Album of the Week 25-2014: Luna Sea – Image

Nothing about reviewing Luna Sea is more difficult than describing their style. Sure, their music fits the Rock idiom, but their guitar sound is too clean to call them a Hard Rock band, the song structures are too progressive and their playing too technically demanding for Punk, Ryuichi’s vocals have an undeniable Japanese Pop flair and while the New Wave and Post Punk influences are apparent, the rhythms tend to rock a little too hard for that category as well. Whatever you choose to call this though, it is good music characterized by strong melodies and a wide range of moods and atmosphere.

What helps is that Luna Sea has three good songwriters with equal input in the band. Bassist J’s compositions are probably least alien to western ears due to his obvious fascination with the American alternative scene, while rhythm guitarist Inoran’s works often have a Balkan-like flavor due to his extensive use of accented chords on the afterbeat. Lead guitarist and violinist Sugizo has a somewhat more experimental approach, generally resulting in the more progressive songs of the quintet. These aren’t strict divisions though; ocassionally the approaches mix with great results.

More importantly, ‘Image’ is full of moments where the amazing songwriting and fantastic performances complement each other. Opening track ‘Déjàvu’, for instance, has quite a light Rock feel with breezy melodies, but they still get their power from the rhythm section, particlarly Shinya’s solid drumming. Not many bands succeed in marrying the melodic sensibilities of Pop with the brute force of Rock, but Luna Sea does just that seemingly effortlessly all throughout the album.

Highlighting the album is probably its fantastic title track. With the ideal merger of Inoran’s acoustic and Sugizo’s electric guitars, the fantastic bass parts courtesy of J and Ryuichi’s vocals mainly staying in their lower, soothing register, this song has something of a Japanese Billy Idol-vibe, although Idol’s rebellious vibe is traded for dreamy melancholy. It’s hard not to get carried away. Another masterpiece is the progressive ‘Search For Reason’, where heavier sections lead by an oddly timed Black Sabbath-ish riff alternate with calmer, haunting passages. Once again: brilliantly written, expertly executed. There’s a little something for everyone here though; ‘Moon’ is for the dreamers, ‘Symptom’ for the violent and ‘Wish’ for those who need to be cheered up.

All this, combined with its fantastic production, makes ‘Image’ a must for everyone who likes good Rock music. Also, with Luna Sea being a household name of Japan’s famed Visual Kei scene – though they later prove to take the musical side of it more seriously by ditching most of their visual attire – all of the artwork looks nothing short of fantastic. It’s the last piece to make this perfect as a total product. Luna Sea’s music may sound bit strange upon first listen, because it’s hard to categorize, but once it makes sense, mastepieces like ‘Image’ and 1994’s ‘Mother’ are likely to return to your music player on a regular basis.

Recommended tracks: ‘Image’, ‘Search For Reason’, ‘Déjàvu’, ‘Mechanical Dance’

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