Saturday, November 5, 2016

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

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