Saturday, May 13, 2017

GOSPEL OF GARGOYLE: Gargoyle - Kijuu

XX: Strange Beast

Man this last portion of Gargoyle's career has been a total rollercoaster, hasn't it?  The quality of everything has remained reasonably high of course, since they're pretty much the raddest metal band to ever exist, but there are noticeable peaks and valleys nowadays, as opposed to the eras of She-ja and Kentyotaro where the experimentation was all over the place but nothing dipped below "very good".  So with albums like Ronpuu being a noticeable dip, Yaiba and Kisho being hit or miss (with amazingly good hits, mind you), and Kuromitten and Niji Yuugou absolutely blowing my socks off, I really had no fucking idea what to expect when Kijuu dropped in 2013.  This was initially going to be the last review in the series, as I started it that same year.  But OF COURSE now we're four years down the line and two more albums have come out since then, because Gargoyle absolutely refuses to slow the fuck down at any point in their lives.  So for better or worse, here we are with Kijuu during the wildly unpredictable era of quality for the band.

Some of you may remember that I've actually already reviewed Kijuu back when it was new, and back then I gave it a slightly higher rating and tried to look at it with no context, completely as a standalone.  Well time has soured it a smidge and now with nine-fucking-teen reviews leading up to it, we can get a real idea of why that is.

So yeah, Kijuu is unfortunately a step down.  After the monumental Niji Yuugou, pretty much anything they followed up with wasn't going to be as strong, I knew that ahead of time, but this is still pretty weak by Gargoyle standards.  That's not to say there aren't some awesome songs here, but it's pretty solidly my least listened-to album next to Ronpuu.  And just like that 2005 album, there's nothing exactly wrong with this album, the songwriting just isn't quite as strong as it had been.  Tracks like "Yume Kajitsu" and "Junketsu Sanctuary" have all the elements that make a great Gargoyle song, they just... I dunno, don't work all that well.  Their off-kilter approach to thrash metal is still here in spades, with riffs that just wouldn't make sense in the context of literally any other band playing them, straddling a line between balls-first straight-ahead thrashfests, uplifting power metal melodies, and catawampus stop-start blasts of intensity.  The riffs just aren't as good as they used to be, and that's really all there is to it.  They just sorta happen for most of the second half of the album.

But hey, just like Kisho before it, this starts off on a crazy strong streak of excellence.  "Face of Fate" continues the tradition of the opening track being a high octane scorcher with bucketfuls of melody, and even though the chorus is especially derpy and unlike anything Gargoyle has really done before (they've done singalong choruses before, but none quite this dorky) it's a lot of fun.  The verses bring the band back into the form we all know and love.  There's a brash devil-may-care attitude in "ABC", featuring one of the grooviest main riffs the band has ever written.  It's the worst comparison in the world considering literally every other riff the band has ever written doesn't draw this comparison, but that main riff is straight up fuckin' Pantera.  The rest of the song doesn't follow suit, being one of the more melodic tracks on display with another fun singalong chorus and great solo, and really that just goes to show that Gargoyle, no matter what I think of any given album as a whole, will always be excellent when it comes to meshing their unrelated wacky ideas together.

There are some obvious highlights here, and they're unsurprisingly the fastest and angriest songs on display.  "Kerberos" is the obvious highlight of the album to me, being the shortest and most to-the-throat thrasher they've written in ages.  I know I just mentioned Kiba's voice finally starting to show signs of age a few reviews ago, but the sheer charisma he carries has never diminished, even if his ability to soar and throw in wonky vocal flourishes has.  It's really here on "Kerberos" where I realize how the band has masked this for so long, and it's because the gang shouts have gotten much more prominent.  It's especially prominent on this track, with the chorus pounding you in the face as hard as four gruff voiced yet flamboyantly feminine Japanese dudes can do.  "SHIT Shitto SHIT", despite contending for the worst song title of their career, is also one of the tracks that goes harder than anything else on the record.  It's another one that reuses the formula from "Shouryakukeitachi Yo" and "Iconoclasm", and so for that it's just super effective right off the bat, but in general the riffs on this one just totally smoke.  Extra points go to "S.L.A." as well for being so damn energetic.  These are the kinds of songs that the band does best and it really would have been in their best interest to focus on them at this point in time.  I know all the weirdness has been gone since Kuromitten but it seems like they're still not exactly focused on how to make this more "normal" style work to the fullest extent.  As much as I love that album, this last stretch has featured the band just being less insane and heavy than they previously had been.  Tracks like "Kichiku" and "Iconoclasm" were still strong enough to headbang my skull into dust.  Even the best, fastest, heaviest songs on Kijuu can't manage that.

There's nothing inherently wrong with most of the songs here, they all utilize some cool ideas like the bouncy main riff and subtle talkbox of "Sokonuke Jinsei Game" and the first riff on "Inochi no Kizu" sounding like a god damn Slayer riff, but otherwise it's just... not quite there.  It's like they're finally just going through the motions, like the second half of Kisho bled through to the next album and they've just lost too much steam to really recover.  The "Ruten-like" this time is "Gudon", and it's yet again another weak imitation of the previous classic, with only a very Kirk Hammet-ish solo salvaging it from being completely forgettable.  In a nutshell, Kijuu is just... not all that great.  I gave this a better rating when I reviewed it four years ago, but it's definitely worn off.  Next to Ronpuu, this ranks as one of the only Gargoyle albums you can actually safely skip.  What a shame.

RATING - 75%

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