Ah, the wonderful, mysterious world of doujin. Deep in the darkest corners of hikikomoris' basements, you will come across many oddities. Intense devotion to the ideal 2D characters, detailed drawings of fanart, neverending Touhou arranges, and all sorts of stuff. But of course, not all doujin is created equal. Plenty of fanart I've come across on Pixiv instilled feelings of revulsion in me. Plenty of uninspired electronic Touhou arranges have put me to sleep. And plenty of otaku have awful taste and are obsessed with poorly written characters (get a better waifu!). But once in a while, you unearth an honest-to-god gem. The precious diamond in the rough we all search for. Hollow Mellow is precisely that.
As you probably have gathered, Hollow Mellow is strongly affiliated with the aforementioned doujin scene. They regularly participate in Comiket and all that kind of stuff. However unlike many of their musical peers, they're wholly original. Right off the bat, that puts you on a higher level than most other groups. That's not to say that there aren't highly enjoyable Touhou arrange circles out there, but I always give more credit to good original compositions. However, what truly sets Hollow Mellow apart is the immense perplexity in attempting to describe their sound.
Hollow Mellow plays some impossible genre of music, but it is mostly rock-based. I'm not really convinced that "dark cabaret" is a real genre, but there's a certain carnival-esque, dancey feel to their music that is typically associated with acts that fall under that label. It's also worth noting that they have a slight doujin-esque power metal feel at times due to the exuberant amounts of melodic guitar leads. In a odd way, Hollow Mellow can sound like some strange form of baroque rock at times due to the omnipresent violin. One other aspect to note is that their music is surprisingly dense in a compositional sense, and the technical skill of every member is at a fairly high level. That gives them a sort of progressive rock feel. So if you add all of that together, they come out as something along the lines of progressive dark cabarat doujin baroque rock? What a mouthful. Oh yeah, and they're argubably a bit gothic at times too.
The group is the brainchild of singer-songwriter, Iruma Rioka. Before Hollow Mellow came into existence, she released numerous works as a solo artist (many of which are quite worthwhile). On this particular album, Reincarnation, some old tunes from previous solo releases and Hollow Mellow EPs are reworked and brought back to life (hence the title). There's also a couple of brand new tracks in here. Given their relative obscurity, it's not likely that you'll be familiar with any of the songs on here. But in case you do have your hands on them, I can assure you that Reincarnation is nevertheless quite worthwhile. I'd even go as far as to say that these are the definitive version of all of the songs. The presence of the violin adds a ton to their sound.
Hollow Mellow is merely a three piece group (there's session musicians when they play live), and each one brings their strengths to the table. As I mentioned before, Rioka handles the vocals and writes all of the songs. Of course, being the main songwriter is an irreplaceable asset, but her singing ability is quite pleasant as well. Rioka isn't a powerful, hard-hitting singer, but her voice perfectly complements the dreamy, fantastical atmosphere ubiquitous in Hollow Mellow. No other singing style would be suitable. Jill is the lady behind the violin, and thankfully she is far above merely playing sad-sounding chords. All of the violin work is completely integral to every composition. Many violin leads are utilized effectively, and she even shines in some solo sections. The third member would be Nemu who handles the guitars. To put it simply, his guitar work is fabulous. He phrases riffs and melodies in a strange rhythmic ways that help creat a sort of carnival-esque/upbeat feel. The guitar is somewhere in that weird grey area between rock and metal. While there are genuine riffs here, most of it is more focused on lead/melodic work. This isn't a bad thing though. Every track has very pleasing leads that are always fun to listen to. Nemu also recorded the bass guitar parts and true to the Japanese tradition, it's far from boring or lazy. Even by their standards, the bass guitar here is extremely active and wanders off on its own lines all the time. As for the drums, nobody is credited, and they may even be programmed. Fortunately, the drums sound real to me, and Hollow Mellow has the funds to afford a session drummer.
One of the things that immediately stands out about Hollow Mellow is that all of their songs are virtually polyphonic in texture. Japanese bands do utilize polyphony a lot more on average than western ones due to their willingness to incorporate countermelody into bass, but I honestly can't think of an example that is as complicated as Hollow Mellow without delving into classical music. In the album, it is normal for there to be three simultaneous melodies in a song. That is, the bass guitar, lead guitar, and violin all play totally separate phrases. And these aren't just half-assed lines either. Pick any one instrument in isolation, and you will find much to love. It's not like you can just squish random motifs together and expect them to sound good. It takes skill to compose like this.
I wouldn't be surprised if Rioka has formal musical training because it is evident that she knows exactly what she's doing. I earlier mentioned that sometimes you get progressive rock vibes from them. Part of the reason is just because of how well-crafted every song is. But the band does flirt with tempo changes, unexpected stop-starts, and even time signature changes. Bad End -白雪姫- is probably the song where they show off their progressive side the most. The song bursts open into one of those stunning, oddly-timed riffs that most people could never dream of writing. And then, they take it a step further by somehow laying the perfect violin accompaintment on top of that. Rioka comes in on vocals later, and the song abruptly slows down to a slow waltz-like tempo. I'm not sure if I would every take the time to compile a list of "best all-time song openers," but I can guarentee you that Bad End -白雪姫- would be very high on there.
If my long-winded ramblings haven't already made it clear, I think Hollow Mellow is simply amazing on every level. You wouldn't think a girl obsessed with wearing meticiulous and impratical lolita dresses would also be an absurdly talented songwriter. They scratch basically every itch for me. Complex instrumental work? Check. Dense songwriting and progressive influences? Check. Totally unique sound? Check. Hell, I haven't even mentioned this yet, but every one of Rioka's choruses are infectiously catchy and fun. You'd have to be dead inside if you don't find yourself swaying along to the bouncy rhythms in Control Me -醜いアヒルの娘-. How could you not immediately fall in love with the energetic closing number, Fall Away -マッチ売りの少女-? Or not feel the intensity of the build up to the genius bridge section in Bad End -白雪姫-. There's also the majestic, slow waltz of Serenade -人魚姫- that evokes images of a fantastical landscape. The band is melodic/catchy, progressive, and totally unique. That, right there, is a winning combination for me any day. I didn't realize I had a craving for progressive lolita dark cabaret doujin, but listening to Hollow Mellow has enlightened me. You should enlighten yourself to their genius as well.Rating: 95/100