Album of the Week 06-2015: Hyde – Faith

Many J-Rock albums, no matter how good they are, tend to be collections of singles rather than actual albums. Even those that are presented as concept records often have their tracks only very loosely connected. ‘Faith’, the third solo album by L’Arc-en-Ciel and Vamps frontman Hyde, is an exception to that rule. It has a strong conceptual thread of religious imagery, spirituality and – in a broader sense – devotion running through all the songs. Equally important is the fact that Hyde and his Vamps bandmate to be KAZ crafted a number of strong songs, all of them with an identity of their own.

In fact, it’s the best collection of material that both men have been involved with. This is definitely darker and heavier than the somewhat lightweight Rock of L’Arc-en-Ciel – although I could hear them do ‘Mission’ – and while there are some similarities with the loud, three chord verse-and-chorus Rock ‘n’ Roll of Vamps, this album has a lot more depth to it. It would probably be best described as the type of Rock you would hear on the average American radio station dedicated to the genre these days, albeit with a distinctly gloomy edge of modern Metal.

The album’s theme is most obviously reflected in the title track and opening track ‘Jesus Christ’. Both are expertly written Rock songs with an absorbing, gloomy atmosphere and a passionate vocal performance by Hyde. The keyboards lend a slight Gothic tinge to the latter, but they aren’t overpowering. ‘Faith’ itself is one of the best Rock songs I have ever heard from Japan. The rest of the album moves back and forth between heavy, stomping tracks balancing on the edge of contemporary Rock and Metal (‘Dolly’, ‘Made In Heaven’) and heartfelt power ballads (‘Perfect Moment’ being the absolute stand-out in that category). Only the moving ‘I Can Feel’ is located somewhere in the middle of those extremes.

Hyde himself delivers a better performance than I have heard of him before or since. On the live DVD of this tour – and on more live products featuring him – his voice obviously suffers from either his smoking habit or just bad technique, but he sings and shouts his heart out here with perfect sense of dynamics. KAZ and his guitar work also is an important part of this album’s charm, but the secret weapon is former Nine Inch Nails bassist Danny Lohner. His inventive, surprisingly melodic bass lines decorate the best material on this record even beyond their obvious quality.

While the earlier statement of conceptual continuity doesn’t necessarily make ‘Faith’ one of the best J-Rock albums I have ever heard – the compositional brilliance does – it does account for a smooth listening experience and a replay value that many other albums in the genre don’t have. Rock fans of every type should give this album a spin, as it covers plenty of ground to please many of them. Plus: there’s an international version that is almost completely sung in English, so the language argument isn’t a reason to hold you back this time!

Recommended tracks: ‘Faith’, ‘Jesus Christ’, ‘Dolly’

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