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All too many J-rock bands get stuck in a rut once they manage to crank out something good enough to scramble into the Oricon charts, but with Microcosm, Flow manage to avoid the creative pitfall, not redefining their sound, but pumping up their act enough to produce a solid contender for the 'album of the year' title in the style. Flow used to be just a pleasant, but run-of-the-mill anime credits band, mixing watered-down alternative rock riffs with dance beats to create nice, but tame tunes that were unable to produce a strong effect without some visuals. But though the elements are the same here, they are taken up several notches to finally become outright impressive: the heavy parts are more powerful, the quieter textures more elegant, and the songwriting simply more focused, never bogged down by the weight of its own arrangements -- a problem for 99 percent of all J-rockers -- but neither reverting to primitive chugging favored by Western radio rock. The music has a larger-than-life sound, like a metal version of U2, which means Flow are infringing on Uverworld's soil, but Microcosm is more streamlined and blatantly catchy than anything their rivals ever recorded, without cutting down on complexity or diversity -- the band rampages through a bevy of styles, including industrial metal, punk and heavy disco, but incorporates them into their own view of things, and never loses the tread of the song even for a moment despite stirring a veritable whirlwind of guitars, strings and speedy rhythms on most songs. Flow are still only an anime credits band, but Microcosm is anime credits music as the gods of anime must have imagined it.