Saturday, December 19, 2015

Versailles - Holy Grail

Versailles Still At Their Peak

I never understood why, but I've seen a fair amount of people sort of gloss over this album. I have no idea how common the sentiment that Versailles went downhill after Jubilee is, but I sure as hell don't agree with it. Holy Grail is definitely a different beast from Jubliee, but it's still top notch material. This time around, the band lightens up a bit, and the guitars are less heavy. However, the high quality of musicianship persists, and Versailles once again flaunts their unique brand of power metal.

After the previous bassist, Jasmine You, died during the recording of the last album, the band selected Masashi as his successor, and he's more than up to the task. No offense to Jasmine You, he laid down plenty of excellent basswork himself, but Masashi is more skilled of the two. The shift in production here lightens up the guitar tone a lot, and frees up the bass. The band was never one to settle for simple compositions, and there is highly technical basswork prominent with even a bass solo here and there.

Following the tradition of the previous two albums, Holy Grail opens up with the bombastic track, Masquerade, written by Kamijo. I actually find this one to be one of his most well-written songs. The verse features excellent interplay between Yuki's weird drumming patterns, Masashi's bass, and both lead guitarists. And always, the man has a strong knack for catchy choruses and great melodies. The album marches on with the usual but fantastic Versailles-style power metal with all of the obligatory neoclassical frills. As always, Hizaki and Teru make one incredible guitar duo and constantly play crazy leads and solos off each other. That carefully crafted sense of songwriting is there with intelligently placed countermelodies and harmonization. Of course, Kamijo's smooth voice croons on top of all of the complex instrumental interplay.

All goes incredibly well, but at Remember Forever, we hit the first bump in the road. As the title might tip you off, it's a ballad and not a particularly good one at that. Versailles is no stranger to ballads and have managed to pull of great ones before, but this one isn't anything to cherish. While not being an outright bad track since there's some nice guitar wankery, and the chorus is nice, it's not that great of a song. Well one dud isn't normally a big deal, but the next track, Destiny -The Lovers- starts off as a ballad itself which leaves my head scratching a bit. Power metal riffing comes in later albeit tamer than before to save the day. Again, neither track are outright bad, but they don't come close to the amazing ballad, Amorphous, off of Jubilee. And the metal bits of Destiny -The Lovers- fall short of the A-class metal you were hearing not too long ago. It's definitely a slight dip in quality.

Fortunately, the band gets it back together with Dry Ice Scream!! [Remove Silence] (what a goofy title). There's a bit of gang vocals on this one, and it features some of the most aggressive riffing on the album. But you aren't free from the wretched ballads just yet. For some bizarre reason, the band decided to throw yet another ballad, Love Will Be Born Again. I hate to say it, but this is easily the worst song here and possibly the worst Versailles song period. Kamijo is no stranger to bad English pronounciation, and I don't think it's ever been as bad as it is on this song. I normally don't care too much about Engrish; it can add a lot of charm and ultimately I'm just here for a good vocal line. But it's downright awful here. Nothing against Kamijo because I can tell that he's very passionate and doing his best. Neverthless, he's not really convincing. The overall dullness of the instrumentation here does not provide any relief either. It's Kamijo in the spotlight butchering the English language over mediocre vocal melodies. I just don't like it.

But my complaining ends there. Truthfully, the biggest problem, by far, is the three ballad-esque tracks. It's not that I'm against a good ballad; Versailles has pulled them off incredibly well in the past. I just don't find any of ones on this album to be particularly compelling, and they interrupt the flow of an otherwise amazing album. Normally, this would deduct a lot of points from the album, but the band more than makes up for the flaws with the grand finale. Those who paid attention to the tracklisting might have been wondering about the monstrous, 16 minute epic, Faith & Decision at the end. I assure you; it's one amazing piece of music. This song is truly Versailles's crowning achievement as well as their best epic and closes out the album perfectly.

The first seven minutes are all instrumental. With the insane chops of all of the band members, you know it's basically a wankfest but a beautiful one. There are insane solos, drumming and basslines everywhere. Versailles has never been truly prog, but this might as well count. The song structure is very nonlinear, goes through tons of sections, tempo changes, and even some time signature changes. Kamijo's voice coming in for the first time leads to a softer moment, but it's a welcome contrast to the previous onslaught of technical acrobatics. Additionally, there's a very distinct, beautiful guitar melody that you'll find surfacing at various points in the whole song. Kamijo's voice is quite arguably at his best, delivering his lines even more passionately than ever before. Faith & Decision is quite an accomplishment and a ridiculous musical journey.

Holy Grail is a slightly inconsistent album with at least one too many ballads, but really it's the closing epic that sticks out the most in my mind. It's a pretty long investment, 1 hour and 11 minutes, but a rewarding one. Apart from those damn ballads, the album flows incredibly well and tracks like Philia and Judicial Noir demonstrate the wonderful style of Versailles at its best. Truthfully, the whole album serves as a buildup for the finale, Faith & Decision, and it pays off wonderfully every time.

Rating: 94/100

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