album review – Redeemer (D’espairsRay)

Redeemer is one great album from D’espairsRay. If Coll:set and Mirror did not exist that is.

After 2 years, the boys are back sporting less of their gothic outfits and now brandishing a contract from a Delicious Deli, a division of Universal Music Japan. D’espairsRay has definitely gone major. And with it comes a seeming departure from their old sound.

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The singles released between the second album Mirror and the current Redeemer are indications that D’espairsRay is evolving. Naturally, the reactions are varied. But the most prevalent criticism is D’espairsRay seems to be veering into pop territory. BRILLIANT, KAMIKAZE and HORIZON are good singles. However, they are a far cry from the hauntingly beautiful and provocative releases of old-school D’espairsRay. The last single to be released before the album and the title track as well, REDEEMER, brought the band back to its gothic and industrial metal roots and gave fans renewed hope for the album. Still, the question remains. Will the new album actually redeem D’espairsRay?

Opening the album is Lizard, a menacing song that had Hizumi singing about “God, saw, death, lie, sorrow, rob, lost” – a great choice for an opener and undoubtedly one of the best songs in the album. Next is BRILLIANT. BRILLIANT has an infectious beat and a commendable guitar solo but is just too positive sounding. The succeeding track, on the other hand, is the powerful REDEEMER. There is something eerie about the whole song but perhaps this can be traced to the song’s even creepier Hostel-meets-Saw pv.

The album afterwards shifts gears with the ballad Kohaku. The song is poignant and Hizumi’s voice is simply mesmerizing. A superb song, Kohaku though makes it sound as if a L’Arc~en~Ciel song has crept its way into a D’espairsRay album. KAMIKAZE then picks up the pace with its highly-energetic rifts that is continued in Lost in re:birth. Lost in re:birth could actually buoy the whole album as it is a sure throwback into familiar D’espairsRay territory. A commanding song with a kick-ass ending, to hear it live is something worth looking forward to.

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Somewhat breaking the mood set by Lost in re:birth is R.E.M. Fuyuu no Genchou, a song that has “power ballad” written over it. HORIZON follows suit, best known as the single that has turned most fans off. The song is unabashedly pop and it’s a little weird hearing Hizumi declaring “Can you feel the new world?”. The rap part is interesting though. MASQUERADE is another noteworthy track from the album.  Unfortunately, it cannot distract from the utmost horror that is Yozora. Yozara very much sounds like Dir en Grey’s Jessica but the latter is slightly better. To think Jessica is one of Dir en Grey’s maligned songs.

Offering a reprieve is the hypnotic PARADOX 5. D’espairsRay is again out of character in this song but the effect is astounding. An experimental track with a Hinduism vibe, PARADOX 5 at first listen strikes as something one could expect hearing from a spa, of all places. Then again, PARADOX 5 with its solemn chants and mesmerizing sound is in a class of its own, an unexpected but welcomed treat from a rock album. Finally, concluding the album is yet another infectious and pop-sounding song, HEAVEN’S COLOR. Surprisingly, HEAVEN’S COLOR actually works. Its placing in the album is appropriate as well. The song in lieu of an actual ending instead fades off, leaving the listener wanting. And fans are indeed left wanting with the album Redeemer, wanting the old D’espairsRay back, wanting to hear what’s next for this band.

Going back though to the original question on whether the current album will redeeem D’espairsRay. The answer is yes, to some extent. Again, Redeemer is a great album. However, it lacks the intensity and coherence of its predecessors. In addition, the album is not a good introduction to D’espairsRay. It might lure in new fans but those who are unfamiliar with their previous releases might be scared off by their heavier songs. Still, Redeemer cannot be dismissed as a total disappointment. It would be similarly disheartening to hear the band churning out the same sound over and over again. With Redeemer, they are able to strike a balance between their previous sound and the fresher beats of songs like BRILLIANT, KAMIKAZE and HEAVEN’S COLOR. Without a doubt, Redeemer is in a whole new league from Coll:set and Mirror. But one thing remains constant though: D’espairsRay delivers.

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album review – Kyuutai (MUCC)

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It’s Maundy Thursday and I find myself listening to MUCC’s latest release Kyuutai. Quite odd considering that visual kei is not exactly what one should listen to during Holy Week. However,  Kyuutai turns out to be a soul-wrenching and reflective album. Proof of which is the haunting gem of a song Sanbika – reminiscent of good old-fashioned “pasyon” with even the “Ave Marias” and “Santa Marias” thrown in. When I heard that one, I literally got goosebumps all over.

The album as a whole is quite a good mix of ballads and heavier rock songs. The dark, pulsating visual kei sound is still present but is tempered by laid-back guitar strumming and soft-spoken vocals. In fact, guitar work pretty much dominates majority of the songs.  But what is so striking about Kyuutai is how much it differs from MUCC’s previous release, the techno-infused Shion. Then again, variety, I believe, is one of this band’s strengths.

Truth to tell, I have only listened to 3 of the many albums MUCC has released – Kuchiki no Tou, Shion and of course, Kyuutai. And the said albums are as similar as apples are to oranges. Kuchiki no Tou is definitely the darker of the 3 with its soaring vocals and dramatic solos. For example, the title track Kuchiki no Tou (the last song in the album, not to be confused with the instrumental intro) brings rock opera to mind.

Shion, on the other hand, veers away from all the angst of Kuchiki no Tou and has brought with it a refreshing and energizing vibe. A listen to FUZZ and Anjelier is sure to boost one’s spirit up. Given that one is listened to after the other, Shion provides the cathartic release from all the pent up emotions Kuchiki no Tou has exposed.

Then comes Kyuutai. The heavier songs like Ageha and Sora to Ito provides the expected turbulence. But the biggest draw of Kyuutai for me are songs that allow for quiet moments of reflection – Sanbika, hanabi, Aoi Tori and to some extent, even Youen. These are not necessarily ballads but they do brim up with emotions and Tatsurou’s voice really shines through. The fancy guitar work among the songs is also something to behold.

Hands down though, Sanbika alone is enough reason not to ignore this album. Yes, the intro is somehow akin to Hotel California for some weird reason but Sanbika – in all of its 7 minutes and 33 seconds glory – can definitely hold its own. Tatsurou’s falsettos are spine-tingling but come third verse, the effect turns to haunting. This is made more effective with the soprano vocals in the background. By the time the song reached its second “Santa Maria”, Sanbika has earned its place as one of the eeriest songs I have ever heard.

Overall, MUCC’s Kyuutai is a good listen. It has its own hits and misses but then, it also testifies to the band’s maturity as an artist. It also makes one anticipate the next worthy addition to this band’s growing repertoire.