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I'm always willing to expand my horizons concerning my metal listening habits as the sheer diversity of the genre offers a wide scope of music to enjoy or endure depending upon one's tastes. Viewing this album cover, there was no question in my mind that I was most likely going to dig Deep Exceed regardless of its quality. Either the band was going to be a solid power metal outfit that just happens to be donning some seriously funky threads, or instead a ridiculous giddy mess of cuteness that brings one to a state of euphoria through sugar-high levels of sheer camp. There's really no question in that the over-the-top nature of the group's appearance aided my decision in checking this out, yet in all honesty by the time I was near finishing my initial experience with Deep Exceed, I had practically forgotten the exterior persona of the musicians. They may look like magical sprites that can grant wishes and shoot heart-shaped lightning bolts at opponents, and bass player Sawa is as cute as two bunnies playing hopscotch, but strip away the garish trappings and the album treats us to some ballsy power metal with detours towards the thrash realm on one level and J-pop on another. Preferring to write lyrics in their native tongue, the band doesn't seem particularly interested in global domination, and I can only surmise that the album title was meant to translate into "heavy" and "fast" but the wrong synonyms were chosen. Whatever. Deep Exceed has certainly won me over with its combination of rawness and flair, and I enjoy its positive energy and vibrancy. I need that sort of high-spirited reinforcement now and then, especially being the father of two obnoxious toddlers.
Beginning with a melodious audio accompaniment to delicate 'yuri' girls with exploding clothes frolicking across flowery terrain, the J-pop sensibilities are immediately apparent though not unwelcome. It's brief and a humorous way to commence this album, considering that the next few songs are complete barn-burners, with "Luft" spearheading the charge. The primary tempo of Deep Exceed hovers in the fast power metal pummeling vein, yet the band exudes a style that also evokes a sleek variant of thrash metal that thrived in the late 80s since the focus of the music is as much riff-based as melody based. Without keyboards to doll up these dolls, they just let their instruments rip like a typhoon on the listener, conspicuously on tracks like "Bind" that burst forth like an alien from John Hurt's chest. As musicians, the group is more akin to catchy riffs, melodic hooks and some tasteful soloing rather than perpetual jaw-dropping virtuoso displays, but does so in a tight and efficient manner, particularly drummer Aruto, who was so desperately needed considering their Dear Slave EP was recorded utilizing a rather vapid sounding drum machine.
Rami's vocals avoid the shrillness ofttimes associated with Japanese female singers with a slightly lower range than the norm while retaining a toughness despite the clean delivery. Carrying a decent portion of the music's melodies with her voice, Rami's contributions are essential to the band's overall sound, and I can only hope that they can somehow persevere with a new singer due to her unfortunate departure caused by health issues.
Although the main course of action for this album is a propulsive full steam ahead speed-wise, there's plenty of divergences that flirt with other genres, especially and unsurprisingly, Jpop. In fact, the lone keyboard-based track "Across" exhibits such a standard karaoke-ready Jpop ballad melody that it felt like it plopped down into the center of this album from beyond the stars, and wouldn't feel out of place on a lightweight Noriko Sakai album (prior to her drug bust). Still, regardless of it being the quirky kid in the park, I personally find it endearing enough not to skip, although I'm also relieved that it's the sole track of its kind here. "Shion" is the first track to deviate from the rapid propulsion of the first main tracks, yet is no less potent with its majestic bravado, providing the perfect soundtrack for viewing guys in robot suits beating the shit out of each other. "Premixed Flame" juxtaposes the ballistic heavy metal riffs with a spaced-out "shoegazy" vocal delivery that ultimately succeeds just by being individual and peculiar, and "Deep" brings back the cheesy melody of "Across" but ditches the piano and gives it a hard rock makeover.
Is Aldious gimmicky? Well yes, but their visual style does not take precedence over the music. In fact, there has to be a certain level of commitment and pleasure in playing and writing this particular brand of music when there's a plethora of genres that would be an easier market to exploit for monetary gain. To me their look is in fact refreshing, since I'm more accustomed to seeing the usual black leather & corsets as opposed to the colorful 'Lolita' fashions on display on the cover sleeve. In the West that sort of attire would feel more like a blatant rebellion against the norms of metal culture, but let's face it, in Japan there are plenty of colorful get-ups to go around, and their appearance hardly mimics the more outlandish yet long established Visual Kei scene.
Truth be told, there will always be a certain contingent who will write off this band as a mere novelty act. Yet to me, Aldious' music doesn't feel like an afterthought to the image whatsoever. With similarly clad Japanese acts like Destrose and Cyntia wailing away in frilly dresses, and a healthy number of 'all-girl' musical acts ranging from pop rock to crust punk with record deals in Japan, they are not so much of an anomaly and would most likely wallow under the radar without their musical chops to back them up. The even smaller yet no less vocal group of male individuals convinced that they don't actually play their instruments, despite possessing no evidence to that effect, appear to be primarily broke musicians who are either virtuosos whose egotistical arrogance continues to impede them from ever being part of a band, or slack-jawed talentless fumblers who believe they aren't famous because some girl took his rightful position within the annals of rock history due to her looks. All I would say to both disgruntled parties is "Don't worry, your day will come" followed by a snicker.
Deep Exceed is not what I would consider an impeccable release; hell, even the album's title is a bit off-kilter yet nonetheless charming. Although the group's occasional forays into variable influences within their music keep the interest level high throughout the album's duration, a few of these excursions ruffle the right feathers better than others, such as the borderline pedestrian inclusion of "Deep" despite the notion that it would probably make for a pretty decent anime closing theme song. The production boasts a lean healthy 'crunch' and emphasizes the fury of the guitars, but I wish the bass had a sharper tone instead of the murky throb regulated to my girl Sawa. What the album does possess though is an imitable unabashed exhilaration bolstered by enthusiastic and aggressive playing by these musicians. Because they are women in a male-dominated scene, one could surmise that they could feel the need to prove their mettle by filling their songs up with arpeggios and loopy time signatures to quash questions of their skills, but thankfully they don't. Nor do they pander to a more commercial approach concerning songwriting, keeping things raw and speedy and avoiding lush embellishments ("Across" excepted). With their own record label, they retain more creative freedom, reaping in the benefits that a good portion of higher profile acts don't receive thanks to deviant contracts. And what they do maintains a sense of wild jubilation through amplified energy and 'cosplay' costumes. Despite those who feel this somehow mocks the very nature of heavy metal, it doesn't. If girls want to tear up shit and have a blast on stage, whether in jeans, leather or maid costumes with wings and cat ears, I'm all for it. Keep the magic flame alive.