Sunday, August 28, 2016

MinstreliX - Memoirs

A Nice Mixture of Genres and Influences

This release would be MinstreliX's first full-length, showcasing an eclectic mixture of power metal, progressive metal and even a little jazz among other elements. Takao, the main songwriter and only consistent member of the group, definitely shows off his diverse influences throughout the album. Here, you can find jazzy sections, folky guitar melodies, progressive riffing and other such goodies. Takao would opt for a much more streamlined (but still technical) power metal direction in the future, and that would become mostly what the band is known for. So Memoirs is basically the oddball in the MinstreliX discography and probably my personal favourite.

Curiously enough, the vocalist on the album, Lola, is actually an American. The band had Leo Figaro as the vocalist for their early demos, but they had some issues which resulted in chucking Figaro and somehow convincing Lola to move to Japan and record and tour with the group. All the songs are in English and Lola wrote all the lyrics, so there is no Engrish to be found here. Her singing voice is somewhere around a contralto which is more on the lower end of a spectrum for a female. While her voice is an atypical choice for power metal (especially for Japan's usual take on the genre), she has a pleasing tone and does a fine job behind the mic.

Despite being the band's first full-length, the songwriting is quite mature. Much of the album is solidly in progressive territory and flirts with odd time signatures and other unusual elements. There are a lot of interesting composing quirks here ranging from the sing-along folk elements in Long Winding Road to the incredible bass solo lead-up to the spastic drum fills during the first verse of To Immortality. Naturally, all the musicians are very fine players. Shin-D's basslines are perfectly audible and often deviate from the rhythm guitar. The Betrayal, in particular, has a very cool jazzy bass section to back up a jazz solo from the Yui's keyboards only to later lead into a bass solo. Yuki's drumming is a treat to hear, and there's lots of really nice fills to be found. And of course, Takao shreds away with plenty of ridiculous leads and solos.

What's particularly praiseworthy is the wide variety of material, and its excellent execution. In addition to the more straightforward power metal numbers, the album features some slower, more contemplative tracks like Moon Sickness or odder, more progressive songs like Entropy. The band even manages to pull off an amazing, beautiful ballad with Soul Of The Breeze~mistral which incorporates some peculiar jazz and folk elements. The huge progressive epic at the end, The Wanderers, showcases Takao's guitar prowess with face-melting solos and riffs. Lola also gives some of her best vocal lines near the end with some particularly powerful, passionate notes.

Although it was released independently, the production is excellent. All the instruments are perfectly audible, mixed together nicely, and the clean, sleek tone is perfect for a power/prog metal album. The playing can get fairly complex, but it still retains a clear sense of melody with Lola's vocals soaring over the rest of music. While the album is not way out in left field, the material is relatively unique and highly enjoyable.

Rating: 95/100

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