Friday, December 2, 2016

Versailles - The Greatest Hits 2007-2016

They're Back!

I always picked on the fangirls and told them to grow up and move on. Stop crying out for a reunion; the band was a done deal. Kamijo wants to be the next Gackt doing his solo stuff, and Hizaki & co. were happy in Jupiter. Versailles is history, and they'll won't do anything else besides occasional revival shows. Welp, it looks like they have the last laugh here. Versailles is 100% back in full gear. They've done several reunion shows, released this compilation, and they even have a new album coming out next February. Everyone get aboard the hype train!

The Greatest Hits 2007-2016 is the band's latest offering to assure us all that they are indeed blazing a new trail. It's also a nice way to cash in on blind fanboys/fangirls like me. Fortunately for us lowly thralls, the band does put in more effort than usual on this compilation release. It has two brand new Versailles tunes, bookended in the tracklisting, with the other 11 songs being completely re-recorded. The 11 old songs are cuts lifted from Lyrical Symphony, Noble, Jubilee, and Holy Grail. Interestingly enough, songs from the band's 4th album, Versailles, are totally left out from the compilation. Given my personal opinion on that album (good, but not up to the Versailles standard), I have zero problem with this decision and applaud it.

So for the fans out there, the biggest inquiry most likely pertains to the quality of the two brand new songs. Well the good news is that I think both are good overall. I guess the bad news is that neither one are amazing or anything, but realistically the band would save that material for the actual album (a decision I don't object to). The new opener, Melodic Thorn~美の暴力~, is very obviously penned by Kamijo. In fact, so much so that you'll realize that he basically just slightly reworked Sacrifice of Allegro from his Symphony of the Vampire EP and called it a day. Yikes. Welp, I have to say that the original is also quite a bit better and features better guitar riffs and leads oddly enough. I guess your tolerance for self-plagiarism will vary here, but honestly it's not that obvious of a ripoff besides the opening synths. It took me a while to figure it out, but I guess this could potentially bother you a lot if you fell in love with Kamijo's solo EP and played it a million times already. The closing track, Chandelier, is Hizaki's offering and as far as I can tell, he didn't ripoff of himself, so we're good there at least. This one is definitely better than Kamijo's song even if you don't take into account the plagiarism. As usual, there's the nice guitar lead work from both Teru and Hizaki. Yuki does a bunch of nice drum fills, there's some cool bass doodles, and the chorus is pretty catchy. Nothing spectacular, but it's an enjoyable song.

As for the 11 other songs, we have a fresh new recording of each one with more spruced up, fancy production. When it comes to re-recordings, I don't require that they somehow top the original or even be as good as it. All I ask for an alternate version that's worthy to listen to from time to time. To put it bluntly, I unfortunately don't see much of a reason to ever listen to the re-recordings because the originals are basically better in every way. The perception of production values will certainly vary from person to person, but I never thought Versailles ever had anything close to bad production. Both Lyrical Sympathy and Noble are noticeably a little rougher and not squeaky clean like when they went major, but neither are anywhere close to bad. So the new takes of the songs from those releases really don't gain anything to my ears, and I find myself preferring the originals with ease.

To make the matter worse, I'm not really a fan of the production and mix used here. It's not outright bad, but it is an active detriment to the old songs here. I love Yuki's drumming, but what in the world was he thinking with this drum sound? It's not offensively bad, but it's pretty plasticy sounding and the bass drums could be quieter. Really, the drums are just too loud period. They should have turned them down a notch. On the flipside, what happened to Masashi? He's not inaudible, but why in the world is the bass this quiet on a Versailles release? That's just not right. The lack of bass pretty much just flat out ruins some of the re-recordings here for me. For instance, take ASCENDEAD MASTER which has a so-bad-it's-good title and is one of my all-time favorite Versailles songs. That opening verse where there's an incredible dual-lead guitar melody interacting with bass counterpoint that is woven together in an ingenious fashion to invoke a sense of grandeur with its brilliant use of harmony? Well screw you because the bass guitar part is like 5 decibels softer than it should be. And really, I just find myself wondering why in the world they would shoot themselves in the foot like this.

One of the reasons why I adore Versailles so much is because of how brilliantly they write songs and have all the different instruments and voice complement and interact with each other. It's not merely just guitars playing a few decent riffs, the double bass blasting, and some half-baked vocal melodies. No, they were always so much better than that. The vocal melodies from Kamijo would often be accented and expanded upon in Hizaki's and Teru's guitars. Both Jasmine You (RIP) and Masashi would often interject in their bass to serve as a moving line to counteract the guitars switching to longer, legato notes. Yuki's drumming was always highly dynamic and contained a plethora of interesting rhythms and excellently executed fills to signal transitions and to build up tension. The best Versailles songs have an extremely discerning eye for composition, and they compose with such meticulous care that very few other bands can even compare.

I realize I'm basically just throwing a tantrum over the bass guitar getting gutted, but damn it I still don't understand why. When you spend all of that time carefully crafting your songs, why would you just nuke one of the key elements of your sound? It just rubs people autistic about this kind of thing like me the wrong way. On zombie, I expect to hear that awesome bass melody that perfectly foils Kamijo in the chorus. And believe me, it's not at all inaudible. But I have the original version perfectly clear in my mind, and the re-recording is far more muddy and doesn't pop out nearly as much as it should. I've compared the two back and forth and the version on Noble is just so much better and clearer.

But the biggest offender on this album is easily MASQUERADE. This, again, is one of my all-time favorite numbers from Versailles, and it's just so much inferior on this compilation. One of the reasons why this song is so brilliant is because of how well Masashi's bassline and Yuki's unique rhythms gel together. And of course, the vocal melodies from Kamijo are absolutely on point. The problem, once again, is that the bass, while not inaudible, is way quieter than the original. When Teru and Hizaki play their guitar parts later on, they so overpower Masashi that it's ridiculous. The bass solo in the middle is also just totally wrong and sounds extremely awkward at such a low volume level. When Hizaki comes in with his guitar solo, it's way, way louder and totally messes up the balance. Again, why in the world would they screw up their songs this much?

There are some instances of non-bass related reasons for my dislike of the re-recordings. For instance, the opening guitar melody on After Cloudia on the re-recording is played at a lower pitch than the original for some reason. This decision just seems ill-fitting to me because that line loses the wonderful, soaring feeling that the original has. But truthfully, like 90% of my problem with the new takes is basically just the bass guitar getting the short end of the stick. Sure, I did gripe about the drums a bit, but you honestly get over that after a while. Still, the main draw of Versailles for is the entire group as a whole. When a certain integral part gets shafted so hard, it really just messes up the experience for me. Why even bother with these re-recordings when you have the original versions that get everything right?

But believe it or not, there are actually some positive points to be found here. One of Versailles' biggest contention points with newcomers are the croons from Kamijo. By visual kei standards, Kamijo is pretty tame all things considered, but to those not used to this kind of style (and let's be honest here, Kamijo isn't the best technical vocalist around), he can be jarring. However, I have to say that he does a remarkably great job on these re-recordings. I don't know if it's just more practice or what, but his voice is much improved in the technical aspect. He's got much better pitch control and tone here. Personally, I've always enjoyed Kamijo's charismatic, smooth delivery, but his performance here might actually win over some of the skeptics. He's not Bruce Dickinson or anything, but Kamijo does excel at the style he does and I do think he's an integral part of Versailles. And he's also composed several of the band's best songs, so I honestly can't knock the guy too much.

So when it comes to actually rating this, it's a little tricky. On the plus side, the band did a fantastic job picking a wide variety of tracks from their older material and included some of their absolute best songs here. If you asked me to pick 11 Versailles tracks for a compilation, it honestly wouldn't differ much from what you have there. Good taste in your own music guys. The new songs are good, but definitely are not must have tracks. And of course, I'm not a fan of the production direction here, but my reasons are incredibly subjective and I realize that some people may wildly disagree with me there. So in a nutshell you have some good-but-not-great new songs and some incredible old songs harmed by terrible production.

For newcomers, I definitely would not recommend this one to you. Go pick up a copy of Noble and get into the band that way. For the long time fans, it just depends on your level of devotion I guess. Given the nature of the this market, these two new tracks are going to remain exclusive, so getting the compilation will be your only way to legitimately own them. The release is kind of expensive, but if you have money to burn and are a big fanboy/fangirl of the band it's probably worth picking this up just for those two tracks alone. I spent most of my time complaining in the review, but I don't mind just playing the first and the last songs from time to time and treating it as a two-track single. If you only have some casual/passing interest in the band, I would tell you to pass. These two songs aren't anything to die for. With that in mind, I really can't justify giving this a high rating since it's basically only for diehard fans and none of the re-recordings are worthy alternatives to the originals. But all in all, Versailles are indeed back! And I certainly can't complain about that. Here's to hoping that the new album in February will be yet another incredible addition to their catalog. I'll be eager to hear what they cook up (hopefully with better production this time).

Rating: 60/100