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What would turn out to be Ayabie's last album was their second major-label "debut" -- a phenomenon only possible in Japan. After losing their singer Aoi, "disbanding" in order to get out of their contract with Tokuma, then re-forming as a "new" band with the same members and the same name (only now written all in caps), they released one album on Happinet (home of Mix Speaker's, Inc.) before snagging another major-label deal, this time with Toy's Factory, which released this album before the band finally imploded. This sounds like a completely different band from the "old" Ayabie, and not just owing to the loss of Aoi; here they further refine the powerful, heavily synth-driven sound they adopted on Virgin Snow Color: 2nd Season for a kind of high-energy, at times frantic electropop-punk. As a singer, Yumehito is simply not in the same league as Aoi, but here he acquits himself admirably, sounding at times like a young Gackt. After a brief Japonesque intro, "Rise" tears out of the gate with an urgent rhythm and soaring melody. The exuberant "Niji" ("Rainbow") has a Beatlesque feel, mashing '60s chord progressions with a dense George Martin-style arrangement featuring strings, brass, glockenspiel, and wailing electric guitar. If there's a criticism to be leveled at this album, it's of the overuse of piercing synth sounds; tracks like "Kakusei Sprechchor" ("Awakening Chorus"), "Paradise Paradox," and "Koma" are rather over-busy. Still, their epic, soaring choruses make them worthwhile. A mash of musical genres is par for the course in visual kei, but here the band manages to incorporate a lot of different musical elements -- the jazz-funk jitter of "Love Song," the lurching ska-punk of the single "Merry-Go-Round," and the classicist emo-pop-punk of "Hero" -- without losing the core basis of its sound. This is one of those great albums that just seems to get better as it goes on, with the best tracks saved till the end. "Sics" marries million-mile-an-hour blastbeats, death grunts, brutal riffage, a sinister Japonesque melody, and a super-singalong-able chorus, and is both totally incongruous and completely, insanely brilliant. The lush "Season" is like a double-time winter ballad, and the propulsive, uplifting single "Ryuusei" ("Shooting Star") closes out the album -- and Ayabie's career -- on a glowing high note. Ayabie have gone out with their oshare credentials indubitably intact. Despite the interchangeability of some tracks, this is an album bursting with color and fun, which the casual listener may find somewhat saccharine but which is a must for fans of the genre, and stands as a fitting headstone to Ayabie's substantial legacy.

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