Combining two or more different genres of music is something really common nowadays. Let’s face it; trying to come up with an entirely new genre is something few humans can accomplish, so it is much easier to take bits of different genres and make a somewhat different sound. And when said “mix” proves successful, millions of bands emerge and copy that sound, depriving it of the originality and freshness it once had. In fact, pretty much every “trendy” style of the past 20 years has been the result of mixing two genres. When the heaviness of metal was mixed with the simplicity and attitude of indie rock, grunge was born. Nu metal was created by bands that started using distorted guitars to back up their rap verses. Metalcore? Just add plenty of hardcore punk breakdowns to your metal songs.
Yes, many bands tend to mix genres in order to create something “in between”. But how many bands can mix genres and make it sound like not only they work well together, but they belong together? Well, that’s pretty much how Ali Project sounds. Their music is a combination of classical instrumentation, electronic beats, and pop songwriting; yet they make it sound not like something they one day came up with, but like something that has always been done that way, but is completely new. It is like this band came from a parallel universe in which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Aphex Twin and Madonna (the old Madonna, not the generic “dance pop” Madonna of nowadays) are BFFs and make records together.
At its core, Ali Project is basically a duo. Arika Takarano sings and writes the lyrics, while Mikiya Katakura handles the music and arrangements. However, live they are known to utilize entire orchestras, making their live performances a shouldn’t-be-missed experience. This band is fairly known among anime enthusiasts and otaku communities due to the band’s penchant for licensing their songs for various anime series, among them successful titles such as Noir, Rozen Maiden, or Code Geass. This led the band to perform their sole concert on American soil at the Sakura Con (one of the biggest yearly anime conventions of the USA) in 2007. However, the band still remains generally unknown to those not interested in anime or in Japanese culture, for that matter.
This album opens with its strongest number, “Kinjirareta Asobi” (“Forbidden Play”); a breathtaking, complex and technical classical composition resting comfortably on top of a mattress of electronica, while Miss Takarano delivers a gorgeous vocal performance in pure pop style. One can argue that it isn’t wise to open an album with your best performance; however, the album is still full of powerful moments that it doesn’t disappoint in the least bit.
The aforementioned track, “Seishoujo Ryouiki” (“The Domain of Holy Girl”), “Ashura-hime” (“Princess Ashura”), and “Baragoku Otome” (“Rose Jail Maiden”) are frantic and fast compositions that can be enjoyed right away due to their catchy pop elements yet hold many surprises to be discovered with repeated listens. “Kimi ga Tame, Oshi kara Zarishi Inochi Sae” slows things down with an exotic middle eastern melody and a seductive vocal delivery, and “Nemureru Shiro” (“Sleeping Castle”) gives the electronic sounds a rest and combines lush classical instrumentation with a heartwarming vocal performance capable of transporting the listener into a land of fantasy, even if he or she has no idea what the lyrics of the song are about (all the songs of the album are in Japanese).
“Gokuraku Ibarahime” (“Paradise Brier Princess”) brings in distorted guitars to the mix to create a dense and oppressive atmosphere, making it the band’s sole foray into goth music territory. “Nanashi no Mori” (“Nameless Forest”) puts the classical music aside for a while and is the closer the album gets to contemporary pop music. And the album ends on a really bright note with the title track “Soubikakei” (“Rose Crucifixion”), which contains Arika Takarano most impressive vocal performance in the entire album.
All of the lyrics in this and any other Ali Project album are in Japanese but translations for some of the songs are available in many websites. Some of the lyrical content is in fact pretty strong; “Kinjirareta Asobi” describes the S&M practices of a submissive man and a dominating woman, “Baragoku Otome” is about the love-hate relationship of a couple, and “Gokuraku Ibarahime” finds the singer obsessing over an unrequited love. It is because of the language barrier that perhaps this excellent band is destined to find success only in the other side of the Pacific. After all, one can’t really expect that this band will have its breakthrough in a non Japanese-speaking country when listeners can have trouble remembering, let alone correctly spelling, the names of most of the songs. On one hand, this is sad, because it this world of mixing and diluting genres into one another, few bands come up with something as sublime and effective as Ali Project. On the other hand, this will probably be a sound that copycats won’t get (or won’t be interested in getting) their hands on, which hopefully will keep it sounding fresh and original.