Review Summary: Following a triad of milquetoast albums, the newest addition to The Gazette's body of work is refreshingly enjoyable.
To say the least, I have always had a soft spot for neo-visual kei rock band The Gazette
, who are unquestionably one of the most popular groups within this scene. For the longest time, the musical projects classified under the second wave of visual kei have earned ire due to an emphasis on looks over the actual quality of their music rather than the other way around, and this act is no exception; luckily, mentioning that Gazette are without their supporters is like trying to state that every man, woman, and child couldn't give a rat's rectum about Franken Berry
cereal. Hailing from Kanagawa, Japan, the gang's brand of alternative metal – prosaic at times as it can be – usually makes for acceptable, mindless entertainment. They've never been the most original band to come from the Land of the Rising Sun, but it's no challenge at all to find a song or two from them that might end up striking your fancy in the end. Now having said that, it wasn't until DIM
where this band finally decided to come into their own; both musically and, to a smaller degree, thematically. Widely regarded as one of the band's best recordings, 2009's DIM
saw lead vocalist Ruki and the other four rascals implementing new elements into The Gazette's typical formula while not abandoning familiar territory. The outcome was a more satisfying and less one-dimensional affair which had very few problems, as these boys were able to run the gamut of sounds and still sound cohesive. From the headbanging epic “Leech” to the horrifying atmosphere that engulfed “Shikyuu” (one of the 2009 offering's interludes), the genre dubbed “Gazerock” was beginning to feel comfortable sitting upon that oriental throne. Unfortunately, however, The Gazette's days of glory were behind them after jumping ship from King Records to the Sony Music label.
In spite of The Gazette managing to become even more commercially successful once Toxic
was released, it also marked a point where they started milking their signature style for all its worth. Between dumbing down the core sound further and trying to stay relevant via a gratuitous dosage of electronic-tinged influences, any recent material by The Gazette was considered to be overall worthless. The trilogy of LPs they recorded under Sony's wing didn't have much bark and they sure as heck didn't contain a lot of bite, either. Division
was the strongest of the three albums, being quite decent instrumentally speaking and there was some fire burning inside the songcraft cavern, but beyond that, Gazette's sixth full-length proved disappointing. Now fast forward all the way to mid-2015 and this neo-VK entourage has welcomed yet another addition into that comprehensive discography of theirs. Featuring a grand total of 14 songs, few can get ready to debate that Dogma
symbolizes a team finally running out of ideas. On the bright side, there's just one little thing that sets The Gazette's newest release apart from the preceding Sony Music-era records: it's actually pretty fun.
The intro track “Nihil”, infusing haunting chants with dubstep flourishes, is but an appetizer for The Gazette's eighth collection of ditties. Darker and simultaneously energetic when put next to the unholy trinity, Dogma
is most likely an old-crap-different-day scenario in disguise. Be that as it may, Gazette's latest effort does make an attempt to rid of the unnecessary bullcrap which plagued its antecedents. For instance, the band decided that it was in their best interest to trim down a couple of the blips, bloops, and blatant crowd-pandering and aimed for something rawer in the process. A majority of the tracks off the new release have this tendency to rely on a loud-soft dynamic that, although not left-field for The Gazette, is executed better than before. “Deux” is a nice example of said dynamic, demonstrating soft, yet catchy chorus sections and relatively aggressive verses leading up to an explosive outro in a manner that isn't totally forced. Taking overall songwriting into consideration, this five-piece do occasionally break out of their comfort zone as well, albeit with mixed results. “Bizarre” is a mild industrial-flavored tune adept at paving the way for Reita's bass lines and incorporating keyboards that suit the piece well enough, making it one of Dogma
's standouts beyond a shadow of a doubt. It is with apathetic regret, though, that I'm incapable of saying the same for “Wasteland” and “Blemish." Firstly the latter track's lighter/softer mood does not work in the context of Dogma
whereas “Wasteland” itself is vapid, uneventful, and Ruki's spoken word/pseudo-rap part at the beginning is laughably inept; he's trying a bit too hard on this piece expanding his otherwise limited vocal range.
From a craftsmanship standpoint, the album is predominately dandy (albeit nothing revolutionary). Uruha and Aoi, Ruki's right-hand men, usually deploy punchy guitar riffs which can make or break the songs. This playing style is most effective on the emotionally-charged “Grudge”, in which the rhythm section also does a neat job at sounding the ax work that the listeners encounter. Still and all, “Rage” is totally unremarkable even by this band's own standards, as the chugging quickly grows tiresome to the point where Gazette are parodying their relatively thuggish numbers and the chorus bits are so underwhelming, Ruki can't save the song. The song's Engrish-laden lyricism ostensibly takes it down a few notches (“Such a dickhead”; “You should know you're lame”; “Too late our assholes can't be saved”
). On the subject of Ruki himself, he's consistently been Gazette's double-edged sword since the squad's inception. The young man is not an inherently bad singer, although he lacks character, ergo he's indistinguishable from basically all the other vocalists in this game. Thankfully enough, “Incubus” and Dogma
's lead single “Ominous” prove that his performance can be incredibly broad when necessary, with the erstwhile piece benefiting from soothing, vaguely feminine vocals and melodic guitar leads. Album closer “Ominous” is a 5-minute epic where Ruki's delivery accentuates why the ditty is such a cinematic, essential track – and complete with sinister atonal effects and juicy traces of piano potency, its status as a conclusion is extremely appropriate.
Japanese rock quintet The Gazette's up-to-the-minute concoction won't win any new fanatics tall, fat, or short, but Dogma
will reclaim the folks who have abandoned the combo. Clear evenness dominates the album while a fair amount of simplicity throughout the duration doesn't necessarily inflict damage. If nothing else, the Kanagawa natives have met a glimmer of light at the end of a tunnel they've been trapped in for what seemed like years.