The Pillow Book of Gackt Shonagon

Our friend GACKT has been by far the busiest Jrocker this year. Perhaps, contrary to popular belief, he’s only just now getting a second-wind in his sails. At least that’s how I see it, because damn, if this guy isn’t sailing, who is?

His latest single, released December 9th, ’09, was very aptly named. 雪月花 ~ The End of Silence may just look like a jumble of pretty words to you now, but let me demystify. One of his more poetically-titled singles, Setsugekka means “Snow, Moon, Flowers” — all things which usually inspire more of a sense of silence and tranquility, as opposed to how GACKT has labelled them: The End of Silence.

All you have to do is put in the CD to understand how exactly this all works.

The title song opens with some GACKT-ish, airy piano notes, which move into a strings arrangement that floats around ethereally for a few seconds, before steadily escalating and ascending into the peak of the intro, opening for– typical GACKT guitar riffs and another Lost Angels? Think again. The strings and piano intro soar right into a totally unexpected arrangement of traditional, elegant shakuhachi (bamboo flute), taiko (drums), some Asiany strings, and some subtle other effects that scoop up the tender, melancholy piano’s tinkly high-notes. Musically, this is almost a poetic polarity of the traditional/metal arrangement he did for 2007’s Returner. The effect of this opening phrase is really striking and refreshing. Get your tissues out, Jrockers, and prepare for a nosebleed– let Gacktpause tell you why!

The intense opening piece (that actually could make anyone believe that GACKT was born in the 16th century) gives way for a soft, very subtle backing layer that is barely perceptible, but serves as a kind of ethereal palette for the tinkly piano to continue on its own– well, until GACKT sings the opening line: Mikazuki wo daita, kimi ni tsubuyaita and then the stars fall out of the sky.

三日月を抱いた君に呟いた

“… Mikazuki wo daita, kimi ni tsubuyaita…”

The poetic, flowing lyrics fly on through the opening verse and into the chorus, where everything picks up. The elegant verse soars perfectly into full-on-rock-band, with a back-layer of Asiany plucking that, paired with GACKT’s beyond-perfect vocals, keep us rooted beneath the snow-veiled, crescent moon– right where he wants us.

The next verse is more concentrated than the opening, with some dominant bass, acoustic guitar, and violin where the piano was before.

The lyrics and vocal melody are some of the most innovative of GACKT’s releases this year. The ethereal high notes, which dip right into gravelly, growling half-screams are exquisite, and keep everything as fresh and unpredictable as freshly falling snow.

The traditional accompaniments keep everything from getting too rocky, and the rock-band keep the traditional elements from getting too Genji, while a soaring violin binds us into more tension than you would have initially imagined on hearing the first notes.

Keeping us caught in confusion between whether we should head-bang until we have migraines, or weep openly into our kimono sleeves, Setsugekka ~ The End of Silence is a refreshing, innovative masterpiece. Neither ballad nor metal crescendo, this is truly some of his best work since Returner.

But it’s not over yet. Let’s not get all caught up in GACKT’s poignant, howling crescent moons and snow falls blooming like sakura– the masterpiece doesn’t end with the title song. B-side 斬 ~Zan~ (the kanji is actually read as Zan, so Zan is not really a sub-title, but a translation.) picks up where its predecessor left off– but let me warn you, better put your maccha bowl aside, because you’re going to need all available limbs in order to rock out hard-core enough for this one.

Shamisen (not like the kind that the Yoshida Kyoudai play, but like the kind you usually hear before a kitsune possesses you, or a kappa eats you) and traditional sound-effects (like the kind that happen right before a bad-ass decked out in Kabuki get-up starts shouting samurai war-cries)  open for this a-class b-side. But nobody is messing around anymore– Genji is all geared up and ready to go, and isn’t prepared to wait around for geta-ed girls. Zan kicks off almost instantly– barely giving the intro enough time to decently be called an intro. We’re right into the thick of things– and by things I mean hardcore, thrasher riff-ridden, katana-wielding hard-rock the way we like it. Heavy, melodic, and uncontrollably cool. (Tissues cue. Just in case your nose fountains worse than a decapitated head.)

Traditional instruments and effects are still readily at hand in this metal melange– shakuhachi galore (courtesy of Kominato Akihisa– and you said it wasn’t a hard-rock instrument? Tch…) keeps everything beautiful– in sort of a ninja-battle-about-to-break-out kind of way. But alas, or thank goodness, nobody can control themselves, and Gacktjob lets loose, complete with shouts of what sound like (but could merely be mistaken for) Die!

The vocal melody, and lyrics, are quite a bit more intense than Setsugekka. GACKT has his semi-evil thing going at first (you can just see his bestial glare), in the bridge it smooths out slightly, but right back into full-on-intensity for the chorus and return to evil war-lord for the verse.

Zan is a bit more “fun” than Setsugekka, in a grim, hardcore bad-ass way. The arrangement messes with your head a bit– like, you never expected the high, ethereal vocals right there in the middle. Just at the point where YOU finished his rough, wild metal-style rap session. GACKT uses a lot of compositional versatility, playing around with different musical styles and bringing in plenty of variation to keep you on your toes.

Just make sure that if you’re listening to this single, keep your katana packed tightly away. I know that mine somehow found me while I was listening, and by the time the instrumental versions started playing, my living-room curtains were mere shreds of ribbon. x

In the PV, you may notice a few unfamiliar faces. GACKT has recruited (god only knows why or for what purpose) some new friends to accompany him for the sake of the PV. Credits go to:

VOCAL/ GACKT (some how he still made the lineup. How unfair is that?)

GUITAR/ YOU, Shun (Duel Jewel)

BASS/Ni~ya (Nightmare)

DRUMS/TSUKASA (D’espairsRay)

VIOLIN/ Naramura Mika

So if you were wondering why he had separate credits for a super-secret “music clip”, that’s what that means.

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6 responses to “The Pillow Book of Gackt Shonagon

  1. Excellent post. I love how it appears visually. The text color combined with the pictures and the layout is really terrific. I also love the kanji fit in there. Quite beautiful. Looks really great! The snow helps too ^_~

    • Thank you very much! It is really great to hear that feedback. Yes– I hear that they are going to take the snow away come January, but I would have it half the year if I could!
      Thanks for your comment. Keep reading Secret Garden +

  2. Hello – thank you for this informative posting. Please accept this, my English is not the best. French is my native tongue but I am trying to learn getting down English. Regards!

  3. just dropping by to say hello! i’ve been reading through your site all night, and finally decided to stop lurking when i saw this review. i’ve really enjoyed your posts, and your writing style is lovely~

    the way you describe the setsugekka single is perfect! although i was kinda “it’s ok…” at first (mainly because i had been watching the pv at the same time and was dumbstruck by gackt’s perm), the song itself grew on me very quickly. the b-side is also so addictive… the single’s definitely one of my favorites (along with the gazette’s guren, but in a different way).

    keep up the good work!

    also – random note – aldious’s drummer is really amazing *_*

    • Thank you very much, I appreciate the positive feedback, and it’s flattering to know that my posts are worth reading through “all night”. I’m glad that you decided to leave a comment – I’ve said this before, and will say it again, that the most rewarding aspect of posting on here is reading the responses and thoughts of other Visualists.

      Good to hear that you were able to warm up to Setsugekka. Although it took me no time to do so, I can understand how it could potentially be approached with a sense of uncertainty. If you let it, though, it will unfold into something of a masterpiece.
      ZAN, of course, is impossible to not rock out to. Crank that volume, bang yo head, and watch those breakable objects.

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