Saturday, November 5, 2016

D - Neo culture -Beyond the world-

Branching Out

D is one of those weird bands that is extremely loose with genres. Both The Name of the Rose and Tafel Anatomie flirted around with gothic, j-rock, and metal influences. Admirably, the band somehow found a way to juggle these conflicting sounds and craft coherent, enjoyable songs. Pinning an exact genre of them was always difficult, and Neo Culture -Beyond the world- further complicates this endeavor. With their third album, D begins to explore new territory. They simultaneously incorporate more melodic and folk influences into the record. The previous two albums didn't shy away from melodic choruses, but with Neo Culture, D embraces that characteristic, melodic j-rock style with open arms.

The genre conundrum only gets more confusing because the band doesn't really back away from their metal influences either. Indeed, a great wealth of riffs and metal also exists on this album. The gothic backdrop still persists with the minor chords and some keyboard window dressings, but Neo Culture is notably a lot happier in tone. D was never really that dark in sound, but this album marks a turning point where the band started to incorporate more melodic choruses into their sound. You may ask how on earth they can meld a wide range of seemingly conflicting influences and genres all on one record. That would be a good question because I haven't quite figured that one out myself, but the result is pretty damn great.

I'm not sure if the song title was meant to be meta, but Neo Culture follows the trend of opening with humbler songs with the first track, Follow. It's a pleasant song with the usual ingredients that make D such a great band. You have Asagi's characteristic voice, the omnipresent bass, and guitar leads. But the next one up, Signal indicates the first, real departure from the previous material. In contrast to Follow, Signal is much happier with a strong melodic backbone and pop appeal. Even though the song seems more user-friendly especially with the big, melodic j-rock chorus, D doesn't step away from their intricate songwriting or technical skill at all. Tsunehito still smokes the fretboard on his bass. Both Ruiza and Hide-Zou carry some sweet dual leads and solos. And Hiroki finds a way to put in some nicely timed drum fills and patterns.

I have to say that D pulls off this kind of song very well. Writing a catchy, poppy song that still shows off impressive musicianship is really an art, and D is one of the best at this craft. They find a way to put in some variation that can easily be overlooked if you aren't paying attention. The two verses will often differ, a separate independent bassline that accents a melody is mandatory, the drumming will always have some off-beats, and both guitars will harmonize with each other or even with the bass. And of course, Asagi's voice is stellar as always, and he can carry those j-rock choruses with power.

One interesting element the band experiments with is folk. 桜花咲きそめにけり is centered around a very nice folk melody that's propelled by the lead guitar. Asagi also shows off his vocal versatility by singing in a lower pitch with a lot of vibrato, giving a traditional flavor to his voice. This one is predominately metal with plenty of riffs, and the dual lead solo section over folk melodies is also really awesome. The band would do more songs similar to this one in the future, but this attempt is easily one of their strongest. I love this song.

Virtually everything here is golden, but my personal favorite is probably the closing track, Dearest You. Basically everything I love about D is showcased here. The song starts off in a j-rock fashion with some awesome bass slides from Tsunehito and chord trade-offs between Ruiza and Hide-Zou. But then the band quickly switches it up on you and goes pretty heavy with some nice aggressive riffing for a bit before going to the verse. Asagi gives one of his strongest vocal performances here showing off some of his harsh vocals as well as falsettos. The main chorus is extremely catchy, and the solo section is equally awesome. During the bridge, there's also a part where Asagi hits a falsetto while Tsunehito does a short, little bass doodle that always impresses me. On the "greatest D songs ever" list, this one is definitely a contender for number one.

Neo Culture clocks in at well over an hour, but thankfully it's not a chore to listen to at all. D employs a large variety of songs and ideas. You can find softer ballads, some hard-hitting metal, more gothic tracks, and all sorts of stuff. Genre-wise it's pretty much all over the place, and they pull off all of the various styles effortlessly. In fact, I'd go as far as to say this is possibly D's strongest entry in their excellent discography. Neo Culture sounds mature and accomplished. The entire album is consistently high quality and every track is written with the utmost care.

Rating: 97/100

黒夢 - 亡骸を・・・

Inconsistent

I've long said that I preferred the Kuroyume material with Shin on guitars, but there really should be a "read the fine print" clause for this album. I assume the band was gaining a lot of popularity in the year following the release of 生きていた中絶 児 (Ikiteita Chuzetsuji) and for 亡骸を (Nakigara Wo), they opted for wider appeal. Ikiteita Chuzetsuji was very raw and even borderline metal at times, but Nakigara Wo has the band lightening up their sound quite a few notches. Instead of the extremely dark, metallic gothic sound, gears are switched to a lighter, more melodic gothic/post-punk sound.

Overall, it feels like the band was still trying to find their footing. Going in a lighter direction is not something I'm inherently opposed to, but the results here are unfortunately not consistent. I think Shin was trying to transition to a more commercial-friendly sound while still retaining the grit from their earlier stuff. There are some songs here that work extremely well and can even knock it out of the park. However, others leave you scratching your head. I don't find anything here to be outright bad, but a few of the tracks could have used more polish.

In pursuit of a more melodic and accessible direction, the songwriting predictably gets simpler than it was on previous works. A lot of the subtlety of their first single and EP are lost here. Not that the band was ever super-complicated or anything, but the meter shakeups and more elaborate solos are missing here. Unfortunately there's not nearly as many cool leads or riffs from Shin. He generally opts for chord progressions and overall less exciting guitar work. The songs are all pretty much just straightforward verse-chorus.

It's not all doom and gloom though. Like I said before, there are moments where the more poppy, accessible songwriting gels with the gothic/post-punk backbone extremely well. For instance, DANCE 2 GARNET is a fast-paced number with a super catchy bassline from Hitoki and some nice leads from Shin. There's also other good moments. The opener, Under・・・, manages to blend aggressive D-beats with some clean minor chords as sort of a midway point between Kuroyume's aggressive tracks and their new, softer direction.

I do keep mentioning that Nakigara Wo is softer (which is true), but it's actually still really dark. Sure, Kiyoharu isn't screaming at you too much. And yeah, a lot of the distortion from Shin's guitar goes away. But the overall tone is still quite depressing. It's still very much a gothic album even though it's not nearly as raw as it used to be. For example, 十字架との戯れ may not be as hard as 黒夢 from Ikieita Chuzetsuji, but the guitar is very dissonant and Kiyoharu's voice sounds like he's in agony making this one of the strongest tracks on the album for me.

And speaking of Kiyoharu, he's one of Kuroyume's biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses. His voice is very distinctive and very visual kei for better or worse. You'll have to expect the wide vibrato and over-the-top style. For the most part, his super-passionate approach works very well in the backdrop of the music, but there are times where I feel like he overdoes it. In 終幕の時, the chorus is a goofy-sounding "la-la-la." To make it worse, the song has the gall to have a pseudo-fade out of Kiyoharu's "la-la-la's" only for him to fade back in and end with some of the few screams. The idea itself isn't so bad, but I find the execution to be rather lacking.

And that would be an example of the inconsistency I was speaking of earlier. 終幕の時 is not a bad song, but it's definitely lacking a bit in ideas and goes on too long. 讃美歌 is a decent gothic ballad, but it never really connects with me like some of their other stuff. After 十字架との戯れ, Nakigara Wo sort of goes into a three track lull of decent songs. They all have solid ideas, but unfortunately nothing really wows me. If has the most potential of the three with some really nice melodic basslines, but it lacks the development to truly be outstanding. Fortunately, the last two tracks close the album out on an extremely high note.

親愛なるDEATH MASK from Ikiteita Chuzetsuji is re-recorded and makes a reappearance here. It's hands-down the most aggressive number on the album and sticks out like a sore thumb. The difference in the instrumentation is slight; Shin's guitar seems to be more dominant, and Hitoki's role is diminished. My chief complaint would be the lack of some notable bass accents that were on the original version. However, Kiyoharu's vocal performance is a huge upgrade over the original. When I said he's potentially one of Kuroyume's biggest strengths, this would be a good example. Kiyoharu goes pretty nuts with some very wicked screams that are much superior to the original take. As a bonus, the build up to Shin's solo is way more gripping, and the solo itself is also superior in this version with a much more impressing dissonant touch. I did previously say no rendition of the song was truly superior to the other, but I think I would pick this one if you put a gun to my head.

Another surprise is the closing, self-titled track, 亡骸を. It's a simple, stripped down ballad with clean guitar and repetitive drumming, but it somehow works. Kiyoharu, again, just knocks out of the park vocally and basically carries the whole thing. I might even go as far as to say that this is the best ballad he's ever done. His voice is extremely passionate, and the chorus is highly emotional and melancholic. I promise you that this kind of thing normally doesn't resonate with me much, but somehow Kuroyume pulls it off. There's a moment during the bridge where Kiyoharu makes a passionate shout and it's followed up by a subtle bass melody from Hitoki. That small segment is easily one of Nakigara Wo's most powerful moments. This song is a brilliant way to close out the album on a soft, sad note.

Nakigara Wo is Kuroyume's first full-length album, and there's some ups and downs. Overall, I do think it's a good album, but it lacks some of the brilliance of the band's other work. Kuroyume never really settled on a singular sound, but here it does sound like they are trying to transition to a more accessible sound without fully working out the kinks. They would have a much more successful fusion of gothic/post-punk and pop appeal with the follow-up, 迷える百合達 ~Romance of Scarlet~. Still, there are still some extremely strong ideas to be found here. Even if it isn't my favorite Kuroyume album, I still think it's a worthy album.

Rating: 75/100