Review Summary: An inspiring musical triumph that's very little short of perfect.
There isn't one other band that I can think of that gives the same kind of vibe that Nightmare do. One thing I've always found special about Nightmare is their distinct brand of J-rock that distinctly separates them from the tsunami of other post 90's Visual-Kei acts. Be it the blinding energy of Livid, the quirky madness of Ultimate Circus or the vividly dark and gothic ocean that is the WORLD Ruler, Nightmare's music never fails to send the listener on a sensory adventure. It is by this reasoning, that Anima is their most deep cutting album and their most musically mature.
Anima is certainly the definitive turning point in their career. The true cornerstone for Nightmare's sound where they branched out from their more metal focused X Japan, Luna Sea inspired roots to a more lighter and progressive sound. While Anima still explores the ideas found on Livid, it expands on these and broadens its horizons to become a more focused and approachable affair than its predecessor. Where Anima's main successes lie are in its ability to flawlessly cover the band's sonic ambitions in great detail. It is apparent from the album's kick off with the no-nonsense "Ibushi-Kuyuru" that the album is going to be an immediately impacting affair as the guitars call and respond to each other before the whole band erupts with guitarists Takahiro "Sakito" Sakaguchi and Mitsuo "Hitsugi" Ikari's signature one guitar does this while the other does that song-writing approach. With unstoppable fury the song leads straight into the delightfully bright "Neoteny," opening with an energetic drum fill from Satoru "Ruka" Karino, whose sensible song-writing skills are scattered throughout the album, brilliantly complementing the ambitious efforts of Sakito.
One immediately striking difference in Anima to Nightmare's other works is the focus on lengthier pieces. The centre piece tracks, “Sessou” and “Mahora” being obvious stand outs and probably two of the bands best compositions. Both songs have a sorrowful sound to them and contain some of Jun “Yomi” Chiba and Sakito’s most soul searching lyrics. Both songs hold on to their own musical ideas and build on them throughout their indulgent 8 minute running times. “Sessou” and “Mahora seamlessly flow together due to a gorgeously serene ambient interlude, reminiscent of standing at the seaside by yourself, staring out at the ocean with its clever clean delay effects.
Despite the albums sound, the albums lyrics are mostly despairing and melancholy. Yomi’s vocals carry this extremely well, the mournfulness in his voice greatly apparent on “Mahora” and the powerful “Raven Loud Speeeaker.” But even though it is apparent through the album that one or more of the band members were having a rough time, as the album closes, the music seems to rise up and you feel a sense of triumph. One song that especially encompasses this idea is one of Hitsugi’s rare contributions to the bands catalogue “Rakuu.” The song begins quietly before Ruka’s snare eventually leads the rest of the band in with a chord sequence that is probably the audio equivalent of overcoming ones gloom. After an impressive guitar solo in the middle of the song, the band fades out and Yomi sings over two distant clean guitars before the song roars back in and the song eventually comes to its conclusion in all its cathartic glory.
The reason Anima is such a special part of Nightmare's catalogue is because it’s an experience as well as a collection of songs. The album itself is like taking a journey through a dark emotional time. At the end of the journey, you grow wings and while you cannot fly with them yet, you know that eventually a wind will come and push you forward (to paraphrase “Rakuu”). The album gradually descends from “Ibushi-Kuyuru” into “Mahora” and ascends into “Jibun no Hana,” a song which perfectly concludes the album, sounding all at once like the end of a film and the first blooming of spring.
Regarded by a lot of fans as Nightmare’s magnum opus and rightfully so, Anima is the culmination of Nighmares early song-writing capabilities and concrete evidence of their true potential. Anima is not an album to be missed, overlooked or otherwise. From the energy in “Neoteny,” the pain in “Mahora” and the triumph in “Rakuu,” Anima is an amazing sonic accomplishment and a stand out in its genre, showing progression and also providing plenty of space to progress.