Review | VISUAL PRISON “Zankoku Shangri-la/BLOODY KISS/Gyokuza no GEMINI”

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VISUAL PRISON presents itself with a single well worth checking out if you’re a fan of dramatic rock music.

Title: Zankoku Shangri-la/BLOODY KISS/Gyokuza no GEMINI
Label: Aniplex+
Release date: 06/10/2021
Genre: Rock/Visual-kei rock

Tracklist:

1 - 残酷シャングリラ
2 - BLOODY KISS
3 - 玉座のGEMINI
4 - 残酷シャングリラ -Instrumental-
5 - BLOODY KISS -Instrumental-
6 - 玉座のGEMINI -Instrumental-

Track by track analysis:

1 – Zankoku no Shangri-la

Guitars are solemn while a delicate piano melody paints a contrasting beautiful soundscape. Soon, “Zankoku no Shangri-la” goes in full blast with guitars shredding their way through the song as fast-paced drums add a lot of power and depth to this track.

The verses are dramatic and the chorus cranks that up to an interesting level, once again with the guitars shining through. I’m not the biggest fan of how muffled all instruments sound in the chorus as opposed to the clarity in the verses.

There’s melancholy and urgency in the sound, and this track introduces a dual solo with the dramatic piano and shredding guitars vying for the spotlight. I wanted that guitar solo to be longer.

On the vocal end, listeners will find Shoya Chiba, Makoto Furukawa, Shun Horie and Nanami Hiroki. Right off the bat, this is not a balanced lineup (3 tenors vs 1 baritone), and what happens is that Furukawa completely disappears during the chorus sections.

The chorus being performed in unison was an odd choice given the fact that the vocal tracks could have been doubled to make up for any lack of power, instead of making some members inaudible by putting everyone singing the same part in unison.

Of course, that’s a stylistic approach but not one you’d commonly find in visual-kei rock. It makes the song sound further from the real thing (well, and closer to being just an “anime song”).

All in all, solid track, awesome pacing, interesting ideas going on but a weird chorus mixing and vocals direction messed things up for me.

2 – BLOODY KISS

Dark, shredding guitar riffs, trashing drums, and a punchy bassline kick-off “BLOODY KISS”.

The vibe is dirty, something you could get from 80s hair-metal bands however, the song changes midway through the verse, adding a more “easy-listening” twist to the rock sound.

In a way, I can’t help but notice how much of a pop twist the rock sound in the first half of the verses ends up getting in the 2nd part. It’s not necessarily a bad thing and many of you won’t have any issues with it.

To me, it feels like an unnatural transition to what is already a chaotic song. The chorus follows the same format as the previous track, with all members performing in unison however with a twist as the tail of the chorus gives a bit of spotlight to each member.

Once again, the big highlight in the composition is the guitar work that is absolutely off the charts. That solo could have gone for longer and I would still be wanting more.

Well, if the previous song strayed away from visual-kei, then this one is not even close to it. Yes, this is rock. Yes, it is awesome and it shreds. But this is just a fast-paced, textbook rock song.

On vocals, Takuya Eguchi, Nobunaga Shimazaki, Shougo Yano, and Takuma Nagatsuka showcase interesting things. I was most surprised with Nagatsuka’s long notes – it was the first time I heard him going that high for that long – and the dynamic between members was interesting. Still, worth mentioning that Takuya Eguchi sounds a bit out-of-place with his booming faux baritone vocals in the middle of so many high and low tenors.

All in all, an enjoyable song but one I expected more of.

3 – Gyokuza no GEMINI

Wrapping up this single is ECLIPSE’s “Gyokuza no GEMINI”.

This song is all about being dramatic. Dramatic choir parts, fast-paced drums, aggressive guitar riffs, and intense strings create a sound akin to a waltz – however with a completely different pacing – while the vocals have a musical twist.

The chorus is powerful and overflowing with drama. Now, that’s the visual-kei aesthetics going on strong in both the instrumental and the vocals. You can feel the grace, the beauty but also the melancholy and darkness within the song.

It has been a while since I had last heard Toshiki Masuda’s musical actor singing tone (which is a massive contrast to his natural, non-dramatic singing voice). That drama, those big, rounded vowels full of drama shine and add a classy touch to this song.

On the other hand, Shouta Aoi also brought his musical actor skills to this performance. He goes for a mix of faux baritone and natural tenor for his performance something that works perfectly in contrast with Toshiki Masuda’s booming baritone vocals.

When this song wraps up, you’ll want to hear more. I can say that I do and that, out of all groups, this is the one that managed to fully capture my attention.


Final considerations

The first approach to VISUAL PRISON’s sound and aesthetic is an interesting one albeit with its issues along the way.

When the project dubbed itself as being focused on visual-kei it genuinely piqued my interest. That’s an aesthetic I love and when it is allied to rock music, it reaches its full potential.

However what listeners get with this single is a soft approach to that full visual-kei sound but it’s not “it”, at least 2 out of the 3 songs in this song do not have any visual-kei elements.

So, if you’re looking to know if this is truly a project with visual-kei rock, I’m afraid to say that it isn’t.

Now, if you’re looking for a project with cool rock music, some of that carrying some drama and aggressiveness, then VISUAL PRISON knows how to deliver.

ECLIPSE is the only group the captures that sound and aesthetic of visual-kei, with all other groups delivering awesome fast-paced rock tunes made to headbang to but nothing close to having the visual-kei aesthetics or the sound that you’d associate to the biggest acts in visual-kei rock (at least, I hope the bar was set for that level of quality).

Zankoku no Shangri-la” is a song that I feel could have been much more had the piano been a bigger player in the composition. However, the focus on shredding, intense rock sound was interesting and had my full attention.

I still feel like the chorus would work best with individual parts – perhaps with vocal tracks doubled for each tenor – instead of a massive unison.

The song doesn’t sound more dramatic or intense because of the unison, it actually makes it so that Shun Horie and Makoto Furukawa are mostly inaudible. And it’s also a big reason why this performance doesn’t quite sound like the real deal visual-kei you’d get from a rock band.

BLOODY KISS” starts off with a good pacing, dirty instrumentalization but midway through it gets into pop territory.

This song strays massively away from visual-kei aesthetics – I’m not even talking about the sound, which should be the primary focus – not having the drama, the conflict, intensity, or beauty of it within its composition nor lyrics and performances.

That is particularly noticeable in the chorus and with those out-of-place awkward narration lines going on in the background.

The chorus sounds made for an anime opening/ending or outro track. So far, so good.

However, knowing how awesome was Agematsu’s work in making GHOST CONCERT’s songs feel like songs that a pro rock artist could be performing, this change in tone – making the songs feel like they belong in anime and will only be enjoyed by those that watch anime – was unexpected. I was hoping the production would be on a good high level in which listeners couldn’t really tell this song was meant to be in anime but… oh well.

I don’t know what is your stance on those narration lines going on in between singing parts but I feel like the song would benefit a lot from not having those.

It reminds me a lot of what the Pythagoras Production franchise does (the fanservice narration lines).

Why am I pointing this out?

Because those parts sound awkward and out-of-place within the song. The focus seems to be on sounding “edgy” yet you have a character asking another to “suck” them… Sorry, but that is awkward and distracting. On brand with the whole vampire shenanigans in the franchise but awkward if you’re listening to it out of curiosity just because people said the song was good.

That is a gimmick that worked well in songs in 2013 – when it was a “new thing” – but it quickly got old to the point that, right now, only the Pythagoras Production does it (much to the cringing of some fans), so I was not expecting to find that so accentuated in this song. A missed opportunity to shine, the song was certainly shaping up into my favorite in the CD.

ECLIPSE’s “Gyokuza no GEMINI” is a musical number. You could really put that song in a musical production and you wouldn’t even notice it was meant to be in an anime series.

But that feeling doesn’t come alone from the instrumental. Toshiki Masuda and Shouta Aoi put their skills as experienced musical actors to the test. That is a big reason why the song will feel like a “real” musical performance. Their sound isn’t that different from that of the other bands however their fundamentals are what actually make this song stand out.

Then you have the choir, those strings, the waltz-like tempo signature in the beat during the verses, those little details capture what you’d call a “visual-kei” aesthetic and, in several ways, emulated the sound of popular visual-kei rock bands.

That was really the song that won me over in this single. That regal, elegant vibe in “Gyokuza no GEMINI” and the whole dramatic fanfare put this duo on a league of their own within the franchise.

VISUAL PRISON does rock music really well but in general “visual-kei” is far from being the vibe or aesthetic in the songs by O★Z and LOS†EDEN. ECLIPSE captures it perfectly so if you’re really looking for a visual-kei fix, they have it for you.

The VISUAL PRISON franchise waves the flag of visual-kei, flirting and flirting with it until it finally got it right in the end.

If you are trying to understand the sound and aesthetics usually associated with “visual-kei”, I’d suggest sticking only to ECLIPSE. If you’re in for a good time with shredding rock tunes, then this single as a whole will be pretty enjoyable to listen to.

Zankoku Shangri-la/BLOODY KISS/Gyokuza no GEMINI” may not be the cleanest single but it’s certainly an interesting introduction to the franchise and its bands.


Zankoku Shangri-la/BLOODY KISS/Gyokuza no GEMINI is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.

REVIEW OVERVIEW

Zankoku no Shangri-la
BLOODY KISS
Gyokuza no GEMINI

SUMMARY

VISUAL PRISON waves the "visual-kei rock" flag but it ends up more often than not flirting with the notion instead of executing it. Still, all that flirting bears fruit as ECLIPSE's "Gyokuza no GEMINI" is a bona fide entry that captures the drama, the gothic aesthetics (common in some subgenres), and the intensity of "visual-kei". "Zankoku Shangri-la/BLOODY KISS/Gyokuza no GEMINI" may not be the cleanest single but it's certainly an interesting introduction to the franchise and its bands. And the rock music in this CD absolutely rocks - with some minor hiccups on the vocals for LOS†EDEN and instrumentals for O★Z. A single well worth checking out if you're a fan of dramatic rock music and the occasional visual-kei rock tune that will rock your bones.
Vanessa Silva
Vanessa Silvahttps://www.handthatfeedshq.com
The Hand That Feeds HQ founder, content creator, and music reviewer. Basically, the only person managing everything at The Hand That Feeds HQ. Stumbling upon Mamoru Miyano's "Orpheus" in 2011 was the start of this journey. If music is thought-provoking or deep, you may find her writing almost essays (not limited to, but it happens a lot with Soma Saito's music). She's the producer and host of the male seiyuu-centric podcast, SEIYUU LOUNGE (see Spotify link in this profile).

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Review | VISUAL PRISON "Zankoku Shangri-la/BLOODY KISS/Gyokuza no GEMINI"VISUAL PRISON waves the "visual-kei rock" flag but it ends up more often than not flirting with the notion instead of executing it. Still, all that flirting bears fruit as ECLIPSE's "Gyokuza no GEMINI" is a bona fide entry that captures the drama, the gothic aesthetics (common in some subgenres), and the intensity of "visual-kei". "Zankoku Shangri-la/BLOODY KISS/Gyokuza no GEMINI" may not be the cleanest single but it's certainly an interesting introduction to the franchise and its bands. And the rock music in this CD absolutely rocks - with some minor hiccups on the vocals for LOS†EDEN and instrumentals for O★Z. A single well worth checking out if you're a fan of dramatic rock music and the occasional visual-kei rock tune that will rock your bones.