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TASTE SWAP - 84%

RapeTheDead, August 18th, 2013

About five or six years ago when I first discovered this website, there were a few reviewers I discovered that made me realize music reviews didn't have to be bland and descriptive and could take on a personality of their own. This in turn inspired me to write my own reviews for this website- BastardHead is and continues to be one of my main inspirations. His Five Finger Death Punch review (now lost somewhere in the annals of the internet since that band was undoubtedly deemed way too reminiscent of Limp Bizkit to deserve a spot on this site) is still among one of my favorite music reviews ever, and I'll admit to ripping him off as much as I can without being noticeable in my own reviews. The fact that this fine man proposed a taste swap challenge in which we pick an album out of the other person's element for them to review gave me one of those fawning fanboy moments. Now that I've got that obligatory sucking off out of the way, onward to the review! While I surprised him with some underrated maximalist black metal, I've got...

Thrash? Japanese power/thrash? From 2000? Did thrash metal even exist in 2000? Perhaps this is much more of an outlier to me because I am unfamiliar with Gargoyle; the main band of She-ja, who is, the apparent driving creative force of this album. The consistency in aesthetic and songwriting suggests no more than one person it at work writing the songs here. Considering this comes from a country where visual kei is a thing and Maximum the Hormone, Dir En Grey and Sigh exist as well as a host of other bands that use a similar broad range of styles and techniques, often in the same song, this is a remarkably refreshing amount of restraint. All of the songs generally end up having the same overarching theme; normally that's something that really turns me off of thrash but coming from a place where word salad songwriting is the norm, this seems more like the exception than the rule. The small little diversions to perk your interest are much more fresh; the intro is very well done (especially considering most metal spoken word intros are complete dogshit), there's a piano part on "Fear of the Scarlet" that hits you out of nowhere, and then they just play a straight-up southern rock song in "I Am What". The little quirks and oddities are in much better moderation and it's much more fresh and drawing for me as a result.

Even though this band is technically power-thrash by intent and definition, this ends up sounding a lot more like melodic death metal. There's predominantly aggressive thrash riffing at the forefront, and the slick, modern production values and the mid-90s turgid groove that seeped into metal from all angles that lurks in fits and starts makes this sound like a precursor to modern melodic death- The Crown jumps out to me as an immediate comparison, and I could see a band like The Black Dahlia Murder listening to a lot of stuff like this, but at the same time, there's not a moment on this I wouldn't say draws from anything other than old thrash or power metal. Although the songs do end up all having a similar overall goal, that's not to say there's not riffs within each of the songs that aren't memorable in their own right; I really like how this manages to be heavy without resorting to any sort of outright extremes. Riffs are clearly the focus of the album, but no one component of the music is outright ignored, and how little they are noticed but how much they are felt contributes much more to the album's weight than any sort of focus on extremity or brutality could. The title track's opening riff is a straight-up Metallica ripoff, and goddamn is it ever heavy as balls.

The vocals shine at their brightest during the second half of the album, which seems a little more geared towards power metal in songs like "Cloud Covers" and "Devil-May-Care-Boy". The fact that I've been finding myself humming vocal lines from someone in a relatively inaccessible genre with such odd word enunciation is a feat in and of itself. Nov has a very consistent grit to his voice and maintains that natural rasp even in the higher ranges of notes- that and the diversity of his range suggest to me this guy has quite extensive vocal training. Very impressive, holds the album together and gives the choruses the staying power they need. Every song is composed succinctly and efficiently; there are no stinkers on the album, but the caveat is no songs really hold their own outside of the context of the album. This is an album for fans of the style and will never likely reach a fanbase beyond that, but the actual style bears similarity to a plethora of different subgenres of metal and it's even just an interesting historical piece because this is probably one of the most genuinely thrashy things I've heard coming straight out of the turn of the century, but then again, the whole reason I'm writing this review is because I don't listen to a lot of thrash in the first place, so what the fuck do I know?

The best summation of this album I can give is "if Metallica listened to a lot of Sex Machineguns and At the Gates". I'll admit it's not something I get a craving for often, but I can't say I've disliked this at any point when it's on. Gargoyle's got an extremely daunting discography, but this little glimpse into a very specific style exploration makes me want to see a little bit more of where this She-ja guy is coming from.

BastardHead writes his reviews at his lair (lairofthebastard.blogspot.com) and if you haven't already, check his shit out, asshole.