Alice Nine


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The fourth album from one of Japan's hottest young visual kei bands was their debut for Tokuma Japan Communications, following their move from King Records. When visual bands go major they often deliberately make their major debut album as raw, unpolished, and uncommercial as possible in order to dodge accusations of selling out. Alice Nine seem to have decided to pull a parallel trick here; while production-wise this album is smooth on the ears, the music is a big shock to their longtime fans. On 2009's Vandalize, the band first started to show that they might have epic pretensions, with a few big numbers that sounded almost exactly like U2. On this album they have gone whole hog -- the music here is absolutely massive-sounding, deliberately grandiose, and imposing. It's still melodic, but there are no real "typical" poppy visual kei songs, and the U2 influence is all but gone, to be replaced with full-on '70s-style progressive and hard rock on many tracks. Lyrically the album deals with themes of duality, as represented by the title, the twins on the cover, and song titles such as "King & Queen" and "Birth in the Death." Opening with "I," a melodic progressive rock epic with a stirring, soaring orchestral intro that wouldn't sound out of place at the climax of a galaxy-spanning space opera, it then launches straight into the hard-charging and peculiarly titled "Rumwolf," whose crunching riffs and pummeling drums could have come straight off a '70s hard rock record. The singles "Stargazer" and "Senkou" ("A Flash of Light") keep up the hard-rocking, propulsive pace, as does almost every other song on the record. The orchestra is present on many tracks, and throughout, the band take every opportunity to display their incredible chops -- on the funky ballads "4U" and "Fuurin" ("Imposing Air"), which offer some brief respite, lead guitarist Hiroto peels off a couple of awesome, bluesy, Gary Moore-esque solos. The album's centerpiece is the 12-minute, three-part title track, which flows from lush orchestral sweeps through passages of raw and technically complex riffing and drumming, and even includes a free jazz Hammond organ solo. It could conceivably hook fans of Coheed & Cambria. After this the album can only wind down with the melancholic "Birth in the Death" and the thumping electro-rock outro (paradoxically called "Overture"). To fans of the band's poppy earlier material this album may come as a shock, but to those with broad minds it is proof of why Alice Nine, with their determination not to repeat themselves or become stale, are one of the most interesting bands in the scene.

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