Saturday, October 29, 2016

Hizaki - Rosario

Courtly and Elegant

Well, Hizaki seems pretty busy. Out of basically nowhere, he announced that he was releasing a new solo album earlier this year. And here I thought he would be too busy with the Versailles reunion, but I guess everyone is just a workaholic or something over there. Anyways, this is his first solo album in almost a decade and considering the experience he's gained in Versailles and Jupiter, I naturally had high expectations. Thankfully, I wasn't let down at all, and Hizaki's instantly recognizable style of neo-classical/power metal guitar playing is highly poignant as always.

In contrast with Hizaki's previous full-length solo album, this one is actually completely instrumental aside from some choir parts. However, this isn't a concern since he has always had a knack for writing very strong melodic guitar lines along with gripping solos, and that characteristic is preserved here. Those familiar with Versailles and Hizaki stuff have a good idea what to expect here: high-tempo, highly melodic, and technical, pleasing guitar playing. In addition to Hizaki's skills, the massive guest musician lineup has plenty of familiar names, like the other guys from Versailles, and they are all well-accomplished players themselves.

The biggest strike against Rosario is the fact that some of these tracks are recycled from previous works. More specifically, Silent Knight and Desert Apple are from Versailles. Race Wish is from one of Hizaki's previous solo outings. And finally, Church Candle and Rose Quartz are from Jupiter. Depending on how dedicated you are to following the man, it's possible that you are already familiar with 5 of the tracks here which leaves you with 9 new ones (not too bad of a ratio honestly). In my case, I was only previously familiar with the two Jupiter songs, so certainly my perception may be warped a bit from more seasoned fans. The old songs are all re-recorded, but they are also very faithful to the originals, so the experience is about the same. Additionally, Hizaki adds a rendition of Presto from Vivaldi's Four Seasons which features some cool dueling violin and guitar leads. Even though these tracks are a bit old hat, they're done very well and are pleasant to listen to.

Fortunately, that's pretty much where my gripes end with Rosario. The opening song, Grace and Dignity, describes the character of this album perfectly, and that song is essentially representative of the album as a whole. It opens with Hizaki's ear-worming guitar melody before bursting into high-velocity power metal grace. Hizaki's lead guitar really gives a nice "soaring" feeling over Rosario as he intersperses more soulful, legato styles with neo-classical shredding in a thoughtful, well-written manner.

One of the biggest potential weakness of guitar solo albums is for the backing tracks to be really dull and repetitive, but Rosario thankfully avoids this trap. The rhythm tracks are obviously written in a way to emphasize Hizaki's lead guitar which is certainly expected, but there are always good variations and frills put in to keep it from feeling too stock. You'll hear a cool drum fill, maybe a nice bass doodle, and of course the backing riffs are well-written and phrased in a way to prevent them from becoming stale. Another nice thing about Hizaki's songwriting is that he doesn't shy away from putting in some subtle progressive elements. If you pay attention, you can notice a surprising amount of time signature changes that help keep the rhythm and meter fresh.

Given that the album is over 1 hour long, it would be pretty dull if everything was high-flying power metal, so Hizaki put in some softer numbers to mix things up and it works well. Eien no Tomoshibi and Church Candle both show a soft, more passionate side with some beautiful guitar playing and serve as sort of a nice intermission in the middle of the album. The track placing is also well done despite the recycled numbers. When you get tired of the faster numbers, some of the softer tracks come up. And when you start itching for a tempo increase, the album kicks it up a notch again.

Race Wish is a well-known and well-regarded song and after becoming familiar with it, I can certainly see why. It starts off slowly (which complements the previous track, Church Candle) before speeding up to a ridiculously catchy melody. This song is a very good demonstration of both Hizaki's technical abilities as a guitarist, and his skill as a songwriter to craft ear-pleasing melodies. Another interesting track to note is the inclusion of Rose Quartz, from the Jupiter single. This one stands out as being very technical and shows off the ability of all of the entire band and not just Hizaki.

The big eye-catcher is the 10 minute, self-titled track, Rosario, at the end. Hizaki has got plenty of really good epics under his belt, and this is yet another one. It's pretty clear that a lot of time went into writing this particular song as it features all of the bells and whistles from Hizaki's playbook. There are long, extended melodies, some progressive elements, soaring synths, and plenty of technical guitar work. The song structure is not exactly through-composed, but the sections are quite long and extended with little repetition. Rosario is a highly accomplished work and a wonderful way to close out the album.

Even though a notable chunk of the album is recycled material, they fit like a glove here, and I find myself not really caring at all. It's an extremely enjoyable listen and everything flows so nicely. I suppose the long run time may urk some people. And certainly if 1 hour of Hizaki soloing doesn't sound appealing to you, you probably won't like this. However, for long time fans of Hizaki and his assorted works, this will definitely deliver.

Rating: 90/100

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