exist trace Major Debut: TRUE

2. 本能 (Honnou)
3. 常闇の夜明け (Tokoyami no Yoake)
5. 自由の空、地上の歌 (Jiyuu no Sora, Chijou no Uta)

 After passing up single Knife and album TWIN GATE simply due to lack of feeling like previews of either releases struck me like a lightning bolt, and trading the chance to see the babes live in Seattle in order to see girugamesh in Boston, I think my frosty misogyny is finally melting under the spell of exist trace‘s honest-to-goodness Visual Kei. …My negligence didn’t have anything to do with Jyou’s inexcusably butch hairstyle. Honest.

   Don’t get me wrong, I’ve known from the first time I heard them that they were, and were going to continue to be, spectacular. The way they have never had to use their gender to prove themselves or establish a place– they have been able to crack open a gender-generalized genre while keeping their integrity, sincerity, and badassness intact. This, I think, is a commendable feat. The best part? Half the dude-groups can’t even rock this hard anymore.

 It was a subtle nudge that drew me back to exist trace– an alert somewhere notifying me of the release of their major-label debut EP and the fact that Jyou grew out her hair, and then, a few days ago, that nudge shoved me onto Youtube and straight into the PV for title track TRUE.


 The track starts off with wicked solid metal riffs, plunging right into the soulful wails of the vocal melody. The construction of the song is great. The instrumentals are impressive, grungy, and heavy, charging along at a fast pace without feeling rushed. Instrumental/guitar solo is quite badass and may or may not definitely induce headbanging.
Jyou’s vocals soar as always, and the melodic-metal-type vocal line is pretty sweet. One thing I’ve always appreciated about the vocals in exist trace songs are the even balance Jyou finds between growling/screaming and melodic warbling. I often find “melodic metal” to be preachy, presumptuous, and often just plain boring, but exist trace finds a great middle-ground, keeping everything conscious, concise, and creative. Great track, and great opening for the EP.

Next song is Honnou. Electronic effects open the piece, with some ampy-distortion, and the surly, girly voice that says Shall we dance? Which, while seeming like a minor detail, actually sets up for more of the song than one might expect. Less soaring/melodic than its predecessor, Honnou gets down and dirty, staying grungy, while bringing in a poppish chorus line. I enjoy the combination of pop and metal flavors throughout the song. I did feel like they downplayed the vocals somewhat during the verses, and they were almost too quiet. The electronica was well-utilized, and the bass solo around the 2:30 mark was a great intro for a great instrumental break that I can’t really count as a guitar solo, since the guitars didn’t do anything particularly memorable, and if they did, it was hidden by a muddy pool of electronic effects. So I give this one up to Naoto.

 Tokoyami no Yoake brings everything down several levels. Jyou’s vocals are in the spotlight more than anything, backed by simple details and a spacious, elegant bass-line. I enjoyed the song a lot, and I thought the verses, instrumental and vocal bridges were quite beautiful, although I feel like they could have been more inventive with the chorus. Choruses have really been a pet-peeve for me with most releases. I just can’t help thinking many of these groups use the same freaking chorus in every song, and it’s starting to get to me.

KISS IN THE DARK brings in some carnival sounds, opening to a neat funk line which I didn’t see coming from exist trace. Although this kind of song is pretty common fair in Visual Kei– you know, “piero”s taking over all the lyrics (creepy clowns)–, and Jyou’s vocals felt out of placed when I was all geared up for Yomi to start droning along. I guess it’s good they tried something kind of different…for them, anyway. Although I think Visual Kei could use some new locales, you know, like we’re allowed to go to carnivals, vampire castles, and…Versailles. Right. I’ll let someone else try and come up with an explanation for that. Like, seriously. When is a Visual Kei song going to have traffic sounds, or rain forest sounds or something in it? Are Visualists exiled from those places or something? And what am I supposed to do when I finally come out of denial and realize I sleep in a coffin and my windows are curtained by roses, and I leave the front foyer unfurnished in case Versailles PQ wants to film their next 10 minute long PV there?

Anyway…I enjoyed how the past couple of songs showcased Naoto, the bassist. They do a good job of sharing the spotlight– you don’t ever feel like you’re straining to hear one or the other members, the instruments are clearly defined while staying busy, and they spread it out through each of the songs so that it’s not just guitars shred shred shred shred shredding incessantly. Really nice attribute. Probably my least favorite song on the album so far, the highlight of KISS IN THE DARK was when they transpose everything at around the 3:15 mark. Aside from that segment and the bass work, it was forgettable.

 I thought Jiyuu no Sora, Chijou no Uta has a nice structure. The instrumentals carry the piece along, but the verse was thoroughly enjoyable– one of the highlights of the 5 tracks, I would say, and Jyou even took the time to write a new chorus. Good for her. The track wound things down nicely, and I liked the way they ended it with the final chord fading out, simple but nice. However, I felt like the transition from KISS IN THE DARK (which, in retrospect was stressful) to Jiyuu no Sora, Chijou no Uta seemed hurried. My elite expectations would probably have been better satisfied had they slipped a mediating track between the two, giving a little more time to come down from our thoughtful, “Huh…” into that release of compositional tension that has buoyed us from the elation of the EP’s beginning to its final seconds that ease into silence. I suppose the challenge of the EP vs. the single, is that, like an album it has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end– but unlike an album, you don’t really have the 10-15 songs it can often take to really get all the loose ends tied up and the character arcs resolved.

Limited edition includes the same tracks, and a DVD with the TRUE PV and Special Movie.

My only real complaints about the EP, which seem to be strangely common complaints to have about major debuts, was that it lacked edge. Remember when you played Judea for your metal-head [male] friends and they all cried? Yeah. Me too. So although I like the music, I like the songs, I like their look, and I think the PV is baller, I sure as hell hope they don’t lose that je nes se quai that makes them stand out amidst the babbling oshare babies as one of the few bands that can really, honestly, and wicked sickly rock.

All in all I think that TRUE hits the spot, with my picks off the tracklist being TRUE, Tokoyami no Yoake, and Jiyuu no Sora, Chijou no Uta. The instrumentals were really good, the compositions strong, and the vocals, although a little lacking at times, really pulled through, especially given these hard times we live in, full of recycled choruses and regurgitated chord-progressions. I definitely think exist trace is one of the better bands still making the rounds in the popular scene, and while they may not always be perfect, their songs always feel new.