Those who have read my blog in an earlier post know that I'm an Onmyouza fanboy. I don't have all their albums yet (due, in part, to the exorbitant prices one pays to import stuff from Japan), but with the 5 albums I own and the DVD I paid through the nose to acquire (legally, of course), it's safe to say I've spent as much on Onmyouza in a short time as I've spent on many American and European acts to acquire a much more complete discography, and in some instances much more. Be that as it may, my undying love for this band continues as I go through all their albums again and prepare to watch the DVD when I get some time to myself in the evening.
That said, as I've been going back through their last 5 albums again, I finished yesterday and today with their most recent studio album, 2009's "Kongo Kyubi". I make no bones about the fact that I think the band's 2006 release "Garyotensei" is the black sheep of the Onmyouza discography. That's partially because I think the album is disjointed, not flowing well from the first half of the album or so to the final "suite". The first few songs are a bit too "organic" in their approach, which doesn't fully work for a band like this that is steeped in such bombast. The more overblown, "epic" tracks at the end aren't the band's best either, with some interesting "dialogue" going on (all in Japanese, of course) and a lot of overly emotive vocal work by the incomparable Kuroneko, but it's more style-over-substance than usual with Onmyouza in that instance. The band has a knack for balancing their over-the-top style and flair with great compositions, catchy melodies and songs, and spot-on performances. I also think the album was a bit too lop-sided with Matatabi's vocals versus the rest of their discography, which is slanted a bit more in the direction of Kuroneko's vocals. It's not that I dislike Matatabi's voice, but Kuroneko is the primary vocal attraction, and his performances on "Garyotensei" are lacking compared to the band's other work.
Who wouldn't want to hear this lovely lady sing?!
So why all that treatise when this post is about "Kongo Kyubi"? Well, in many ways, this album is much like "Garyotensei", in that it's a bit atypical for the band. "Mugen Houyou" (in my opinion) is the band's pinnacle, and most of their strongest work has echoed that album's pacing, structure, and flow. Witness 2007's "Maou Taiten" and 2008's "Chimimouryou" (a strong contender for my 2nd favorite Onmyouza release) as evidence of that. So a year after the band's strongest album in 4 years, they release a disc that at times echoes their 2006 "black sheep" album. "Kongo Kyubi" sees the band trying some new things, like the interesting melodic approach in "Baku", as well as some slightly more poppy bits throughout the album. Don't worry - there's plenty of crunchy metal here, but with fantastic singles like the highly melodic "Aoki Dokugan" it's hard to fault the band for this approach. They also return to the "suite" concept at the end of the album, with the "Kumikyoku Kyuubi" trilogy, but rather than the overblown and overwrought material of "Garyotensei", this material is more succinct, more focused, and far more engaging overall. I think the band recalls some of the more "happy" melodic metal of their past as well, because a couple tracks remind me of their early single "Mezame".
In any event, this is an album not to be missed, either by fans of the band or melodic metal fans in general. I know the band is working on new material, as they've released a single since this album was released, and from what I understand another album is in the works. I look forward to new material, and while this may not be the way I would end things if they don't keep moving forward, it's certainly not a band swansong if that was the case. I suspect they're still alive and well, just taking a bit more time with their next album than they have in previous years. Regardless, "Kongo Kyubi" comes recommended.