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CD Review: ASAGI – 斑 (Madara)

Most people will recognize the name ASAGI as the vocalist of the Visual Kei band D, but today we’re not going to talk about D. Instead we’re going to talk about ASAGI’s new (and second) release as a solo artist. In September of 2006 ASAGI released a single called “Corvinus” which contained two tracks, but after that, he stopped activities as a solo artist and instead focused his attention on working as a designer, perfumer and of course D.

With this new album, ASAGI provided the vocals, lyrics and production himself, but every track has different artists playing different instruments. Artists included are members of his own band D (Ruiza (guitar), Hide-Zou (guitar), Tsunehito (bass) and Hiroki (drums)), SUGIZO, Shinya (Dir en grey), Leda (Far East Dizain), MiA (MEJIBRAY), yo-ka (DIAURA), Sakito (NIGHTMARE) and Jui & JUN (both Gotcharocka) from the visual kei genre, just to name a few, but other (sometimes traditional) instruments are played by Ikuro Fujiwara, Sho Tomoda, Yasunori Sakurazawa, Fumiko Kai and Misako Arameki, among others.

01. 天地行き来る小船 (Tenchi iku kuru kofune)
02. 月界の御子 (Tsuki-kai no miko)
03. 畏き海へ帰りゃんせ (Kashikoki umi e kaerya n se)
04. 花雲の乱 (Hanagumo no ran)
05. 隠桜 (Komo sakura)
06. 螢火 (Keika)
07. 大豺嶽(おおやまいぬだけ)〜月夜(つくよ)に吠ゆ〜 (Dai chai yue (O oyama inu dake)~tsukiyo (tsuku yo) ni hoe yu~)
08. 冬椿 〜白妙の化人〜 (Fuyutsubaki ~shirotae no kenin~)
09. 白面金毛九尾の狐火玉 (Hakumenkonmōkyūbinokitsune hidama)
10. 鬼眼羅 (Guǐ yǎn luó)
11. 雲の通ひ路 (Kumo no kayohiji)
12. 妖刀玉兎 (Yōtō gyokuto)
13. 物の怪草子 (Mononoke sōshi)
14. アサギマダラ (Asagimadara)

A music video for 月界の御子 (Tsuki-kai no miko) has been uploaded to the official D YouTube channel quite a while ago, teasing the release of the album. It’s a traditional song with a modern influence, with a slight reminder to some earlier work from D (think 桜花咲きそめにけり (Ouka saki some ni keri)) but with a very modern twist combined with ASAGI’s familiar long vocal notes. A nice preview of what is to come.

The speed of the album goes up and down with every song to create a rock opera, but at the same time you’ll hear traditional sounds from the shamisen (traditional guitar), koto (a string instrument which you actually see used more often recently) and taiko (Japanese drums called wadaiko, since inside of Japan a “taiko” can refer to any kind of drum but outside of Japan it’s these Japanese drums specifically) instruments. These are more audible in some songs than in others, but if you listen closely, they’re definitely there.

ASAGI combined all of his skills as both a vocalist/performer and composer in this album, and it’s instantly recognizable to the ones familiar with his work.

Compared to his previous solo work (Corvinus) it’s quite a turnaround, even though 大豺嶽(おおやまいぬだけ)〜月夜(つくよ)に吠ゆ〜 (Dai chai yue (O oyama inu dake)~tsukiyo (tsuku yo) ni hoe yu~) does give quite a wink back to the sound and style of Corvinus. His first solo single was a lot darker than this album and not as story based as this full album.

For fans of D this album should be familiar territory despite ASAGI’s heavy incorporation of neo-traditional sounds, especially if you’ve listened to D’s recent release 愚かしい竜の夢 (Orokashī ryū no yume).

If you aren’t familiar with traditional Japanese music and not willing to make the transition immediately this album is a good way to start getting used to the sounds of the traditional instruments mixed with what is already familiar to you. Overall it’s a fast-paced album (mainly because of the guitarists providing their sound being known for fast guitar riffs), but it will slow you down with a melodic part or even a full melodic traditional song here and there before picking up the speed again. Don’t mistake this for a full traditional influence album, because then you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re a fan of rock opera-type of music, this is something you should definitely pick up, despite the slower songs found on this album. There’s even a metal-type of song tucked in somewhere!

Aside from that, a lot of familiar (and popular) visual kei musicians sharing some of their styles to this album without being anonymous with their signature sounds, it’s definitely worth to check out! ASAGI found the small gap between genres to successfully combine several genres and still be interesting for fans of all those genres. And that alone is compliment worthy!

Rating: 85/100

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