ASAGI - MADARA

review - 10.04.2018 01:01

ASAGI's first solo album brings a traditional flair to D's familiar sound.

In 2006, vocalist ASAGI of the visual kei band D released a solo single and fragrance, both entitled Corvinus, to much fanfare. Rumors swelled of an entire solo career, along with a forthcoming solo album. Fans were abuzz with excitement and patiently waited. And waited. And waited some more for something that never came. D remained as active as ever, but ASAGI's solo effort seemed to have been abandoned. Until finally, in 2016, ASAGI released three singles: Seventh Sense, Shikabane no Ouja, and ANPSI. Things were back on track, and on January 31st of the next year, the long-awaited solo album finally arrived. MADARA is a culmination of sorts, boasting dozens of guest musicians like DIR EN GREY’s Shinya and LUNA SEA’s SUGIZO, and an ambitious marketing campaign. It’s clear that ASAGI knows how long his fans have waited, and the long wait was worth it, though not to the extent many fans may have imagined.

Wholly traditional with no modern elements whatsoever, Ametsuchi Iki Kuru Kofune sets the stage in short order and lets listeners know to expect a very, very Japanese album. Gekkai no Miko truly gets things started, and it delivers on the intro’s promise. The track feels like D’s take on gagaku with flourishes of koto and traditional percussion that are blended in perfect harmony with a contemporary metal sound. Unlike most attempts at this combination, the traditional instrumentation is vital to the composition, creating a true marriage of old and new. It’s an inordinately strong opening number that feels like something ASAGI was born to sing, and his famously deep vocals are in top form.

Kashikoki Umi e Kaeryanse keeps the album going strong with its dreamier, slower take on the East-meets-West dynamic. ASAGI excels at both harder and softer songs, and his more traditionally Japanese vocals make for a stunning contrast to some immaculate violin work. Though slightly more Western-sounding as a whole, the song still combines elements from both sides of the Pacific with unbelievable skill.

Hanagumo no Ran takes a more aggressive approach, and brings a wild, upbeat energy that never skimps on the drama. Similarly, the next track, Onuzakura, features a frenzied interplay of vocals and instruments, and is at its strongest when at its most manic. ASAGI gets to show his skill on both the harder and softer end of things in the same track, and listeners will stay engaged thanks to the sudden shifts in tempo. Next is Keika, a song that merges Eastern and Western acoustic instruments over a strong electric base to create something of a Japanese-inspired take on symphonic metal.

Ooyama Inu Dake ~Tsukuyo ni Hoeyu~ arrives next, in all its assertive splendor, but keeps the mood hopeful rather than grim. ASAGI's trademark falsetto finally gets its turn in the spotlight in the sombre, slow-paced Fuyutsubaki ~Shirotae no Kenin~. A more downbeat ballad allows the Japanese instruments to shine in a different light than previous tracks, and it goes without saying that ASAGI sells a technically difficult song with little effort. A shorter track, Hakumenkonmou Kyuubi no Kitsune Hidama, brings the mood back up with its bouncy sound and at times gleefully playful vocal work.

The tenth track, Kimera, features an overtly menacing tone as ASAGI leads a chorus of backing growls and barks with his charismatic and soaring vocals. Kumo no Kayohiji is a mid-tempo hard rock track, but stays engaging by balancing melancholic and hopeful moods at different parts of the song.

The regular edition features Youtou Gyokuto as its twelfth track, and diehard ASAGI fans are in for a treat – the track isn’t a typical “song” by the modern perception, it is a showcase for ASAGI's vocal work via the tsuyogin style of singing prominent in Noh theatre. And it, too, is executed with supreme skill.

It’s back to modern music with Mononoke Soushi and its almost evil-sounding guitar riffs punctuated by shrieking shakuhachi. The chorus lightens the tone, but the song never loses steam and even features a surprising but well-incorporated rap section. The final track, ASAGIMADARA, dispenses with the Japanese instruments altogether, but is no less appropriate for it. Rather, being a Western-style ballad ensures the album ends on a high note where ASAGI can put his tremendous voice on prominent display one last time before the album ends.

For an album eleven years in the making, MADARA will certainly please fans. Some, however, may be slightly disappointed – many of the songs, like Kimera, sound like D's attempt at a Japanese-themed album rather than a spin-off featuring its vocalist and numerous guest musicians. That being said, if this were a D album, it would be a glorious addition to their discography. D has touched on the traditional Japanese – metal hybrid style before, but never so proficiently. ASAGI manages to blend two disparate approaches to music and hold them together vocally with inordinate success. One may even go so far as to call it a Japanese version of a rock opera, a “rock Noh play” of sorts. Corvinus may have set a high bar back in 2006, but eleven years later, MADARA manages to set it even higher with every song.

Watch the teaser for MADARA and the music video for Gekkai no Miko below:





Read our recent interview with ASAGI at http://jame-world.com/us/articles-128679-interview-with-asagi.html
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