Albion - Campanula

review - 17.05.2016 01:01

Rarely has a debut album left a band with so little still to prove.

Keyboards have long been a divisive issue among certain sections of the metal community. According to Martin Popoff, it was only after the emergence of Finnish virtuoso Jens Johansson in the mid-1980s that many metal musicians stopped feeling the need to apologize for using the instrument. Even so, keyboardists are still a rather marginal presence in Japan’s metal scene, and only an exceptional few, such as Sigh’s Kawashima Mirai and GALNERYUS’s YUHKI, have achieved anything approaching star status.

The ‘girls’ metal’ scene is particularly bereft of ivory tinklers. To date, only three bands within the movement have included a keyboardist as a permanent member. The best known of these, Cyntia, has since moved away from metal, and Tengusakura and Albion are now both disbanded. The latter of the two, co-founded in 2012 by Tengusakura vocalist Yuri and ex-DESTROSE guitarist hanako, released their only album in March 2014.

Judging by how Campanula starts, you’d be forgiven for thinking Albion were on a mission to make it absolutely clear Cyntia’s AYANO wasn’t the only keyboardist in ‘girls’ metal.’ The album’s opening track Eden is a two-minute gothic-tinged instrumental dominated by an organ solo from sAki. This preeminence spills over into the first four proper songs, with sAki’s keyboards propelling every melody whenever Yuri’s not busy channeling Kuroneko. Meanwhile, hanako is only really heard when she and sAki trade solos.

This balance of power shifts halfway through, beginning with Paranoia ~Ningyo no namida~, a curious number featuring musical elements borrowed from a Teutonic carnival. From Witch&Angel onwards, power metal resumes with hanako’s guitar the lead instrument. The only exception is Ashita e tsunagu yumeji, a ballad that permits listeners to hear what Yuri sounds like when she’s not vying to be heard over her bandmates.

Campanula’s only indisputable flaw isn’t musical, but technical. Something seems to have gone awry somewhere in the recording or mixing process, because during the first couple of songs the pitter-patter of RENO’s double bass drums can be heard at almost the same volume as the vocals.

So is it a shame we won’t get to hear more from Albion? It’s certainly disappointing we’ll never get to hear a finished version of Innocent lily, a demo the then-trio released online in July 2014. However, it can’t be said they were a band who never reached their potential; as debut albums go, Campanula is a remarkably well-conceived piece of work.

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