BastardHead's review blog. Old reviews from Metal Archives and Metal Crypt will appear here along with shorter, blurbier thoughts I may have on albums that I don't have enough to say about to write a full review. You'll also find a few editorials here.
After Geshiki pretty much knocked ten points off my IQ score since I headbanged myself into several concussions during its runtime, how could I not be excited for the followup? I've mentioned before that their album covers are great in their simplicity, but they sometimes don't necessarily give a real indication of what the record is going to contain. Stuff like Tsuki no Toge, Future Drug, and Geshiki don't necessarily telegraph unending brutality and neck-wrecking fury, but that's absolutely what they deliver. However, when the details for Taburakashi was revealed in 2016, there was absolutely no fucking mistaking it, this was going to be pure molten steel, nothing but full force razor sharp riffage with no room to breathe.
That's exactly what we got this time.
Taburakashi pulls precisely zero punches and pretty much wrecks faces from the start. It's got all the ferocity of Future Drug with the single-minded focus of Kemonomichi or Kuromitten, which essentially means it's just like Geshiki, just a little less creative. That's not to say this is all that much of a step down, because it still smokes. Gargoyle definitely seems to be in something of a late career renaissance, much like how Judas Priest shat out Painkiller (a Top 5 All Time album of mine, personally) twenty years into their career, Gargoyle started amping up the energy and drive several decades into their career as well. Right when it starts, "Yaban Kairo" is introduced with a quick shout of the title and then the band explodes. This is the new "Shi Ni Itaru Kizu" as far as I'm concerned, and I love the shit out of that song. That's clearly the template they went with for this opening track yet again, and just like all of the opening tracks since "Jet Tiger", it's a Powergoyle classic that lays the melody on so thick that it pretty much smothers it. There's a pleasant melodicism in Kiba's voice that you don't hear all that often in the chorus here, like he's putting much more effort into truly singing instead of just shouting like an insane person most of the time. It's sort of a throwback to their wondeful 90s era in that regard. Granted he's never going to hit the highs of classics like Natural but dammit he's trying, and that's way more than I can say for Kijuu.
This fucking this basically never slows down. Even the token misplaced ballady song, "Dare Ga Tame ni Ame Wa Furu" just blinks itself out of existence since it's inbetween the monstrous thrasher, "No Entry", and one of the most fucknuts insanely shreddy melodic songs they've ever written in "GO GO GALAPAGOS" (though it does admittedly at least tie "SHIT Shitto SHIT" for their worst song title ever). There's also "Tada Hitosuji ni Yuku" near the end which also one of their more melodic and pleasant rock songs, but it just sorta happens without me noticing. So yes, that does mean these are the two weakest songs on display, but the rest of the album sits on such a plateau that I tend to forget they're even featured.
But on that note, that does make this album sorta difficult to describe since it's like most Moderngoyle releases in that it's mostly just one style. It's crazily heavy and unabashedly melodic thrash/speed metal with power metal influences here and there with a psychotic vocalist who just screams all of his lines like a whacko. There's a lot of effort put into this release regardless, it really does seem like there's a renewed love for their craft at this point in time for the band.
Don't take that to mean there are no highlights, because this album has motherfucking "Dragon Skull" on it, which is oh god so fucking good. This is Gargoyle at their thrashiest and heaviest. I never really found the words to describe what makes their style so different, but I think I'm starting to understand that, especially from Bushin onwards, they've managed to perfect the art of making things fast and thrashy but also heavy. Like, you're probably thinking of something like Sodom when I say that, but I mean every single note comes off with as much weight and force as a focused breakdown. Every riff sounds like the break in "Tired and Red" at double speed without thinning out the sound at all. These riffs sound like assault rifles that fire bazooka shells, they're so fucking meaty and powerful and yet come at you at such a relentless pace that it almost defies explanation. That's particularly where "Dragon Skull" excels. That main riff that rips out eight seconds in after the band drops the intro and just shouts "DOO-RA-GUUUUN SKALL" is just unfairly fucking heavy. Even the fairly light chorus (in comparison to the brutality of the verses) still sounds skull crushing. I'm completely in love with this song.
There are other magnificent tracks, like the ludicrously fast and drenched-in-melody "Be Daring", straddling the line between their heavy and melodic styles so well that it goes from the speedy and energetic main melody to chest beating blast beats in seconds. "Crumbling Roar" is another ludicrously crunchy song with a blistering main riff, and the chorus stands out for more of Kiba's actual singing coming through (or at least attempting to), that "Coo-RAAAAMBUUUUUHLING ROOoOoOoOR" is another cool moment of relentlessly heavy melodicism that the band has made their bread and butter over the years. "GO GO GALAPAGOS" is, as mentioned, crazily shreddy and has some insane leadwork going on, like the band entered the studio and told Kentaro "Alright buddy, for this next song, just do literally anything you want; go as insane as you want to go and we'll try to keep up with you" and he responded by screaming like Speedy Gonzalez and shredding like Skwisgaar Skwigelf.
I think I've finally run out of words, I've finally reached the point where there's only so much you can say about Gargoyle. Their highly creative run in the 90s may have petered out, but instead of becoming a dull rehash of previous ideas, Taburakashi shows that they've only refocused themselves and honed in on specific skills throughout their career. So they may not be the quirky weirdos from Japan who would intersperse hyper fast thrash anthems with cultural oddities and irresistably catchy funky party songs anymore, but they've evolved into one of the most laser-guided ferocious thrash bands on the planet with a penchant for searingly uplifting melodies along with unstoppable charismatic chest-beating bravado. It's unreal, I've never seen a band remain so good for so long. Physics shouldn't allow Gargoyle to exist.
But they do.
And they're not going anywhere.
RATING - 87%
HOLY SHIT GUYS I DID IT! This was a gigantic project for me, and easily the most time consuming one I've ever worked on. Twenty two reviews for one band can be absolutely draining (hell doing just five for Mastodon was difficult as hell for me), and it's why I've never bothered to do it for any of my other favorite bands (like Running Wild or Cannibal Corpse). Gargoyle is a different breed and much easier to speak about in a loose, free manner. Regardless, it was a huge commitment and, even if it took two extended breaks and a total of nearly three and a half years to complete, I'm glad I've finally been able to more or less close the book on this pet project of mine. Really, I'm peeling back the curtain a bit here, but I don't really drown in views. I don't really put a whole lot of effort into advertising this site, and the fans/notoriety I may have stems more from the Metal Archives than this site where I have a little more freedom to goof off and go off on extended diatribes about Wintersun. The point is, a vast majority of my reviews get somewhere from 150-300 views. They get to much more eyes via MA for sure (since this site's views mainly come from my personal Facebook or people who click the link in my sig on the MA forum) but I don't have the stats for that. Even though I normally break triple digits for most reviews, this Gargoyle series averages somewhere between 40-70. Nobody reads this series, but never once did I consider dropping it in favor of something to gain more exposure. This was a labor of love for sure, this was something I wanted to do simply as a tribute to the most underappreciated metal band on the planet. Hopefully I did my part. If anybody has gotten into the band because of this series, then it was worth it to me.
Also yuuuuuge shoutout to Crick, that not-so-mysterious cohort of mine I've mentioned a few times throughout the reviews that introduced me to the band in the first place. He's been a massive help in feeding me trivia and behind-the-scenes info about the band, and giving me new perspective on several things since our opinions on the band differ greatly at times, despite us both loving them to pieces. He's the one who noticed the "Enigma" riff is the same as "Creeping Death", he's the one who pointed out that "Doumushishubai" isn't even a real word and the real title was actually "Doumu Lullaby", he's the one who fucking coined the term "Moderngoyle" as far as I know. None of this could have ever happened without him.
And that's all folks! I plan on doing some more with this series in the future, but until another canonical full length or EP comes out, the main series is finally and officially finished. There will be some addendums here and there for some of the other important things I missed (Fuuin, Ububoe, maybe Borderless or the G Manual series), but there's no timeframe and no order, just whenever I get the spark. There will also be a fun little extra tonight because I fuckin' feel like it, okay?
I love all of you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for heeding The Gospel.
I'm not gonna lie, I'm super happy that it took me so fucking long to actually finish writing this series that two new albums have come out since I started, because otherwise we'd be ending this retrospective/analysis/fanboy rant of the best band nobody has heard of with the comparative bunny fart that is Kijuu, undoubtedly one of their weakest albums.
But no, I had to be ridiculously fucking slow and spend all my free time playing Brave Exvius (609,685,292. Hit me up, I've got a 561 ATK Chizuru just waiting to Phantom Shadow your enemies into oblivion) and banging your mom, so now we have Geshiki to talk about as well. You're welcome.
In all honesty, my thoughts before this was released were sorta similar to what I illustrated at the beginning of the Future Drug review. The album cover is a break from their usual theme of stylized kanji title against a background pattern with no other logo to speak of, the color scheme is light (this time just flat out utilizing a bunch of colorful butterflies), the previous album wasn't really all that great, it all lined up. Ergo I logically should have expected Future Drug to happen again. But I didn't. But it did.
Geshiki is, without a doubt, the best Gargoyle album since Yotaro's glorious sendoff in 2001. Really, I don't know what the fuck happened here, but after a few albums of noticeable decline, of all the usual ideas not connecting as well, of all the individual performances becoming less and less impressive, suddenly everything got better. It's like the band just pulled the rug out from under us and yelled "PSYCHE WE NEVER STOPPED BEING RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME!!" For example, please note tracks like "Kettei", "Uzumaku Taiyou", "Chokugeki", and "Enreido". What do these four songs have in common? Blast beats, that's what. Or at least ludicrously fast thrash beats like what Kreator would always utilize back when they were good. What the fuck did Katsuji snort before recording this album? He's never sounded better, and he was in his forties when this was recorded. Somehow he just got young again and started drumming like an absolute maniac. He's always been a very active drummer, but man around this time his energy just spiked. I'm not convinced he hasn't secretly been replaced by a twenty year old. There's a music video for "Gordian Knot" and he looks like he's about to explode during the double bass sections. It's almost unspeakably cool to hear him give so much to his performance again, the band absolutely feeds off this energy throughout the whole album.
I focus on Katsuji, but really everybody has stepped up their game. Kiba sounds the most ferocious he has possibly ever sounded, with his warbly rasp just blasting with hitherto unknown power, and Toshi even gets two extended bass solos in "Tsubasa no Kioku" and "Enreido". The former of those two is also the most unique song they've penned in eons. Not only is it the first meaningful instrumental since "Toki to Kaze" thirteen years prior, and not only does it feature extended solos for both bass and drums, it also marks the first time string instruments of any kind have showed up in over a decade. The opening notes are huge riffs backed by somehow simultaneously booming and subtle keys, and the songs rolls and shifts through several different themes and moods, from the somberly triumphant twin melody in the intro to the easily headbangable "verse" riff to searing solos. It's definitely one of the most ambitious and interesting tracks we've found on a Gargoyle album since Moderngoyle started, without a doubt.
The overt variance is one of the reasons Geshiki stands out so much from most of their late era work. While I loved Kuromitten to death, there's no doubt it's just a bunch of heavy thrash songs with one slow, proggy "Ruten-like". Geshiki on the other hand runs the gamut, from the thundering salvos of "Kettei" and "Chokugeki", to the highly melodic speed metal monsters of "Tiny Song" and "S.W.POWER", to the more uplifting and epic "Tsubasa no Kioku" and "Fullcolor Answer", to the catchy singalong tendencies of "Gordian Knot" and "Mankai Oratio", there's just so much to discover and so much to love here. Despite being introspective and melodic, "Fullcolor Answer" gets pretty dangerously doomy at times as well. I mean just listen to that opening riff and tell me you don't hear Sabbath in that.
I touched on it briefly up there, but there is indeed another Best Song Ever on this one, "Mankai Oratio". I haven't talked much about their live show throughout all this simply because A) this is about their studio albums, and B) I don't know it all that well, but I've asked around because I'm curious about what their live staples are considering they have like seven dozen amazing songs that would be heartbreaking to leave off any set. From what I've been told, their only true live staples at this point in time are basically "Shinu Koto to Mitsuke Tari", "Shi Ni Itaru Kizu", and "Super Dogma", while the rest of their setlist rotates all over the place. There were some that were always there but aren't quite as much of a guarantee anymore ("Destroy", "Kanzen Na Doku Wo Youkyuu Suru", "Jet Tiger", "Yakusoku no Chi De", etc), but the point is that you never really know what you're going to get with them onstage. The first time I heard "Mankai Oratio", I proclaimed out loud that this had to become a new staple. It opens with a pounding drum beat and an amazingly powerful call and return between a re-energized Kiba and childlike backup singers. The guitars roar in suddenly and ring out these massive sustained chords before the whole thing explodes into one of the tightest riffs they've ever written. This is going to sound way less awesome than it actually is, but it's basically the same riff as the verse riff in RHCP's cover of "Higher Ground", and trust me when I say Gargoyle nails this simple riff roughly ten trillion times more effectively than the Californian funk-punkers could ever dream of doing. I can't even explain it, just every riff after it is amazing, the chorus is that same call and return from the intro but it explodes with these triumphant octave chords ringing out in the back. It's the most triumphant thing I've ever heard, I can't help but feel like I've just won something. For fuck sake, ignore every other word of this review and just listen to "Mankai Oratio", it's probably my third favorite song they've ever written behind "Shouryakukeitachi Yo" and "GUSH!!". Yes, it's even better than "Ounou no Goku", "Ruten Yo no Nite", and "Aoki Kobushi". I'll never get over how they shit out a song this instantly classic so late in their career. It's flawless.
The most amazing thing is that the rest of this album is almost just as good. "Enreido" hearkens back to Kiba just raving like a lunatic (check out that "NAAAA NA-NA-NA NAaAaAaAAAA" in the intro), "Namida no Kachi" is the best ballad they may have ever written, "Gordian Knot" is one of the best Powergoyle songs out there, giving even "Shi Ni Itaru Kizu" and "Kaze no Machi" runs for their money in terms of effective melody and overall ferocity, just nothing sucks on this one. "Tiny Song" is the only song that isn't an instant knockout and even then it would have easily been the best song on the previous album.
This is the twenty first entry in the Gospel, and it's their third best album. Do not ever underestimate Gargoyle.
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.
Remember how I said Super Battle Gargoyle almost seemed like a statement that they were leaving their past behind them because they've been getting simpler and thrashier for years and capped off that EP with heavier rerecordings of a longtime fan favorite ("Dogma") and possibly the most iconic lighthearted horn-filled funk song ("Hito no Tame")? Well you could be forgiven for thinking that Niji Yuugou was a continuation or possibly more definitive reiteration of that statement, considering it's an album of rerecordings of songs from (mostly) the 90s era.
The difference is that this sounds a hell of a lot less like "This is who we are now, bow to us", and a hell of a lot more like "We haven't forgotten about you crazy fucks who have been around since the beginning, so this is a tribute to you, we love you." You simply do not write a track like "Niji Yuugou" without putting a shitload of effort into it. This is full of heart, full of energy, and loaded with the best performances the individual members have delivered in years. It's weird, they actually sound somewhat rejuvenated by reaching back into the early days of their oeuvre for inspiration.
And when I say they reach, I mean they reach. How deep does this tribute to fans go? So deep that there are two songs I've never even heard of on here. The first, "Guuzen To Hitsuzen No Tochuu" previously existed only on the obscure Lightning and Thunder split with five other Japanese metal bands from 1998, and the second, "Mannequin, Mushikui, Coup d'etat, Ishikoro" coming from I don't fucking know. According to MA, it's earliest appearance is on a VHS from Rockin' F's "Zeta Special Characters" series featuring a random set from 1991. Its only other appearances are on huge discography spanning compilations and the lip flapping insane 7 VHS set where they played every single song they ever recorded in a 10 and a half hour, 93 song marathon set on New Years Eve shortly after Gaia came out. The point is, they dug deep as hell for this album, and they struck gold, because both of these "new" songs (for people who have been following their career according to this series) are fucking awesome. They both sound like updated versions of songs written in their most fertile period of creativity, which I'm well aware they both literally are, but they're muscular kicks in the teeth here that might as well be entirely new songs for how fucking buried they were previously.
The songs that we actually know that they chose to rerecord are all excellent choices, as they show several sides of the band. "Tokimeki" may be faster and heavier than the Furebumi original, but it actually retains the upbeat lightness of the bygone era. Kiba's vocals are even sung in a higher register than he's managed in years, calling to mind the era from whence this all originally came. "Execute" has been quadrupled in length and holy shit did they do a good job with it, because what was previously a one minute explosion of frantic thrash riffs hasn't just been lengthened via repetition, it's been expanded by taking the original song and basically using it as an intro to a more fully fleshed out song that utilizes all the same themes and riffs from the original. Gargoyle has always been at their best when their songs have time to breathe and develop, and that's why their shorter ones are kinda hit and miss throughout their career while nearly everything in the "normal" range of song length is some of the best metal ever laid to tape. "Gi" is somehow better than the madcap lunacy of the Misogi original by somehow being even more insane and balls-to-the-wall ridiculous. Everything maintains the lighthearded fun of the originals (if they call for it) while simultaneously making them heavier and faster and grittier. Gargoyle has evolved since then, no doubt, but they certainly haven't lost any of their spirit.
Really though, there's one true highlight here, and it's the main reason anybody should be listening to this album, and that's the title track. "Niji Yuugou" is something of a pun, literally translating to "Rainbow Fusion", and sounding similar to the Japanese word for "25" (Ni-Juu-Go), alluding to the fact that this is their 25th anniversary celebratory release and the fact that this song is basically a fusion of all their best songs ever. Seriously, run through this with me, let's see how much effort they put into this medley.
Okay, the song starts off heavy as fuck, something like a slow, churning Battle Gargoyle song before morphing into a brutal stomp. Then hold up, wait... what's this? Holy shit is that the intro riff to "GUSH!!"? Holy fuck yes, barely twenty seconds in and they're already referencing one of my favorite songs of theirs! If that doesn't set the stage, I don't know what will. Then we get a staple of Moderngoyle shoehorned into this throwback with the prominent soaring harmonized lead melody that will carry the so-... hold up, this main melody is the fucking solo to "Algolagnia"! Jesus they're getting creative as shit here, morphing these old elements into something entirely new to fit their new style while paying homage to the old. It's like a thrash metal DJ. Then the verse riffs rips forth and GOD YES IT'S THE RIFF FROM "SHOURYAKUKEITACHI YO" THAT I NEVER STOP GUSHING ABOUT!
I need to take a break to finish masturbating at this point.
It never stops, it just throws nostalgic firebombs at you every couple seconds and never feels like a disjointed mishmash of disparate elements from different eras fighting for attention, even though that's exactly what it is at its core. There are featured moments from all across their career as well, with bits of the solo being lifted straight from "Atama ga Kowareta" and "Fugutaiten" from Aratama and even "Spark" from Ronpuu, the chorus riff is the verse riff from "Ese Gari" from Future Drug, the old bridge riff from the OG "Dogma" appears (which you need to realize is hugely significant since the emergence of "Super Dogma" erased that original version, so them reaching back for a riff that they've deliberately and intentionally whitewashed out of their history is a huge sign of gratitude towards the fans), the lyrics in the chorus reference "holding a pistol with no bullets", which is a phrase that appears in "Kaze no Machi", a friend of mine swears there's a riff from "Fire King" in here somewhere, et cetera forever. I can't get over how well done this song is. They took so many different elements from so many different songs and created something entirely new out of it, to the point where I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't notice any of these riffs were previously used decades before (I didn't even realize the riff from "Ese Gari" until maybe a year after this album came out, for instance), and they all come at you so fast and they're all so expertly handled. This may be underselling the band somewhat considering this is a song quite literally made up of the best parts of previous classics, but this is one of the most definitive Moderngoyle songs you'll ever hear.
I don't even care about the rest of this. "Nounai Jisatsu" is just as furious as it was before, "Kaze no Machi" sounds incredible with its soaring choirs and power metal elements being updated with the new production and heavier guitar tone, "Shi Ni Itaru Kizu" may be a decidedly new song but even then they run in the other direction and transmute it into a soothing acoustic campfire song. It doesn't matter that this is entirely old material given a facelift for the new millennium, this is absolutely canon in their discography and holds its own as a standalone release. It's one of their best albums, and that's not a joke. Do not sleep on Niji Yuugou.
Total honesty here, this is what started it all. I had heard the name of Gargoyle thrown around from time to time by the one or two vocal fans on MA before me, but it wasn't until Kisho dropped in 2011 that I decided to finally give them a real shot and see what the minor hubbub was all about. Obviously, this album made a believer out of me, because I've already spent ~19950 words (57 of which were variations on the word "fuck", if you were curious) and 28 pages in Microsoft Word ejaculating over them as of this sentence, so hopefully it will do the same for you.
So admittedly, there's some wistful nostalgia influencing this review, but Kisho is greater than the sum of its parts anyway so it's overall negligible. What you really need to know is that we have another Best Song Ever here, this time being the song that contained the riff that turned me into this unholy fanatic you see today, "Kowaku". It's at 0:35, and it's the best damn riff the band has written since "B.B" in 2001, maybe even the still-to-be-topped "Shouryakukeitachi Yo" in 1994. The track starts with an awesomely slow pounding riff accompanied by more of that glorious dual lead harmony that Kentaro has made his trademark by this point. Already it sounds like it's building towards something monumental, and fucking Christ does it deliver. That riff right there, that beautiful, sublime, absolutely punishing riff that starts after the abrupt stop was essentially life changing for me, starting me down the path of Gargoyle worship, because I knew right then and there that I needed to know every glorious thing this band had done up to that point, because if they were cracking out riffs that good when they were like 14 albums and 20+ years into their career, they had to have been one of the best bands ever at some point. Even taking that stunning first impression out of the way, "Kowaku" stands as one of their best ever Moderngoyle tracks. The crunch, the beefy energy, the wildly charismatic warble of Kiba's vocals, it's all in top form here.
It's also worth noting that, as we've hopefully established by now, Gargoyle is very fond of reusing templates from previous songs (there's been at least one "Ruten Yo no Nite" on every album since 1990, there's a new "Propaganda" every second album or so, the "Naidzukushi" was a staple up until the Solo Kentaro era, etc), and "Kowaku" utilizes my favorite template. That obviously being the one used by "Shouryakukeitachi Yo" and "Iconoclasm" (and arguably "Kichiku", but that song is so unfairly heavy and brutal that it might as well has been written by a different band). Whenever you spot that template being used, know damn well that it's going to be one of their best songs without fail. If it starts with a slow-to-midpaced riff that focuses on stomping more than thrashing before breaking out thirtyish seconds in with a frantically fast riff, it's going to fucking rule. Every time.
The remainder of the first four tracks all smoke face in totally different ways as well. "Knuckle Art" continues the tradition of the opening track being a soaring and punishing anthem that sticks in your mind like glue. "Kowaku" may have been the song to convert me, but "Knuckle Art" comes first and does an excellent job of exemplifying exactly what it is that Gargoyle does. "Mumbo Jumbo" and "Amefuru Kumo no Mukou" take a slightly more catchy approach via different routes. "Mumbo Jumbo" is all about hooks, with a fantastic chorus complete with "NAAAA NA NA NAAAA" backup vocals behind Kiba's continually impressive melodic warble just belting out "MAAAMBO JAAAAMBOoOoOoO" as loud as possible. "Amefuru Kumo no Mukou" takes a more singalong approach, with a rousing chorus and jubilant verse riff reminding everybody why nobody writes riffs like Gargoyle. I still can't think of any really apt comparisons, and I've been working on this review series for nearly four god damned years. The extended distorted bass solo in the bridge is a definite highlight of the album. Toshi is insane, I'm still floored by how much he refuses to just play background rhythm, even in this newer era when crunchy rhythms have taken center stage. He still breaks out frequently.
Unfortunately, as you may have noticed, every album since Wa, with the notable exception of Kemonomichi, falls off in the back end. It seems like since Moderngoyle began, they've been front loading every album with all of the best songs and leaving the weaker ones for the end. It's been nearly a decade since there's been a surefire classic near the end of the tracklist like "Haretsu Ganbou" or "Nounai Jisatsu" or fucking "GUSH!!". This is true with Kisho as well, and it's extra depressing because the falloff starts much earlier than usual. Starting with "Jibuning", which is only the fifth track, the album starts to waver a bit. Those first four songs are so good that the contrast is pretty stark. It's hard to say exactly what the problem is, maybe the energy just isn't there, maybe it's because "Jibuning" is just sort of okay and the following track, "Shinkirou no Naka E" is the weakest ballad they've written to date that all of the momentum just gets sapped, maybe it's because this is the longest album in their career behind only Future Drug but just isn't as consistently strong, I don't know. The point is that it's sometimes hard to sit through this entire album. "Kyokugen Kaihou" is a solid rocker that sounds like it could have been straight off of Kuromitten with that busy guitar line in the verse, but it's kind of reminiscent of Ronpuu in that it's just kind of bland and effortless. "Hone no Aji" is a really bland bouncy number that sounds more like background music than anything all that engaging. "Inochi Yawarakaku" is yet another weak light song with no weight behind it that doesn't make up for it with a catchy singalong moment of any sort or pleasing melodies.
It's a real shame because there are two gems hidden in the back end, those being "VIVA!-aso-VIVA!" and "Kage Ou". These two tracks are unique because, while they stack up in quality against the juggernaut of the first four tracks, they are actually inferior rerecordings of songs they'd previously released. There is a split release between Gargoyle and two other bands nobody gives a shit about titled Kuro-Obi Rockers that was released to coincide with (what I assume was) a tour featuring all three bands. "VIVA!-aso-VIVA!" and "Kage Ou" are the two new tracks represented on the split, and they're just undeniably more energetic on that one. That's not to say that Kisho is a lazy album, because it's not, but holy shit listen to that old version of "VIVA!-aso-VIVA!". It actually highlights something I was always afraid of happening but hasn't really made itself apparent yet... Kiba may be losing his voice. That energetic garbling of his has never gotten less entertaining, and the only real difference between Moderngoyle and Weirdgoyle is that they're noticeably deeper and don't sustain long notes very well, but that was pretty much inevitable since he's one of the most obvious chainsmokers in metal history. This is readily apparent in "VIVA!-aso-VIVA!", because something resurfaces in the split version that is excised on the full length version, and it's something I didn't even really realize was missing until it briefly popped up again and then disappeared just as quickly... Kiba just making weird noises.
That sounds like an odd thing to point out, but listen to the Kuro-Obi Rockers version and hear me out. On the split, he is unhinged and manic as hell, in a way he really hasn't been since the 90s. There's no control over that voice whatsoever and it works because dammit he doesn't need it. He just needs to warble and gargle and be super cool about it. There's one tiny vocal flourish here that highlights how much of the weirdness has truly been excised from the sound over the years. Around 2:35, in between the gang shouts of the title, he just does... I dunno a weird noise. The most accurate textual approximation of the noise that escapes his mouth is "WahohwowhaowawawawawaWAWAWA". It's so weird and pointless but so cool. You don't really realize that those weird flourishes he'd utilize on songs like "Hunting Days" and "Meditation" are gone until you hear this version of the song. It's much like how GWAR morphed from a completely anarchic band of whackaloons into an extremely tight metal band with a gory stage show. Gargoyle went from a bunch of kaleidoscopic weirdos to an extremely tight metal band with a gruff and warbly vocalist. I mean really, how long has it been since I've interjected a goofy pic to illustrate how fucking weird his vocals are? I haven't stopped out of laziness, I stopped because he stopped being a lunatic. I want more moments like the out-chorus in "Meditation" where he sounded surprised about falling off a cliff while being violently shaken by a gorilla.
So yes, this is, despite holding a special place in my heart for being my first Gargoyle album, one of their weaker ones. The six great songs (plus "1-Ichi", which I haven't mentioned but is also very good) are so good that I tend to forget the rest of the album exists. Regardless, it's worth listening to anyway because songs like "Kowaku" are so fucking good and it's Gargoyle so of course it's worth listening to get on it, son!
Throughout my years of existing within this tiny and bizarre fandom of Gargoyle fanatics, one thing I've learned is that 2009's Kuromitten is generally seen as one of the weaker releases in their discography. And as the unofficial and self-proclaimed ambassador to most of the waking world in regards to this band, I make a spit on that notion. Kuromitten fucking rules. One of the big reasons I love it so much is going to sound like the dumbest thing in the world, but I'm one of the dumbest people in the world so bear with me throughout this next sentence. Each song sounds like a character theme from a fighting game.
It's probably only going to make sense to idiots like me who have spent an inordinate amount of time playing Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, but it fits because this is yet another milestone of Moderngoyle. I've probably been sending mixed messages throughout this entire series as to what "Moderngoyle" actually is. Is it bad? Is it simple? Does it strip all of the cultural oddities of Furebumi and Tenron away without replacing it with anything worthwhile? Is it all just bare bones thrash metal? The answer to every question is both yes and no and maybe and inconclusive. Gargoyle's transformation throughout their career was extremely subtle, with each album telegraphing slow burning changes three albums prior to when they were fully realized, but I feel like Kuromitten is one of the few albums where the changes are somewhat abrupt. Those changes are that the fun funky songs are finally and forever gone (though I've been foreshadowing this for ages at this point) and that the power metal influence is jacked the fuck up this time around. It's always been there, I haven't forgotten that songs like "Shinpan no Hitomi" or "Kaze no Machi" existed, but the opening notes of "Shi Ni Itaru Kizu" just really hammer home how much more melodic they are going to be on this album. The whole thing kicks off with this gargantuan lead soaring over fast single note riffs straight out of any given Europower band's playbook. And yet at the same time, it's kind of the only song that really goes full out with it, almost everything else is the kind of brutally chunky thrash the band has been peddling since Kemonomichi. I think the main difference is that Kentaro really starts cranking up the melody in the lead lines and prominent melodies at this point. There are a lot of Iron Maiden styled harmonies flittering around at nearly any instrumental moment, and it rarely lets up.
So really, the newest definition of Moderngoyle is "Battle Gargoyle songs with a fuckload of melody", and if my pattern recognition is still up to snuff, I'm sure I'll change that definition a few albums later like I've been doing since the start of this series. It's simply really damn hard to pin down the band to any one subgenre or any hybrid thereof. The power metal influence is super strong in "Shi Ni Itaru Kizu", and it crops up again in "Zero Blood", "Enigma", and "Psychological Treatment", but then again "Zero Blood" has some amplified punk influence, much like the major key bombast of "Garapon", which is wholly different from the pummeling frenzy of "I am Joker", "Magma Kid", "Enigma" again, and "Bucchigiri Crash!", which itself is only ludicrously fast and crazy during the verses, otherwise starting on a supremely catchy midpaced riff, very much like "Memento Mori", which is to say nothing of the darkness found in "Psychological Treatment" and the trademark dirge of "Sora E To Tuduku Saka", which is nothing like the quite uplifting "Kaze no Shiro".
Do you get the picture? There is a whole lot of stuff going on here.
Now that I've sufficiently wasted your time with that colossal run on sentence, we can finally loop back to my initial claim of everlasting nerdiness, the fighting game comparison. What I mean is that, with all of these different ideas approached in different ways, they are all fast and heavy, they are all catchy and melodic, and most importantly, they are all succinct and to-the-point. That's not to say the songs are on average shorter than they ever were ("Sora E To Tuduku Saka" is one of their longest tracks to date), it's that they're all hyper focused and they all stick with you after one listen. Much like the soundtrack to Guilty Gear, it's a bunch of laser guided metal songs that show up, repeat a few ridiculously awesome ideas a few times, and then get out of the way in order for the next song to shine. They can be listened to in random bursts of a minute or so, or they can be run through in longform the way they were presumably intended. It's an album full of good ideas approached in wildly different ways, and it can be appreciated in wildly different ways as well. Admittedly this is probably all just a personal quirk of mine, but this album is unique in that way to me. Each and every song works as a great standalone soundtrack to punching colorful characters in the face, and that's all I really want out of music in the long run.
If there is a flaw that keeps me from listening to this album as often as some of the other classics, it's a rather unfair one. Kuromitten doesn't really have an obvious Best Song Ever like "Shouryakukeitachi Yo", "Satori", "Aoki Kobushi", etc. Now don't get me wrong, every song is great (barring "Kaze no Shiro" and "Garapon", which are a bit lighter and just inconsequential when compared to the other roaring anthems), but apart from maybe "Shi Ni Itaru Kizu" and "Enigma", there really aren't any tracks that define the band as an entity like those previous monsters. Their trademark oddball riffing is still all over the place, there still aren't any other bands that really sound like Gargoyle, but despite all the subtle variation, this is still one of the more easily forgettable albums to most people purely for the fact that it doesn't have an obvious future classic like "Ruten Yo no Nite" or something. It's an unfair criticism, and I get that, but it's the best explanation I can give for why it's somewhat buried for most people. If anything, it only goes to show how phenomenal their discography truly is.
There's really no great place to put this, but I've mentioned several times that it's really hard to pin down Gargoyle's influences, since their riffs are so off-kilter and unique. It's as if they exist in their own little universe where they exclusively influence themselves. However! It is well known that Kentaro is a gigantic Metallica fanboy, and it is quite noticeable here since the opening riff to "Enigma" is the bridge from "Creeping Death" pretty much note for note. You can't fool me, Kenny!
So yes, Kuromitten is a consistently killer album that stands as a Moderngoyle classic alongside Kemonomichi. "Sora E To Tuduku Saka" is probably the best "Ruten-like" song they've put out to date, surpassing the amazing "Fukaki Rurou To Hateru Kagerou" from the aforementioned album, sounding like a weary journey through the desert with those awesome dreamy twangs. "Enigma" and "Memento Mori" contain some of the best riffs yet in the Kentaro era. "Shi Ni Itaru Kizu" breaks newish-old ground by putting the power metal melodies in the forefront with such prominence for the first time since "Kaze no Machi" way back on Natural. Apart from a somewhat weak back end (which has been a problem since Wa), this is a kickass album that deserves more love than it gets.
XVI: Super Battle Gargoyle Tag Tournament II Turbo
Awww yiss, mutha fuckin' Battle Gargoyle returns. I maintain that Bushin is one of the weaker releases in their discography, with only two or three utter classics (which on a short EP is still damn impressive, which speaks volumes to how much I value the rest of their career), and for the longest time I felt the same about Super Battle Gargoyle here. It sports a very modern, brickwalled everything-at-max-volume production and contains two rerecordings, two short throwaway songs, and an ill fitting melothrash song, so it seems like a bit of a disjointed mess upon the first couple listens. But, and I know this is a bit of a pot n' kettle thing here because I hate this phrase, but the release really does grow on you.
I'm just gonna throw out the negatives first, because despite this being a Gargoyle release, and therefore almost guaranteeing that I love the shit out of it, there are a few. "Will-o'-the-Wisp" sorta flip flops between having an amazing trademarked Gargoylian riff and a hearkening back to the completely unchained loony bin ravings of "Propaganda" waaaaaay back from Aratama 16 years prior. Both of those things are fucking awesome, but that radical riff repeats itself way too much for the song being under three minutes, something Gargoyle rarely does and it's pretty clear why, especially when you take the other short song, "Yellow Metal" into account. These guys aren't Slayer, these riffs need time to breathe and be appreciated. One of their greatest strengths is in how they seamlessly flow all of their ridiculous ideas from one to the next, and with their unparalleled skill in oddball thrash riffing, more standard length songs work extremely well for them. These two songs end up being mere interludes between the true highlights to me, even though I do appreciate "Yellow Metal" for being a self aware sendup of their origins (the lyrics mainly just consist of screaming about the fact that they're a Japanese metal band, and therefore are crazy ("THIS IS JAPANESE CRAZY METARU")).
No, the true highlights are the rerecordings of "Dogma" (rebranded as the upgraded "Super Dogma") and "Hito no Tame", and the more standard Battle Gargoyle originals like "Fire King" and "Battle Junkie". The latter track stands as again, one of my favorite god damned things ever. Considering this is one of the few releases they decided to release as their Battle Gargoyle persona, it's obvious that this is going to be nothing but ridiculously heavy and fast paced thrash metal loaded with crunchy hooks (the boxing kind), but a song like "Battle Junkie" still manages to floor me with how heavy and fast and hooky it actually is. It utilizes a choppy and radically beefy main riff under the verse that sets the stage for what could certainly be, to me at least, the definitive Battle Gargoyle tune. Really though, what ties the room together is easily the chorus. It's just one phrase, it's just Kiba roaring "BATTUR JONKY" and the backup vocals grunting "OI" over and over again on an endless loop. It should be lazy, it should be dumb, it should be effortless, but it's not. They take such a simple idea and throw so much double bass and ballistic riffage behind it that it somehow morphs into the greatest idea anybody has ever had. Even after all these years and all these reviews, it still floors me that Gargoyle manages to be so fucking good at everything they do.
The redone version of a previous classic, "Super Dogma II Turbo: Advanced Edition" is actually such a massive improvement over the Aratama original for me that I've grown to forget what the original recording sounded like. I've listened to it so much that it's all but completely erased another song from memory. Granted, I feel like fans of their older, pre-Kentaro era would probably prefer the original, since "Super Dogma" is more or less a dumbed down version of the original. Any nuance is gone, replaced with more weight and bravado, but it works pretty much perfectly for this song. It's a classic in their discography for a reason, but simple things like adding blast beats to the verse and replacing the more creepy deep vocals for nonstop frantic screaming just works. The one flaw is that the solo is noticeably less awesome, with She-ja's almost inhuman fluidity and the brain-meltingly sweet violin shredding section being replaced with a shorter section exclusively featuring Kentaro's signature staccato melody. Regardless, it's the obvious highlight of the album besides "Battur Jonky". Weird people who have actually been following this series since I started it nearly four years ago may remember how much I loved "Hito no Tame" from the same album as "Dogma", and it still holds up as one of their best goofy honky songs. The first time I listened to this, knowing it was Battle Gargoyle, and seeing it listed as "Hito no Tame B" filled me with dread. "Man they're going to symbolically put that type of song to rest here, aren't they? Man, this just isn't the type of song you can morph into a thrash anthem and not lose what made it so great, come on you're better than this!" Yeah well it turns out I didn't even realize it was a rerecording the first time I ran through the album. They somehow did manage to turn the dorky surf's-up song into a furious, blistering thrash song and somehow lost nothing.
Despite this being Battle Gargoyle, it's hard not to see this as a definitive statement of reinvention for the band. With the way their music has been transmuting away from the quirky oddities of their early era ever since Kemonomichi, plus the way they took two songs from that same era and stripped them of all the weird qualities and made them heavier and meaner alongside originals that rank as some of the most brutal songs they've ever written like "Fire King" and "Trance Diver", it seems almost like a whitewashing attempt. "This is who we are now, get used to it, here are two of your favorites reimagined as if we had written them fifteen years later, kiss our feet." Even with that, I love the hell out of this EP. Gargoyle makes it work, and regardless of whether or not you see Super Battle Gargoyle as a side release under the Battle Gargoyle persona or as a strong declaration of intent as to the future of Gargoyle, it's hard to say this isn't primo Gargoyle. Moderngoyle may be all about frenzied thrash with strong touches of power metal melody, but this shows that it meshes just as well with the old She-ja style of more nuanced songwriting. Either way my face has been punched hundreds of times in a little over 30 minutes, and that's all I really want.
Every year, there's a new traditionally styled heavy metal band that just takes MA inexplicably by storm. Last year Sumerlands and Eternal Champion fought for the title, the year prior it was Visigoth, and before then we had In Solitude, Portrait, Hell, Briton Rites, et cetera forever. It's always fun to see who the new "flavor of the year" is going to be, because I get caught up in the hype as well and wind up liking damn near every band that wins the Fluke New Old School Hit Sweepstakes. Well last month, the signs start showing as I notice the burgeoning hype train for Satan's Hallow. Considering they're from my home(ish)town, I figured I better get the jump on them. Y'all know my predilection for anything from Chicago or the surrounding areas (it's how I found out Smash Potater was actually awesome and not some effortless joke, for example). Plus, it's important to me to predict their eventual overtaking of High Spirits as the current Cult Heroes of Chicago if they're really that good.
Yeah holy fucking Christ on a cracker, Satan's Hallow delivers.
I was taken aback in the opening seconds. I like old school heavy metal as well as anybody, but man there's always something special when you can catch a band that so distinctly nails the sounds and idiosyncrasies of the decade without falling into the traps of easy cliches. No way, Satan's Hallow sounds straight out of the early 80s, but not because they're just tracing over an already-successful painting. This self titled debut is a work of art in its own right, merely taking the foundation of early trad metal in the vein of Judas Priest and Accept and just punching it in the face as hard as possible as opposed to just dressing up in a costume and ripping them off instead. It's such a basic thing but a surprising amount of bands somehow completely drop the ball in that regard.
Anyway, the important thing here is that these dudes bring it hard. One thing that stands out right off the bat are the vocals, which are drawing a lot of comparisons to Warlock and the assorted bands that burst through the floodgates opened by Doro Pesch based entirely on the fact that the band is female fronted. Now, a similarity is there, don't get me wrong, but Martillo here takes a slightly different approach that warrants a distinction. She doesn't belt out quite as hard or as rough as Doro may, but she makes up for it with sheer energy and enthusiasm. There's a very tight and nearly imperceptible falsetto to a lot of these screams, which adds to the completely unhinged nature of the music. It's like she's just about to fall apart completely, she's singing her heart out in such a manic and Heavy Fucking Metal way, I love everything about it. It's very theatrical, much like David Bower from Hell.
In fact, Hell is a very good comparison for the band in general. That theatricality of the band is showcased in every aspect while managing to remain grounded and unpretentious. Think Iron Maiden at their best. The bass is prominent and gallops liberally, while guitar melodies float above every song like a marionette's strings, guiding and propelling the band forwards at every opportunity. There's a damn evil atmosphere here as well, just languidly hanging over the music in a way that complements the journey as opposed to wrestling the propulsive heavy metal out of the spotlight, just everything they do somehow hits bullseye.
I don't want to keep comparing this to obvious classic bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, but I'll be damned if the influence isn't strong and the quality isn't comparable. Listen to "Still Alive". That's straight up a lost Maiden track from the Powerslave sessions. Listen to "Hot Passion". That's straight up a lost Priest track from the Defenders of the Faith sessions. Listen to "Choir of the Cursed", that's straight up a lost Mercyful Fate track from the Melissa sessions. I could do this all night, these guys own their influences with aplomb. There are no apologies to be found anywhere here, it's just straight ahead, bare-knuckle heavy metal overflowing with solos and a boatload of attitude. I can't even fault it for nearly every song sounding the same (with the exception of "Still Alive", which takes a slower and more atmospheric approach), because they all completely smoke. The furious closer, "Beyond the Bells" currently stands as my favorite track, but I feel like it could change at a moment's notice, considering I think "Reaching for the Night", "Hot Passion", "Black Angel", and damn near every other song is equally as strong.
I can't stop gushing, this is everything an old school metalhead should want. Guitar pyrotechnics, more melodies than I can even begin to fathom, a frantic and wild vocal performance, and some of the strongest songwriting I've heard since Visigoth first crushed my skull two years ago. I know it's early in the year, but this is already a serious contender for Album of the Year. I've heard good albums this year, I've heard some damn good albums in 2017, but only Satan's Hallow has so far delivered so strongly that I had to pencil it in for the top spot. Charging riffs, immutable attitude, unapologetic energy, and super tight songwriting that delivers a loose, fun, and undeniably raw experience. Get on this hype train, I'm the fucking conductor now.
Also we really need to talk about how much the bassist looks like Lloyd Christmas.