Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Gargoyle - 禊

Only in Japan™

Gargoyle is quite easily one of my favorite bands or possibly my favorite band period. In their vast career, they've put out multiple, high quality albums far beyond the reaches of most acts and carved out their own unique identity. Out of all the places to start, there's probably not a better place than right here: the debut album. There are some obscure demos that existed beforehand, but Gargoyle really defined themselves with Misogi.

One thing that is important to note about Gargoyle is that their music is a classic case of the “only in Japan” type of songwriting. Funk, folk, neoclassical shred, thrash and other elements all thrown together on the same album? You better believe it. Gargoyle's style is mostly rooted in thrash, but is mixed seemingly haphazardly with other styles and genres which gives the band a pretty unique and weird identity. If destroying genre boundaries and overall craziness sound bad to you, you should probably stay far, far away from this record.

The brilliant opener, Destroy, sets the tone of the album and also serves as a great way to experience the band for the first time. In fact, this is one of the band's most popular songs and after listening to it, it's not hard to see why. The eerie stop-start riffs at the intro, the catchy thrashing verses, and the melodic dual-lead choruses showcase the kind of diversity in musical ideas that these guys are capable of pulling off. The song also features an absolutely insane, long-extended solo section which is quite arguably the best of Gargoyle's career and certainly among the best I've personally heard. The ridiculous dual-lead, shredding violin and harmonizing bass line just knock it all out of the park. It's basically the perfect way to open up your album.

Fortunately, the rest of the album is just about as awesome as the opener. What ultimately makes the band as good as they are is the unique style of riffing that Gargoyle brings to the table. There's much more here to find than just palm muted chugging. Guitarist She-ja whips out these twisty, melodic riffs that headbangable and go all over the fretboard. The leads are very neoclassical in style and of course let's not forget the crazy solos that this guy lays down left and right. Another huge contributor to the awesomeness known as Gargoyle lies in the presence of a bass god that goes by the name of Toshi. Yup, Toshi's bass is perfectly audible in the mix and contributes tons of counterpoints, leads and just great basswork all around. The basslines deviate from the guitar lines all the time, and form a rock solid foundation for the guitar leads and riffs to float on top. Drummer Katsuji is not nearly as flashy as She-Ja or Toshi, but he's a speedy drummer that's perfectly capable behind the kit.

There's one thing that I have yet to mention, and it's potentially a major issue for some: the vocals. Of course, there's the language barrier as Kiba “sings” in Japanese, but what's even more inaccessible is the fact that he sort of warbles and makes all these crazy weird noises. For me, these wild vocals instantly clicked, but I could see a lot of people being driven up the wall by this guy. But he's one of the major defining characteristics of the band, and there's plenty of catchy memorable vocal melodies to reel you in. It really would not be Gargoyle without this crazy guy behind the mic.

There's a couple of songs on here that I find a little weak; namely Purple Heaven and 虫螻. Both seem to drag on a little and aren't quite as creative and wild as the rest of the album, but neither are anything to be ashamed of. The rest of the album is absolutely glorious. “ぎ” features this insanely well-crafted, twisty main riff that has Toshi and She-ja harmonizing off each other. It's a small little touch, but it just makes the music so much more engaging. Certain Feel is a wickedly cool funk track that features saxophone in the middle, female vocals and some more killer basslines from Toshi. 人形の森 is a heartfelt, stunningly beautiful neoclassical instrumental ballad.

Perhaps the real star of the tracklist is the monstrous Ever Green near the end. Here, I feel like all of the elements of the band come together the best. The melodic style of riffing, wandering bass, and everything else just seem to work. The song also has some creepy vibes starting off with a sort of eerie intro of a baby and other weird backing vocals in the chorus. The album closes with a very dark ballad; Cogito, Ergo Sum; that is just some clean guitar and Kiba singing in a haunting, dark manner. It's a bizarre way to close an album that's mostly highly melodic, but it works quite well.

All in all, Gargoyle's first album is an absolute winner. The key to the success is the unique and varied songwriting along with catchiness and instrumental prowess. And you know what's even more ridiculous? They would actually get even better as the 90s went on. Hell, Misogi is probably my least favorite pre-2000s Gargoyle album, but I still absolutely adore it. If you're looking for an incredibly unique thrash band that's not afraid to experiment with different sounds, this is a great place to start.

Rating: 90/100