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Osaka's Onmyo-Za are one of the most prominent exponents of a style that has come to be known as "neo-Japonesque." Their name literally means "gathering of yin and yang," and they extend this concept to every aspect of their composition and performance: dual male and female vocals; grinding riffage juxtaposed with lush, beautiful synthetic string melodies; modern metal with traditional Japanese costume; and lyrics based on folklore, mythology, history, and literature. The closest Western equivalent is probably pagan folk metal, but that genre rarely comes close to either the spirituality or the theatricality of what Onmyo-Za do. While it's nominally "metal," it's as much pop, with hugely accessible melodies, in much the same way as Linkin Park fused pop to a metal structure in the early 2000s. The huge, melodic solos are more hard rock than metal, and there's a moderate folk influence; although they don't utilize the same variety of traditional instrumentation as, say, Kagrra or Kiryu, there's definitely the sound of something that could be a koto used sparingly throughout. The title track opens the album with celestial choirs before launching into a relatively subdued intro of acoustic guitar and piano. The karyoubinga is a mythological heavenly bird in Buddhist tradition, and the song seeks to evoke it; the chunky bass, smooth pads, restrained electric guitar crunch, lush arrangement, bittersweet melody, and Kuroneko's typically impassioned vocal performance all serve to make this an opener that really grabs the listener. This album is decidedly more laid-back than some of their other more recent offerings; their usual chugging metal only really starts on track five, "Nijuunihikime wa Dokuhami" -- the first properly heavy metal song on the album, with Phrygian modes, gang shouts, and dissonant soloing. From thereon in, there's a nice mix of faster-paced melodic metal with frenetic soloing ("Hyouga Ninpouchou") and tracks that veer closer to '80s pop/rock cheese ("Rokurokubi," "Fuujin wo Awaremu Uta"). The seven-minute-long "Ningyo no Ori" is absolutely epic, swelling from lush ethereality to dark crunch, while "Jorougumo" fills the role of obligatory heart-wrenching ballad. What's remarkable about Onmyo-Za is the way that, despite their reliance on formula, they manage to keep their music sounding fresh. They certainly aren't doing anything to break the mold here, but this is one of their most consistent releases of recent years. Their fans certainly thought so -- they bought the album in droves, giving the band its highest-ever Oricon chart placement, at number seven. Newcomers could do a lot worse than to start here, then move on to 2011's Kishibojin if they fancy something a bit darker and heavier.

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