Saturday, December 19, 2015

Art of Gradation - Concentration

Not Quite There

Light Bringer's lineup sort of imploded in 2011 and 2012. First, guitarist Kazu would leave before the release of the band major label debut single, Noah (that he wrote). And not too long after the release of Light Bringer's third album, Genesis, guitarist Seiya and drummer Satoru also said their farewells. Despite these setbacks, the band found themselves a new guitarist and drummer and proceeded to release one of my favorite albums of all time in 2013, Scenes of Infinity. Meanwhile, ex-Light Bringer members, Kazu and Seiya teamed up with vocalists Ibuki and Michiru and keyboardist Reanne to form their own band (Satoru would later join, but he's not actually credited on Concentration). They released their debut album on exactly the same day as Light Bringer's Scenes of Infinity. Unfortunately, the result isn't nearly as smashing.

Since there were ex-Light Bringer members involved, I was hoping for some prog elements. Maybe Hibiki rubbed off a bit on them, right? Well unfortunately, you won't really find any of that here. In a nutshell, this release is extremely light, keyboard-laden power metal that barely even counts as metal. Well whatever, as long as the music is good, right? Hmm, that's the tough call. There's some nice solos and leads to be found here, but overall it's honestly pretty mediocre with occasional good moments.

It's not fair to compare this band to Light Bringer, but you just have to with that origin story. One shortfall is in the vocal department. Of course hardly anyone can compare to the Fuki's amazing vocal talents in Light Bringer, but these two ladies don't bring anything notable to the table. Despite the dual vocalist thing, Michiru is really the one that handles 90% of the vocals here. The moments where both girls sing together all have Ibuki mixed very far into the background to the point that she might as well have been credited as backing vocals. It's kind of a shame since Ibuki is actually a much better vocalist than Michiru in basically every way, but she's woefully underused here. As for Michiru herself, her voice is cartoony as fuck, and there's some pretty obvious pitch correction and vocal processing going on at times. She doesn't sound outright terrible, but she's more or less just there and mediocre.

The best vocal moments on the album are all the rare moments when Kazu sings. For instance, consider Our Song. The small part of the verse that Kazu sings by himself is honestly so much better than anything else the ladies sing on the whole album. He's far more emotive, expressive and has a better tone. Every time I listen to Art of Gradation, I always find myself wishing that Kazu was the vocalist instead. The guy is such a good singer that I even would have liked for him to sing a little more in Light Bringer and steal some of Fuki's spotlight.

Instrumentally, it's mostly okay. The drum tone sounds pretty programmed and given the lack of a drummer credit in the album booklet, the conclusion is pretty obvious. It's nothing deal breaking, but you'd think obvious drum machines would have been a thing of the past by now. The guitar leads and solos are actually pretty good on average, but the riffage is often pretty filler-feeling and flat. While the huge keyboard precense is kind of cute, it's also nothing special.

However, there is one song that is not just good, but absolutely great from start to finish, and it really surprised me. The sixth track, Sky!!, is stylistically in the same vein as the rest of the album, but it's clear that the songwriting is much more creative and interesting here. The opening guitar melody is great, Kazu sings a bit on it, and the song has the glorious, soaring feeling appropriate to its namesake. If you reach a little, you could also reasonably argue that there's some prog influence on this song as well. A lot of the transitions are reminiscent of Light Bringer in a very good way. Unlike most of the album, listening to this particular song is pretty fun and engaging. I'd also put Our Song and 奏-KANADE- a notch above the rest mainly because Kazu sings a bit on those.

I don't believe Art of Gradation ever gave any sort of official breakup announcement, but I'm pretty sure it was just a one time thing that's over. The website is gone, and the members have all moved on to much greener pastures. Kazu, Seiya, Reanne, and Satoru would form the absolutely excellent group, Scrambled Soul Circus with Haruka of Tears of Tragedy and Yosuke of Octaviagrace (Reanne is also in this band). Ibuki teamed up with some ex-Destrose members to form the all girl group Disqualia and also get to actually sing. Michiru disappeared from the scene, and well I'm not going to shed any tears over it. Concentration is worth a listen for the novelty if you're obsessed with any of the members and want to hear everything they've been involved in. It's not a fantastic release or anything, but hey maybe a decade from now my CD will skyrocket in price and I'll get to charge criminal amounts of money for it.

Rating: 60/100

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