly when in June 2002, Saeko received what she had been eagerly waiting for, the doctor's acknowledgement that she was finally recovered enough, she was now 28. When she had first dreamed about touring overseas, she had been just 14. Now, she was ready to fly after 14 years.
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Market place in front of Hamburg city hall

Heavy of heart for having to leave behind the people she loved, such as her family, friends, boyfriend, who now fully supported her, afraid of feeling lonely on the other side of the globe, in a country whose language she could not understand, she prayed and prayed. There was a calling deep in her heart that she had to listen to. It kept on telling her to leave for Europe.
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Flyer Saeko handed out

That's how she set off and arrived in Germany July 2002. She had to be courageous, for she didn't have anyone to turn to in Germany, yet.

After spending 2 months in countryside in South Germany to confirm that her mind wouldn’t shake, she moved to Hamburg, armed with resolve, her computer filled with musical ideas and a suitcase full of fliers to find other musicians to form a band.

Most nights she handed out fliers on the streets, live halls, rock bars, metal concerts ... just anywhere she could. Saeko knew this was her one chance and only reason she left her country behind, so she must be strong and do her best, despite feeling terribly alone. Her will and passion were truly beyond boundaries.
MEETING LARS RATZ
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At the end of 2002 Saeko received the unexpected phone call from Lars Ratz (producer and mastermind METALIUM). Lars had heard about her by a friend of the Hamburg metal scene, a female heavy metal vocalist who had arrived from Japan all alone only to follow her dream. Meanwhile Saeko had rejected several offers from German and Japanese labels and producers in the past, feeling they did not understand her ideals. She wasn't willing to compromise for her convictions. Expecting a similar outcome, she met Lars. However, as they talked, they realised they shared similar beliefs about music.
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At Studio (Lars, Mari, Saeko, Henning)

Saeko decided to accept Lars’ offer to record a test song in the Tornado Studios Hamburg in January 2003. She poured all her passion into a song, which later would appear as “Sinners for False Light" on her debut album. The song spoke directly to Lars' mind, beyond both cultural and language borders. With the production contract signed with Lars Ratz, Saeko continued her dream encouraged by him and started professional vocal training with METALIUM vocalist Henning Basse.
ABOVE HEAVEN - BELOW HEAVEN: 1ST ALBUM
In the fall of 2003, the recording of her first album began. Produced by Lars Ratz, Guitar and Drums played by Michael Ehre (METALIUM, GAMMA RAY etc.) who as well co-produced the debut, bass by Mariko Inoue--the female bassist from Saeko's former band FAIRY MIRROR, Keyboards and Piano by herself, while Hermann Frank (formerly of ACCEPT, VICTORY) and Sven Luedke (Mob Rules) helped with the solos. All lyrics were by Saeko, song arrangements were in collaboration between Saeko, Lars and Michael. The album's core theme was the light that burns within all of us, the ever-present light, that is, life itself—"Above Heaven Below Heaven I respect myself alone" (Buhdda's words). The album was released by ARMAGEDDON MUSIC, the label Lars started in 2003.
BROADENING HORIZONS
In October 2004, Saeko performed as the opening act on tour with DORO. Saeko gave the stage everything she got. As a result, CDs the label brought on tour went sold out when she was still in the middle of the tour (Video from the tour: "Don't be Afraid" & "Sins for the Gods").
Following that, in July 2005, she played at METAL BASH, and in August 2005 Saeko fulfilled her promise to herself by performing at WACKEN OPEN AIR, the place she had aspired to 4 years earlier, when her own inner light had been re-ignited.
With a very good feedback, her CD went sold out soon after the show and had to be pressed again.
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During the tour with DORO

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Wacken Open Air 2005

RECORDING OF THE 2ND ALBUM, LIFE
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At Studio

Early in the summer of 2005, she started the recording of her 2nd album ‘LIFE', again produced by Lars Ratz. All lyrics and music were written by Saeko, with additional arrangements by Michael Ehre and Lars Ratz. Keyboards and Piano were played by Saeko, Guitars and Drums by Michael Ehre, Bass by the female Mariko Inoue. The album also features all Guitar solos by the female Osaka based guitarist Satoko Yanagase, who as well played the live shows with her in summer of 2005. The central theme of this album is the struggle for people to be true to their ideals in the reality of life. She states “To live is to fight in this reality for my own ideals".
DECISION TO BE INDEPENDENT: STICK TO THE IDEALS
During the recording of ‘LIFE', a philosophical and artistic gap developed between Saeko and the label ARMAGEDDON MUSIC. Unable to compromise her beliefs without affecting her music and the message she wished to express, Saeko made the decision to leave the label. She felt this was the only way she could remain true to herself. In October, she formed her own production company SHINPUH in Japan to create her ideal album. Almost at the same time, Lars Ratz decided to leave ARMAGEDON MUSIC, the label he had created 2 years before, due to visionary differences with his partners there. He also felt being honest to his vision and himself was most important. This way Lars continued to support Saeko's dreams, arranging distribution, promotion and marketing with his new Hamburg based label ARMAGEDDON PRODUCTS which was carried on by capable people who as well separated from ARMAGEDDON MUSIC in November 2005. The road took another turn.
DECISION TO FLY BACK TO JAPAN AND SUSPEND MUSIC CAREER
While the mixing of her 2nd album “LIFE,” Saeko painfully concluded that she should stop her music activity.
After she left ARMAGEDDON MUSIC and became independent, she had to finance her music activity all by herself. Such independent management was possible when she was active only in Japan (e.g. all her former bands such as Fairy Mirror were managed independently) since her sphere of activity was much smaller back then. Now that she was active internationally, financing her wide-ranging activity was beyond her means.
Also, the financial situation of her life itself was badly off, for she was a novice at "business & legal stuff" in the industry. So, she concluded that she should establish a more proper financial basis besides music, but it was very difficult for her to obtain a work visa in Europe (as she was a non-EU citizen). The procedure for renewing her artist visa also took very long. Seeing all things went out of hands, she conceded that she go back to Japan and stop music till she put her finance in order.

FINISHING THE ALBUM, LIFE
Feeling this album might be the last one, Saeko drained all her remaining strength to finish it. While doing so, she came to feel that her task in reality - to dive into the unknown - might actually finish upon finishing the album.
Back in 2002, when she came to Germany, her goal was not to be famous. She just wanted to give strength to the listeners by her music, while demonstrating that our deepest heart, connected to something celestial, would guide us through the unknown. Yes, the reason of her flying to Germany was to show the power of believing in oneself.
Although it wasn't her plan to go back to Japan when she started recording, she eventually came to realise that the last lines in the last song of LIFE, “Eternal Destiny,” suggested her finishing the task, too:
Now I go back / It’s time to say good bye / Don’t cry / Soon I will meet you again / I will leave a piece of me in you / Deep inside / Please remember me
Also, a Japanese cover song added to the album was about a person who’s going back home after traveling the world. These lyrics implied her going back to Japan, suspending music activity for a while.

In March 2006, upon finishing “LIFE”, Saeko said as follows:
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“I've long wanted to know why sadness and pain never disappear from the earth if there IS GOD. Wars and hatred have been everywhere. If it resulted from the lack of our faith or prayer, I thought, all I could do would be to pray with all my heart, believing in the world with no tears would come in the end. So I have run and run, leaving many things behind.
Now, looking back the way I've walked, I eventually come to see. Without tears, we would not know the real meaning of happiness. Without betrayals, we would not be able to reconcile with anyone. As encounter waits after parting, everything rotates. The very state of such flux might be what we call LIFE. The moment we struggle for salvations in this uncertain world may be the very moment when the force of our life shines brightly.
What I want to emphasise is that now I am fully sure that there is something that cares for us, guiding us through this darkness to the light. Otherwise I wouldn't have been guided to this point today after I came to Germany. In my album, LIFE, I named this something as “Collective Truth”.
We may sometimes feel “this is the end of line”, but if only we listen to our deepest heart, Collective Truth whispers back to us. So, we don’t need to be afraid. All we need is to believe the voice in our deepest heart and to simply follow it!
Now that my first chapter has finished, I go back to Japan. I have no regret in a sense that I did my best, following my heart. I will leave a piece of me, that is, this album to you. It may take a while till I resume music, but please remember me.
May everyone live as they wish! Let’s walk on to our glorious day! ”
And she left for Japan in April 2006, where her friends and family await.
Thanks to all I’ve seen in every moment of my life … you all are my Heaven Below!

Saeko (2006)