The Tipping Point* and the D’espa Mania brigade

A link to my entry regarding HIZUMI’s condition and possible treatments somehow ended up in the xxdespairsrayxx** community in Livejournal. What happens next is short of staggering.

Many said that they emailed the information to the address that came along with the official announcement. Some, if I’m not mistaken, reposted the link in their own journals. Two even went ahead and TRANSLATED A SUMMARY INTO JAPANESE before sending it out to Sword staff members and to D’espa’s Ameba account.

Wow.

This shower of support and outstanding demonstration of unity among D’espairsRay’s fans are mind-blowing. I am in high spirits in noting that not a few are also trying to help HIZUMI, even in their own little way. (The one who posted the link said she stumbled upon my entry while doing her own research).

If you, the reader, have some information that could be of some help to HIZUMI then I encourage you to share them with the community. A plan exists to compile them into one translated email to Sword.

With these in motion, we are together in hoping that the information would reach them soon. It may or may not be the answer they are looking for but at the very least, it should nudge them in the right direction. Even more so, we trust that all these efforts would convey our unwavering support and appreciation for the band.

I would like now to give thanks to these awesome people in the xxdespairsrayxx community: to owner999 for initiating the chain of events, to breadtoaster and crimson_deity for moving it forward and to everyone else who spammed forwarded the links to D’espa.

In conclusion, allow me to share an inspiring quote from one of the translators:

It’s great what fans can do together to show their passion for their favorite band, and doing this simply shows the power of uniting together to make something happen is much greater than trying to start something by yourself. Really, thank you for making your entry in the first place, and let’s hang in there together to wish Hizumi and D’espa a swift and epic return! – breadtoaster

Couldn’t have said it any better.

* the “tipping point” is a theory by Malcolm Gladwell which posits the existence of “a magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips and spread like wildfire”

** xxdespairsrayxx is for members only but I’m sure that any fan would be welcomed with open arms.

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maxi-single review – falling down (MUCC)

radioactive lollipops for the win!

falling down spits on Yakusuko, stomps on it then throws it out the back door. While this song is still far a cry from MUCC’s rocking old sound, it exceeds their previous effort Yakusuko both in aesthetic and production merits.  At the very least, it doesn’t sound like a happy pill overdose. I first heard it during their Jack in the Box performance and even then, I have already noted the song’s irresistible sound. Trying to ward off falling down’s invitation to madness is a futile attempt. If the song is unable to entice you to bop your head to it, at any rate your feet would still be tapping along. And as mentioned, the production is good as it allows full appreciation of the different elements that make up the song.

Dulcet notes launch Tsukino yoru and immediately MUCC whisks off the listener to a better place. A jazz inspired number, the song produces a very calming effect with its use of the piano and if I’m not mistaken, the cello. While it won’t be a surprise to hear this type of song in the downtown pub, some guitar shredding midsong reminds you that MUCC is still first and foremost a jrock band.

Rounding off the track list is a remix of Yakusuko curiously named Yakusuko Warehouse Flavored Mix. Must say I like this version better as it infused the song with electronics beats and orchestral sound.

(On the regular edition the b-side is Hotaru. The bass is excellent and complements the semi-staccato drumbeats effectively. The song certainly has a groovy feel to it while still retaining the rocking vibe that has done wonders for older MUCC songs like, say Sora to ito.)

The tracks in this single couldn’t be any different from each other yet together they present a solid evidence to MUCC’s versatility. That and the radioactive lollipops in the cover artwork earn falling down a spot in my on repeat playlist.

album review – Asylum (THE BACK HORN)

Following the Gundam connection theme, this next review and latest entry on Project Dora focuses on the THE BACK HORN’s just released album, Asylum. I first heard this band on the soundtrack of Gundam 00 – they did the first ending song, Wana and I found it a good contrast to the opening theme Daybreak’s Bell by of course, L’Arc~en~Ciel. While Daybreak’s Bell was light and breezy, Wana was loud and gritty.

Now on to the review of Asylum.

someone just barfed out the alphabet soup

The album opens with definitely one of the album’s standout tracks. Raiden is a helter skelter of a song that starts with some awesome chanting. The Middle Eastern influence is apparent but THE BACK HORN grunged it up by a mile and the result is really engaging, if not hypnotic.

The second track Rafflesia shifts pacing all too often but it’s the vocals that truly lifts up the song. Yamada’s voice is raspy on some parts as he half shouts-half sings the lyrics and the effect was jarring but pleasant. Tatakau kimi yo, on the other hand, strikes me as the extroverted sibling of Wana. Their intros are a bit similar but Tatakau kimi yo is much more fast paced. It won’t prepare you though for the explosion that is Saisei. Kicking off with badass guitars before being segueing into a nice coordination between bass and drums, Saisei would make you headbang in no time. The longest song in the album at 5 minutes and 11 seconds, Saisei is brimming with energy yet knows fully well when to take it slow only to hyperventilate even more.

THE BACK HORN channels acid black cherry in the next two tracks, Hagoromo and Kaigansen. Hagoromo is a favorite of mine in Asylum. The piano makes it first appearance and it carried the languid mood of the song. It strikes me that every listen to Hagoromo brings forth another level of appreciation for the song. It could be mysterious sometimes and lethally seductive the next. In Kaigansen, THE BACK HORN dabbled with jazzy beats the way acid black cherry did in Recreation 2. It was a commendable effort but dragged too long. The second longest song in the album, it would do Kaigansen good if a few minutes were to be chopped off.

THE BACK HORN

The grunge influence makes a comeback in Persona. The way this song was sung reminds me of Ajikan’s Goto. Unfortunately, Persona is the weakest song in the album it sounds notes where just thrown together in random just as the album’s artwork looks like someone just threw up her alphabet soup. Taiyou no Shiwaza follows suit and it more than makes up for Persona. Just like Saisei, Taiyou no Shiwaza is a guaranteed headbanger. The guitars are awesome, the drums are superb and when the song breaks it down on the second minute, Taiyou no Shiwaza already claims you spirit.

And speaking of spirit, Tozasareta Sekai has plenty of it. A mid-tempo song that is primarily bass driven, Tozasareta Sekai feels like pent-up anger expressed in a very classy way. (The song also serves as the opening theme to Mobile Suit Gundam 00 The Movie: A Wakening of the Trailblazer). The succeeding song, Yogorenaki Namida also has good bass. It is also the song with the highest sing-along potential in Asylum. It joins Hagoromo and Taiyou no Shiwaza as my favorite songs in the album. The chorus simply begs to be belted out and I am but a willing follower.

Closing the album is Parade and no other song could have done it any better. If you like Ajikan’s HARUKA KANATA then you’ll definitely fall under Parade’s charms. Both songs radiates the same energetic vibe that rouses the crowd. Take a listen to Parade and indulge in your own private moshpit.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Asylum. Different influences are abound but THE BACK HORN was able to weave them together into one cohesive tracklist. Just think, if acid black cherry was a garage band and was into grunge, they would have churned out something like Asylum. If you are fan of either acid black cherry, Asian Kung-fu Generation or above-average alternative music, then Asylum is a definite must listen.

single review – Red (the GazettE)

get me outta here!

Gazerock is not dead. It’s just stuck in a fuckin’ time space warp.

When Shiver was released just a few months ago, the general consensus was that (1) it was an epic fail and (2) it was forgettable. Well, scratch statement 2 off. Red will make you remember why Shiver was received with much disdain. Why, you ask? Because just as Shiver sounded like a rehash, Red echoes the same recycled generic shit that the GazettE churns out nowadays: charming, upbeat and downright predictable. 

The drums essentially follow a steady pattern as the guitars wrap around a melody that hardly varies throughout the song. Red has no climax or highlight whatsoever. Listen to the techno-esque intro then press skip immediately.

In fairness to this single, the second track VERMIN actually sounds as if the band put a lot more effort into it than they did with the title track. Beat is vibrant and catchy. Midway into the song, there’s a slight shift in mood before letting it all out again. And instead of the overused female back-ups, we now have strong male vocals grunting along with Ruki in the chorus. Still, there is the reluctance to totally embrace the song, and the single in general, when you know very well that the GazettE can do so much better than this.

of HIZUMI’s dilemma and Steven Tyler’s incredible human machine

PART 1: HIZUMI’s dilemma

HIZUMI

“How many times did I shout your name in the storm? My voice’s drying out… I live because of you, so I believe…’close your eyes’. Therefore, this pain never heals…” – Infection, D’espairsRay

Considering the devastating news that has been released recently, the chorus of Infection seem to be a bit prophetic, won’t you agree? Here’s hoping though that the “this pain never heals” part won’t be real as well. Although come to think of it, the whole thing feels surreal. A lot, I’m sure are still in denial, but it is really of no use suppressing the truth any further: HIZUMI has vocal cord problems and as a consequence, D’espairsRay would be on an indefinite hiatus.

What makes it even more devastating is that in a span of barely a week, D’espairsRay was the THIRD to announce suspension of band activities due to the vocalist being sick:

Hearing about Jui and Isshi’s problems saddened me but it was the news about HIZUMI where I took the hardest blow. My first reaction was of course, shock. Then devastation (yes, this poor little fangirl shed some tears). Before finally, disappointment – with a tinge of indignation. But don’t mistake the latter two to be caused by the hiatus. On the contrary, I felt a little angry because it took them this long to finally go ahead and take a much needed break. THIS SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED A YEAR AND A HALF AGO, when HIZUMI’s condition was at its worst.

It was around April of last year when it was revealed that HIZUMI was having difficulties. D’espairsRay went on doing various lives and eventually released a critically-acclaimed album during the second half of this year. All seems to be well. The band is riding high on the crest of a major world tour and probably still nursing a hangover from celebrating 11 rockin’ years in the industry just a few days ago. Then suddenly- BAM! They let out that all this time HIZUMI has been suffering. “HIZUMI  has dealt with this rare throat condition for over a year, but the band’s busy touring and recording schedule hasn’t allowed him the time to fully undergo treatment,” the announcement revealed.

Let it be said that I have a higher level of respect bestowed to HIZUMI now for putting up a brave front these past few months. I won’t even attempt to fathom how difficult it must have been for him, physically and emotionally. Still, he gave it his best and I commend him for that. I salute his courage and determination but not his bullheadedness. The announcement further shared that at this point, “(they) have tried many treatments, but have not yet found one that has a high chance of success”. It went even as far as to ask fans for information regarding “promising treatment options, including those done overseas”. All of these indicate that HIZUMI’s condition is critical, even life altering. So my question now is: why the hell did they push themselves so hard?” Then again, that’s a stupid question to ask, right? Of course, they have to continue doing what they do best so everyone’s agenda can still be fulfilled. The band gets to do it for their fans while the record company gets their due. Well, bullshit. Look at to what that brought us all in. To think that they still want to continue with this year’s tour.

Odaijini, HIZUMI

If HIZUMI is really, really sick then he should take his rest as soon as possible. Not early next year as they originally want, not in a few month’s time but NOW! I mean, c’mon D’espairsRay. Please give us, your fans, more credit. Not hearing or seeing anything new from the band for a while would surely be a great void but if it would mean their well being then we would totally understand. WE’D RATHER MISS D’ESPAIRSRAY FOR A YEAR RATHER THAN TO LIVE IN CONSTANT THREAT that HIZUMI won’t be able to sing again, or that Karyu and ZERO cannot play their guitars anymore, or that TSUKASA have to let go of his drums. Bands take a hiatus for a myriad of reasons and theirs couldn’t be more valid. We get that. And we can live with that fact. Hopefully, so can D’espairsRay.

PART 2: Steven Tyler’s Incredible Human-machine

In the spirit of finding a ray of hope amidst despair, I did a bit of desk research on other singers afflicted with vocal chord related concerns.

Crude joke as it may be, HIZUMI, Jui and Isshi are actually in good company. My research has showed me that even the legendary Frank Sinatra had his career almost in jeopardy when his vocal chords were diagnosed with hemorrhaging.  Dame Julie Andrews of the Sound of Music fame is also another example. Her vocal chords were shattered because of a botched-up surgery to remove non-cancerous nodules. Examples that the jrockers would perhaps be more comfortable being associated with include Matt Tuck, vocalist of Welsh Metalcore quartet Bullet for My Valentine, singer Tony Kakko of Finnish melodic metallers SONATA ARCTICA and finally, THE Steven Tyler of legendary band Aerosmith.

As the name of HIZUMI’s actual condition is yet to be revealed, it’s hard to assume which of the abovementioned singers’ ordeal would match his. Based on their experiences though, HIZUMI best hope lies on a Dr. Steven Zeitels of the Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is associated with two ‘revolutionary’ treatments on vocal chord related conditions: polyethylene glycol injection and state of the art laser technology.

The first option, polyethylene glycol injection is still experimental so I’d rather focus on the high tech laser surgery.

In the midst of their “Rockin’ the Joint” tour, Aerosmith was forced to cancel the 20 remaining concerts as Steven Tyler was downed by vocal injury. To get back into the action quickly, he agreed to take part in an experimental surgery. Based on the report by the Wall Street Journal (as reposted by Aero Force One, an Aerosmith dedicated site),

“(Tyler) was treated with a pulsed potassium-titanyl-phosphate (KTP) laser, the latest and most promising procedure to come out of Massachusetts General’s voice center. Quick bursts of green laser light, lasting just 15 milliseconds, zapped Tyler’s broken blood vessel, sealing the vessel without touching it.

The procedure is sounding a positive note for more successful and resilient recoveries from vocal disorders like Tyler’s. It has saved the voices of at least 14 other singers since 2005, including the opera star Carol Vaness.”

The whole procedure was documented in a National Geographic show called Incredible Human Machine.

Below is an interview with Dr. Zeitels. Annoying female newscaster aside, it is very informative. I hope it could be of some help to HIZUMI, Isshi and Jui.

re:vive (or how the granddaddies of jrock are getting their groove back)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or just plain apathetic, you might have heard by now that two of visual kei’s utmost pioneers are making a comeback. THE X-Japan and THE Luna Sea have recovered from their respective break-up/hiatus/fallout/beauty rest and have announced major tours of their own. Both are determined to make their return to the music scene as high profile as possible – Luna Sea triggered interest by making fans stay up late last August 25 for an announcement about an announcement before revealing via an ‘urgent’ press conference in Hong Kong a massive world tour while X-Japan staged a highly-publicized performance in Lollapalooza coupled with Yoshiki doing the rounds in a number of US media outfits. Needless to say the stakes are high but if the gamble pays off then the profit would be much higher. Still, this whole scenario begs the question: could X-Japan and Luna Sea regain their former glory?Luna Sea Reboot tour schedule

X-Japan at Lollapalooza

Let’s face it, X-Japan and Luna Sea are mega-influential and ultra-famous…two decades ago. While it is debatable whether another band has since emerged that could equal their achievements, it is certain the visual kei scene is a lot more crowded now, the competition much fiercer. X-Japan and Luna Sea need to vie not just for popularity but for relevance as well. However, it seems that conquering the Oricon charts is hardly the top agenda, at least with X-Japan. It is blatantly obvious that Yoshiki wants more than reclaiming X-Japan’s spot as visual kei’s most seminal artist. He is hell-bent on conquering new shores and he wants you to know that resistance is futile. It’s world domination or bust, baby. Yoshiki is willing to exhaust all his resources just to have YOU screaming “We are X!” in no time. Their performance at Lollapalooza is just the tip of the iceberg. A big tour and even more media coverage is sure to follow. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if news that an X-Japan tribute episode on Glee gets out (but please don’t – just don’t).

Are you a Gleek?

But are lofty ambition, grim determination and tons of moolah enough? (Yoshiki’s interview with ABC News really cracked me up. If you haven’t seen it yet, there’s an exchange in it that went something like this – interviewer: there was a recording studio that you wanted to use but METALLICA already booked it so YOU BOUGHT IT/ Yoshiki: YES.) To the best of my knowledge, there has yet to be a Japanese artist, or even an Asian artist, to truly make it big in the US, much more lay claim on worldwide recognition. The only Japanese band I can think of right now who had moderate success on US soil is Shonen Knife. Despite singing about banana chips and flying jellies, this ultimate girl group counts Kurt Cobain as one of their biggest fans. They joined Nirvana on tour and got to record Top of the World for a Carpenters tribute album but they have since went under the radar. Now enters X-Japan. The press has trumpeted that Yoshiki is Japan’s answer to Bono. But is the English-speaking audience willing to embrace an equivalent when the real Bono himself is still very much alive and kicking ass both in the music charts and on the concert trail?

What makes this even more of a herculean effort is that X-Japan is part of a music sub-division that is struggling to stay afloat. While visual kei fans are lamenting that VK IS DEAD, the bigger picture are giving off indications that ROCK IS DEAD. Ok, so maybe I’m getting too far ahead. Let’s start at the microscopic level. Back in their homeland, X-Japan and Luna Sea (lest we have forgotten about then already) must contend not only with contemporary visual kei bands but also with the likes of pop divas, idols groups and gaijin tarentos imported from Korea and kami-sama knows where else. And speaking of contemporary VK bands, a few have been ‘experimenting’ with a more radio-friendly sound just to remain competitive. If they are already struggling, then it’s interesting how an older act would fare now. Zoom out next into the global arena and it’s a whole new battlefield. X-Japan would have to compete with other rock acts who are in general trying to barely stay relevant in a music landscape more interested in Lady Gaga’s latest antic and in guessing which teen-age pop tart would hit the slammer next (my vote goes to Miley Cyrus, by the way).

Then again, who knows? X-Japan may just be the innovator that the rock scene is now desperately thirsting for. I may not be a fan (should I have let this out of the open earlier?) but I still hold reverence for them as pioneers of a genre that I have come to love. I sincerely wish X-Japan and of course Luna Sea the very best. And may their efforts pave the way for other notable Asian bands as well.

Gambatte ne.

Gundam + Linkin Park = awesome

I have a big fascination for Gundams. Two earlier entries on SOLILOQUY in fact were dedicated to them (one is in recognition of the franchise’s 30th anniversary and the other, a review of Gundam 00 s1). And before I got entangled in the world of VK, I was a Linkin Park fan. So just imagine my exhilaration when I found out that these two are “collaborating”.

ANN reports that the Japan exclusive deluxe box of Linkin Park’s newest album A Thousand Suns will be bundled with a limited edition HGUC 1/144 RX-78GP01Fb Gundam GP01Fb Full Vernian “Linkin Park Edition” plastic model kit.

The Gunpla Edition will feature special box art with the band members and the Gundam design as seen above.

The PR even adds that the band designed the color scheme themselves (shades of metallic grey and white… how, er, imaginative).

In addition, Linkin Park is contributing a song for the Bandai Namco’s arcade game, Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. This is said to be the first time a video game from the Gundam franchise has featured a song from a Western musical artist.

A Thousand Suns special deluxe box with Gunpla will be released in Japan on November 4. Those outside Japan can still avail of this offer via the ever reliable CDJapan.

Postscript 1: I’m likewise curious if A Thousand Suns will rekindle my fondness for Linkin Park. I have heard the first single “The Catalyst” and it has yet to grow on me. One thing’s for certain, it’s a long way from the raw intensity they displayed in Hybrid Theory – which is to my opinion, their best album so far. The pronouncement is a bit flimsy, I admit, since I tuned out after Meteora. Their collaborations with curiously another robot franchise called the Transformers were blah to me. Well then, guess I’ll just have to wait and see if November 4 would lead to a reunion as well (between me and Linkin Park, I mean).

Postscript 2: This just certifies that Linkin Park is worming their way into my heart again. Two weeks ago during lunch, my boss suddenly blurted out “I’m stalking you on Facebook (WTF?) So you’re a fan of Linkin Park? I like them too! Which albums do you like?” Took a while to register that she mentioned being a fan of Linkin Park because am still trying to process the fact that MY BOSS HAS BEEN CHECKING OUT MY FACEBOOK PROFILE. But when it did click in, she was already volunteering to lend me her cds. True enough, the next day I found a cd of Meteora and Gorillaz’s Demon Days on my desk. I wonder if I should reciprocate by lending her my D’espairsRay collection.