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Kuni – Masque
This is a stunning album which bests most 80’s stuff I’ve heard from Japan, including Loudness, and sits right up there with X Japan, possibly even higher. Kuni is basically somewhat akin to Vinnie Moore, Paul Gilbert or Jason Becker, perhaps even Michael Angelo Batio; a talented virtuoso who here teams up with guest stars only, crafting an album of excellent tracks with good variety, that flow well together. What really makes the virtuosic Kuni standout above most of his contemporaries though, is his real skill in writing complete songs, and guitar rhythms and harmonies. His concentration isn’t overly on technical shred and drawn out, dramatic solos (which let’s admit – can get a wee bit boring), on this album Kuni writes songs, not following the trodden guitar craftsperson’s path of shred solo, after shred solo – a refreshing change.
The sound of the material is not really comparable to any one artist, basically it’s bombastic, romantic heavy metal, with bits and pieces analogous to Dokken, Racer X, M.A.R.S., Kick Axe - even Riot. For the most part it’s strong, featuring awesome vocals by Kal Swan and Kevin Dubrow, and great solos that aren’t overdone. We have a couple of the more straightforward ‘rock anthem’ type track in both the opener ‘We Rock’ and ‘Hands Up’ – both enjoyable, and energetic, though not making it to the top spots for me. ‘Hands Up’ features some Gerge Lynch-esque riffery and solos as well as some great bass by Billy Sheehan. The romantic pounder ‘Restless Heart’ sounds halfway between Tytan and Dokken, and believe me, Kuni’s take on this type of song is among the better ones. The familiar and overdone lyrical path seems insignificant when presented with excellent guitar harmonies and massive riffs. The big chorus with huge backup vocals is catchy and memorable.
The deeper tracks are my favorites. ‘Telepathy’ – a nice piece of guitar wizardry (yet not to the point of being overdone) is a unique number that makes liberal use of keyboards and synth to create a spectacular, cinematic and engaging feel. The guitars in this one are worked out well, with Kuni not overly focused on “shredding it up” and more about creating energy and atmosphere, while the heavy keys make the sound somewhat agnate to German melodic heavy metal band Zar. While Kuni is great at the methodical tracks which include vocals (perhaps even better than some of the other virtuosos), he does tend to shine a bit on the instrumentals such as the arresting ‘One last Chance’ and ‘Telepathy’. The former benefits from its pace and employment of speedy bass drums, as well as some typically furious guitar work. Thrilling production is evidenced in both tracks, really one of the nicest sounding albums I’ve heard in a while.
What you get on this album is massive, hooky, melodic metal. Kuni is an accomplished guitarist, but we get more than just shred solos here. We get good romantic tracks, keyboard infused instrumental pieces and well worked out vocals. The guest stars were a great touch, as we get some great work from the drummers Banali and Edwards, as do we the vocalists (which include Neil Turbin). Production on this one is absolutely top-notch, and I’m frequently impressed by the crispness of drums, clarity of keyboards and bass, as well as the confident use of stereo techniques. As we should expect, killer riffs and solos abound – but Kuni doesn’t descend into mere guitar wank. He doesn’t pigeonhole himself, instead coming up with catchy riffs and great driving love songs. ‘Love Taker’ a half Coney Hatch, half Racer X sorta number is a high point, with great keys and drums. This one is thoroughly recommendable for those into melodic heavy metal (Dokken fans will enjoy). Pretty flawless all-round and kinda blew me outta the water when I first got it. Easily beats the lame Bow Wow, perhaps even EZO, and other Japanese heavy metal bands. Really surprised how unknown this artist is. Check it out.