Posts Tagged ‘ Visual Kei ’

Differences on Buck-Tick’s ‘Koroshi No Shirabe: This Is Not Greatest Hits’


This is an article that exists solely because I wish I had something similar in order to find out if Buck-Tick’s first compilation ‘Koroshi No Shirabe: This Is Not Greatest Hits’ would be worth purchasing. While that may seem like an odd question for a compilation, this is not any ordinary compilation, as its title already subtly suggests. All of the songs have been reworked to varying degrees, which means that some of the songs have been altered significantly. If for whatever reason – mine were both biological and topgraphical – you are also a latecomer to the popular J-rock band, my hope is that this article will help you decide whether or not to purchase ‘Koroshi No Shirabe: This Is Not Greatest Hits’.

While I have decided not to shy away from mentioning my opinion when I feel it is warranted, my aim was to be as descriptive as possible in order to let facts rather than my opinion shape your decision. If you feel that I have not succeeded in this goal, please feel free to let me know. In case I agree, it is only little trouble to alter the article.

1. Iconoclasm

Out of all the re-arranged tracks on ‘Koroshi No Shirabe: This Is Not Greatest Hits’, ‘Iconoclasm’ is the one that most sounds like it was prepared for the strong industrial leanings of the era that followed the release. This is not only obvious from the electronic samples and noises that have been added to the beginning of the track, but also from Atsushi Sakurai’s heavily processed vocals. If anything, they sound like they have been recorded through a distorted megaphone. Personally, I think this significantly hurts the – admittedly limited – melodic qualities of the original version, but if there is one song that lends itself well for such an approach, it would be ‘Iconoclasm’. Best listened to on speakers, because it’s a little trebly and abrasive on headphones.

2. Aku No Hana

The alterations made to the justified classic ‘Aku No Hana’ are subtle enough to fool the casual listener into thinking that they were minor, but some of the changes were rather substantial. The overall sound mix is considerably brighter and more balanced than the mildly murky production of the album with the same name. While I’m not quite sure if the instruments were re-recorded or just remixed, Sakurai’s vocals went through some notable changes. Not only does his voice sound a tad deeper than on the original, some parts have been changed, like the whispers that end every other line of the verses. Overall an improvement over the original, though cutting out the vocals of the characteristic “I’m falling down” bit near the end was a bad idea.

3. Do The “I Love You”

A minute and a half longer than the original and that’s not because of an extended break or something similar. The song is substantially changed from its hyperactive, punky original incarnation into a new wave track with a more seductive groove. This version would not have sounded out of place on an INXS album. Hisashi Imai’s guitar solo remains surprisingly faithful to the original, it may actually be lifted directly from the original ‘Sexual XXXXX!’ recording. The accompanying parts are more streamlined, with especially the absence of the sudden crazy noises being notable.

4. Victims Of Love

Another track that is much longer than its previous version. Nearly twice as long in this case. For a more than significant part, this is due to its much slower tempo, which fits the dangerously seductive atmosphere Buck-Tick were going for much, much better. They would nail it completely on the ‘Climax Together’ live video recorded the same year, but this studio version is an excellent attempt as well. It is surprising to see how much Sakurai’s voice has developed in the less than four years since the original release. His somewhat deeper tone completely tosses the almost innocent quality of the original vocals out of the window, finally allowing him to make his vocal sound like they were probably intended. The abrupt ending is a bit of a downer ending though.

5. M.A.D

Easily the most recent song by the time the album was released – along with ‘Speed’ and ‘Jupiter’ – and therefore, it is kind of strange to see how much they changed it. The highly cinematic intro – think film music meets electro or maybe Enigma without choirs – made me hopeful about the outcome, but the rest of the track left me disappointed. Instead of a quirky, uncomplicated, Talking Heads-ish new wave track with some cool vocal harmonies, the re-arranged version of ‘M.A.D’ is high on electronic rhythms, sudden explosions of synth and aggressive vocals reverberating in the distance. As much as I would like to commend Buck-Tick for their creativity here, I don’t think the result is listenable enough.

6. Oriental Love Story

In its original version on ‘Seventh Heaven’, I have always thought ‘Oriental Love Story’ was promising, but also suffered from productional limitations. The new arrangement definitely improves upon that, though in a different way than I was expecting. When I saw the song was on this album, I expected Buck-Tick to further emphasize the “new romantic” atmosphere of the original and they certainly do in the first couple of minutes, but the song develops into something considerably more propulsive when the full band kicks in. Whether or not that is a good thing depends on how you prefer the song. Personally, I would not have minded a dreamy, romantic track, but the song works very well as an optimistic new wave rocker.

7. Speed

Right off the bat, the most notable change here are the sound effects carried over from the cross-fade of ‘Oriental Love Story’. That also means Imai’s lead-in measure has been sacrificed, but apart from that, the differences with the original version are quite minimal and superficial. The mix is certainly a lot brighter and it seems like Imai has added a lot of extra effects to his guitars, he may even have re-recorded his rhythm guitar in the middle section to make it sound a bit more funky. Also, some vocal textures have been added, though it is entirely possible that they were there already, they have just been made more audible in the mixing process this time around.

8. Love Me

If you don’t like Hawaiian style slide guitar work, avoid this version of ‘Love Me’ like the plague. That also counts if you found Sakurai’s vocals on the original version on the verge of being too schmaltzy, because this arrangement pushes the rest of the track into that territory as well. No longer do Imai and Hidehiko Hoshino deliver chorus laden chords that sound like a mix of late seventies punk and early gothic rock; instead the guitars are calm, shimmering and drenched in reverb. As you may have already understood, it’s also quite a bit slower than its original version. To be honest, I personally am not a big fan of either version, but if I had to choose, I would certainly go for the more energetic original.

9. Jupiter

‘Jupiter’ was an excellent ballad to begin with – Buck-Tick has quite a lot of those in their catalogue – so my guess is that they wanted to alter the track for this release just to include it. There is a lengthy Gregorian-style choir chant opening this version, but the rest of the track has just been embellished slightly. The vocal harmonies appear to have been redone, as their execution sounds better than on the original, Yutaka Higuchi added some cool, subtle fretless bass flourishes in the calmest sections and Imai reinterpreted his guitar solo. Some of the choir singers return on the background in the final chorus, but overall, ‘Jupiter’ feels like the original version with an intro tacked on.

10. …In Heaven…

On the surface, the reimagined version of ‘…In Heaven…’ does not sound that different from the version on ‘Seventh Heaven’, except for the grateful use Buck-Tick makes of the technological progress that has been made in the intervening years. New vocal textures have been added to the chorus and Imai explores the pleasures of harmonizing in the lead guitar parts, but overall, it is still pretty much the same song. And yet, it sounds so much more powerful than the already impressive original. The much clearer mix is definitely a part of the reason why. Yagami Toll’s drum especially sound massively improved in this version, but I also think Higuchi’s bass has more balls this time around. Whatever the reason, this is the definitive version of this delightful pop rocker, even though it still does not fix the awkward English. Oh well…

11. Moon Light

‘Moon Light’ more or less becomes the second part of a diptych with ‘…In Heaven…’ for this release. It kind of makes sense too; both songs have a similar upbeat “in love for the first time” vibe. In order to optimize the transition, I think ‘Moon Light’ has been adapted to fit alongside ‘…In Heaven…’ more than the other way around. The song has been slowed down slightly and the bright, clear guitar sound definitely sounds fitting to the ‘Seventh Heaven’ sound. This is still largely the same song as on ‘Hurry Up Mode’ though. The structure is largely the same and so are the melodies, though I think Sakurai has come a long way since the band’s debut album. Imai’s guitar solo on this version is beefed up and really cool here as well.

12. Just One More Kiss

If you want to appreciate what a good rhythm guitarist Hoshino is, by all means check out this version. This is something that stands out most when you listen to it on headphones and you can really make out all the subtleties of his picking hand. ‘Just One More Kiss’ on this release actually focuses slightly more on clean guitars as far as Hoshino is concerned than it did on ‘Taboo’. Apart from that, differences are relatively minor, though the shift from slightly distorted to clean might throw avid fans of the original off. Too bad that the only flaw in this furthermore more than decent song – the large amount of repetition in the last three minutes – is still there in the remake.

13. Taboo

‘Taboo’ is the reason why I considered buying ‘Koroshi No Shirabe: This Is Not Greatest Hits’ in the first place. The original is a masterful, goosebumps-inducing new wave track full of seductive grooves and vocals that really only could have been made in the eighties and – along ‘Tokyo’ – the highlight of the eponymous album. But what that song does not have is this incredible bass line courtesy of Higuchi. Here, ‘Taboo’ is completely reimagined. Whilst retaining the general melodies of the original, the guitars are much more sparse and the track is more oriented on almost jazzy grooves, though Yagami is too much of a hard hitter to go full jazz. The result: instead of one, Buck-Tick now has two utterly amazing tracks named ‘Taboo’ with the same lyrics and vocal melodies, but surprisingly little in common with the original version otherwise.

14. Hyper Love

Another track that is seamlessly connected to the previous one – Buck-Tick seemed to be in the mood for that when they sequenced the album. Not unlike ‘Victims Of Love’, the subsequent ‘Climax Together’ live recording is more powerful than the studio version, but I’m still on the fence about this one. Yes, Sakurai’s vocals are better than on the original and the chorus, while maybe a tad silly, is an improvement, but I’m a little conflicted about the choruses. They have a powerful, almost tribal feel, but they also kind of lack the mysterious menace of the original. That sounds like the album ends disappointingly for me, but admittedly, it works really well in terms of flow here.

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Album of the Week 14-2019: Jupiter – Zeus ~Legends Never Die~


Multiple times over the last few years, I had feared that Jupiter would disband. There have been several line-up changes and I thought the final nail in the coffin would be the reformation of Versailles, the hugely popular, but slightly inferior band that almost the entire original line-up came from. These developments alone would be enough reason to be happy with the release of their third album ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’. But it’s also really, really good. New kid and former Concerto Moon singer Atsushi Kuze fits the band amazingly well and the album is probably Jupiter’s most consistent to date.

Jupiter does not suddenly sound different on ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’. The music is still high octane symphonic power metal with prominent influences from progressive metal and melodic death metal, as well as plenty of room for the impressive dexterity of guitarists Hizaki and Teru. In fact, some might argue that the inclusion of two tracks from the spectacular single ‘Theory Of Evolution’ and two that were previously recorded with former singer Zin further diminishes the surprise impact of the album. Kuze’s somewhat husky hardrock voice further broadens the appeal of Jupiter outside of the visual kei scene, however, and the impact his voice had on Hizaki’s songwriting is significant.

Now, Hizaki has a way of making singers better. He managed to make Kamijo sound semi-acceptable in Versailles, Juka’s best vocal performance was on his ‘Dignity Of Crest’ album and he transformed Zin into one of the best singers in the visual kei scene. Anticipating what would happen if he worked with Kuze’s already impressive set of pipes was half the fun of waiting for ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’ to be released. And to be brief: the album contains Kuze’s best vocals to date. He does not do anything radically different from what he did in Concerto Moon and Screaming Symphony, but he’s like a fish in the water with the bombastic, theatrical material that Hizaki wrote for the album.

With Kuze being a hardrock singer first and foremost, it is notable that the songwriting plays to these strengths. ‘Drastic Night’ has a seventies hardrock vibe due to the simple, but brutally effective main riff and the inclusion of a Hammond organ, but manages to sound contemporary power metal enough to make perfect sense on the record. More dramatic tracks, like the highly dynamic ‘No Cry No More’ and the absolutely sensational ‘Straight Into The Fire’ could not have been written for any other singer. The most powerful choruses, such as the ones for ‘Theory Of Evolution’ and the long closing epic title track really profit from having a singer with significantly more power than the average visual kei frontman.

To those who were afraid that Zin’s departure would result in Jupiter shunning their melodic death metal songs: rest assured. In ‘Tempest’ and the previously released ‘Angel’s Wings’, the album contains two tracks that feature prominent melodeath influences. The former sounds a little like a mash-up of Galneryus’ neoclassical abandon and Jupiter’s own ‘Allegory Cave’, while the latter has a mind-blowing final chorus. Both rely heavily on aggressive, borderline thrash metal riffing. Kuze does not yet have the versatility in his growls that Zin had, but there is almost a hardcore-like quality to their blunt aggression. Something which also works surprisingly well on the last section of the lone Teru composition ‘Show Must Go On’, a powerful modern hardrock track.

Out of the songs that had already been recorded with Zin, ‘The Spirit Within Me’ really takes the cake. Not only does it have what is possibly the best riff of the album, the song fits Kuze’s voice so perfectly that it’s hard to imagine it had not orignally been written for him. It is kind of ironic that one works so well, as ‘Tears Of The Sun’ underwent a more significant change, being transposed to a different key. Relatively new drummer Daisuke played on the original versions of both of these tracks, but his contributions to ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’ should not be overlooked, as his playing is incredible. He has all the skills that his predecessor Yuki also had, but he appears to be a little more understated and serviceable, which does sound a little weird, given the fact that a track like ‘Theory Of Evolution’ is basically fifty percent blazing fills and ‘The Spirit Within Me’ has some of the most impressive double bass rolling I have heard in recent years.

As a whole, ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’ could be the start of a new era for Jupiter. People who liked their music before should have no issue with the record, but the inclusion of a singer with the type of voice that usually is not associated with visual kei really opens them up for people who generally stay away from the scene. In addition, every single song on the album is worth hearing. ‘Memories Of You’ goes on a bit long near the end, but the darker first half of the song is the best ballad-esque bit Hizaki has written to date. Everything else is a perfect blend of power metal, hardrock, progressive metal and melodeath. If that sounds right up your alley, you can’t go wrong with ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Spirit Within Me’, ‘Straight Into The Fire’, ‘No Cry No More’, ‘Theory Of Evolution’

Album of the Week 13-2019: NoGoD – Proof


With the visual kei scene being as full of rather faceless soundalikes as it is, it’s good to have bands like NoGoD pop up every once in a while. While the band does not use any elements that are all that different from what most bands in the scene are using – modern hardrock, melodic heavy metal, subtle hints of pop punk and J-rock aesthetics – they were always just a bit better than their peers. And with ‘Proof’ being probably the most consistent release NoGoD has released thus far, it rivals ‘V’ as the perfect album to get acquainted with them.

Stylistically, NoGoD is always at risk of being too little of multiple genres to appeal to fans of the respective genres. Approach them with an open mind, however, and you will find a lot to enjoy on ‘Proof’. Dancho is without a doubt one of the best and most unique singers in Japanese rock. Some people are apparently put off by the fact that he is always belting passionately, but I think that is one of his biggest assets. In addition, the rhythm section is rock solid and Kyrie is one of the more creative lead guitarists in the country.

‘Proof’ was preceded by two excellent singles. Selecting single was not always NoGoD’s forte, but they hit the nail on the head this time around. ‘Missing’ is very melodic and elegiac in atmosphere, but at the same time, the riffs are undeniably heavy, which pushes the song out of the power ballad territory it would have been in otherwise. Certainly one of the best songs in the band’s discography. ‘Arlequin’ is a little more uptempo and aggressive. It’s not quite heavy enough to be metal, but there’s a lot of metallic chugging on the lowest strings of the guitar, which is contrasted nicely with the open and catchy chorus.

That is hardly the only catchy moment on ‘Proof’. Opening track ‘Break Out!’ feels like a Japanese spin on the heaviest side of the Foo Fighters, ‘Dreamer’ is a little more aggressive in vocal approach, but just as memorable and ‘Tonight!’ will get stuck in your head no matter what. ‘Proof’ may sound even better when the band adopts a darker approach. The title track inverts NoGoD’s formula by making the verses more positive than its great chorus, ‘Shinkiro’ works its way through multiple climaxes and a wonderfully brooding middle section, while ‘Henrietta’ is surprisingly heavy with some inventive lead guitar work in its chorus. ‘Sendo’ is even the fastest, heaviest moment in the band’s history, bordering on thrash metal.

If you want to know what NoGoD is all about, ‘Proof’ may actually be the best place to start. It is generally slightly darker in tone than most of their other works, but every aspect that makes them the great band they are is here, right down to the fantastic instrumental ‘Kyoji to Tomoni’ and the awesome intro ‘In The Cage…’. Once, in the late seventies and early eighties, there was a time when hardrock and heavy metal weren’t two separate things yet. What NoGoD shows here is there is no need for that to be the case in the 21st century either.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sendo’, ‘Missing’, ‘Proof’

Album of the Week 03-2019: Asagi – Madara


Asagi’s debut solo album is one of those instances where I doubted the necessity of a solo venture. After all, Asagi is by far the most prolific composer of his main band, the immensely popular visual kei band D, and his surprisingly unique voice is characteristic enough to add D’s character to everything he sings on. What makes ‘Madara’ a successful record, however, is its focus. Japanese folk influences have been quite prominent in some of D’s best songs, but on this album, Asagi goes full-on folk rock and folk metal. And it’s not just a gimmick: the songs are great.

Of course, Asagi has not lost his ability to write catchy, powerful rock songs. In fact, some of the songs are filled with his trademark stock visual kei melodies – opening track ‘Gekkai No Miko’ most notably – but the Japanese traditional instruments, such as the koto, the shamisen and the taiko drums, are an integral part of the songwriting rather than an extra touch. On a majority of the songs, it’s not the guitars, but these instruments that carry the melodies. While the guitars are there to give them extra punch, that does impact the character of the melodies significantly.

While the entirity of ‘Madara’ is highly entertaining, the best moments of the album are the hardest rocking ones. Songs like ‘Hakumenkonmo Kyubi No Kitsune Hidama’, ‘Kimera’ and ‘Komo Sakura’ just work wonders: the shamisen introduces the melody, the electric guitars join, either in unison or as bottom-heavy accompaniment, creating some fantastic oriental folk metal. I have always wondered why the number of bands attempting this style is not larger and Asagi makes a strong case for the combination of sounds. The more melodic rockers, such as ‘Hotarubi’, ‘Hana Kumo No Ran’ and ‘Ooyama Inudake ~Tsukuyo Ni Hoeyu~’ are sure to please D fans, but might also draw in people who usually find them too heavy.

Since this is an Asagi album, there is of course room for some ballads in which he can show off his vocal talents. There are quite a few of them here and those are probably the most folky sounding ones on the record. Ironically, it is not Asagi himself, but bassist (and prolific producer) Hajime Okano who stands out on the album’s best ballad ‘Kaishikoki Eru E Kaeryanse’ features some gorgeous melodic work on the fretless bass that really enhances the atmosphere of the song. Closing track ‘Asagimadara’ is another beautiful ballad, this time with absolutely stunning symphonic touches.

Beside the songwriting, it is also impressive how Asagi managed to make the album about the songs and not about the all-star cast that appears on the album, which features members of Luna Sea, Dir En Grey, Galneryus, D and loads of other high profile Japanese bands. It still sounds like a cohesive collection of songs and that, again, is probably the result of Asagi’s razor sharp focus. He wanted to make a powerful rock album that was heavy on the Japanese folk influences and that is exactly what ‘Madara’ has become. One of the Japanese highlights of 2018.

Recommended tracks: ‘Hakumenkonmo Kyubo No Kitsune Hidama’, ‘Komo Sakura’, ‘Ooyama Inudake ~Tsukoyo Ni Hoeyu’

Album of the Week 02-2019: Gargoyle – Gaia


For some reason, ‘Gaia’ often gets ignored when people discuss the greatest works of Gargoyle. Up until last year’s unfortunate dissolution of the band, the songs on ‘Gaia’ did not even appear on their live sets all that much. Maybe that is a result of the material on the album making optimal use of the two guitar line-up, since Gargoyle would continue with just one guitarist after Yotaro left. It would really be a pity to let ‘Gaia’ go by unnoticed though, because there is simply too much good music on the album. It is in fact one of Gargoyle’s finest efforts.

‘Gaia’ is probably the second most experimental album Gargoyle released to date, surpassed only by its predecessor ‘Natural’. Unlike the latter, however, ‘Gaia’ feels pretty coherent stylistically and does not have as many sudden shifts, save for maybe the odd, but successful percussion and Spanish guitar exercise that is ‘Hako’ and the hyperactive funk rock of ‘Baby Cat’, one of Gargoyle’s better funky tracks. Everything else consists of variations on the trusted Gargoyle formula. Some songs have a cleaner guitar approach and more swing rhythmically (‘Unkown ~Annon~’) or a more exotic overall sound (‘Yagate Hikaru’), but but the thrash riffs and heavy metal melodies are everywhere.

Opening track ‘Wakakusa No Kimi’ does a pretty good job of preparing its listeners for the general sound of ‘Gaia’. The rhythm guitar work and Katsuji’s rolling double bass thunder still is as deeply rooted in thrash as the band always was, but the overall approach is a little more melodic. Frontman Kiba even shows a surprising amount of restraint in its uncharacteristically melodic vocal lines, but it all works remarkably well. ‘Sora Wa Ao’ is another track that manages to successfully blend a wild, propulsive bottom end with a melodic, almost rocky top layer.

That does not mean ‘Gaia’ cannot thrash your face off. The stomping ‘Meditation’ and the vaguely OverKill-ish ‘Who Are You?’ are both excellent energetic thrashers in the best Gargoyle tradition, while especially the speed monster ‘Kamikaze’ is absolutely annihilating. Truly one of the highlights of the band’s career. If ‘Gaia’ proves anything, however, it is that Gargoyle does not have to do that to sound amazing. ‘Sanbika’, for instance, is one of the most powerful tracks on here and it has an almost doom metal vibe, with Kentaro’s and Yotaro’s riffs not containing any more notes than they have to and Toshi laying down some of his best melodic bass lines. Definitely one of the best of their more atmospheric tracks.

My only complaints about ‘Gaia’ are aimed at its production. The guitar sound is not as powerful and pulsating as it should be and I have no idea why Kiba’s vocals on ‘Sayonara Jibun’, otherwise a very pleasant melodic thrasher, had to be so trebly, borderline unlistenably distorted. But apart from that, ‘Gaia’ is one of the best albums the Japanese experimental thrash machine has ever released. It may even have been the most consistent set of songs they have ever recorded, save for the near-perfection of ‘Tsuki No Toge’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sanbika’, ‘Kamikaze’, ‘Wakakusa No Kimi’, ‘Who Are You?’

Album of the Week 37-2018: Atsushi Sakurai – Ai No Wakusei


With his amazing voice being the defining factor that it is in Buck-Tick, it is quite surprising that no one in the Japanese record industry pushed Atsushi Sakurai to release more solo albums than just ‘Ai No Wakusei’. It sold reasonably well, but it would be logical to assume that Buck-Tick took up most of his time, given that their second career peak started shortly after its release. With several of the song titles containing references to his contributors, it is likely that Sakurai was inspired by the people he worked with. That also explains the wide range of styles here.

A different songwriter and different musicians on every track sounds like the album could turn out quite messy and to be honest, it kind of is. After Wayne Hussey’s sublime gothic rock of opening track ‘Sacrifice’ and Raymond Watts’ heavy industrial rock with Arabic string interlude in ‘Yellow Pig’, the album is all over the place for a while. There’s electronic tracks (‘X-Lover’), sparse funk highly reminiscent of Prince (the surprisingly cool ‘Smell’) and J.D. Thirlwell – perhaps better known as Foetus – contributed the hyperactive, chaotic jazz of ‘I Hate You All’. That could throw you off, but it’s worth hanging on.

The album settles for a certain groove during its latter half, that groove being low-key rock with a distinct dark vibe. It is public knowledge that Buck-Tick guitarist Hisashi Imai was inspired to write a more gothic-leaning album (the incredible ‘Jusankai wa Gekko’) after hearing Sakurai’s solo performances in support of ‘Ai No Wakusei’. And with songs like the menacing ‘Hallelujah!’, the incredibly dynamic ‘Shingetsu’ and the brooding majesty of ‘Yokan’, a reworking of his excellent collaboration with Dutch electro-goths Clan of Xymox, it is clear why Imai heard the impact Sakurai could have in dark, gothic surroundings. His deep, emotional baritone is tailor-made for it.

However, that does not mean that ‘Ai No Wakusei’ is all dark all the time. ‘Taiji’ has an optimistic chorus with subtle guitar work and a gently purring hammond organ in the background, while as a whole, the track is simply a powerful, well-constructed pop rocker with several surprising climaxes. ‘Fantasy’ is an upbeat electro-based track and the semi-title track ‘Wakusei’ has a bit of a positive ring to it, despite being built upon crunchy power chords and reverb-drenched lead guitar parts. ‘Neko’, which I assume is a tribute to Sakurai’s cat, even closes the album in a surprisingly soothing manner.

Somehow, ‘Ai No Wakusei’ is one of those albums where you don’t know what to expect even after you have heard it. But that is part of its charm as well. What the first half of the album lacks in terms of flow, the album as a whole more than makes up for in the individual quality of the songs. It is also not quite as vocal-centric as one might expect from a solo release by a singer as characteristic as Sakurai. A decade later, Sakurai would team up with several ‘Ai No Wakusei’ contributors to form The Mortal, but in name, this is truly the only album where he could do whatever the hell he wanted and one thing is for sure: he ran with it.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sacrifice’, ‘Yokan’, ‘Smell’, ‘Taiji’, ‘Shingetsu’

Album of the Week 35-2018: Acid Black Cherry – Black List


Solo projects are an odd phenomenon. Technically, they could highlight a vision someone is not allowed to display in their main band, but they are often a disjointed mess. Acid Black Cherry’s debut album ‘Black List’ has all the symptoms of the latter – a rotating cast of musicians, a wide range of styles – but ends up being much closer to the former. The strict direction of main man and sole songwriter yasu keeps the whole thing from spiraling out of control. Realizing the importance of the first strike, ‘Black List’ is a minor J-rock classic and likely yasu’s best work yet.

In essence, the music on ‘Black List’ is not as far removed from yasu’s former band Janne Da Arc as one might expect. The differences are almost cosmetic rather than fundamental. On ‘Black List’, Acid Black Cherry is somewhat heavier and considerably more theatrical than Janne was, but the focus is still mainly on highly melodic rock songs with instantly hummable choruses, energetic but not too complicated riff work and a strategic use of light-and-shade workings. The approach is not too dissimilar to what Gackt has been doing for the last decade, but notably less predictable and therefore better.

While it would be easy to blame the immense artistic value of ‘Black List’ on the contributions of big names in J-rock – including Luna Sea’s Sugizo, La’cryma Christi’s Shuse and Siam Shade’s Daita and Jun-ji – the truth is that yasu’s songwriting and arrangements are simply really good. Arrangements are worth mentioning, because it’s exactly the fantastic use of keyboards and strings that adds some class to the surprisingly dark, menacing nature of the fanatastic opener ‘Sins’ and the bass and horn arrangements that lend an authentic jazzy edge to the manic ‘Black Cherry’, as wildly as it rocks most of the time.

On ‘Black List’, the genre-hopping is its forte rather than its flaw. The dark, dangerous vibe that made me love ‘Sins’ so much is revived on ‘Murder License’, while ‘Bit Stupid’ is an infectious, breezy and funky pop rocker. ‘Fuyu No Maboroshi’ is a particularly theatrical ballad, while ‘Shojo No Inori’ is a fun melodic hardrocker that would not have sounded out of place on one of Janne Da Arc’s later albums. Occasionally yasu’s particularly light and thin voice is a little grating, but overall, it’s remarkable how well it works on the harder rocking tracks on ‘Black List’.

Despite releasing more quality material throughout the years, Acid Black Cherry would never again release an album as good as ‘Black List’. Some serious overproduction drags most of their albums down, though none of the original albums is less than enjoyable. Though a lot of effort has gone into the production and arrangements of ‘Black List’, this album truly is enhanced by the effort. There is a bit of a risk that western rock fans might find yasu’s voice a little off-putting, but the fact remains that ‘Black List’ is a fantastic album. It even sounds like one rather than a loose collection of songs. That alone is already rather impressive within the J-rock realm.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sins’, ‘Shojo No Inori’, ‘Murder License’

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