Review Summary: A dark butterfly spreads it's blood and wine-stained wings and prepares to take flight.
The late 80s saw darkwave visual rockers BUCK-TICK begin to morph fully into the gothic, blood and wine stained butterfly that would eventually become legend. They had shed the ugly chrysalis of naivety that came across on their first two outings, showed that they weren't afraid to play whatever the hell they wanted with Seventh Heaven and climbed even further down the ladder to Hell with Taboo. All they needed was one last little push, that final coat of black paint. Establishing a lascivious and romantic atmosphere and fully embracing their intriguing, occasionally hard to bear but oh so worthwhile gothic brand of post-punk is the band's 5th outing Aku no Hana.
Translating directly to Les Fleurs du Mal (French for “the flowers of evil”), named after and most probably drawing a lot of inspiration from the infamous collection of poems of the same name penned by the legendary Charles Baudelaire, Aku no Hana sees BUCK-TICK at their most sonically complete thus far in their career. Though some of the tracks do not stand up as well against the rest of the album, Aku no Hana is for the most part an excellent outing for the band and would become their best-selling ever. Some of the most sensual of the band's lyrics and the most invigorating instrumentals composed by the quintet are contained within its cocoon.
Aku no Hana shows off a modest sense of balance between tracks and an elegant sense of style to boot. Although it can sound rather restrained at times, particularly with the more danceable cuts like “Maboroshi no Miyako,” it is clearly an album more apt for a romantic night in with a muse (or several depending on your preferences) and an expensive (or, again depending on your preferences, cheap) bottle of wine. Atsushi Sakurai's enchanting baritone vocals are allowed to explore much more comfortably in the dark atmosphere provided by Hisaishi Imai and co. Sakurai's delivery working hand in hand with the romantically gothic soundscapes in “Misty Blue,” standing out as one of the must hear moments of the album. This combination of romance and darkness gives the album a wonderfully upbeat feel, the guitars rock in a controlled and intentional way and the bass and drums pulse infectiously in the background. The title track “Aku no Hana” and closing number “Kiss Me Goodbye” are probably the strongest contestants on the record and make for an excellent finish to the album. “Aku no Hana” is one of the most driving and compelling pieces in the band’s repertoire with its blood-pumping leads and Sakurai's wild howls and vivid lyricism while “Kiss Me Goodbye” displays the band's softer side. The song’s soothing rhythm and vocal hooks inviting returned listens. Sakurai's performance in the songs verses and pre-choruses are quite possibly some of the best in his resume.
Although a lot of the album could have done with a bit more attention and work, i.e. the enjoyable but far too brief track “Love Me” could have done with a pinch more development to make it a stronger song as it has an enchanting and intriguing melody. Despite not being as complete as some of the group’s later efforts, namely Aku no Hana’s successor Kurutta Taiyou, the album is still important in solidifying BUCK-TICK’s sound and displays some of the band's strongest musicianship and song writing skills. Atsushi Sakurai's awe-inspiring presence is showed off excellently throughout the album, especially on the closing two tracks, his superb vocal hooks being equally as important the album’s integrity as the new-wave charm of the guitars and the humble assuredness of the bass and drums. Moments such as the spidery crawling of the guitars in “Sabbat” and Sakurai’s imagery of a crazy pierrot with bad blood, an overflowing sun and blue loneliness on the title track all come together to build the gothic and romantic atmosphere of the album and do a wonderful job of complementing the red-hot desire that its namesake draws so heavily from.
Though Aku no Hana isn't as finished as future efforts, it was a key stepping stone for the artists in their career as BUCK-TICK that helped assure the quintet’s longevity in the genre, featuring career highlight performances from self-taught guitarist Hisaishi Imai and golden voiced frontman Atsushi Sakurai as well as overall solid musicianship from the rest of the group. Despite missing that little something extra to truly warrant constant replay value as a whole unit, it does hold some highly entertaining songs that definitely deserve constant revisiting such as the title track, closing track and “Misty Blue”. Inconsistent most certainly but definitely an important release, Aku no Hana sees BUCK-TICK fully bridging the gap between comedy and romance and unfurl their dark, blood and wine-stained wings that would lead them to true success later on.