Review Summary: Atsushi Sakurai's latest foray away from Buck-Tick places him firmly in the gothic rock territory that has served him so well in the past - and again it yields fantastic results.
Atsushi Sakurai is something of a legend within the visual kei world. The vocalist of seminal group Buck-Tick for 30 years now, he and the Fujioka-based quintet have experimented with a wide range of genres, from post-punk earlier on in their careers through gothic, industrial, electronic and all matter of deviations aside. Embarking on his first project separate from Buck-Tick since his solo album back in 2004, Atsushi finds himself firmly lodged within the gothic-tinged alt-rock plane which suits him best, and combined with a new band this is arguably the best work since 2005's '13kai wa Gekkou' that he has been involved with.
What becomes abundantly clear throughout - if the artistically morose album cover hasn't already yielded a small clue - is that I Am Mortal
revels in an atmosphere of brooding soliloquy and dark energy. The combined efforts of guitarists Jake Cloudchair and Yukio Murata form the basis of most tracks, from the slower, reverb-soaked 'Mother' to providing the manic energy characterising 'Tsuki' and 'PAIN DROP - It rains cats & dogs' - and more importantly, they do so while retaining each song's distinct character. Cloudchair's heavy usage of effects accounts for some rather atypical touches, which go a long way to achieve the slightly peculiar feel that I Am Mortal
strives so much towards (listen to the middle of Fantomas for a clear example of this). Drummer Takahito Akiyama holds his own, particularly with his effective cymbal work building tension where it's needed, and bassist Ken Miyo has his moments as well, notably during scuzzy punk number 'Barbaric Man' where he creates the majority of the track's momentum with a heavily distorted bass riff.
Atsushi's performance is, expectedly, a brilliant one from start to finish. During some tracks, his voice becomes as much a part of the dense, busy soundscape as the rest of the band - sometimes chorused, sometimes obscured by granular vocal distortion, it fits perfectly HERE. It should be noted at this point that the high usage of effects is not a disguise for loss of singing ability - both of the bookend tracks focus on his largely untampered vocal performance, and it's clear that there, and on tracks like Deep Dream, that he is still an immensely talented vocalist even as he approaches 50.
I Am Mortal
's greatest asset as an album, however, are the smaller compositional tweaks that can be found throughout that provide constant points of interest. During opener 'Tenshi', little ambient swells, scrapes and miniscule piano 'breaks' are dotted around the track in a manner that can be seen as contradictorily meticulously and haphazardly. The addition of these flecks of sound work largely in the same way as, say, a set of a stop-motion film; the attention to detail is so great and the complementary nature of them so subtle that ultimately, you have to be actively looking for them to pull them out. They create the atmosphere for the show to take place in, and without them I Am Mortal
would not be nearly as effective in the long run.
It sounds like, more than anything else, an awful lot of time went into making this album as perfect for The Mortal as it could be. The more time, effort and importantly enthusiasm is poured into something, the more it tends to translate into a wonderful experience for those listening; I Am Mortal
is a clear testament to this theory, with very little, if anything to complain about over its 55 minute running time. If previous examples of Atsushi's work are anything to go by, this will only get better with age.