Since most of the band's discography is not quite easy to obtain, I ended up starting off with their album, Skill, which is the only one that is reasonably available overseas. As time went on, I gradually nailed the rest of their back catalogue through online webshops, shopping services, and auctions. It came to a point where I owned all of their albums and EPs except for this elusive first album. It's out of print, and the album doesn't always show up on auctions. However, one fateful day after many months of off and on searching, I finally found it. The bid was placed and thankfully I won without any issues. Every day I was shaking in anticipation. Soon, my patience and efforts would be rewarded. The package arrived, and I gleefully put this CD in and cranked the volume. Unfortunately, it turns out that Grating kind of sucks.
Okay, so I actually didn't have high expectations to begin with and only got this album for completionist purposes and curiosity's sake. The word through the grapevine was that the first album was kind of half-baked, but man, that description is actually a bit of euphemism. For all intents and purposes, this is basically a demo, and I can see why the band stopped printing it. Aresz is known (well not really) for their insertion of cool, wanky bass shredding to hard, aggressive heavy metal. From the very beginning, they had this odd idea, and Grating also has two different bass guitar players. However, one of the major shortfalls of the album is the noticeable lack of Syoi being behind the 6 strings.
Aresz has sort of a weird "dual bassist" thing going on with one playing lead and the other playing rhythm. On most of their releases, Syoi is the guy playing the gaudy, 6 stringed bass with wicked shredding, tapping, slaps, and all of that great stuff. Without him, they wouldn't be half as interesting of a band, and as a result, Grating is much more boring. Instead, the album has some other guy named Nakkn behind the bass along with long-time member Masami. They try their best and there's some decent flourishes here and there. But it's generally fairly dull.
And that, in a nutshell, is probably the biggest issue with Grating. It's boring. The riffs aren't bad, but a lot of them underdeveloped and could have used more polish. There is too much reliance on power chords and not enough actual melody. A large portion of the album hangs around in a mid-paced tempo which simply isn't the right for music like this. Aresz thrives much better with quicker tempos, and not surprisingly, the faster songs are among the better ones here. Besides some of the bass licks, most of the music feels fairly stock and not terribly noteworthy. Rumiko's vocals are gritty and rough which is fine in the context of heavy, aggressive music. But she's not going to be some kind of saving grace or anything like that.
There's yet another big blemish here that I have yet to address: the production. To put it bluntly, it sounds like a demo recorded underwater. The sound is very muddy, and Rumiko's vocals stick out like a sore thumb to the point where her voice gets grating (hah) after a while. Given that the band probably had a shoestring budget at the time with no following, I can't really blame them. But the piss-poor production of the album really does not do Grating any favors.
Despite the overall dullness of the material and lackluster production, there are actually some flashes of brilliance. Pride is a really neat, funk-influenced track. There are some of the cool bass slaps thrown in here. The guitar lines are nice and have a funky feel. That one is probably the best track on here. For another example, take We cannot live without BATTLE! There's a neat little bass tapping lead at the opening that would later be re-recording on Grating Revival which features a much improved version of the song. Park of Life also has some interesting ideas with bass slides thrown in there despite the lethargic and boring pace of the verses.
The biggest redeeming factor of Grating is that there are flashes of potential here, and thankfully, Aresz would capitalize on that and massively improve in the next few years. Adding Syoi was probably the best thing they ever did because the follow-up, Beat Blast Spiral, is a much better album. Well, everyone has to start somewhere I suppose. Grating isn't an atrocious album or anything like that. But there pretty much isn't any reason to ever listen to it. The band's subsequent releases are pretty much better in every way. If you happen to stumble across Grating (a highly unlikely scenario), don't pay an arm and a leg for it. If you're a big fan of a band, it's nice to own just for the sake of owning it, but you're better off sticking to their other albums.Rating: 55/100