Review Summary: A novel collection of ideas, but not a lot else.
The infamous Japanese visual-kei scene is known to have spawned countless visually bombastic groups. While the scene has come to find itself in something of a creative quagmire since the beginning of the 21st century both visually and sonically and as such has become something of an eyesore, a strong bunch of acts did come out of the scene in the 80s and 90s. One of the most striking of these groups was Malice Mizer, a band who managed to take the over the top visual ideology of the scene to the max. Formed by guitarists Mana and Kozi, the former being a budding fashion designer (now fully fledged in the area) and the band’s general artistic director, Malice Mizer became known for their heavily French influenced synthpop and their ridiculously indulgent costumes and stage performances, both aspects combining influences from both the baroque and romantic movements.
While the band is now renowned for their albums Merveilles and Bara no Seidou (Church of Roses), the former being a super decadent and almost sickly sweet classically influenced synthpop monolith and the later being the dark, brooding gothic equivalent to Merveilles, little attention is ever drawn to their debut LP Voyage ~Sans Retour~. Now, granted, this is probably due to the fact that it’s just nowhere near as strong an album as the aforementioned follow ups, but it’s interesting to see where Merveilles evolved from. Of course, it is also an interesting album to look at because it is also one of our first introductions to vocalist Gackt, who went on to become immensely successful as a solo artist in Japan; and a good look at where Mana, now spearhead behind the… uh… band, Moi Dix Moix had his origins in crafting classical French influenced pop and rock.
Voyage ~Sans Retour~, French for “voyage without return” is a pretty clear blueprint of what the group would then go to perfect second time around with Merveilles, just not done particularly well. While Voyage isn’t a bad album per say, it does come across as underdeveloped and inexperienced. However, in saying that, it’s pretty obvious that the group had a vision in mind and it does translate to paper rather bluntly. Mana and Kozi’s distinctive polyphony, where one guitar plays one melody and the other plays a different one alongside it, as well as some interesting experiments with rhythm by drummer Kami, is present in song such as “Tsuioku no Kakera ~A Piece of Broken Recollection~
” though across the board guitars are rather absent from the albums overall sounds (the guitars are synth guitars generally anyway), opted out in favour of the synthesizers in order to create synthpop driven melodies that sound traditionally French, as if you were to filter historical France through a lens into the present.
Voyage’s role as a blueprint of sorts is inherent in tracks such as “Claire ~Tsuki no Shirabe~
” which has melodies and structure reminiscent of “au revoir” which would appear later on Merveilles as well as the track “Shi no Butou ~A Romance of Cendrillion~
” sounding something like a prototype to the song “Bel Air ~Kuuhaku no Shunkan no Naka de” (also from Merveilles. Even the way the album opens, with the soundscape Yami no Kanata e
just feels like a less developed version of “de merveilles” (from, well, Merveilles). Voyage also looks to solidify ideas previously thrown around by the group such as the mid-tempo dance track “premier amour
” with it’s catchy, light and ethereal melody created by synths that sound like a string section made out of clouds. Gackt’s voice on voyage is similar in tone to the rest of the instruments, possessing a light, airy (though not to be read as breathy) elegance to it, though again, as with most other aspects of Voyage, it’s a style that he would perfect later.
One of Voyage’s most obvious shortcomings is the weakness of the production. The instruments on Voyage sound thin and fragile. Though admittedly this does add something of character to the album, it does sound rather strange and doesn’t seem to carry a lot of depth to it. All across the board, especially in retrospect but even still on its own, Voyage just lacks anything particularly memorable about it. Maybe this in part is thanks to the featherweight production, but nothing about the songs melodies themselves seems to stick other than the novel French sound. Though the album does have it’s moments in songs like “Claire
” and “Madrigal
”, these songs still don’t carry a lot of punch to them. Not for want of repeating myself for the umpteenth time, but Voyage comes across more as a concept or a collection of ideas than a solid album. All the pieces of the puzzle are their, but there's nothing really on the pieces and the puzzle just kind of fits together and makes a blank board where there should be a picture.
Though Voyage may lack a defining “wow” factor and would later fade into the shadow of it’s successors, it does have a likable enough character to it and did act as the stepping stone for Malice Mizer to go major. As well as this, it is an interesting look into the origins of those involved in the band (namely Gackt and Mana). Voyage is a rather humble beginning for one of the most drastically theatrical bands to come out of Japan and perhaps could be seen as an entertaining enough novelty album for those without interest in the band or the visual-kei scene.