Review Summary: Exactly not as advertised.
Whoever invented the phrase, “Never judge a book by its cover!” likely never foresaw the explosion of the entertainment industry. While many will profess their employment of a higher standard and claim to ignore appearances, it’s important to dismiss that with a dose of honesty: we all have filters. Whether it is album art, genre tags, involved members, or any other external factor, there are certain methods through which we narrow down records to focus on. Otherwise, in a music industry that regularly vomits forth hundreds to thousands of new releases on a daily basis, their quality ranging from Bob’s bedroom acoustic covers of Oasis to extravagant, big-budget productions, it’s far too easy to get swamped and promptly surrender. Intentionally or not, Imperial Circus Dead Decadence exist to spite passers-by believing they’ve caught bargain-bin bandcampcore-anime shenanigans and smartly altered course. Scrolling through the endless library of new releases, that
cover is practically begging to be unfairly pigeonholed, toying liberally with stereotypical perceptions. Any initial takeaway is guaranteed to be far removed from reality; this Japanese collective are hell-bent on concocting insane, complex melodic death metal that functions solely on relentless speed. This beast doesn’t concern itself with track lengths, album runtimes—who needs that bullsh*t? Pressing play on MOGARI
unchains an absolute behemoth that uncontrollably rampages for over an hour, darting erratically from one genre to the next with incredible musicianship in tow. It may seem outrageous, but the Japanese quintet (sextet? The lineup changes frequently) are onto something incredible, and it’s among the best metal to find this year.
The success of Imperial Circus arises directly from their unhinged approach to songwriting: they can and will throw everything including the kitchen sink, the refrigerator, the dining room table, the floorboards—the whole home is getting tossed. Regardless of whether an idea might be awful on paper, the group will miraculously manage to execute it in a seamless manner. Their well of influences runs deep; for example, there are a handful of instances where the band engages in honest-to-goodness deathcore, barraging their audience with pummeling low-end riffs that rush headfirst into pig squeal breakdowns. In the wake of such profound heaviness, the Circus is capable of promptly pivoting to a soaring power metal chorus sporting male and female clean vocals harmonizing. Black metal tremolos lay siege to the record, only to then transform themselves into beautiful melodies that completely transform the sound of a given song. Death metal turns to groove metal, progressive metal ropes back around to melodic death metal, and so on and so on. It’s an experience unlike most in the mainstream or underground, often cycling through motifs so quickly and with such technical flair that it’s a dizzying spectacle to witness. Regardless of the designated genre, the collective is guaranteed to twist it to a high-speed velocity that refuses to lessen the intensity. Even those impeccably brutal breakdowns erupt into a veritable festival of shredding guitars, churning out unique passages and explosive solos that demonstrate captivating fretboard wizardry. Due to that relentless energy and unpredictability, each minute of music sounds incredibly fresh.
In the wild realm of MOGARI
, convincing performances are necessitated to imbue shifts with a sense of purpose. The percussion is the key link, conducting blast beats and fills in equal measure that forge bridges between disparate sections. It can launch forward at a moment’s notice, laying the groundwork for the vivacious leads that race across the record, or it can violently change course to drag down the tempo. Buoying the atmosphere or buttressing the guitar assault is the versatile keys element. The epic opening number is blanketed by colorful symphonic arrangements, whereas lead single "獄" receives a low-end boost courtesy of a buzzing synth line. How both members can transform a tune grounds the virtuosity of the dueling guitars, allowing for transitions—of which there are many—to flow more naturally than they otherwise would have. The axemen that lead the Circus certainly possess a repertoire themselves; one moment they reflect Shin-Ken
-era Persefone, and in others they channel Dir En Grey’s darkened grooves. Parading in the foreground and adding a distinctive character to the Imperial Circus Dead Decadence lunacy is an equally flexible vocal performance. Name a technique and it’s likely covered: piercing screams, resonating lows, aforementioned pig squeals, emotional clean vocals, King Diamond falsetto shrieks—all executed in stunning, dramatic fashion. Appropriately, these styles enter and exit on a whim, contorting themselves to suit whatever instrumental motif the band embarks upon, often cooperating with the female singing to create harmonies and contrasts. The talent on display is overwhelming in the best possible way, and the busy mix miraculously manages to sustain every contributing element.
As haphazard as proceedings can be on the surface, Imperial Circus manage to orchestrate a tightrope-esque balance between marvelous, eccentric instrumentation and total meltdown. It’s a damn
thin line, to be sure; there’s a necessary suspension of disbelief involved for how liberally the collective abuse deathcore grooves, nimble melodic soloing, and any other genre conventions they come across. Having this staged under bombastic orchestral sampling and the inherent cheese of power metal is bound to offend traditionalist ears. There’s never a dull moment written by the Circus, leading to an album experience that aims to suffocate via speed metal overdose. Extend that over an hour and how one perceives Dead Decadence is a coin flip between unshakable admiration—crafting music passionately dedicated to delirium like this takes ambition and careful songwriting—or absolute revulsion. That’s the cost of admission, really; normalcy got sacrificed at the altar of the scantily-clad anime gal adorning the cover. The Circus will assail any and all comers with unremitting technicality until the music itself is pure, euphoric confusion. Come bearing no judgements and there’s interminable delights to embrace in this lovable absurdity.