I used to be a bit of a rocker in my teenage years, listening to everything from Marilyn Manson to Silverchair, Alice in Chains to Pearl Jam, Metallica to Coal Chamber, and I dressed to match the bands I was listening to at the time. As I got older, my tastes mellowed, as did my dress sense, but I’ve always felt like there is a little bit of rocker/punk still in there.
When I heard about the Japanese rock band the GazettE switching to the newly established JPU Records label for the UK and European release of their sixth album DIVISION I’ll admit that I didn’t give it an awful lot of thought. It’s great that Japanese bands are becoming more prominent in the UK and Europe, but I assumed that the GazettE wouldn’t be ‘my kind of band’.
Then I was asked to review the CD. So, here I am, volume cranked up, drinking a herbal tea (yes, I know…) and listening to DIVISION by the GazettE and… I’m not hating it! I’ll be honest – I could do without the growls. But I like the melodic vocal bits and the guitar bits, and it was actually quite refreshing to put on some rock music and turn up the volume a bit (sorry neighbours!).
First, I’ll start with the cover. It’s not often these days that I have an actual CD in my hands, as so much music is digital now. DIVISION is available both as a CD and digitally (see this link for a list of retailers across the UK and Europe), but I’m lucky enough to have the CD. The cover is cool – and my teenage self would have bought a poster of it and stuck it on her bedroom ceiling. Inside the CD booklet (yes, a real, thick, full-colour booklet) there are dark, arty pictures, which go perfectly with the atmosphere of the music. And, best of all, there are lyrics. I remember whiling away many hours singing along to CDs with the lyrics booklet in front of me (hell, I still do!), and this is particularly appealing to me when it comes to rock music, and especially Japanese rock music. Tucked inside the booklet was the real gem though – a romaji version of the lyrics, so we can sing along not only to the English bits, but also to the Japanese bits, without necessarily understanding Japanese (there’s also a translation of the Japanese bits)! Actually, I reckon this would be a great way to practice Japanese – both pronunciation and translation. I wish more Japanese CDs came with romaji lyrics! (For any of you who don’t know, romaji is the romanisation of Japanese into English characters.)
So, the music…
the GazettE are a visual kei rock band, so their costumes are more wild than the music. It’s pretty standard rock, with not too many growly bits, and tuneful vocals. Even without reading the translations, you kind of feel like you can sing along – it’s that kind of rock. Musically, if I were to liken them to a non-Japanese band I find myself wanting to say they’re a bit like Nickelback, but I’m sure someone will tell me I’m wrong when they read that! Still, we don’t really have anything like visual kei rock outside of Japan, and they seem kind of Nickelback-y in their melodious tone and angstiness, perhaps with a bit of Rachel Stamp (remember them?) thrown in for good measure.
There are 12 songs on the album, and my favourite tracks are 歪 (Ibitsu / Strain) and 影踏み (Kagefumi / Shadow Stepping). ‘Kagefumi’ is the customary slower track, which is probably why I like it. Here’s a video of ‘Ibitsu’:
As I’m writing this, I’ve just reached the end of the album and discovered the final track, [Melt], which is instrumental. It reminds me of something you might hear while walking around Cyber Dog in Camden, and kind of makes me want to go clubbing. Although I prefer the vocal tracks, I actually wouldn’t mind a whole album of this instrumental music, as it’s really quite interesting.
Honestly, I didn’t expect to have an awful lot to say about this album and I had completely pigeon-holed it before I even heard a note. But luckily I was open-minded enough to give it a go and, actually, I’ve listened to the album twice through and really enjoyed it for the most part. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’d run out and buy tickets to their next concert, but if they happened to play at Hyper Japan or a similar event I would certainly make sure I got a space at the front. Listening to the GazettE has reminded me that I don’t need to forget all about rock music just because I’m a bit older now. There’s so much exciting new music out there, and it seems like Japan has an awful lot to offer. I hope the GazettE and other visual kei rock bands start to become more popular here in the UK and in the rest of Europe.
Oh, and if you need one more very shallow reason to like the GazettE… they’re very, very pretty.
So, if this sounds like your sort of thing and you want to know more about the GazettE, check them out on Japan Underground’s website. Japan Underground hold regular Japanese music events and club nights in the UK and also run the record label JPU Records. The next event coming up is Headbangers Bash on Saturday 12th January, featuring Kobe metal outfit BRAIN DEATH ZOMBIE and London-based Japanese noise-duo Umez - more information about that here. Follow JPU Records (@JPUrecords) and Japan Underground (@JP_underground) on Twitter for the latest news about Japanese music in the UK.