12012 had one of the most musically varied careers in visual kei, and this, their final full-length album before they went on an indefinite hiatus in 2014, was another extreme left turn. Listening to the light pop/rock of their major-label debut Diamond, and then to this, will give the listener an idea of just how musically gifted they were: this album is basically death metal, filled with sorrow, anguish, and despair, with superfast technical riffing, vocals consisting primarily of growls, roars, and tortured screams, and deliberately raw, muddy production. After the horror movie intro "Madara," the album kicks off in this shocking new style with "Suicide," which has some great riffing and lead guitar work. Moreover, like most of the album's other tracks, it has a chorus which is still recognizably them, with clean vocals and all their trademark harmonies intact. It's hard to really know why 12012 went down this road. Some fans of extreme metal pronounced the band's attempt laughably bad, and, to be fair, some tracks are a bit of a mess: "Baal-Zebul," "Ferocious," and "Madman" sound both tossed-off and cobbled together, while "Abuse" has some nifty dissonant lead guitar work but also some painfully out-of-tune vocals. There's also a fair bit of blatant Dir en Grey copying going on here (the album is released on that band's longtime home Firewall Division), but as they are one of the most influential bands on the scene -- not to mention one of the best in the world -- and have been ripped off more times than you could count, it's hard to really hold this against Wataru & co., who have at least chosen to crib from the masters. But ultimately it's the tracks which hew closest to 12012's original style that stick longest with the listener: "En" ("Voluptuous") and "Suiren" ("Water Lily") have melodic tunes and recognizable vocals all the way through; the latter is also one of the best ballads they've done and one of their most melancholy songs, with lush strings and keys. "Hesitation" and album-closer "Fortitude" are the tracks which perhaps most successfully marry the two styles, synthesizing beauty and brutality without either one ever overpowering the other. Though they would go on to release three further mini-albums, this release stands as 12012's final substantial statement. It's not a great extreme metal album; it's not even one of the band's best. But it's certainly interesting, and stands as a testament to what an artist can achieve when they refuse to pander to commercial expectations and choose to do exactly what they want.
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