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In Need of Some Fine-tuning - 83%

FOrbIDen, July 11th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2005, CD, 413tracks

The Japanese rock and metal scene is a bit of an enigma, especially as an American. It's big and diverse, and has something to offer to everyone, and yet it doesn't get the same exposure, recognition, or distribution as music from other markets. Unless bands are specifically marketed to have big, arena-sized international audiences like Babymetal, play Seattle's Sakura-Con like Dazzle Vision or Girugämesh, or play an anime intro like Maximum the Hormone, there is very little chance for crossover success in the US. Of course, there are outliers like Dir En Grey and Japan X, who are big names in their country and else-wheres, but generally you're not going to find albums by middle-sized Japanese bands in record stores. This means that to be "in the know", you have to do your research. With that in mind, I don't even remember how I discovered the six-piece 大鴉 (or for the sake of this review, Taia), but my collection is better off due to this happy accident.

Taia's sound is heavily guitar driven and fast paced, but the tone is light and aggressive, and definitely focus on galloping melodies. There is an overall cleanliness and clarity to it, despite this fact that the production on this album could've been loads better, and right from the start the songwriting's preoccupations are pretty obvious. There is a definite formula to Asymmetry, the verses are dark and brooding, where as the choruses are as big and dramatic as possible -- not that unlike a lot of other Japanese bands, but Taia work to maintain some kind of restrain that works well with the levity of the guitar riffs. The band also utilizes other instrumentation to add texture to their sound, from the church bell intro on "Sai hate", to the keyboards and piano melodies sprinkled throughout, and the acoustic strumming that back up the more aggressive electric guitar, there's never just one thing going on at a time.

I remember watching one of the band's music videos, and seeing a comment describing them as a "Japanese Evanescence", which I don't think is accurate (on a side-note, are we done comparing everything to Evanescence?), I also don't think this site's genre label of "heavy/gothic metal" really capture's the sound on Asymmetry. The way that the sounds play off of each other, and the general urgency of the music reminds me more of power metal than traditional heavy metal. Of course, the main component is the darker atmosphere of the gothic sound, but this band feels like a less-operatic, lower budget Nightwish, or a folkier foil to Krypteria's modern approach. The choirs are absent, and Taia is a not nearly as bombastic, but they do bring a similar energy with them and it adds to the romantic sensibilities of gothic music.

Though the songwriting is strong, there are some very obvious flaws that make listening to Asymmetry a less than perfect experience. If you haven't noticed yet, I haven't talked much about the vocal performance in detail. The delivery is probably the most inconsistent of any artist that I've heard in recent memory. Seika isn't a bad singer, I like her timbre a lot, but there are definitely some hits, and some misses. Take, for example "Prayer", the album opener. "Prayer" is one of the better songs on the album, composition-wise, but the vocals are probably the worst, as Seika's voice cracks as she struggles to hit the higher notes. To me, it sounds like the band went into the studio when the singer was sick, and didn't have enough time to wait it out.

The ordering of songs could've also been better: being an eight song album that barely passes the forty minute mark, Asymmetry starts off really strong, three tracks in a row, before the momentum just stops. The piano ballad "Yoru ga akeru toki" is pretty but uneventful, before leading into the six-minute long "Gray Ocean" that also errs on the meandering side. The album ends on a high-note, but the middle tracks being much weaker than the rest makes listening to the album as a whole less enjoyable. So despite the fact that the band has a clear identity, and knows how to craft a catchy song, and this album is overall really enjoyable, there are some things left to be desired.