My first exposure to 黒夢 (Kuroyume) was actually their debut single on Avex, Misery. It was more or less a random stumble on youtube, but one that would ultimately contribute to my personal musical journey. Western fans are probably more likely to know Kuroyume as that band Kyo was a roadie for back in the day, but don't think their influence ends there. In fact, Kuroyume are easily among the most influential visual kei bands of all time and predated the huge influx of visual kei bands in the 90s. They're probably more well known for their major label pop rock stuff, but the band was a completely different beast in their indie days. 生きていた中絶児・・・・ (Ikiteita Chuzetsuji) is an old demo tape that later was on remastered and properly released on CD. It's a short, 6-track EP, but it's the band's heaviest release.
Kuroyume really started off as a dark, gothic/post-punk band that teetered dangerously close to metal much to my surprise. I assume that this period of the band shares much in common with the British post-punk/gothic scene, but I'm really not too familiar those bands to make any meaningful comparison. What I can say, however, is that this is particular EP is actually pretty damn heavy. The guitar is often heavy on distortion, and there are a lot of riffs employed by Shin here. True to the gothic tradition, Hitoki's bass tone is very thick and serves as backbone of all of the music. As the literal translation of the band's name implies, these 6 tracks are all very dark and melancholic in mood.
Kiyoharu's vocals are the rawest they have ever been. Multiple times throughout the runtime, he utilizes some very powerful screams that would surprise anyone who is only familiar with their pop rock material. Another surprising thing is that the songwriting is actually often rather complex and more nuanced than you'd expect. That's not to say Kuroyume went progressive rock or anything, but there are moments of legitimate time signature changes, rhythmic variations, and unexpected melodic patterns that show some serious nuance. Hitoki's performance on bass, the building block of the music, is excellent and goes through a large variety of melodic lines.
I enjoy all of Kuroyume's stylistic shifts, but my preference is definitely the period of time when Shin was in the band and wrote the songs. Fortunately, Hitoki and Kiyoharu were capable of writing good songs and released quality material after his departure. But the stuff that Shin wrote is really quite special and nothing afterwards is on the same level for me. One reason for this is because he was a really damn good guitarist. On some later works, it's really easy to get distracted by Hitoki's flashy bass runs, but the guitar is quite in your face here so it's hard to ignore. And of course, you certainly don't want to ignore it since there are quite a lot of riffs here and plenty of the solos are dissonant shredfests that are well placed and fit the mood of the album. It's also worth mentioning that the orignal version of 親愛なるDEATHMASK is actually different than the one that would show up on their debut album. Neither version I'd consider truly superior, but there's certainly some pros and cons. I much prefer Kiyoharu's screaming on the rerecorded version, but this one has some extra bass lines and accents that I love. I'd also say that the buildup to Shin's solo is not nearly as good on this version as it is on the first album.
Unfortunately, there is one blight on the mini album. It's the closing song, 鏡になりたい. It's a dark ballad that works very well instrumentally, but Kiyoharu pretty much messes things up on this one. On the rest of the EP, he's absolutely excellent and delivers one of his strongest vocal performances ever. I love his over-the-top, emotive style and the harsh vocals he uses here are all really awesome especially in songs like 黒夢 . But on the final track, it's just too much for my taste. I'm usually pretty tolerant of out of tune, ridiculous vibrato, but he really should have reigned it in on this one. Kiyoharu sounds pretty damn goofy here, and it pretty much nulls any potential emotional impact the last song could have had for me.
But the good news is that the first 5 songs are all a huge thumbs up. There's never a dull moment and even the unnamed session drummer does a pretty good job. It's a really nice blend of dark, gothic rock with some metal elements that does a great job conveying a dark, melancholic mood while showcasing a good degree of musical complexity and proficiency. There's no doubt that this is easily one of the band's strongest releases.Rating: 93/100