After a brief drought, during which we were abingdon boys school deprived, the sensitive band graces us this spring and summer with a selection of promising new singles. Feb 25th saw the release of STRENGTH, a high-powered, glittery silver hard-rock new-comer. May 20th delivered JAP, heavy pop/rock with brand-new overtones for our classicist band, and 8/26 will bring Kimi no Uta.
However, what comes would never come without what already is already being there. So let us take a step back to a 2007 release that set a whole new mood for Jrock. To be honest, I don’t remember 2007 so well– hey, while we’re at the confessional, I don’t remember last week that well…But if there is one thing that stands out clearly in my mind, it’s the advent of glory: the incredible ABS’ first full-length album, abingdon boys school.
abingdon boys school is heavier than most of the Jrock we’ve been listening to lately. (Excluding those evil VK bands that are just basically jousting vocally for supreme darkest band). But that being said, the heavy duo guitar riffs, drum track, up-front bass lines and tricky real-time remixing are smoothed out perfectly by a level of creditable temperance, taste, and lyrical melody. Even through the heaviest songs (HOWLING, Innocent Sorrow) there’s a balladic beauty to Nishikawa’s high but powerful vocals, and as in the best of Jrock, an unshakable loyalty to damn good melody. These guys are obviously not trying to nuke the water– they’re just trying to create waves, and waves they are creating.
The sound of the album is extremely even– no insane genre bobbing that Jrockers need to get used to–and fast– and tend to learn to love. This creates a very particular texture to the aural satisfaction of the album; it’s like listening to a story told through from beginning to end; a novel, rather than a collection of shorts or poetry. Each song, or chapter, has its own unique texture, but the underlying qualities tie it to the songs that precede and follow, so there is a congruency, a connectedness. Listening to the album feels like getting swept into a whirlpool, where you spin around and around, whipped along in a cacophony of extreme awesomeness, and then at the end you are set back down on the ground.
The album is peppered with English lyrics, from the all-English pieces (As One, LOST REASON, stay away,) to pieces with English lines or words (HOWLING). Yeah, you remember my rant on English lyrics. Surprisingly, ABS recruited lyric-advisers to work with them on the English lyrics, so they make sense– grammatically, anyway. Nishikawa doesn’t slur through them, either, but belts them out with a passionate pride, and they hit their mark with surprising (or not, as the case may be) satisfaction.
abingdon boys school opens with AS ONE. A melodic, low-key opening that sets us up for a not-so-steady, yet euphoric, ascent to heavy. An all-English album opening may sound sketchy, but trust me and trust them and all will be well– AS ONE is the perfect garden-gate into the vintage English castle where one could easily imagine tiny prince Nishikawa ruling over no one and driving old-fashioned and expensive cars down dusty dirt roads.
AS ONE pushes us easily into HOWLING-INCH UP-, and things really get going here. Nishikawa shows his many-colors brilliantly, getting a little metal-head (Nishikawa style, of course) in with lusty howls that soar along on metal-style heavy shredding. From AS ONE the band immediately begins stirring up the whirlpool, which they preserve majestically throughout the entire album, sealing you in with Nishikawa’s vocals (although you’re really locked in the world created by the incredible musical backing). That tremulous voice is the Virgil to our Dante, and Kishi and Shibasaki have written an Inferno all of their own for us drifting mortals to wander in.
Although I have heard Howling as being the “heavy” song for the album, that’s sort of a great leap to malformed conclusions, IMPO. ABS likes to use a blend of ballad-style melody with ultra-heavy guitars and drums. The beauty of the vocals is supported by the tinkling notes of a piano and the heavy thrum of the bass, which creates an exciting experience of aural confusion. It’s hard to tell if you’re listening to a ballad, or “the” heavy track. This collage of styles is showcased brilliantly in the third track on the album, Via Dolorosa, which begins with some wicked hardcore guitar riffs and then plays neatly into a melodic, lilting instrumental break, and downright pretty break with vocals on top of light piano backing. The track swings right back into the huge, thick backing of the full ensemble to close, but the pure, exquisite vocals keep up, playing perfectly with the heavy accompaniment and yet defying it at the same time.
For people who had collected ABS’ previously released singles, you may feel a little jipped, as (then) 3 of 4 singles are repeated on abingdon boys school. The exceptions are BLADE CHORD and FrE@k $HoW. Yup, you guessed it– the 4th track on the album is ABS’ ‘crowning glory’, their ‘making song’, INNOCENT SORROW. This song won them a brilliant debut due to its use in the anime D Gray Man (which I hear is hugely popular, although I personally am not of that ilk). Undoubtedly an amazing song, somehow in the extensive garden of other songs, it feels strangely overrated, and it’d be laughable to say it was their best.
On the other hand, the album finds its footing in the highlight of songs such as DOWN TO YOU, アテナ、Nephilim, and DESIRE.
A few prizes that weren’t expected were two songs released on other more difficult to acquire albums, one being a track ABS wrote for use under the BLACKSTONES name for the Love for Nana ~ Only 1 Tribute~ album which is now out of print, and you’d be lucky to find it in a used CD shop in Japan. The song is a truly cool, bass-heavy rock’n’roll piece that screams BLACKSTONES, its guitar and drums melody rolling with a curious rhythmic quality that flows along like water into the great tsunamis of the tres Nana Osaki-esque lean-and-mean choruses.
Another side-project inclusion, and really one of the albums’ true moments of glory– Hoshino Higurashi and Sakurai Atsushi de BUCK-TICK‘s ドレス [DRESS,] covered masterfully to such perfection that it actually might rival the original masterpiece, were they not so drastically different. What BT did with deadly class, ABS elevates to supreme hard-core. DRESS is one of the highlights of the album, an intricate dance of vocal melody (which sticks true to the original), extreme turn-table-remixing and keyboards, and a guitar solo to kill.
Ok: the controversial song on the album. The one song everyone hates, which is surprisingly still one of ABS’ best songs: LOST REASON. So, what’s wrong with it. Well, here’s the thing, ABS took the original LOST REASON and, y’know…sort of, well, changed it. Yeah, they changed it. They decided it would be fun to kind of, I dunno, remix it. Don’t flee in horror– really it’s not as bad as it sounds. Why does everyone hate this new version? Because it features MICRO from Home Made 家族 [HOME MADE KAZOKU]– yes, he’s a… rapper. Well, when I first learned this, I know I was fleeing in horror. I have this tentative truce with Japanese hip-hop– like, if it doesn’t mess with me, I don’t mess with it. Therefore it can be sort of mortifying when it encroaches on one of your favorite bands. Well, it encroached, it’s very present on this song, and let me say this– it’s kinda cool. Crazy, but cool. LOST REASON, yup, the album-version, is one of my favorite songs on the album. Granted this is purely a matter of personal opinion, let’s try and look at it this way– granted the instrumental-break-filling rap is somewhat bizarre and incongruous, the inclusion of MICRO’s lines during Nishikawa’s vocals is somehow cool. You have to admit– these guys can get away with some pretty crazy stuff. Obviously the people who spend so much time bashing this song are taking it all too seriously– varied taste much anyone?
At 12 songs, the album is just long enough that you’re left feeling fulfilled, but also just a few tracks short enough that you can easily have the time and energy to go back and listen to several tracks over again before needing a glass of water or, although I can’t understand why, a venture out into the world– but if that’s the case, I can promise you’ll be taking abingdon boys school with you.
Official website [Japanese, sound, load-time]