Thursday, June 27, 2013

Gargoyle - Kijuu

An experiment in criticism/Gargoyle fanboying

Now, Gargoyle has a very lengthy, fruitful, and illustrious history.  Pretty much every phase of their career is worth checking out, and even if I feel like some of them fall a bit flat (like Natural or Gaia), every album has at least one absolutely killer standout track (like fucking "Meditation").  But despite how important it probably is to understand Gargoyle's back catalog when it comes to dissecting any album in their career, I'm going to leave all that out for today.  No no, for today, we are simply going to focus on the band's sixteenth (!) full length album, 2013's Kijuu.  This review, so as to not scare off any curious readers, will treat Kijuu in its own little microcosm.  No other Gargoyle album exists, and I swear that after this sentence I will not namedrop another album from the band's past (but seriously newbies, check out Furebumi and Tsuki no Toge!).

One thing the Osakan warriors in Gargoyle have been able to prove here is their mastery of creating ear catching riffs that don't particularly sound like anybody else.  It's somewhat hard to explain, but you can feel that the band has a really distinct style of thrash riffing that sounds almost completely alien to what one would expect from a thrash band.  The prevalence of melody is completely over the top, and the riffs are much less straightforward than roughly 100% of their peers, taking on odd, herky jerky rhythms and bizarre note choices but fitting them into such a unique template in such a fitting way that there's really nothing to complain about.  Take something like "Yume Kajitsu" for example, as the verse riffs, while not necessarily weird, are certainly somewhat unorthodox, especially with the very prominent lead lines all over the place. That intrinsic melody that intertwines with the riffs that I usually attribute to something extraordinarily wanky like Arsis is on full display here, especially in tracks like "Face of Fate" and "SLA".  Most overtly though, Kijuu is catchy as shit.  Tracks like "SLA", "ABC", "Junketsu Sanctuary", and most prominently, "Kerberos" will bore their way into your skull and refuse to leave for days at a time.  Seriously, "Kerberos" manages to be the best and most memorable song on the album despite being the shortest song on display.  The hilarious accent only adds to the memorability.


They toy with a couple ideas here, like the fun, bouncy energy of "Sokonuke Jinsei Game" or the slower, more monolithic track in "Gudon", which doesn't do a whole lot for me.  If nothing else, it stands out for being the only song of it's kind on the album, with this huge, slow, grinding riffs over the crazy vocals.  Which, now that I think about it, really need to be highlighted here.  Kiba's vocals are one of a kind, with a really deep rattle coming from the back of his throat.  It's pretty hard to explain, but once you hear it, it'll be completely unmistakable for the rest of your life.  It's the low rattle that really helps give the band identity along with the stellar riffs.  It's impossible to describe riffs through text, but the very quick, sharp riffs on tracks like "Junketsu Sanctuary", "Inochi no Kizu", and especially "Kerberos" are among the best of the year thus far, and that's not to mention the great tremolo riffs in tracks like "Face of Fate" and "SHIT Shitto SHIT", the latter of which rides on a really groovy main riff for most of the time as well, alternating between that and near blast beats under fast palm muted tremolo thrashing.  There are absolutely wicked solos all over the place as well, since the ear for melody is so damn strong.  No matter how fast and wacky or deliberate and soulful the leads get, they almost always end up being very memorable and well written.  I can just keep throwing out examples until the cows come home, but Gargoyle's style is so difficult to describe that you truly do just need to hear it for yourself.

Kijuu's highlights are (for me) easily the mighty "Kerberos", the rip roaring thrash of "Inochi no Kizu", "The Gun", and "Junketsu Sanctuary", and the sheer embodiment of devil-may-care enthusiasm of "ABC".  This album is full of ideas, and while not all of them hit bullseye (the slower tracks in "Gudon" and "Yume Kajitsu" I can do without, and the chorus of "Face of Fate" is pretty crap), between the nardtard thrashing and the strange bounciness to be found throughout, there isn't a whole lot to dislike.  It's a very unique album, and there's pretty much nobody who sounds like Gargoyle anywhere else on the planet.  From their very distinct riffing sensibilities to the utterly inimitable vocals, they truly are one of a kind, and Kijuu shows that in spades.

(Okay, I have to cave and bring up the biggest flaw of the album is simply that it just isn't as creative as what the band is normally known for.  I said I wouldn't compare it against other albums, but Gargoyle pretty much defies description unless you're already familiar with the band.  In it's own little microcosm, Kijuu is fantastic, but when it comes to modern Gargoyle, you can do much better with Kisho or Kuromitten.  Even the best songs here like "Junketsu Sanctuary" remind me a lot of better songs from better albums, like "Amoeba Life" from Tenron.  The neat flourishes they used to revel in have all but been abandoned for a more stripped down approach ever since roughly Kemonomichi, and this is the first time where the songwriting (while as unique as ever) just simply isn't as up to par as the band can usually muster.  Kijuu certainly isn't worth skipping, as "Kerberos" is one of the better songs the band has written in a decade or so, but it's just simply underwhelming when compared to the previous three or four albums.)

RATING - 81%

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