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Right off the bat, Aratama shows itself as a different beast from the already spectacular Furebumi. Where "Destroy" and "Ounou no Goku" eased you in to a very exciting romp through the cultural oddities and nut windmilling intensity of Gargoyle's inimitable brand of melodic thrash, "Shin Ou" starts off with Kiba yelling at the top of his lungs while the rest of the band just rips into an irresistibly moshable, rip-roaring thrashfest. Straight away, Aratama attempts to cement itself as an even wilder version of the band that we've already grown to love, and for the most part it succeeds.
For the most part.
Now don't get me wrong, Aratama is still a great album (as evidenced by the mere fact that Gargoyle released it (you'll be a fanboy too someday, just you wait)), but I feel like despite the fact that it once again one-ups every aspect from it's predecessor, it's lacking that certain X factor that pushed Furebumi over the top. It's the same reason Hangman's Hymn and In Somniphobia are better than Scorn Defeat and Infidel Art. You'd have to be insane to suggest those latter two albums are anything other than great, but they lack the refinement that made the other albums that much better. I realize this is coming from a guy who prefers Painkiller over Sad Wings of Destiny, but I feel like it just doesn't work quite as well here as it could have.
But really, that unquantifiable intangible is pretty much the only thing I find myself holding against this album (that and the redone version of "Cogito, Ergo Sum" is kinda bland and lacks the mysterious splendor of the original), because everything else is just fucking awesome in every capacity. That completely unbridled insanity I had alluded to in the opening is fully realized on "Propaganda", which is basically just She-Ja riding on a creepy minor key riff at a very high tempo while occasionally interjecting wild dissonant guitar slides while Kiba rocks back in forth in a corner, rabidly yodeling like a mad dog killer trying feverishly to break out of his straight jacket. And of course we have "Gaika", wherein Toshi basically just puts on a clinic and morphs into the bassist of Hibria for a song. I mean seriously, the bass should not be this interesting and showy, it's just too damn cool. And like usual, there are a couple bona fide fist banging thrash classics, like "Shin Ou", "Propaganda", and "Atama Ga Kowareta", the lattermost of which features yet another one of Kiba's most charismatic vocal performances, with his bizarre tics and manic delivery.
The special mentions this time around go to "Dogma", for replicating "Destroy" in the sense that there's another awesome dueling shredding guitar/violin solo. Really, why don't more non-folk metal bands do this? I didn't realize it was the greatest thing ever until I actually heard it, but holy fuck it truly is the greatest thing ever. The rest of the song is a metal thrashing masterpiece anyway, but goddamn that one section is just more than pure awesome. And then we have the non-metal highlight, and probably the overall highlight of the album regardless, "Hito no Tame". I wish I could explain what the fuck style of music this is, but it's the same style as the stellar "Naidzukushi" from the previous album. It's the happiest song ever recorded, seriously, it's just overflowing with this upbeat funkiness, slap bass, jovial trumpets, super lighthearted backing female vocals, and this super catchy rolling surf motif that pops up throughout the song. It reminds me of the music from the Casino Night Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 interspersed with the non-punk elements of ska, and it's just the smiliest, poppiest shit ever and holy crap is it great. It's so catchy, it's so lighthearted, it's so... therapeutic. Really, PTSD sufferers should listen to "Hito no Tame" while playing with like, six or seven puppies at a whack and they'll be back to functional in no time. I can't stress enough how amazing this song is, I want to marry it.
Overall, Aratama is a minor step down from the thundering Furebumi, featuring two redone tracks from previous albums and less metal than its predecessors. Gargoyle is usually pretty great at their non-metal experimentations, and most of this album shows that in spades, but apart from "Hito no Tame", all the best songs on Aratama are the more metal songs, so it's no coincidence that the minor backing off from them makes this album not resonate as strongly to me. But still, it's Gargoyle in the early 90s, as you'll soon find out, that's pretty much a stamp of approval no matter what.
Originally written for Lair of the Bastard
Gargoyle, man; they just keep getting better and better. Three albums thus far, think about how many classic bands couldn’t make it without dipping in quality… GARGOYLE GETS BETTER WITH EACH ONE! Since the late ‘80s, the band has constantly been thrashing their way past the best bands of the genre. Aggressive, straightforward thrash metal was always something the band was able to offer, but the progressive (other-genre-encompassing, really) personally kept me coming back. Aratama pushes these extra elements even further with more melodic playing and tracks that show a deeper, emotional side to things. The band knew this one was going to be a gem…
Vocals here border death growls when Kiba’s doing low barking, but he’ll get some high ones in there and go apeshit like usually does. His style hasn’t really evolved much since the first album, but that’s the beauty (to the extent that beautiful can define Kiba’s vocals) of them, for one. They sort of adapt to the music, which blossoms on its own, especially here where the band attempted tracks that aren’t thrash songs. Well, some are metal and some aren’t, but the metal ones aren’t the thrash you’re used to hearing and certainly not the kind you’re imagining right now. You’ll notice it by “Open Sesame” with the ghostly background vocals, but “Hito No Tame” kicks it off – it’s not thrash, but it kicks ass anyway. It’s a fun, groovy track that’s accompanied by chicks shouting and Kiba probably riding Toshi’s bass lines as he’s singing: “AAAYEEEEEE!!! AH TAH!!!” The bass I love in this particular track, because you can make out every little bit of it rupturing with style – that’s how you utilize your bass player!
“Cogito, Ergo Sum” was featured as the last track on the debut, and it was insanely dark compared to the rest of the songs on that album. After such a fun track preceding the song on this album, Gargoyle added a little more to it, toned down the atmosphere, and made the track into more of a ballad. The lead carries the song as it drives forward, but it’s an emotional experience as Kiba’s singing is filled with sorrow and guilt. It’s the first moment thus far where he almost sounds like he’s about to cry, and that guitar / bass combination sounds too heartbreaking. The variety thus far is killer, and the way it’s pulled off brings you closer to the band than ever before. The debut was cold and historic, the sophomore was fun and delectable, and this one shows us the melodic and tactful side of the band.
The latter half of the album doesn’t discard the progressive tendencies, but it’s more of the crafty thrash they’ve been known to throw at us. The solos in each one bear marks second to Iron Maiden, but the bass lurks in the depths of the charging riffs, with wave after wave of them crashing toward you before Kiba himself jumps out ready for a chomp. Gargoyle managed to fuse some traditional heavy metal on here with their progressive thrash and made a mockery out of the bands beyond Japan's shores. Hear the first three albums in chronological order and you’ll see this band grow from a one-island sensation to a real beast from the east.