FATE GEAR - A Light in the Black

review - 03.04.2016 01:01

Vocalist Nico shines on this imperfect but promising first album from FATE GEAR.

When Mina announced her departure from heavy metal band DESTROSE in February 2015, it marked the end of an era. Having founded the group back in December 2005, she’d stuck with the troubled outfit through thick and thin for just over nine years. At the time, there was speculation that recurring health issues had forced her to retire, but as it turned out, the godmother of ‘girls’ metal’ wasn’t done yet. Last summer, Mina unveiled her new project: FATE GEAR.

As a statement of musical intent, FATE GEAR’s debut album A Light in the Black sends out mixed messages. Named for a 1976 song by influential British rock band Rainbow, the choice of title would suggest a move towards a retro rock sound, and songs like Reimei and Awayuki no Inori certainly do have an unmistakably ‘80s vibe about them. However, other tracks have a more contemporary, distinctly metallic flavor, particularly three that Mina previously recorded with DESTROSE.

While Romancer (Original), Deathless Memories and Winds of Fall (Original) have all been rerecorded, not to mention rearranged for one guitar, their inclusion flies in the face of Mina’s apparent desire to distance herself and FATE GEAR from the DESTROSE name. Even the album’s liner notes, written by Japanese rock guru Makoto ‘Captain’ Wada, studiously avoid any mention of her former band by name. However, it may be that the three songs were included as a quick means of padding out the track list. After all, it’s rare for a band to make a full-length album their debut release, so Mina definitely can’t be faulted for giving listeners value for money.

In all honesty, A Light in the Black does sound like it was made in a hurry. The use of digital percussion, partly excused by FATE GEAR’s lack of a drummer during recording, is particularly noticeable on album opener Fate Gear, and there’s a certain raw quality to most of the music. However, the record has something that at the very least makes it listenable: the performance of vocalist Nico. Formerly known as SHIZUKA, under which name she worked with Marty Friedman and Rie a.k.a. Suzaku, the woman’s impressive range means she can handle both languid ballads and thumping hard rock numbers with ease.

Ultimately, A Light in the Black is almost everything you’d expect from a metal band’s debut album: an imperfect first step in the right direction. True to form, Mina stubbornly keeps herself out of the spotlight, diluting her guitar work with plenty of keyboards plus some synth work by Dragon Guardian maestro Arthur Brave. This puts the main focus on Nico’s singing, and that’s precisely where it belongs.

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