Onmyo-za - Kureha

review - 31.08.2008 22:00

The same-old, same-old from Onmyo-za with their latest release after more than a year.

After more than a year of waiting, ONMYO-ZA fans must have been delighted to hear news of the release of their latest maxi-single Kureha this August. ONMYO-ZA made their mark on the rock scene by fusing elements of traditional Japanese folk music with heavy metal. Kureha is yet another release that perfectly combines these elements, but doesn’t really do much besides that.

Kureha, the single’s title track, is a mid-tempo rock song that starts off gently with melancholy guitar lines and a ballad-like first verse sung by Kuroneko. After the first minute, it starts to speed up and continues to gain power throughout the rest of the track, with a guitar solo at 2:45, which is very “old-school” and technically flawless...and not much else. Contrasting with the build-up in strength at the beginning is the sudden loss of that strength just before the end, where Kuroneko's final note yanks the listeners right back to the gentle guitar at the beginning before trailing off and shoving the listeners into the faster-paced second track, Hiei.

Upon hearing the first few seconds of Hiei, one’s immediate impression is that this is the kind of song that gave ONMYO-ZA the unofficial title as the “Iron Maiden of Japan.” It's a speedy rocker with powerful vocals courtesy of Kuroneko and Matatabi. Compared to Kureha, Hiei could be a much more exciting song because of its tempo. However, after the first minute, listeners have more or less heard the entire song. Yes, there is a guitar solo in the middle of the track, but after hearing the rest of the track, it feels gratuitous, like it’s just there to keep the song from sounding like the first minute being replayed three times.

Finishing out the single is Konoha-tengu, a more upbeat track in which bassist and vocalist Matatabi dominates the vocals. Kuroneko provides back-up vocals, but her voice doesn’t complement Matatabi's as well as it did in Hiei; her parts in Konoha-tengu are hard to listen to at times - in particular, her shrill wavering at the ends of her lines - and feel rough next to Matatabi's smoother, more even vocals. Drummer Tora keeps a distinctly Japanese flavour in the track with a steady taiko-esque beat throughout most of the track. To its credit, Konoha-tengu is the most exciting of the single's three songs as it doesn’t just repeat the same verses several times. The verses actually differ from each other in some way, be it a change in the notes or tempo. The guitar solo, as a result, doesn’t feel like it’s just there to alleviate listeners from the boredom of listening to the same old verse over and over again.

Kureha isn’t ONMYO-ZA's best work. Technically, the production and performances of the artists are polished and praiseworthy - nothing less from a band that’s been around for nearly a decade. The tracks themselves, however, are staid and even out-dated; the first association that might pop into a listener’s head is that these track could have potentially been themes for an 80's era anime. For those who were just curious about ONMYO-ZA, Kureha is a good sampler of what to expect. But for existing fans, this single isn’t anything special.
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