Friday, July 3, 2015

Vrain - Rendez Blue

The 80s Never Ended In Japan

Sometimes, you struggle trying to describe an album. The band could play some really bizarre style or perhaps incorporate a huge variety of elements into their music. Or maybe the music is just dizzily complex and difficult to digest let alone try to articulate. Vrain is actually none of that. In fact, this entire album can be summed up with just one simple word, “fun.”

Supposedly, Vrain had spit out a couple of EPs in the early 2000s, but the main songwriter and drummer, Miya (the only remaining original member of the band), finally found a solid foundation by 2006 with the release of their Emerald EP on Black-listed Productions. Emerald saw the addition of vocalist/keyboardist Hiro as well as Kassy on bass and Nodoichi on guitars. Presumably, the label and the band members were quite in sync with each other and just a year later they put out their debut album, Rendez Blue.

Rendez Blue is a nice step up from Emerald with catchier songwriting and more diversity; something later releases unfortunately have yet to match (although the White Storm EP comes close). The overall mood of the album can be quickly gathered from the first few seconds of the opening track, Rise. The cheesy, techno-like synthesizer intro is not fooling you at all. This is extremely upbeat, keyboard-laden power metal. Understandably, this description could immediately lead readers to believe that Vrain has no bite and are nothing more than a few power chords behind obnoxious keys.

Fortunately, this isn't the case. Rise is a fast song full of interesting musical ideas and lays the template for what this album sounds like. Vrain actually does stand out quite a bit from the horde of J-power metal bands given how much they embrace the 80s aesthetic and how well it actually works. The guitar tone is quite sharp and light (feeling rather 80s-esque), and the keyboard parts are quite active in the music, adding lots of melodies and countermelodies while also screaming 80s. For further confirmation, just take a look at their band pictures. Often, keyboard-heavy power metal bands are devoid of riffs and dully plod along, but Vrain knows their strengths and sticks to lightning fast riffs embellished by cheesy keys that are just plain fun.

As expected of the Japanese, the bass guitar is quite audible thanks to the light guitar tone, and Kassy adds lots of counterpoint and some leads to the music. Miya gives a strong performance in the back adding plenty of interesting fills and varied drum beats. Nodoichi is a fantastic guitar player (check out the band's rendition of Flight of the Bumblebee on 熊ん蜂の飛行) who can shred some really nice solos and strong leads making it a shame that he basically disappeared from the scene after his brief time with Vrain. As always, the vocalist is where most western listeners will give up, but Hiro's voice is surprisingly normal. She is in a completely standard range (no piercing shrills), uses only moderate vibrato, and has a quite pleasant tone. Of course, most of the lyrics are in Japanese, but that would be a poor reason to pass up on the band.

Ultimately, the biggest strength of the band lies in the ability to craft extremely catchy and fun power metal while displaying a good amount of instrumental prowess. The previously mentioned keyboard intro to Rise is guaranteed to be instantly memorable and the rest of the music naturally follows. The album more or less stays true to the anthem of light, fast and fun power metal, but there are a few standouts of note here.

The third track, Moonlight Rendezvous, isn't actually metal at all, but it's really cool. Jazz enthusiasts will have to forgive me for my uncertainty in pinning down the subgenre, but it's essentially in the vein of smooth, cool or bossa nova jazz. There's the walking bass lines, jazzy drumming, light melodic guitar lines and some cool synths floating on top. It's like the music of an 80s sci-fi film in a futuristic bar orbiting Jupiter. I'm abusing this word a lot, but it's just a really fun, upbeat song that you just can't help smiling at.

On the flip side, the fifth track, Shooot!! (yes, that's how it's spelled), is an absolute speed demon. Although I have said that this album is fairly light in tone, this song in particular is completely headbangable. The first thing you'll notice from the monophonic keyboard is that the tempo is insanely fast. Once the rest of the band comes in, you are greeted with an absolutely awesome speed metal riff. What's quite nice is that the song never resorts to 16-note chugging, but instead mixes it up by having lots of chord variation. This is probably my personal favorite track on the album.

As for the negatives, the production is not quite as clean as it should be. At the time, Black-listed Productions was a tiny label (this was just the label's 16th release), so it's not surprising that they didn't many resources. The mix itself is great, but there's a little noise at the upper frequencies that hamper the experience a bit. This is most evident on Hiro's higher notes in the ballad, Sandglass, which is also not a particularly strong song and possibly skippable for some. I also feel that the second half of the album is not quite as strong as the first half other than the band's version of Flight of the Bumblebee.

But these are all just minor quibbles. Vrain's Rendez Blue is fairly unique in the scene and is highly enjoyable while having a good amount of nuance to the music. For those who don't mind cheesy power metal, this is undoubtedly a worthy album to own.

Rating: 90/100

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