Review Summary: One of the Japanese music giants's most unsung efforts, "Heavenly" is an album of maturity and growth.
What can be said about Japanese music giants L'arc-en-Ciel that hasn't already been said before? Since selling out the Madison Square Garden in 2012, the group have attracted international attention, and are currently one of the most recognized faces in Japanese music as a whole. But before all of that, L'arc-en-Ciel were a budding four-piece from Osaka that broke big in the visual kei underground within two years of their formation. Going major in 1994 after signing to Ki/oon, their 1994 major debut album "Tierra" was great, but a bit unfocused. While there are some gems on there, it wasn't until "Heavenly" that their majestic blend of atmospheric progressive rock and mainstream-friendly pop rock collided perfectly, thus foreshadowing a future of absolute success.
Released in 1995, "Heavenly" quite literally bursts out like a luminary fifth-dimensional experience with the opening track "Still I'm with You", which boldly starts with a percussive drive with frontman Hyde crooning the song title alongside. Magnificently melodic and rich in impressive musicianship and top-tier wailing from Hyde, "Still I'm with You" effectively sets the mood and attitude of the album in full swing. It is then followed up with the cult classic "Vivid Colors", which is a more plain pop ditty that efficiently works great wonders, with the fluttering bass lines by Tetsuya and whimsical drum fills by Sakura impressively giving "Vivid Colors" a sort of floating element. "And She Said" brings back the proggy elements of "Still I'm with You", only much more magnified and grandiose. The track's dramatic tone helps give the album yet another dimension of lushness and enjoyment, and is probably one of their best prog efforts to date. "Glass Tama" is essentially a Hyde solo effort, due to how mesmerizing and emotional his vocalization is on the track. On the flip-side, "Secret Signs" is a track more closely following the talents of the entire group. With Sakura's jazzy drumming, Tetsuya's hypnotic bass lines and Ken's carefree and loose guitar playing matched with the varied deliveries of Hyde's vocals, it is a great track that shows the magic that occurs when each member pitches in and show off their talents in their own signature ways.
"C'est La Vie" and "Natsu no Yuuutsu" are more along the lines of pop ear candy, akin to "Vivid Colors", except more bare. It is perhaps the more plain nature of these two tracks that halt the album from being L'arc's true magnum opus. "Cureless", on the other hand, sticks out like a sore thumb with its brooding gothy nature, and it sounds quite like an extra from their 1993 debut album "Dune". Being one of only two goth-like tracks on the entire album, it feels out of place, especially following two of the poppiest tracks on the album. Nonetheless, its seductive rhythms and creeping melodies make it a welcome misfit of a song. "Shizuka no Umi de" is the album's epica at just over 7 minutes and it serves as another closeup on Hyde's impressive vocalization abilities. Once the band kicks on at full force about halfway through, the listener is greeted with an ethereal-esqued blending of keyboard tinges and group chanting. Definitely worthy of the term "epica". The album then closes with "The Rain Leaves a Scar", which is the twin to "Cureless" as far as being one of only two goth-like tracks on the album. The guitar jingles and angsty vocals from Hyde bring up far-less successful visual bands like Eins:Vier, although the superior musicianship and top-of-the-line production (for its time) exhibited on "The Rain Leaves a Scar" makes the similarities more of an afterthought.
All-in-all, "Heavenly" is the bastard child in L'arc-en-Ciel's catalog, often being drowned out among more critically acclaimed and successful releases like "True", "Heart", and their later mid-2000's material. Truth be told, however, that the material on "Heavenly" is just as good, if not better, than the aforementioned releases. Its commercial success of being certified platinum put L'arc on the sweet road to bonafied musical icons, and its tone of more complex musicianship and experimenting with different styles signaled a change in visual kei music as a whole. Definitely a remarkable album in more than one, "Heavenly" is absolutely worthy of attracting more attention and acclaim than it does.