Now I know that describing music from a bunch of visual kei guys as "dreamy" could lead to some misunderstandings, but honestly, it's a good description. La'cryma Christi is one of the more well-known and beloved visual kei bands that came out of the boom in the 90s. They were a band that I was aware of for many, many years. These guys often showed up as guest musicians on some other things I've owned, and I've always meant to give some of their back catalog a good shake since I've only heard good things. After only a couple of listens, I simply said to myself, "why the hell did I wait so long?"
Like most visual kei bands from the 90s boom, La'cryma Christi's early days were more unique and experimental. They would polish up and streamline themselves as their popularity increased, but La'cryma Christi, to my knowledge, never really morphed into 100% poppy J-Rock. Dwellers of a Sandcastle is technically their major label debut, but it very much has the spirit of more underground, more unique J-rock. As a disclaimer, the band did release a mini-album before this one called Warm Snow. It has exactly the same tracklisting as Dwellers of a Sandcastle, but I believe some parts have been re-recorded and some of the lyrics are different. I have not heard the original Warm Snow release, and I have no idea what it sounds like honestly. However, I can assure you that I absolutely love all of the songs on Dwellers of a Sandcastle just the way they are.
Also like most visual kei bands from that era, La'cryma Christi had a fairly large amount of post-punk/gothic influence. In spite of this, this album, as well as the their subsequent one, is an extremely unique piece of J-Rock. It's hard to exactly put a finger on it, but La'Cryma Christi sounds nothing like many of their visual kei peers from this same period. They had a different sense of melodicism and at times even a slight dose of progressive rock influence. Their guitar leads were often fairly extensive and more elaborate than their peers. And the atmosphere, oh god the atmosphere is genius.
Is atmospheric J-Rock a thing? Dwellers of a Sandcastle could certainly qualify. In the atmospheric black metal world, "atmosphere" is often created by crapping up the recording quality and repeating the same musical ideas ad nausem. On the other hand, La'crmya Christi creates atmosphere the right way: as a natural result of the songwriting. Of course, the gothic/post-punk influence by default provides a more sad feeling. But you will be hard pressed to find anything that evokes feelings quite like this.
In general, the mood that permeates the album is sombre and downcast. It's not outright depressing or hostile, but the music is certainly based mostly around minor chords. Make no mistake, this isn't just strumming a few sad-sounding chords and calling it a day. La'cryma Christi is far, far more creative than that. The musicianship here is quite admirable all across the board. Levin does a more than adequate job behind the kit with some quality rhythms and fills. Every worthwhile J-Rock album has quality basslines, and you certainly get them Shuse. Another very good asset is Taka on vocals. Visual kei vocals can be a bit of a mixed bag and an acquired taste, but not Taka. I find his voice to actually be very accessible and really good honestly. His timbre here perfectly matches the instrumentalists and the atmosphere. His smooth, pleasing tone has a good hint of longing and melancholy to it. This guy can actually sing really, really well.
However, the biggest star of the show is definitely the guitarwork courtesy of Hiro and Koji. The very opening first opening notes of Warm Snow greet you with a sublime rhythm and lead duo that set the tone for the album. The guitar melodies and riffs are pleasing from a strictly technical point of view, but they also paint a picturesque, melancholic atmosphere that seeps across the entire album. While the overall sound leans toward the sad side of the spectrum, the band knows exactly when to place some stunningly melodic and even beautiful guitar work. The way solos suddenly burst onto the scene can be downright heavenly. Because of this, Dwellers of a Sandcastle sounds very introspective. This isn't a "woe is me" whiny, indie rock type of introspection. Instead it's more of a dreamy, nostalgic, and sombre kind of introspection. It's sort of like the kind of music you'd play when reminiscing your childhood.
I know I've been constantly referring to this as an album (which is what the band considers it), but Dwellers of a Sandcastle is actually only 5 tracks so the runtime is more of an EP rather than anything else. Don't fret though. Every single one of these 5 songs is absolutely excellent and on point. Warm Snow is more of a midpaced, sentimental type of song which is an interesting choice for an opener. Forest and A.S.I.A. pick up the pace a little bit and go for a slightly more uplifting/rocking approach. Of the 5 songs, the 4th one is probably my favorite. カリブで生まれた月 has more of a laid-back character, and the guitar work gorgeously melds with the verse and chorus. Additionally, I absolutely adore the bridge section. Poison Rain is perhaps the most typical "radio-friendly/J-Rock" number here, but it's still an excellent and catchy tune.
Truly, the way La'cryma Christi pieces together all of the various elements is nothing short of exceptional and unique. Earworming, extended guitar leads and melodies wrap themselves all over every song. The omnipresent bass countermelody pleasantly weaves its way across every track. And of course, Taka's voice passionately delivers the vocal lines like no one else could. The unique sense of atmosphere and melody that La'cryma Christi achieved on this album (and their subsequent release) is honestly something that I have never ever heard before. What they do here is nothing short of incredible and in light of that, I can't help but sing constant praises. This is an absolutely mandatory pick up for any J-Rock fan, and anyone who is not afraid of trying some unique, gothic-influenced rock.Rating: 95/100