Review Summary: "Damn it, guys, we wrote the whole EP about anime."
"Tales of Symphonia isn't an-"
Weeaboos playing instruments. Considerably well.
When I think of someone who regularly watches anime and is actively involved its culture, despite the recent surge of popularity in Anime and surrounding Japanese culture, my first thought is certainly not of someone in a hardcore outfit such as Gilliam. Rather, I imagine a (sometimes) sweaty nerd who is more often than not stationed in front of their computer smiling at their Bakemonogatari statues to relieve the pain onset by the recent shutdown of Nyaa. Ahem.
Gilliam is a four piece emo/hardcore outfit from St. Charles, Missouri, who appear to have dedicated their musical ventures to the infinitely deep culture of anime. Consisting of Alex Layton (lead vocals), Jesse Bader (drums), Michael Highfill (bass), and Blake Unnerstall (guitars), the outfit released this interestingly short EP (which clocks in at 9 minutes and 14 seconds) on April 20th, better known to some as 4/20. Given their bandcamp URL (gilliam420), there’s no doubt that this was intentional, but as Anthony Fantano put it, it isn’t about the substance the songwriter(s) is ingesting; it’s about the songwriter(s) themself. Gilliam aptly support this notion with their short but oh-so-sweet EP, supposing these indicators are more than aesthetic.
The album opens with “Kamina”, which, to those familiar with the thematic elements at work, is very straight forward in its meaning. The song details the story of Gurren Lagann, an extremely popular anime series released in 2007 by the studio that brought you Neon Genesis Evangelion (which, incidentally, the band covers in the following track). The opening line, “This sun shines as bright as our spirits, To think that we never knew it existed. This outside world existed only in our dreams, But what we found was a nightmare.” are accompanied by an appropriately sunny, gleaming riff and a bright front-and-center bassline. However, the song descends quickly into chaos - systematic, at that. The bright demeanor wears thin as Layton wails “Even if it means Bloodshed, dead friends, open wound, my heart - I won’t” with the insanity looming as the track leads into its next verse. Again, to those familiar with the topic in question, it is worth noting that this progression is a very accurate translation of the series to a single, three-minute song. The song reaches a peak after the line “Royal Capital Teppelin will fall… By my hands!” bursts forth from his lips, piercing the heavens, and falls into a relaxing lull during which the listener can almost witness individual cherry blossoms float gently to the feet of this track.
The second track, “Adam, The Seed”, is (unfortunately) not entirely worth dedicating an entire paragraph to due in part to its under 2 minute runtime. The track bears an almost grindcore feel while embracing the individual sound this band has produced. Detailing the events of Neon Genesis Evangelion through the eyes of its main character, Shinji, the band successfully encapsulates his pain and his powerful journey in under two minutes - impressively.
Each instrument at work here bears its own unique style, and are all worth mentioning, however the two most standout contributions to the overall sound are easily Laytons desperate gasps, pained wails, exhilarated screams, potent spoken words - his overall vocal musings. Not only are they consistent, they are consistently appropriate in their placing, and keep the music consistently fun to listen to. The other is the very forefront bass guitar. Not often do bassists come so much to the front of a sound regularly, nor do they bear as much of an impact as they do in this particular example. Highfill’s stylings, while sometimes stale, bring a deep, emotion-driven layer to the table that always seems to beautifully accompany Layton’s work.
The EP closes with its most emotionally empowered track, Remiel. Despite detailing a progression of events in the video game turned anime series Tales of Symphonia, Layton brings to the table some of his most emotional vocal work. Given the series of events being described and the genuine sadness encompassing them, this is a near necessity to convey the story in question. The track opens with a lofty guitar as Layton speaks from the soul of main character Colette Brunel saying, “Brought into this world with one mother and two fathers. They told me I am the prophet and that I will rejuvenate this world. Well, I stopped feeling today, and this sand feels like nothing on my bare feet.” and proceeds to tell a near heartbreaking story of a young girl’s familial bonds, unwanted purpose, and betrayal of trust in the following four minutes. The track remains light and relaxed for the first minute and a half as Layton relays Colette’s burdens through his raw voice, nearly potentiating the pain she feels. As Colette’s thoughts grow darker and more self-deprecating, the song picks up as to follow suit, only to float into lulled dismay once again as Colette’s heart is shattered by her guide and assumed father and his merciless betrayal. “I need somebody to tell me that I’m more than a tool, a puppet on golden strings, handled with ivory.”
Gilliam have packed so much raw emotion and powerful translation of story to song in only nine minutes it could make one’s head spin. Between Unnerstall’s dissonant, back-and-forth riffing, Bader’s matching back-and forth, maddened drumming, and Layton’s unadulterated shrieking, it may take the average listener a number of listens and perhaps a viewing of the series’ discussed over the course of this EP to fully grasp it. However, this is not to spite the first listen. Respect is due on account of the raw energy jammed into this EP, the emotion, and the talent in songwriting and structuring. Not to mention overwhelming accuracy of their translations from the individual stories. Gilliam is a name to look forward to in the future, in the Hardcore community as well as Anime