Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Kamijo - Heart

Should Have Been So Much Better

Ah yes, my favourite Francophile vampire LARPer released his debut solo album a couple of years ago. Of course, Kamijo's big claim to fame these days is the rightfully beloved Versailles, but some drama happened and you know the story from there. Anyways, his previous EP, Symphony of the Vampire, is surprisingly an extremely good release, so I thought Kamijo would pull off this solo thing without a hitch. Unfortunately, my eventual opinion ended up being a bit more complicated.

Unlike Symphony of the Vampire, Heart opts for a much more lighthearted, less heavy direction and dials back the power metal onslaught. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the symphonic stuff that replaces the metal isn't quite as satisfying. One of the problems with Heart is that (with the exception of a few songs) it never actually abandons the power metal base. So you end up with the typical conundrum of massive symphonic fluff with a buried rhythm section. And that alludes to what is quite easily the biggest issue with this album: the production.

There's no way around it; the production is pretty bad. All of the strings and keyboards sound pretty good, but the rhythm section is mixed really poorly. First off, most of the album sounds like Kamijo used a drum machine, and it is not a good one. To make it even more frustrating, 3 of the songs have Kei Yamazaki (the same guy that drummed on Symphony of the Vampire) behind the kit, and the drumming on those songs sounds perfectly fine. Why in the world did Kamijo not just have this guy drum on everything? He is signed to Warner after all. It's not like Kamijo is on a budget here. The dorky-sounding drum machine is not horrendous on its own, but it certainly does not help.

What's more criminal is that the guitars are buried pretty far in back although there are a few songs where they are at a more normal volume level. It wouldn't be such a problem if it wasn't for the fact this is a mostly power metal album, and there are some interesting things going on with the guitar parts. Additionally, the bass tone can sound odd at times with an unnatural/electronic feeling, but the counterpoint is quite solid and enjoyable. The symphonic fluff is mostly well-executed, but it's written in a way to mostly just be ornamentation and not anything seriously engaging.

Another setback is Kamijo himself. I've never disliked his vocals (quite the contrary actually), but he's pretty limited in execution. One unfortunate blight on the album is the moment where Kamijo tries out a falsetto near the end of Louis. Let's just say it's quite painful, and I always reach for my volume control when that part comes up. He really should just stick to the usual smooth, charismatic voice which he fortunately does for most of the album. The lack of gang shouts and solid backup vocals does hurt a little bit though.

For the most part, the songwriting is actually quite solid, and that's what saves Heart from being horrendous. Naturally, the power metal numbers are styled a la Versailles, but Kamijo also throws in some other curveballs. Romantique and 抱きしめられながら are both romantic-sounding, dancey ballad numbers. They are actually quite well executed with nice, moving vocal and bass melodies, and it's on these songs that the production of the album hurts the least. The latter does sound superficially similar to Malize Mizer's Au Revoir, but I'm willing to chalk that up to being a weird coincidence as the two songs are quite different in composition. Moulin Rouge is some kind of swing metal hybrid that sounds awfully close to Diablo Swing Orchestra. However, Kamijo's take is more laidback and less crazy.

Musically, nothing stands out to me as amazing or anything, but really it's not bad stuff. On the contrary, there are a lot of really enjoyable moments, and Kamijo's hired guns do a great job on their instruments (good instrumental players seem to grow on trees in Japan). The big thing holding this back is the bizarre, ill-fitting production by far. I don't know if he decided to dial back the guitars for more commercial appeal or what, but it I'd easily give this album a lot more points if the mix was more appropriate. Additionally, it does feel like Kamijo mostly plays it safe on this album. Sure there are the pseudo-experimental numbers, but they are pretty tame. The power metal numbers are also mostly solid with some nice solos, but none of them truly shine like my favourite Versailles songs. I found Symphony of the Vampire to be a lot more adventurous and ambitious overall. Heart is nothing to be embarrassed about, but it's really not that exciting.

Rating: 63/100

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