Diamond in the Rough

Since it’s the new year now, I’ve been doing a lot of surfing around the web, following through on some leads and suggestions to discover new bands and listening material. I have mostly given up by now on the clicking-through-Youtube method of discovering bands, although I did run across some great ones that way (D, Alice Nine, MUCC). For one, lately I just haven’t had that much time on my hands, and two, at this point there are so many new Visual Kei groups popping out of holes in the ground, it can be like trying to find the right cologne– eventually they all start to smell the same, and it’s time for a coffee bean.

I have come to find that collaboration works and session-musicians are a great way to seek out new blood– after all, what better way to find music you like than following the “suggestions” of your favorite artists? If there is a better method– please let me know. In the meantime, I will carry on haughtily as if I have found the key to the future.

Today I would like to part the sands and brush off a diamond in the rough, so to speak, of Visual Kei. Admittedly, I had heard the name tossed around quite a bit, but sort of lethargically assumed it was just another indies clique passing through. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only is this band pretty vet, but they have quite a unique sound, and man…they can rock.




DuelJewel was founded by guitarist Shun, drummer Val, and bassist Psy in January, 1997.

And may I just interrupt the broadcast long enough to say….damnit. I mean. What is with all of these bands being 8, 10, 12, 15 years old? Next someone is going to tell me that Shou from alice nine is 45 and married to an enka star (well, I took preemptive preventative measures against heart-attack by researching that one early on). Pretty impressive, in any case, to imagine that there’s a band that goes back even farther than D’espairsRay and Nightmare (which, despite looking like they’re all 17 and 18 years old, is a band that will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year).  And I thought GACKT was an old-timer…

In any case, ’10 will be marking the 13th anniversary of this band– but if you’re now imagining a bunch of crotchety old VKers in alice nine outfits, think again.

DuelJewel had a bit of a rough run the first few years. Their original (unidentified) vocalist left the band only a month after formation, and this was only the beginning. After the departure of vocalist “??”, DuelJewel recruited songbird Hayato to replace him, as well as secondary guitarist Takeshi. However, in summer of ’97, the lineup continued to change, including the departure of Hayato and bassist Psy. The band persevered, thankfully, and continued with their demo tape, Kaze~The Winding Garden~, which they distributed for free.

’99 brought more ups and downs, with the departure of Takeshi, the influx of new bassist Ka-non, and the return of vocalist Hayato. They released a second demo tape, which was also distributed for free, called Tsuki to Tawamure, a unique venture into Enka-rock-fusion with lilting melodic vocals and chill, rockin’ instrumentation. In December of ’99, Takeshi’s place was filled by session-guitarist Yuya, who, in 2000, became a permanent fixture in the band.

DuelJewel continued to build a repertoire and fan base, distributing a few more limited-run tapes, and debuting with their first one-man live. They spent the next few years building on the foundation they laid with their debut show, including signing with an indie label, and, once again altering their line-up by replacing Ka-non with bassist Natsuki. This would be the final lineup change, leaving us with the members we know today.

In 2002, DuelJewel gallivanted overseas to Texas (about as far as you can culturally get from Tokyo?), for an international debut at A-Kon in Dallas. Fortuitously located in about the hugest state a band could ask to perform in, A-Kon turned out to be a massive success, not only setting the foundation for a Western fanbase, but also increasing popularity back home in Japan. They released their mini album Noah, but due to a focus on promotional activity, this was the band’s only release at the time.

2003 came with adding four walls and windows to their American fanbase, with DuelJewel returning for not just one, but a whopping four anime cons. Including their previously-wooed A-Kon, DuelJewel cleaned up at Katsukon, Anime Central, and Anime Expo. Basically, they came, they saw, they conquered. At this point Japanese fans were probably complaining much the same as we do over here– when are they going to tour here?! Well, they were not disappointed. DuelJewel scheduled a nation-wide tour that not only wooed, but won, Japanese fans from coast to coast.

Their successes continued to develop, their efforts constantly expanding and increasing — along with their fan-base, popularity, and discography. They continued to please American fans with performances in 2006, and yet another return in 2007, this time for the almighty JRock Revolution music festival in L.A. along with other Visual Kei artists such as MUCC and D’espairsRay.

More recent activity includes guitarist Shun performing alongside GACKT for his latest single, December 2009’s Setsugekka~ The End of Silence, as well as appearing in the PV. An honor indeed.

But what’s done is done– and there’s really no point in crying over all of those Texan concerts none of us (or rather, some of us) were able to attend. Or even knew to attend, for that matter.

Getting on with it, aka actually starting to talk about the really important aspect of the band– their sound–(not my fault, they’re prolific. And they’ve had a rough life.).

DuelJewel has quite an individualized sound, blending heavy riffs, hardcore drumming, and the occasional thrash session with the boyish, almost gentle vocals of Hayato. Their works are quite varied, with the acousticky-strummed ballads (such as Promise) and more mellow pieces, as well as some strong rock (Trust). I tend to classify them as the more pop spectrum of Visual Kei, as much of their music is pretty soft. This works nicely for Hayato’s voice, and is pulled off well by all talented, versatile members. However, I don’t want to give the impression that these guys are some kind of Visual Kei Arashi. They can rock heavy when they want to, and their music can be quite dark. In my opinion, this versatility and ability to genre-hop while still staying true to their defining sound and quality is one of the greatest assets a band can work with in Visual Kei music, and DuelJewel does so with swag.

(Azure, one of DuelJewel‘s poppier pieces. They keep things fresh by playing whatever they want, without reference to what is expected of them.)

Hayato’s vocals are well-rounded and full bodied, but youthful, providing an interesting, super-melodic contrast to the heavy rock riffs these guys can pull out.

DuelJewel refuse to be confined to one shape or style, and as a result, have a portfolio of music to suit your every Visualist mood and taste. It is no wonder they have collaborated with artists such as GACKT– they have earned it over the years, and are continuing to go strong.

I look forward to exploring this band’s works further and becoming more familiar with them. In the meantime, I highly recommend them to anyone looking as a new classic to add to their repertoire, and remind seasoned fans to pull them out of the CD case and listen through. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.


7 responses to “Diamond in the Rough

  1. It’s so good to see someone recognize such a talented (but sadly, not recognized enough) band! Not many people even know about them, even though they’ve been around for ages. It was so nice to read this!

    Are you excited for their upcoming single?

    • Thanks for your comment!
      Yes, I think it’s a shame that such a veteran, and terrific, Visual Kei band such as Duel Jewel isn’t more popular. They did get a slot at the V-Rock fest in October ’09, though, and Shun’s appearance in GACKT’s Setsugekka PV will surely help draw some more attention their way. The problem is, they shouldn’t need the help.

      Personally, I find their sound totally refreshing, after so much of the “what’s popular” VK starting to sound the same. Hayato has a great voice, and I really enjoy getting a glimpse of the less-hardcore VK niche that’s not Oshare style.

      Can’t wait to check out their new mini-album!

      • Waah, sorry! I didn’t realize you’d replied. ♥
        (I guess I didn’t check the button for notifications…)

        They always manage to astonish me with how long I can just listen to them and not get sick of the songs — a problem I usually have. “Will” didn’t have a single song I’ve tired of yet.

        “[ZERO]” is something I’m still adjusting to, since I feel like it returns to their early 2000s roots and I was expecting something more like “Will”. Not that I don’t love the songs! The songs show off all of Hayato’s vocal ranges, his capability for clear vocals that can switch octaves without feeling like they’re strained, or that the listeners have to put in the effort to keep the song together when we’re listening. (And the background growls from Shun are always a plus.)

        I love that they can still change styles according to how they feel and what they want, rather than go with the mainstream where I feel like they’d be better known but at the risk of losing their identities and just becoming ‘anothe v-kei band’.

        I don’t get why Sword can’t promote them as much as they work on their record-mates D’espairsRay and Vidoll.

        Ah, also, could I get your permission to refer to this entry in a review of the band I’m doing for the glassfia community on livejournal? It’s an excellent third-person POV of the band, which would be a great help to me. ♥

      • Hey there,

        No worries. Glad you stopped by again.
        You’re more than welcome to refer to my post in your review. Thanks for asking, and my apologies for taking a while to respond.

      • And… Just a little pet-peeve of mine, but DuelJewel doesn’t have a space in the band name. ^^; Sorry to correct you.

  2. Pingback: Where There’s A Will There’s A Way « Secret Garden

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