Tuesday, January 26, 2016

GOSPEL OF GARGOYLE: Gargoyle - Ronpuu

XIV: Dragon Wind


I'm gonna be honest, this bit of Gargoyle's history is the only part of this series I was dreading.  I crapped out the first ten reviews in like eight days and had a blast with every single one of them, they're a band with an insane frontman and a legendarily eclectic approach to songwriting.  There was a ton of shit to talk about, dozens of wild ideas on each and every album, so many different branching paths to work with, just... damn.  I wrote the review for Wa on December 9th, 2013, and Bushin and Kemonomichi about a week apart in April of the next year.  Now I'm sitting here on January 23, 2016, almost two and a half years removed from the start of this pet project, just struggling to find words on Ronpuu.  It's sad and I've done my best not to telegraph it, but this is really and truly the first fully Moderngoyle album, and it's the first in their discography that I just can't get myself to give a shit about.

Now, that's not to say it's a bad album.  I mean come on, it's Gargoyle, of course I like it to some extent.  The problem arises in that I can tell you to check out "Ningen no Joken", "1.618", and "Thanatos" and then just skip over to the next album.  Most of the songs are decently okay, but apart from those three, nothing reaches the lofty heights they used to conquer with alarming regularity.  And hot off the heels of the incredible Kemonomichi, this is a pretty hefty disappointment.

It's a confusing quandary for me, because I've always rated their heaviest and fastest songs among their best, and from this point on that's basically the only kind of song they crank out.  Future Drug is my favorite album of theirs and it's the first time they put nearly 100% of their effort into the thrashiest and riffiest parts, and Ronpuu seems to care about almost nothing else except those thrashy and riffy parts.  But despite this essentially being the sort of album I always secretly wished they'd write, it stands to show us that all of the quirky riffage and cultural oddities they'd throw in at every opportunity were a huge part of why those previous albums worked so well.  Apart from the child chorus on "Zettaisei Riron", almost all of that fun stuff is absent.  There's no cornball honky song like "Baby Cat", there's no random electronic influences like "±0" or "Hakkyou Gamer", it's 93% songs like "Dogma" and "Kichiku".  Now, those two songs are incredibly good, but they stood out on their respective albums, whereas "Ikusa", "Spark", and "Sorenbushi" are just par for the course here.  Even the songs that do sorta toe the line into their old ideas like the "Ruten Yo no Nite" and the "Kaze no Machi" ("Tabi no Dokeshi" and "Rakuen ni Shisu", respectively) just feel like they're not going all out into it.  It's the most standard sounding album they've released up to this point, sounding like a band going through the motions and sorta halfheartedly swatting at the formulas they used to make sound so original and breathtaking.  Now it's more "Dammit, I guess we need to do a song like this now, don't we?  Just play the first downtempo chugging riff you can think of and we'll throw some meaningless strings over it and that'll be our 'Ruten' this time".

Even though the band doesn't sound as inspired as they usually do, they still find ways to crank out classics, even on albums I'm only halfway on board with.  "Ningen no Joken" is a face crushing punisher that sounds like the logical continuation of what they were doing on Kemonomichi.  The chorus riff is the exact kind of Oriental flavored, extra crunchy thrash that they whipped me up into a frenzy with on the last album, and it works just as well here.  Part of me wants to say that it's because it's the first track and you don't have time to be disappointed yet, but that's not exactly true.  The quality of the riffs are just through the damn roof, and that's always been their bread and butter.  It really just comes down to most of the songs here just not being quite as good, despite ticking the necessary boxes.  "1.618" also lives up to it's name as it throws in the absolute perfect ratio of blistering speed and pummeling stomp, sounding like the spiritual idea of what Anthrax had always wished they were (if they were secretly Overkill).  If this isn't a Battle Gargoyle staple, it damn well needs to be.

"Thanatos" stands as the best song, with a distorted yelling intro like "Shinpan no Hitomi" that gives way to one of the best riffs on the album, and the absolute best bridge they've ever written.  Holy hell that bridge is something else to behold.  The solo ends and the band slowly breaks down while the bass plays what sounds like it'll be a simple descending run before devolving into some utter chaos.  When the band finally pulls themselves back together, they morph into this gigantic black creature of the abyss, with high pitched dissonant staccato chords ringing out over a slow war march.  Kiba generally doesn't sound quite as unhinged and insane as he normally does on this album, but he expertly chooses this moment to let loose, and he does so in a way that he's never really done before.  Instead of his manic warbling, he hunkers down to the lowest register he's managed in eons, while the rest of the band chants along with him, sounding like a demonic chain gang bellowing out a slave song while they angrily yet despondently chip away at brimstone while Satan whips their backs raw with forty five knotted penises.

Unfortunately, aside from the assorted highlights mentioned above, Ronpuu is pretty clearly my least favorite Gargoyle album at this point in time.  The ideas they used to exude so effortlessly sound tired and obligatory now, with unconvincing nods here and there to the quirks and trademarks that populated every prior album.  The quality of the riffs just isn't quite as stellar as it usually is, and as a result the whole album feels moderately bogged down and halfhearted compared to its predecessors.  Like every Gargoyle album, it isn't worth skipping, but there's a startlingly small amount of gold here compared to everything before it.  If this is one of the first albums you hear, I can guarantee you'll love it, but if you're intimately familiar with their earlier work, it's a letdown.

Yes I know that's unfair, shut up.

RATING - 74%

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