The 69 of 2010
ROKKYUU's 6 best albums and 9 best singles of 2010 as well as the 69 of fashion!
Tanatos: the Ancient Greek personification of death, and an interesting title for an album that disorientates, fascinates, and pulls you into a strange musical world both frightening and beautiful. 9GoatsBlackOut refuse to conform to basic song structure, or to fall back on commercialism and remain one of the most exciting bands in the visual kei scene as a result.
Beginning with titular piece, “Tanatos,” 9Goats pull the listener into their distorted world. Slow melody with beautiful guitar deconstructs into floating, dreamlike refrains as ryo’s vocals blend into just another instrument in the rich mix rather than trying to stand above it. It is, like much of the album, a musical piece rather than a song. “Harms” then starts the album on a route of exploration into the darker path of death, aggressive and often frightening. The introduction has a strong feel of IAMX before relentless industrial electro beats kick in, driving the piece. Minimal lyrics talk of losing someone you love. Meanwhile, “Babel” is based on the Biblical story, a deeply cynical song about mankind’s corruption. It continues with fiercer, disembodied growls, and a sinister sound to the guitar line in the verse. “Babel” has a verse and a chorus. In fact, it is one of the only songs on the album that follows a traditional structure.
“Belzebuth”, like the demonic title suggests, embodies a dark sound. The intriguing guitar effects of the introduction sweep against the main melody while the bass line settles the piece first from a heavy metal rhythm into a sultry 70s inspired tune. ryo’s vocals seem to be on a different track at times but it works. The sultry guitar and bass lull the senses until the music throws a further odd quirk into the mix; sensual, weird and at times a little frightening. “Red shoes” is similar in tone and feel, opening on a hollow, distorted drumbeat soon settling into a bluesy number. It retains much of the earlier aggression although it calms down, sliding into “Lithium.” This trip hop sound-scape pulls the listener away from the tense emotions of the first section of the album. Through spacey, bleak sounds, a gentle, light piano note sounds like a shrill awakening. The acoustic phrase is quite beautiful with pretty, gentle guitar notes, yet the radio static that twists in the background remain a disconcerting element, tying the mind back into abrupt and unwelcome reality.
The quiet reverie of gentler sounds remains with “Heaven,” a gorgeous, sweet ballad that floats ethereally. The gentle music brings in more piano, as ryo’s breathy vocals echo within. On first listen, it sails past without standing out, especially after the exhausting opener, but the counterbalance of sweetness to the theme of death is welcome. “Heaven” links neatly into “Atena no nai tegami,” which bears a more commercial sound and follows a more stable structure with clear lyrics. The story is one of hope and looking to the future, featuring an especially beautiful final line: “Your future won’t be easy but that’s because it is very wonderful.”
The sweetness carries into “Yasashisa no imi,” which reminds us of “Lithium” and suggests that a change may lie ahead: the drug is wearing off. Opening guitar notes spike like alerts before fading into more familiar guitar to lead the melody along with a xylophone and organic sound effects reminiscent of Emilie Simon. It is prevented from becoming too dreamlike as ryo’s rich vocals act as an interesting counterpoint to the wispy sounds and lead the album back into a stronger base.
“Who’s the mad,” brings a sudden change which snaps the listener out of any reverie with a killer guitar riff and urgent, manic drumming. Roaring vocals pervade most of the song and if the one quiet moment were madness suppressed by drug, “Who’s the mad” then drags that descent into madness back in full. It is a blistering piece that leads into the most crazed song yet, the intriguingly titled, “Minus+synonym.” Beneath staccato guitar, vocals rant and rave and piercing siren-like notes play with the mind. Like “Who’s the Mad,” slower moments present a gentle interlude but the song soon spirals into a peak before a moment of silence gives way to a terrifyingly hellish roar that brings the world crashing down. The sudden rush of these two songs is exhausting yet exhilarating.
“Reminisce” is like the calm after storm. Soft and melancholic, sweeping sound effects like chimes and Buddhist prayer wheels in motion fill the song with a sense of spirituality. “Negai” seems like an afterthought by comparison, but a necessary one since the comedown of “Reminisce” is too short and sad. That said, “Negai” is an odd one in the context of Tanatos. It’s sweet, for sure, and lovely as a ballad, but unusually poppy for 9GoatsBlackout. It does, however, bring back a theme of hope after exploring the dark, frightening, beautiful, angry and wistful sides of life and death. The message is about going home to the one you love.
Tanatos is an incredible album that plays with the mind, the emotions and carries the listener on a rollercoaster of music. Never short on experimentation, this is not an album for those who like a strong musical structure or dislike weird, disconcerting sounds. Light it is not, but for those who love music for being music—for that which can be done and told with music—then Tanatos is an experience you don’t want to miss.
Limited Edition: 13 track CD + bonus 690 min remix + DVD (“Negai” music video + making of.)
Regular Edition: 13 track CD
- red shoes
- Atena no nai tegami (Letter without an address)
- Yasashisa no imi (The meaning of Kindness)
- Who’s the MAD
- Negai (Wish)
- Sarah Jones