Progress/Voyage – defspiral double review

I figured I’d have a go at killing two birds with one stone here and give a shout out to one of my favourite bands of the moment, Japanese rockers ‘defspiral’. And no, I haven’t spelt their name wrong or failed to make the D capital, that’s there genuine name.

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L-R, Taka, Masato, Ryo, Masaki

  And a right quirky band they are too. The group formed in 2010, with the members rising from the ashes of another band called ‘the Underneath’, which itself evolved from another band called ‘TRANSTIC NERVE’.

   Confused yet? Just wait, there’s more to come! ‘defspiral’ also briefly existed as ‘Wilma-Sidr’, writing and performing just the one song for the super-popular super-hero show Kamen Rider, which plays a larger part in this story later on…

    TRANSTIC NERVE’, existing from 1996-2007, played a decidedly sharp style of alternative rock, with some doses of pop, metal and punk, before changing their name to ‘the Underneath’. This arrangement only lasted two albums but the sound morphed greatly to a much more obvious heavy metal style, akin to the western metal bands of that time.

   Now playing as ‘defspiral’, the change in name and sound cost them a member, guitarist Tal, but that didn’t stop singer Taka, guitarist Masato, bass player Ryo and drummer Masaki, in achieving what may be their strongest incarnation yet.

   Their debut album, ‘Progress’, is a fabulously performed, yet in terms of writing uneven, collection of slick, sexy heavy rock that doesn’t let up until the nearly-very last minute. Such numbers as ‘Dive into the Mirror’, ‘Salvage’, ‘Resistance’, ‘Revolver’, ‘Paradise’ and ‘Twilight’ are mind-numbing pieces of rock, yet some numbers feel as though they could have been longer.

   The longest number is the funky ballad ‘Tsuki to Venus’, which clocks in at nearly five minutes, but other numbers such as ‘Resistance’, ‘Salvage’, and the title track all feel as if they were originally written as seven/eight minute numbers but then trimmed down to the three-four minutes which they run for.

   Or maybe that’s just my inner prog-nerd talking.

   Two other numbers, ‘Ready or Not’ and ‘Nightmare’, barely hold up their own character and sadly become lost in the maddening mix of the album, which itself is almost as uneven as the song-writing. Despite the group having lost half their fret-magic, you certainly wouldn’t know it.

   Masato rips through the album, placing layer upon layer or guitar that would make Jimmy Page or Brian May seem positively skeletal. Masaki and Ryo rattle away in the background, while Taka’s vocals are placed right up the front, as evidenced by the album cover, which looks more like an advert for a sitcom rather than the debut album for a heavy rock band. To top it off, the whole thing is overly compressed, barely giving the songs room to breathe, which perhaps isn’t too much of a problem for a head-banger’s album such as this.

   But perhaps the crowning moment of the album is the penultimate song, ‘Melody’, which captures the spirit of the band perfectly. It’s a finely written/performed slab of retro-rock, slicker than a greased-up Austin Powers.

   But most of the above-said problems are happily rectified on album no.2, ‘Voyage’. The song-writing is far more consistent and varied at the same time, while the performances are equally spirited, plus much more dynamic and engaging than those on ‘Progress’. ‘Voyage’ also sports a far more sense of equality between all four members, which is perhaps surprising, given the song-writing credits.

   Music-wise, Taka acts as the band’s lyricist while the music is written between himself, Ryo and Masato. On ‘Progress’, each of the three members share in music credits, but on ‘Voyage’, Taka confines himself to lyrics, leaving Masato as the dominating figure of the album, providing the music for seven of the albums ten tracks.

   Masato’s dominance can perhaps be traced to Ryo’s part-time job of being a performer/writer/arranger for songs on the said Kamen Rider series, a job which kept him busy throughout much of the time in-between the two albums.

   And its a mixed bag indeed, containing the vamping, guttural title track, the swinging garage rocker ‘Storm’, the swaggering, disco-punk-metal of ‘Masquerade’, the majestic, paranoid rocker ‘Glare’, the stiffly swinging reggae/funk/jazz boogie of ‘Rainbow’, the sleazy art-blues-funk of ‘Hana to Libido’, the gloriously swinging yet jagged rocker ‘Break the Silence’ the disco-groover ‘Lotus’, the eerie, grinding synth-rock of ‘Vermillion’, and the soaring, hymnal rocker ‘Reason’.

   Again, some songs feel as though they could have stretched a few minutes longer, mainly thanks to their hypnotic grooves, but Voyage manages to trump the setbacks that plagued Progress, resulting in an even better album of slick, sexy retro-rock performed without a lot of innovation, but with a lot of heart, guts and spirit.

   And that what makes this band so illuminating. Now not having to contend with applying themselves to the demands of western-style metal as they did so as the Underneath, these four talented guys appear to have finally found their niche as musicians, coming up with a sound that’s becoming more and more idiosyncratic with each release.

   Roll on album number three!

     Progress – 3 out of 5 stars

     Voyage – 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Don’t miss the latest episode of your favorite sitcom, ‘Moody Rock Band with Heavily Processed Hair’, tonight at 8!

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Its the return of your favorite sitcom, ‘Moody Rock Band with Heavily Processed Hair’, new season starts next week!

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