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I won’t lie, the months leading up to the release of this EP were fraught with a healthy dose of skepticism on my part. While I couldn’t be happier that Versailles are officially back together after what seemed would be a permanent split rather than merely a “hiatus”, the first two new songs released on last year’s greatest hits compilation fell a good deal short of my expectations. They reeked of a band on autopilot, relying on already-established tropes (and in Kamijo’s case, already-written songs) for a pair of by-the-numbers compositions that stopped merely at sealing the envelope rather than pushing it. Perhaps the spark that made this band a force to be reckoned with in the Japanese power metal scene circa 2010/2011 had indeed fizzled out, and all parties involved had made the right choice at the right time to move onto greener pastures with their respective other projects. But as luck would have it, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Lineage is as solid an affirmation as any that this band has returned in full capacity, and despite its brief runtime is indeed the best release to come out under the Versailles moniker since Holy Grail. In fact, it only makes me wonder even more what the reasoning could have been to show off “Melodic Thorn” and “Chandelier” as the first taste of this new era, seeing as all six songs present here blow those two clear out of the water in every conceivable way. Opening speedsters “La Musique” and “Shadows Fang” alone make it very clear that the blistering speed and melodic splendor of old is not lacking for in the slightest, and are all but surely bound to become live staples in the very near future. The latter in particular, as well as the groovy and somewhat progressive stomper “Inheritance” definitely show that the heavier guitar approach that Hizaki and Teru perfected on The History of Genesis has carried over. It is excellently balanced however by Kamijo’s trademark sensibilities for symphonic flourish and classical nuance, in essence bringing the best of both worlds into one compact whole. Look no further than the title-track for further evidence of fist-pumping rhythm combined with a truly epic atmosphere. And I’ll be damned if “Marionette” isn’t one of the most downright majestic (and dare I say “romantic”) pieces I’ve heard from the Hizaki/Teru arsenal in some time.
In what must be the shocker of the year, Lineage is also perhaps the first Versailles release to not feature a single sappy ballad. Crazy, I know. You’d think just from seeing a song titled “A Day Without You” that we’re going to get another engrish abortion in the vein of “Love Will be Born Again”. As it turns out however, it’s ironically the peppiest and most jovial track of the bunch, coming off like a superior version of Jupiter’s “Shining”, complete with some of the most memorable and downright catchy riffs and vocal melodies of the EP. Speaking of which, I’m almost equally stunned to say that one of the strongest elements at play across the board might just be Kamijo’s voice. It’s truly remarkable how now in his 40’s, he somehow appears to be giving the best performance of his entire 20+ year career. He seems to have developed significantly better technique and staying power in his delivery, to the point where at times I almost forgot it was him behind the mic in the first place. Sure, he’s still relying a good deal on that uncanny vibrato he generates from shaking his head which has always put people off, but it sounds like he’s starting to develop a more natural alternative which he uses to good effect throughout.
The only real flaw here, aside from the slight disappointment that it’s not a full-length, is the fact that many of the solos are a bit too brief by comparison to the typical Versailles shred-fests of old. You’re not going to hear any minute-long guitar duels like on “Ascendead Master” or “Philia” sadly, though the solos themselves are naturally as well-performed and composed as always, and most importantly cater to the songs rather than vice-versa. Regardless, Lineage is proof-positive that these five can still make some fantastic music together, and hopefully just a stepping stone on the road to something even more impressive down the line. Heartily recommended to fans of the band and Japanese power metal in general.