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Of all the followers of Luna Sea -- the godfathers of the '90s visual kei movement -- L'Arc-en-Ciel came the closest to understanding what the style is actually about. Kiss is an elaborate piece of work, drawing upon the influences of various mainstream rock branches and acts to form a separate voice -- very much like Luna Sea were able to. The influences that stand out the most on L'Arc-en-Ciel's effort are U2 -- which is not saying much for a post-'80s rock album -- and, more interestingly, Helloween in their experimental phase. Said phase lasted two years and produced exactly one good album -- 1993's Chameleon -- but its brand of diverse hard rock (not power metal) is clearly mirrored in Kiss. Consciously or not, L'Arc-en-Ciel add the same kind of depth and melody to their bluesy guitar textures, and are not afraid to experiment with a brass section ("Pretty Girl"), and that's not mentioning the voice of Hyde, who can sound very similar to Michael Kiske in his prime. Exploring this musical direction is already a good thing, but there's a bunch of other stuff on Kiss as well, from the nu-metal riffs on "Black Rose" to subtle techno elements on "Umibe" and strings on "Alone en La Vida," one of the darker cuts of the album. Kiss is generally an upbeat record, but it doesn't stick to one mood, like many of the big Japanese names do (say, B'z), and that adds to its musical durability. The main trick is, perhaps, that L'Arc-en-Ciel, unlike many other bands, don't put too much emphasis on any particular musical idea, be it heavy rhythms, dance beats, or live violins, but are instead able to figure out how to make those ideas enhance the songs, not constitute them. Kiss has its flaws -- some of the music blends together after a while -- but still, it's a high point of Japanese mainstream rock.

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