Wednesday, December 23, 2015

D - The Name of the ROSE

Jrock Metal

"Jrock" is simultaneously one of the most useful and most bullshit genre tags in existence. There's a pretty large amount of stuff I conveniently file under "jrock" that bears very little sonic resemblance to each other. But if you listen carefully enough, you begin to notice a few commonly shared traits among some styles of jrock. The way the guitars interact with each other, the moving bass lines, the relatively laid back drumming style, and of course the over-the-top vocalist. So what in the world does D have to do with any of this? Well in a sense, they basically play the aforementioned jrock, but in a metal context.

This isn't actually such a radical idea. A lot of jrock bands straddle the blurry line to metal very hard. In many cases, all you would have to do is throw in a little more distortion, add a few more riffs and voila! It's metal! So suppose that you had a jrock band that did exactly that? They had the appropriate distortion and enough riffs to technically qualify as metal, but they really feel more like a jrock band overall. Well to me, D is exactly that. The Name of the Rose carries a lot of metal riffs, but also exhibits traditional "jrockisms" in its usage of chord progressions, basswork and drumming style. It's quite a mix of material that varies from hard hitting metal to softer, ballad-like numbers.

In contrast to much of their fellow countrymen, D keeps a rather dark mood present on most of their material. It's possible that I'm just into different stuff, but most Japanese music I encounter is obviously primarily based in major keys with an uplifting vibe. True to their gothic imagery, D actually makes regular usage of minor chords and keeps a melancholic atmosphere. In a sense, they come across to me as a modern take on 90s style jrock with gothic and metal window dressings, and given their visual kei image, this actually makes sense. Back in the early 90s, there was a fairly small, but notable visual kei known as nagoya kei. Sonically, it tended to be quite a bit darker and took a lot from gothic rock and post-punk. And to my ears, it sounds like D was inspired a lot from this particular scene and put it in their own sound. Essentially, they play some form of gothic rock/metal (quite a vague term in and of itself), but in a very distinct Japanese style with their own twists and turns. If you've ever listened to any jrock (especially the stuff from the 90s), underneath the poppy chorus there's often a lot of surprisingly active, moving guitar and bass that can play a ton of different notes and chords. As I've been constantly repeating, D's own music shares these characteristics.

One thing that you really have to praise is the extremely high level of musicianship. Much to my surprise, all of the members of D can go toe to toe with many other bands I consider to be extremely talented. Day Dream is a softer number that opens the album quite humbly with some darker clean chords and with Asagi carrying the verse melodies. But the song quickly develops and builds on itself. Even by Japanese standards, Bassist Tsunehito is extremely active in the music and rarely follows the guitars. Both Ruiza and Hide-Zou are excellent guitarists. I believe Ruiza takes the majority of the lead parts, but the two are no slackers and make a compelling duo. Hiroki is capable of blasting the double bass, doing calmer, tighter drumming, adding a nice fill or whatever pattern suits the current style of music the most. As you go through the album, you'll find a million different notes and rhythmic variation. Sure, it's all basically verse chorus structure, but I'm pretty tempted to call it "technical gothic metal" or something ridiculous like that. There's a ton of intricate technical work from every instrumentalist here.

Vocally, the band is also excellent. Asagi's voice is very much in line with typical visual kei vocalists, but he has a distinctive tone and character. Another thing that surprised me was how diverse his vocals can be. No where is this better demonstrated than on the comically long titled track, 薔薇より暗い慟哭のアカペラと薔薇より赤い情熱のアリア, which also happens to be the main highlight of the album for me. After a brief gothic choir introduction, the main riff is quickly flaunted, and you instantly know it's going to be a barn burner. For most of the songs, Asagi remains in a comfortable midrange, but he pretty much goes completely nuts here. There's a bit of impressive screaming in the pre-chorus, and the rest of the band provides a healthy amount of gang shouts. But what stands out the most is the ridiculous usage of falsettos in the chorus. They aren't delivered in a power metal-esque style, but rather in a more controlled, subdued manner. The delivery gives Asagi's voice a rather feminine quality as opposed to evoking images of conquest or what not. Regardless, the way he pulls off those stupidly high notes is quite mind melting and certainly unique. The falsettos do remind me of Kyo from Dir En Grey, but the single this song is from came out in 2005 which was long before Kyo started incorporating falsettos into his vocal work. Nevertheless, the main riff, ridiculous vocals, and wandering basslines easily make this my personal favorite song on the whole album.

As a disclaimer, the copy of The Name of The Rose that I'm familiar with is the 2006 re-release that has Tsunehito on bass and three extra bonus tracks. The original release has a different bassists and thus a different mix. I'm pretty sure it's not anything terribly different, but it's worth mentioning. The bonus tracks are both a blessing and a curse. They're all quite enjoyable songs, but they do stretch the album out to a whopping 1 hour and 8 minutes which is quite a long time commitment. It's not hard to listen to The Name of the Rose in one sitting, but it does sometimes drag a bit near the end. Overall, it's a pretty enjoyable album, and I do look forward to exploring the group's future output.

Rating: 88/100

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