ayabie - Virgin Snow Color

review - 12.02.2006 07:00

Welcoming in the winter weather with ayabie.

ayabie's first full album since the departure of guitarist Ryohei, Virgin Snow Color is also their final release of 2006. With expectations mixed, the band manages to give their fans possibly their most beautiful album to date.

ayabie decides to open their album with an introduction track consisting entirely of piano. This track is a lovely little melody and brings to mind the images of falling snow, perhaps as to be expected considering the name of this album. It leads into the second track then, the upbeat sounding Shine which clocks in just under three minutes.

Two aggressive tracks, featuring filtered and shouting vocals and driving guitar lines follow. Both are very hard rock tunes, perhaps surprising to someone who may be listening to ayabie for the first time and who was lulled into a false sense of security with the opening songs and the band's extravagant visual image. Next, the fifth track, Hinata, makes its way to the listener's ears. Still a quick tempered tune, it's not as harsh as its two predecessors, and boasts some very pretty acoustic guitar work and an interesting bass line.

May Fiche no Uta, Koigara no Suihou reminds one again of the opening of the album with its beauty and simplicity. Although ayabie consists of five members, this particular tune is solely Aoi's to shine in, consisting entirely of his vocals and piano. The tempo is kept slow and smooth; the lower piano part sounds like it belongs in a waltz while the other line brings to mind a ballet. Aoi's vocal ability is showcased fantastically in this song; while he has ventured into the higher ranges before in his career, it's usually been a somewhat mixed attempt with his tendency to sound a bit flat when pushing into the higher notes. There is no such wavering in May Fiche no Uta, Koigara no Suihou and he hits note after note with absolute perfection. While it's a strange track to find on a rock album, this sixth one is the absolute stand-out and will no doubt remain in many listeners' minds after the CD is over.

Most Japanese bands will place previously released singles on an album. Here, however, ayabie does something a touch different and leaves their last single, Kimi no koe to yakusoku, to make its appearance solely on the included DVD. Instead its b-sides, 0010 and Az, are featured here as the tracks to follow May Fiche no Uta, Koigara no Suihou. Both of these tracks pick the pace right back up; 0010 in particular is a solid mix of aggressive bass and guitar riffs with catchy, almost pop-song-like interludes.

ancient-tree and Hoshi furu ohanashi are the two chosen tracks to wrap up this album. ancient-tree starts off rather slowly although as the music continues, its pace picks up slightly, leaving it on the softer rock side. It's a very interesting tune and somewhat difficult to pin down and describe; the bass line is an absolute dream to listen to, with guitar and synthesized bell tones layering over it at points but never drowning it out. Aoi's vocals aren't quite as strong here as they were in May Fiche no Uta, Koigara no Suihou, softening as he goes into the higher notes but it works for this track, giving it a very lovely, gentle feel. ancient-tree's real weakness is the guitar solo; it's hardly badly played, but it's not particularly interesting and after having so much of the song being driven by the bass, it feels rather out of place. Hoshi furu ohanashi is the last track and while not a bad song, it feels a bit tacked on and familiar. It's a rather weak note to end the album on after the mix of outstanding harder rock songs and lovely flirtation with the piano.

There's an included DVD containing the music video to their newest single, released shortly before Virgin Snow Color, which is Kimi no koe to yakusoku. ayabie is still a fairly young band, having only formed two years ago or so, and on an indie record label, so one cannot expect huge production values in their videos but they did well for this one. There is a fairly insane amount of feathers; falling from the sky, on the band's costumes, on the microphone stand, etc, which gives the video a very pretty and somewhat otherworldly feel. The strange thing about the video, however, is that their newest member, guitarist Yumehito, is not really in it; there's a flash of his shoulder in one scene and it's obvious some bits were taped to include him with the positioning of the band but he's simply not there aside that. It's very bizarre and makes one wonder if a second version of this video will be released further down the road now that he's been included as part of ayabie's official line-up on their website.

Overall, the album manages to juggle its strange mix of heavy rock and soft ballads fairly well. Aoi's vocals have noticeably improved and the stronger bass line, courtesy of Intetsu, that runs through this album makes it an interesting listen. There are a few weak tracks but these are not truly awful songs; they simply fail to live up to the gems that do shine. Fans of the band should absolutely not miss this release and those who may have dismissed ayabie's earlier works should definitely consider taking another listen.
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