Official Site: www.malice-mizer.co.jp
One of Japan’s most established and leading practitioners of the Visual Kei phenomenon, Malice Mizer don their garb as easily as they navigate their music. As with most Visual Kei bands, the visuals slowly subdue in direct proportion to their fame (the “look at me” factor being less urgent with each step up the ladder). Now they can concentrate on the sound. Take “Au Revoir”, a strange blend of Barry Manilow-esque chord progressions (Copa-kimono!), 80s pop staccato rhythms, driving solid rock rhythm section – thumping bass, machine gun snares and rapid-fire kick drums. Believe it or not, this is very listenable stuff! They’ve thrown everything at the wall, and it’s all stickin’! “Beast of Blood” combines Bach-style harpsichords, tape reversals, distorted vocals and satanic guitar/bass/drum synergies designed to reincarnate the most lifeless corpse in the graveyard. What holds it all together with these guys is sheer musicality – no pretence, just wild composition and faultless execution of the ideas. No nuance left un-tuned. MM have climbed the ranks by matching image with substance and as the clothes shrink to mere street level magniloquence (though you gotta get a load of their guitars – Fenders dipped in psilocybin soup) the music is transporting them, and you, to unchartered territory.
Fan Site: members.tripod.com/al_fitri/xpdc.html
Over 15 years of R & D has resulted in an arsenal of pogrom proportions. Can my fragile human mind withstand the barrage? Tom toms like 44 gallon drums of anthrax, a depleted-uranium armour-piercing kick drum, bass like the throbbing hum of a looming scud, and guitar cluster bombs ripping through my lobes, leaving unexploded ordinances in my memory, ready to detonate unexpectedly upon second listening. My only salvation from total biological meltdown is the clean vocal delivery of Ali, providing the perfect ideological justification for the carnage I have just endured. Enough with the analogies already! XPDC are a polished metal act with a tight sound that toggles easily between the obligatory “loud” and “soft” bits of the genre – punch and drive; switching pick-ups to flowing, sweeping clarity. One might compare them to Metallica, but Mr Hetfield wouldn’t dare venture as far from behind his contrived angst as these lads, nor would Lars and Co. widen their style enough to reveal who they truly are. XPDC deliver the metal, but you can hear real people inside the machine, digging the simple pleasures of plugging in, cranking up, rockin’ out and bearing your soul all at once in a four-minute opera.
Ed Notes… Stefan is a Metallica FAN – he regularly performs “Nothing Else Matters” and “Enter Sandman” in his Sydney Pub Rock shows - www.stefan.net.au
He’s using comparison as an ironic preverb.
L’arc en Ciel
Official Site: www.larc-en-ciel.com
It’s the early 90s and in one cataclysmic shift in Western pop culture, the Bon Jovis and Poisons of this world are rendered suddenly irrelevant. Was it the new prescription medication the audience was taking? Diet Pills? Who would have guessed? Noone wanted to hear guitars any more, and those few that did demanded they be played by three chord losers in sloppy joes with manic depression – no more stadium heroics, big hair and pelvic thrusts to accompany lightning-fast pentatonic scales. So a garage sale was held by the touring production company …and L’arc en Ciel bought the bloody lot. For the last 14 years L’arc en Ciel have been honing and owning the genre, keeping the lightshows, the headbands and the upbeat pop-rock groove while continuing to push their musical boundaries. The chord progressions and hooks are familiar but the arrangement and instrumentation keeps you constantly intrigued. Big harmonies in the choruses, some nice guitar noises interwoven through the verses and melodious, well executed solos. Tetsu’s bass work is remarkable – big fat sound and awesome lines. Vocalist Hyde is blessed with the ability to croon in the smoothest vibrato, growl out the rough bits and ascend to heavenly heights when he hits his upper register. Some might say they are on the downward arc of their rainbow - residual royalties their only pot of gold – but I reckon there’s life in that 2,000-can light show yet.
Dir En Grey
Official Site: www.direngrey.co.jp
totchi.org/ganesa (dedicated to lead singer Kaoru)
distant-voices.com/kaoru (dedicated to lead singer Kaoru)
In the days before computers, Visual Kei would have gone no further than platform soles, zany collars, make-up and feather boas. In the digital realm, platform shoes stretch across the galaxy, collars transform into exoskeletons, make-up becomes morph-up and feather boas… well, they’ll always be feather boas. For 7 years, Dir en Grey has been metamorphosing from humans to demigods. Massive live shows and dragon-slaying recordings fuelling the myth, the lads have arrived in the 3rd millennium, poised on the vanguard, ready to lead us to the next game plan for humanity. The music, throughout all this visual envelope-pushing, has been honed to a tight, punchy, rock casserole, wrapped in Nipponized LA vocals; mild eastern under-pitching and caricaturized western phrasing. The music bed under vocalist Kyo is an impressive testament to Japan’s dominance of the electronic music industry for the last 25 years or so - every element of the carefully crafted mix wending its way through processor after processor to emerge crystallized into one clean and solid mix. The tonality is classic hard rock - all minors and dorian modes – while the engineers wring every once of headroom out of the mixers and the players optimize their rigs to perfection. With such a tight sound, Dir en Grey are free to explore their fantasy worlds and let technology take them where their fans dream they would go – and the dreams are all coming true.
Fan Sites: www.geocities.com/visual_silverash
If I were to tell you that ‘Silver Ash’ was a computer program, spewing out audio and visual fodder for your consumption, you’d probably believe me. They have forsaken photographs for comic-strip renditions of each other, and the music is similarly produced to the point of blurring humanity with some kind of ripple-distorted digital facsimile. Perhaps, for political reasons, they need to denounce their involvement in such an eclectic enterprise. Whatever the rationale, Silver Ash are eyeing the US (and us) with a mixture of envy and ambition. If their marketing machine can capture the vibe and on-sell it to a weary western market, they might just tip the economic scales to at least where the cultural weighbridge has already yielded. Quarantined from gangsta rap, R & B and digi-pop, Silver Ash have been free to explore their musicianship; intimate laid back loops avalanching into power-chord stadium rock, empty spaces filled with sound effects and mechanical overdrives, and dreamy echoed melodies beckoning the listener to ignore the short soup and chow mein staple and go straight for the chef’s special. “Stereotypes!” I hear you cry. Well my stereo is rockin’ while I’m a-typin’ – Silver Ash are taking root.