Posts Tagged ‘ Visual Kei ’

Album of the Week 19-2018: The Mortal – I Am Mortal


Atsushi Sakurai was born to sing gothic rock. His deep, emotional baritone belongs in the genre. But somehow, despite their gothic masterpiece ‘Jusankai Wa Gekko’, his main band Buck-Tick does not want to make the full leap into the genre. As a result, he needs to set up projects like The Mortal every once in a while. In a way, ‘I Am Mortal’ is a logical continuation of Sakurai’s solo debut ‘Ai No Wakusei’, but the album leans far more to the goth side of things and because of that, this dark monster of an album feels a lot more consistent.

On the ‘Spirit’ EP released a month prior to ‘I Am Mortal’, The Mortal was already quite clear about its influences. Sakurai has never made a secret of his love for Bauhaus and the fact that he covered them – alongside The Damned and Souxsie And The Banshees – on that EP should already give a clear hint of what The Mortal sounds like. The Mission is a clear influence as well, especially in ‘Mortal’. At times, the band explores the noisier end of the post-punk spectrum, however, resulting in intense, aggressive moments such as ‘Barbaric Man’ and ‘Pain Drop -It Rains Cats & Dogs’.

While those explosions of energy certainly contribute to the varied nature of ‘I Am Mortal’, the album is best when introspective. ‘Yume – Deep Dream’ has the huge eighties goth production, but in essence feels like a really dark love song. Closing track ‘Sayonara Waltz’ keeps things considerably smaller, being rooted in just Sakurai’s vocals and the classical guitar of Jake Cloudchair, but is no less atmospheric. The album starts in quite a dark, introspective manner with as well with ‘Tenshi’, which is a really good taster to set the horror-like mood of the rest of the album.

The calmer moments are not the only highlights of ‘I Am Mortal’ though. ‘Tsuki’ is the opposite end of the spectrum, with its propulsive, straightforward punk beat and intensely repetitive chorus. The rhythmically unpredictable ‘Grotesque’, ‘Guignol’, ‘Dead Can Dance’ and the spectacular ‘Fantômas – Tenrankai No Otoko’ are masterpieces of creepy goth and horror punk and the aforementioned ‘Mortal’, probably the most traditional gothic rock track on here, is simply too catchy and emotional to be ignored. It should be noted that the atmospheric memorability of the choruses is the rule rather than the exception here. Even if you are not adept at Japanese, these melodies will stick. Trust me, I should know.

‘I Am Mortal’ was followed by the impressive live dvd ‘Immortal’, but as of this writing, no new The Mortal plans have been announced. I truly hope there will be a sequel to the album though, because the album shows Atsushi Sakurai doing what he does best: singing dark, emotionally laden gothic rock songs. His love for the genre oozes out of the album’s pores. Also, Sakurai and his band mates appear to have a very strong connection musically, so it would be a pity to not hear more of this. Even the classic goth bands cannot quite reach these heights anymore.

Recommended tracks: ‘Fantômas – Tenrankai No Otoko’, ‘Mortal’, ‘Sayonara Waltz’, ‘Tsuki’

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Album of the Week 18-2018: Fumihiko Kitsutaka’s Euphoria – Euphoria


When neoclassically inspired guitarists start a solo project, the records are often filled with flagrant displays of virtuosity. Fumihiko Kitsutaka however, presumably through his career as the guitarist for eighties hardrockers Arouge and crazy eclectics Kinniku Shojo Tai, learned a lesson or two about songwriting. Sure, his impressive dexterity is fairly prominent on his solo debut, but the real stars on ‘Euphoria’ are the compositions and the arrangements. Clearly, Kitsutaka wanted his songs to enchant the listener rather than his technical profiency and because of that, ‘Euphoria’ is one of the better neoclassical hardrock and power metal albums out there.

In the booklet, Kitsutaka is credited as “master of guitar orchestrations” and that may actually be the biggest asset of ‘Euphoria’. Not only are there plenty of Queen-inspired guitar harmonies, the use of acoustic guitars is incredible. Sometimes it is just a ringing chord adding some brightness to the top layer, other times nylon stringed classical guitars provide the perfect accompaniment for Tetsuya Saito’s vocal delivery. The use of only one singer also contributes to the album’s consistency, while the changing rhythm section – two drummers and three bassists share duties – is likely chosen to add different flavors to the rhythms.

For all intents and purposes, ‘Euphoria’ is a rather unusual solo album for a lead guitarist. Sure, there are songs like the powerful neoclassical hardrocker ‘The Room (Named Desperation)’ and the virtuosic instrumental ‘Justice Of Black’, but they don’t dominate the album. Even when songs like the stomping headbanger ‘Deep In Love’ and the energetic power metal track ‘Sacred Garden’ seem to invite Kitsutaka to cram the solo section full of sweeps and classical scales, his lead guitar work is always melodic and tasteful, while the memorability of a chorus seems of equal or greater importance to the guitarist.

There are a few real surprises on ‘Euphoria’. First of all, the relaxed romanticism of ‘Nursery Rhyme’ features Kitsutaka almost exclusively on the classical guitar, save for a powerful electric solo. ‘Dance Desire’ is a strong hardrocker that combines a relatively heavy bottom end with a rather atypical swing in the rhythm department, while ‘Losing You’ combines distinct melodic touches with some aggressive start-stop riffing and a busy chorus with some of Saito’s most passionate vocals. Saito really ties this album together with Kitsutaka anyway, as his lower take on visual kei-inspired vocals gives the album part of its unique atmosphere.

Sonically, ‘Euphoria’ also forsakes the spotlessly clinical sound usually associated with these types of releases and opts for a highly dynamic, organic sound that really feels like a band playing together. All of this contributes to an album that, despite being of a style that has been attempted before, has a very fresh feel. There is no pretension or showing off on ‘Euphoria’, just a group of musicians wanting to make the best album that could possibly be made at the time with the means at their disposal. More bands should attempt that approach. If anything, ‘Euphoria’ proves that it works.

Recommended tracks: ‘Losing You’, ‘Dance Desire’, ‘Sacred Garden’, ‘Nursery Rhyme’

Album of the Week 11-2018: Buck-Tick – No. 0


With Buck-Tick on a surprisingly high second career peak from their 2005 masterpiece ‘Jusankai Wa Gekkou’ onward, a new album is always something to look forward to. Especially considering how good 2016’s ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ was. And while ‘No. 0’ isn’t quite as good as its predecessor was, there are a couple of new winners in Buck-Tick’s oeuvre to be heard here. The gothic-tinged first single ‘Babel’ is one of them, but ‘No. 0’ is anything but a return to the dark goth sound of ‘Jusankai Wa Gekkou’. Instead, it feels either like a logical continuation or an update of ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’.

Compared to ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’, the electronics and samples are a little more pronounced on ‘No. 0’. They are nowhere near as prominent as they were on Buck-Tick’s nineties albums, on which they tend to dominate the productions, but those looking for more of the live sound that could be heard on albums like ‘Tenshi No Revolver’ or ‘Memento Mori’ may scratch their heads in bewilderment. These days, the electronics are a part of the songwriting process rather than the production process and as a result, they hardly ever become overbearing. The electronic rocker ‘Gustave’ and the ballad ‘Moon Sayonara Wo Oshiete’ are borderline though.

‘No. 0’ has a couple of notable peaks. First of all, there is the triptych of the exciting electrorocker ‘Salome -femme fatale-‘, the beautifully dramatic ‘Ophelia’ and the driving “live Buck-Tick meets electronic Buck-Tick” of ‘Hikari No Teikoku’. The latter has a wonderful chorus opening up the climax of the track, while ‘Ophelia’ really profits from its supreme dynamics and Atsushi Sakurai’s unique emotional vocals. The album ends on a high note as well: the aforementioned ‘Babel’ is a sublime catchy gothic rock song, ‘Guernica No Yoru’ a gorgeous minimalistic ballad that leaves Sakurai plenty of space to excel and ‘Tainai Kaiki’ rounds off the album in an upbeat atmosphere.

Before, after and between those songs, Buck-Tick explores the possibilities of their sound. Guitarist and electronic enthusiast Hisashi Imai first and foremost. The aggressive cyberpunk sound of ‘Igniter’ is an obvious Imai contribution, while ‘Nostalgia -Vita Mechanicalis-‘ and opener ‘Reishiki 13 Gata Ai’ have a menacing vibe that is the trademark of the guitarist. ‘Bisshu Love’ features the type of defiant eroticism that Buck-Tick has become known for through the years. By contrast, the songs that guitarist Hidehiko Hoshino wrote are generally more traditional rock songs, though the synth-driven electronic rocker ‘Barairo Jujidan -Rosen Kreuzer-‘ is atypical for him.

Though Imai’s fascination with noise and electronics gives ‘No. 0’ a slightly more electronic edge than its predecessors, it is another typical Buck-Tick album compositionally. The songs may come across a little more chaotic than usual initially, but they feature some tight writing and some excellent hooks for Sakurai to work with. I will be the first to admit that his deep, heartfelt voice is one of the main reasons why Buck-Tick appeals to me, but they have been releasing great albums for quite some time now and ‘No. 0’ certainly fits that pattern. Highly recommended to open-minded fans of visual kei, J-rock, gothic rock and nineties U2.

Recommended tracks: ‘Babel’, ‘Ophelia’, ‘Salome -femme fatale-‘

Album of the Week 10-2018: Seikima-II – The End Of The Century


Classic heavy metal with a distinct theatrical edge, heavy kabuki-styled make-up on the band members, a downright hideous album cover… We must be dealing with an excellent Seikima-II album. Back in the mid-eighties, when original guitarist Damian Hamada had already left the band, but was still writing most of the material, they were really the only Japanese band that could hold a candle against Anthem if traditional, British-styled heavy metal was what you were looking for. When the band delved into more varied territory shortly afterward, they still delivered quality material, but there is a certain charm to these early songs.

Despite all the borderline ridiculous touches in terms of atmosphere and thematic approach – which I suspect were at least partly parodic in nature – part of why ‘The End Of The Century’ is so good is just because it makes sense. Sure, if you just want to listen to the excellent songs, the little interludes disrupt the flow of the album a little and it does not help that Demon Kogure’s narrations make little sense if you aren’t familiar with the Japanese language, but the songs are actually really good. The guitars sound surprisingly punchy for a 1986 production as well.

If you look at Seikima-II’s setlists throughout the years, you will find that almost every song on ‘The End Of The Century’ became a live staple for the band, with the possible exception of the doomy ‘Kaiki Shokobutsu’ and ‘Akuma No Sanbika’, the latter of which is a beautifully arranged masterpiece of guitar and vocal harmonies and one of the best Seikima-II songs. Even the instrumental opening track ‘Seikima-II Misakyoku Dainiban -Soseki-‘ ended up opening most of the band’s concerts. Sure, only half of it frequently made it to the stage, but the other half is full of exciting riffs and themes.

The remaining tracks are all classics, the best of which being the fantastic title track. It’s nothing too complicated, but its riffs are just classy and effective. ‘Roningyo No Yakata’ is another one that is textbook Seikima-II with its powerful main riff and horror-themed lyrics, while closing track ‘Fire After Fire’ combines the power of a speed metal-styled opening riff and a chorus that refuses to leave your head. ‘Jack The Ripper’ completes the fascination with British metal by employing a British theme in its lyrics. Sure, the actual English lines could have used some work, but the song is energetic and catchy as hell.

While it would be easy to dismiss Seikima-II as a Japanese Kiss ripoff – which, I’m not ashamed to admit, is what I initially did – but they have much more to offer in terms of consistent songwriting. And if it’s consistent heavy metal you want, you can hardly go wrong with ‘The End Of The Century’. ‘Demon’s Night’ is fairly average, but everything else is among the best traditional heavy metal released in the eighties. Don’t let the kabuki appearance and the poor album cover discourage you: ‘The End Of The Century’ is an incredible album.

Recommended tracks: ‘The End Of The Century’, ‘Akuma No Sanbika’, ‘Roningyo No Yakata’

Album of the Week 09-2018: Buck-Tick – Atom Miraiha No. 9


With the release of the new Buck-Tick album ‘No. 0’ less than two weeks away, let us focus on why there is a reason to get excited about that. Unlike most other visual kei pioneers, Buck-Tick is still relevant today. In fact, they have been experiencing a second youth of sorts, which I personally prefer to their original youth. Their last album ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ even feels like an anthology of the band’s career, despite containing new material exclusively. How they achieved that is quite simple: they focused on their biggest strengths rather than aiming for a certain sound or aesthetic.

Prior to ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’, Buck-Tick has been pursuing a more live sound after a decade of being strongly influenced by industrial rock and electronic music. Understandable, because while they did release a couple of great songs in those years, the electronics and samples were often too prominent and distracting. They have obviously learned from that experience, as ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ incorporates those influences into Buck-Tick’s music in a manner that is much more pleasant to listen to. No longer do the electronics bury the songs, they are a much more sutble and integral part of the compositions this time around.

The songs themselves are excellent. They retain the rocking energy of albums like ‘Memento Mori’ and ‘Tenshi No Revolver’, but the use of samples and synths gives the material a slightly more atmospheric edge. This is especially apparent in the more subdued songs, such as the ‘Manjusaka’, which starts out sounding like an electro track, but quickly develops into a passionate J-rock ballad with superior dynamics and – as usual – a breathtaking vocal performance by Atsushi Sakurai. ‘Ai No Soretsu’ is even more beautiful, with Sakurai getting all the room to shine and the emotional chorus being the perfect apotheosis.

However, when ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ rocks, it is just as good. ‘Pinoa Icchio -Odoru Atom-‘ is driven and aggressive, ‘Bi Neo Universe’ is remarkable in the way the synths and the guitars interact and ‘Future Song -Mirai Ga Toru-‘ is a propulsive duet between Sakurai and guitarist Hisashi Imai. The album’s best song is neither of the extremes though. Despite starting out with the line “aishiteru” (“I love you”), opening track ‘cum uh sol nu -Fresco No Besshu-‘ is dark and menacing, possessing an almost tribal feel. It never quite explodes as it seems to suggest, but that is its charm.

Just about every song on ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ is excellent. That alone should be worth getting the album. The only minor downside is that the deep basses of the synths and electronics occasionally push Yutaka Higuchi’s bass lines to the background, but he makes sure his expert work is heard when it needs to be. Also, at a little under an hour, ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ has the advantage that it is one of the few Buck-Tick albums that does not outstay its welcome. Even the incredible ‘Jusankai Wa Gekko’ – my favorite Buck-Tick album – did not manage to do that. All of this makes me very hopeful about ‘No. o’.

Recommended tracks: ‘cum uh sol nu -Fresco No Besshu-‘, ‘Ai No Soretsu’, ‘Manjusaka’

Album of the Week 06-2018: Onmyo-za – Chimimoryo


Out of all Onmyo-za albums, ‘Chimimoryo’ is proabably the one with the broadest appeal. That does not mean it isn’t metal. Quite the contrary. The riff work on the album is still as rooted in traditional heavy metal as it always has been, but the polish of the production and the melodic sensibilities really opens the door for J-rock fans, while the dynamic and subtly adventurous nature of the record invites progressive rockers to have a listen. No matter what side of Onmyo-za you like best, it is represented on ‘Chimimoryo’, which – as a result – is one of the band’s best.

What really makes ‘Chimimoryo’ as near perfect as it gets is the fact that it has a very pleasant flow. It would not surprise me if multiple track orders were tested before release in order to find the one that is just right. This is not the type of album where you’d get tired of too many songs of the same tempo or style after each other, neither does it boggle your mind with illogical genre-hopping. The powerful voice of bassist and band leader Matatabi and the expressive (mezzo-)soprano of Kuroneko are very much in balance here as well.

As great as ‘Chimimoryo’ is all the way through, the more epic tracks really raise the album’s status. And that already starts when you put on the album, as ‘Shutendoji’ is a monumental midtempo hardrock track of late Zeppelin proportions, only with some brilliant guitar harmonies and a metallic rhythm section more reminiscent of Iron Maiden. Later on, ‘Dojoji Kuchinawa No Goku’ takes you through multiple climaxes during its eleven and a half minutes. Huge, doomy riffs, balladesque sections and one of the more awesome speed metal riffs in the band’s discography, it’s all there and each section is even better than the last.

These songs alone don’t make a good album though. The hypermelodic single ‘Kureha’ is reminiscent of ‘Yoka Ninpocho’ in how the clean and distorted guitars interact, the strong melodic metal stomper ‘Araragi’ feels like a sequel to ‘Shutendoji’ with its powerful lead guitar themes and broad chords and if it’s fast riffs you want, ‘Hiderigami’ and ‘Oni Hitokuchi’ will serve you all the energetic speed metal you need. Kuroneko’s composition ‘Tamashizume no Uta’ is the lone ballad on the album, but her amazing voice and the rather atypical marching rhythms and percussion really turn it into something unique.

Unless you are a wool-dyed old-schooler, ‘Chimimoryo’ would be the perfect album to get acquainted with Onmyo-za’s unique sound. Matatabi’s compositions evidence that the guitars of Maneki and Karukan do not have to play power chords the whole time in order to sound metallic and the vocals prove that there are more options than the overused beauty and the beast tactic for male-female vocal duos. Onmyo-za would later top ‘Chimimoryo’ with ‘Kishibojin’, but only barely. This is one of the very few albums that is of consistently high quality from start to finish and deserves to be heard because of that.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shutendoji’, ‘Dojoji Kuchinawa No Goku’, ‘Araragi’, ‘Oni Hitokuchi’

Album of the Week 05-2018: Onmyo-za – Kongo Kyubi


Due to its polished, almost glossy production and the relatively mellow nature of its songs, ‘Kongo Kyubi’ initially was one of my least favorite Onmyo-za albums. After letting the album – and, presumably, myself – mature for a while, my appreciation for the album increased rapidly. It is quite unique in the Onmyo-za canon in that there is an abundance of clean and twelve string guitars, but only three of the songs qualify as a ballad. Instead, ‘Kongo Kyubi’ channels all the band’s melodic sensibilities and puts them on the crossroads of traditional heavy metal, eighties hardrock, mildly progressive rock and J-rock.

Had Onmyo-za continued down a softer road following ‘Kongo Kyubi’, it would have been seen as a transitional album, but since it was followed by one of the darkest records the band ever made, it can probably be considered a melodic experiment that works surprisingly well. That does not mean the album feels like a stylistic detour; songs like ‘Aoki Dokugan’ and ‘Sokoku’ contain everything Onmyo-za fans would want; NWOBHM inspired riffs, melodic lead guitar themes, highly memorable melodies and – always a defining feature of the band – the excellent dual lead vocals of bassist Matatabi and his wife Kuroneko.

Still, ‘Kongo Kyubi’ has a few amazing songs that would have sounded out of place on other Onmyo-za albums. ‘Banka’, for instance, is the most bluesy track the band ever released, albeit in an eighties Gary Moore blues ballad kind of way. Furthermore, ‘Baku’ sets the mood for the album very effectively. It is based on some shimmering twelve string parts courtesy of guitarist Maneki, but also has a few pulsating riffs, a notably upbeat chorus and some of Matatabi’s busiest bass work to date. ‘Izayoi No Ame’ does a brilliant job combining Onmyo-za’s trademark melodic J-metal with melodic hard rock.

That does not mean that ‘Kongo Kyubi’ is without its heavy moments. ‘Kuzaku Ninpocho’ is a masterpiece of a speed metal track, while the three-song suite ‘Kumikyoku Kyubi’ is remarkable in being the only Onmyo-za suite so far that does not contain a distinct ballad-esque track. Sure, its first part ‘Tamamo-No-Mae’ has a bouncy, almost disco-like rhythm as its foundation, but the epic Iron Maiden vibe of ‘Shomakyo’ and the riff-fest ‘Sessho-Seki’ keep it firmly within the metal realm. In addition, ‘Kuraiau’ – yes, I also first thought it was “cry out” – is the best of Onmyo-za’s upbeat closers, which often are a little lightweight. By contrast, ‘Kuraiau’ has a powerful seventies hardrock feel.

Once ‘Kongo Kyubi’ clicked with me, I learned to appreciate it for what it is: an extremely well-written, perfectly arranged and flawlessly produced album. Onmyo-za found a way to perfectly balance their sense of melodicism with some surprisingly inventive riff work which sounds standard enough, but really isn’t once you find out the chord structures. As for myself, I am glad I love this band enough to give this album a few extra chances, after which it proved that it is not a watered down version of Onmyo-za, but instead a very successful attempt at highlighting the band’s more romantic side. The latter half of the album is surprisingly metallic though.

Recommended tracks: ‘Kuzaku Ninpocho’, ‘Izayoi No Ame’, ‘Kumikyoku “Kyubi” ~ Shomakyo’, ‘Kuraiau’

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