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