What we’ve got here from this Japanese band is two CD singles, three songs apiece, released a month apart from each other, meant to be viewed as a Yin-Yang: one release that lyrically focuses on the glory of life, and another that focuses on the inevitability of death, and it’s reflected in the music as well.
The most striking difference between these two releases is that while Splendor shows the band in fine form as a more straightforward power metal outfit, Death shows the band incorporating more influences from extreme metal, such as tremolo riffing, blastbeats and harsh vocals. I don’t think the contrast could have worked so well without it: the sunny, uplifting melodies of Splendor are still present to some extent on Death, but tempered by the blistering guitars and snarled vocals.
Through The Gates Of Death opens with the slicing riffs of Eternal Death Rave, punctuated by synths lending some high-end contrast to the vicious growls. A little later on the track, passionate clean vocals break in with some superb melodies and a couple moments of impressive range, reminding us that we’re listening to one of Japan’s most capable power metal exports and not a melodeath outfit. Compare that to the start of Splendor, which sees us in with a soothing synthesizer backdrop leading into a very melodic, uptempo lead and pleasant singing over more traditional, but never-boring power metal melodies. Let these two songs set the tone for the respective EPs that follow.
(Enjoy the band’s official trailer for Splendor here!)
MinstreliX are hardly unique in their fusing power metal with extreme elements; Guardians Of Time, for example, included some harsh vocal sections on A Beautiful Atrocity, and climaxed their most recent album Rage And Fire with a full-throttle blastbeat section. These elements shine when used tastefully in this kind of music. In a death metal band, you’ll have very capable players doing these massive riffs and pulverizing beats for the majority of a song, as a key component of the genre. But when a melodic genre like power metal shifts into overdrive like that, it really feels dynamic – like a non-comedic, non-ironic version of that ‘pushing it to 11’ thing from This Is Spinal Tap.
With the lyrics themselves being bilingual between English and Japanese, the musical shift helps to drive the themes home even when, like me, your understanding of Japanese is limited to “hello”.
(And take in the band’s trailer for Death here!)
So really, there’s as much artistic insight on these discs as you would expect on any full-length album, and there may actually be a quantifiable reason for that: in Japan, CDs (and electronics in general) are disproportionately expensive compared to the rest of the world. This is why Japanese CDs of Western bands have all those bonus songs, to discourage Japanese fans from importing. Anyway, this has led to a lot of bands using the CD-single and EP formats in ways that provide more value to the fans than just as stop-gaps between full-lengths or as promotion for an upcoming full-length. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of ‘meaningful’ EPs from non-Japanese bands, but Japan certainly has a great reason for it, as EPs are cheaper than full-lengths.
That said, this band probably could have gotten away with extending the concept across two albums instead of two EPs. I’d have been very interested in seeing where that kind of breathing room would have taken them. But I’m content with what we got, because there’s a pleasing amount of depth to these concise recordings.
Some people have a spot of trouble getting into Japanese metal because the singing is, in many cases, “ESL”, to put it nicely. And yes, on these recordings, you can hear the Engrish – the titular proclamation on We’ll Never Say Goodbye tends to come off more like “We’ll nay-vah sey good-bai” – but I hope you’ll look past that. Besides, most of the lyrics on these discs are in the band’s native language anyway.
All six of these songs are original and exclusive to these discs, by the way, so if you’re already a fan of MinstreliX, I urge you not to pass over Splendor and Death or put them on your backburner just by dent of them not being full-lengths; get ‘em now! And if you’re a fan of well-performed, well-written power metal, these discs make a pretty good introduction to the band, so check them out.