Review | ŹOOĻ “einsatZ”

ZOOL

ŹOOĻ spared no expense into impressing their fans in einsatZ however, to mixed results.

ZOOL-einsatZ-
Title: einsatZ
Release date: 25/11/2020
Label: Lantis
Genre: Pop / EDM

Tracklist:

1 – Generalpause (Instrumental)
2 – 4-ROAR
3 – ZONE OF OVERLAP
4 – LOOK AT… -Album Edition-
5 – Unbalance Shadow
6 – Drift driving
7 – ササゲロ -You Are Mine-
8 – Ache
9 – Poisonous Gangster -Album Edition-
10 – Bang!Bang!Bang!
11 – Attacca (Instrumental)

Track by track analysis:

1 – Generalpause (Instrumental)

Dark, running strings and timpani set a marching tone to 4-ROAR.

2 – 4-ROAR

ŹOOĻ go K-pop for 4-ROAR. The instrumental is dark, intense and incredibly bouncy, with the verses counting with orchestral stab lead synths, smooth atmospheric synths and dirty bass synths leading a trail of destruction in the verses.

You can’t help but to be excited as the pre-chorus rolls up and the chants take over, urging you to join in and singing along to the group.

The build up to the chorus is one of the most exciting I’ve listened to in 2020. Addictive, explosive and incredibly bouncy, a different, unexpected groovy sound in a song by a group that is not known for being groovy.

And the chorus, it gets into your head, refusing to leave. It’s danceable and simple, making great using of the orchestral stabs and the punchy bass line to deal a massive blow to the listener.

On the vocal end, I must say that I am not a fan of the auto-tune on the vocals in the pre-chorus but seeing how that is kept to a minimum, it didn’t take away my enjoyment while listening to this song.

The group counts with powerful rap parts and a lot of melodic parts, with pretty awesome harmonies between the member, the best I’ve heard this group perform since their debut. Massive track.

3 – ZONE OF OVERLAP

[As previously reviewed]

ZONE OF OVERLAP takes ŹOOĻ through a darker and grittier sound, creating a stiffening soundscape.

A reverberating bass line, triplet and bass-driven hip-hop beat, impactful guitar riffs, dramatic piano melodies and a crescendo in drama take this song into the most explosive chorus this group has managed to pull off to date.

ZONE OF OVERLAP‘s chorus is dark, glitchy and intimidating and a satisfying build up to a song that has so much tension boiling since the intro.

That build up in the bridge is so powerful and intense that you can’t stop staring in awe at you’ve just heard.

This urban pop tune also features a powerful performance by all members, really embracing the whole “intimidating aura” that this song gives off.

Add to this good line distribution and a solid improvement by all members on the vocal end and we get the best song by ŹOOĻ to this date.

4 – LOOK AT… -Album Edition-

LOOK AT… is not your typical pop group song, as matter of fact, this song is incredibly far from being a pop song.

Heavy guitars, powerful double bass drums, melodic piano parts, everything seems to come from an early alternative nu-metal/90’s anthem rock band instead of a pop group.

This sound fits well with ZOOL‘s daring demeanor. This might seem like a small detail but the outro made us beg for more yet little did we know that the song would end right there.

On the vocal end, LOOK AT… was re-recorded and now features vocals by Yuya Hirose, Subaru Kimura, Koutaro Nishiyama and Takashi Kondo.

With the full lineup in charge of the vocals, the dynamics change around a little bit and Hirose has less time on the spotlight, something that, fans of the original version will immediately point out.

However, the addition of Nishiyama and Kondo actually came to help ZOOL sound even better. Kondo is quite the reliable singer with a lot of emotion on top – and approaches his performances in a rather raw mindset -, and Nishiyama can add a delicate touch, try to balance the group’s gritty sound. This results in a performance that will grip you.

LOOK AT… is a strong, well crafted intimidating song but that is exactly what makes this group stand out.

5 – Unbalance Shadow

Acoustic guitars and a minimalistic atmospheric synths paint the soundscape for Haruka and Minami. The quiet intro evolves to an minimalistic tropical EDM track with brass stabs on top.

As far as instrumentals go, “Unbalance Shadow” has quite the simplistic instrumental.

The verses are quiet, focused on the melodic, emotional vocals by Yuya Hirose and Koutaro Nishiyama whereas the chorus has a dreamy, summery vibe to it, being slightly more intense but never developing much beyond that.

I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between Hirose and Nishiyama for this song. Their vocal range is rather close so I was expecting one of them to not get the spotlight as the other would take the wheel. Thankfully, that wasn’t what happened.

Hirose continues to be quite the impressive singer, with honeyed tenor vocals and a technique that keeps on developing and Nishiyama is a blast to listen to in this performance, gently leading the way when needed and being a really solid backup to Hirose’s vocals.

All in all, Unbalance Shadow is an interesting song, more because of the vocals than because of the uneventful instrumental.

6 – Drift driving

Toma and Torao team up for quite the dirty and intense EDM track in Drift driving.

The instrumental is quite empty despite, on a first listen, giving the impression that it is pretty packed with little hits and bits of instruments and samples.

You have a rather simplistic dubstep beat, atmospheric synths and a dirty lead synth but besides that you have nothing more.

The song flows like any K-pop or generic J-pop song with a focus on EDM, the verses are intense, you have a short pre-chorus and then… a pretty weird and even shorter chorus.

It sounds a bit too force into sounding “edgy” or “dangerous” and comes off as a bit clumsy attempt production wise.

While I am okay with most synths – I do love synthwave to begin with – , one thing I really don’t fancy are off key synths and this song has, rather deep in its instrumental, a synth that is looping an off key melody and it seriously throws me off more than the sudden revival of dubstep found in this song.

On a positive note, the bridge is quite soothing and softer in comparison with the rest of the song, putting the focus on the duo’s singing skills instead of the rap that Subaru Kimura and Takashi Kondo had been doing up until then.

Good effort but with a couple of things unpolished.

7 – ササゲロ -You Are Mine-

Sasagero -You Are Mine- arrives as one of ŹOOĻ‘s greeting cards but is it really this album’s best song? First off, the song shifts moods pretty quickly.

One second you’re jamming to brass and a danceable piano melody give off a Latin vibe, then you’re deep into progressive EDM, the other you have trap taking over.

The song is all over the place in terms of composition and the transitions aren’t seamless nor smooth in my books.

If that wasn’t enough, the chorus gives obvious vibes of Psy’s Gangnam Style. I won’t say much as this description pretty much paints you a clear image of how this song sounds like, at least, in the chorus.

Once again, way too much effort put on the group sounding seductive but it really never pans out. May be just me but it didn’t sound good.

When it comes to the performances, Hirose, Kimura, Nishiyama and Kondo deliver quite the entertaining show, with their harmonies standing out the most for me. They have locked down those and are sounding really solid when harmonizing.

As it is, Sasagero -You Are Mine- is a poor effort to sound seductive and, instead, went the dated early 10s K-pop route that sounds more goofy than anything.

8 – Ache

R&B inspired atmospheric synths paints a sweet, dreamy soundscape that you want to lose yourself in.

A minimalistic, bass-drum beat, hi-hats and clap track set a slow paced tone, more emotional and focused on the vocals than expected.

I love the orchestral/synth stabs in the pre-chorus, opening the song only enough to make you invested in “Ache“. The chorus is passionate and emotional, with the vocals being the center piece to it.

Hirose goes for intense vocals, carrying a lot of emotion, Kimura’s raspy vocals adds a bit of a melancholic touch to this track whereas Nishiyama and Kondo smooth this song with gentle vocals. Once again, the group’s harmonies are on point.

I could listen to them performing this song over and over again.

The slower paced, minimalistic sound worked wonders in making “Ache” the best song in this album. Absolute masterclass on both the composition and performance sides.

9 – Poisonous Gangster -Album Edition-

Poisonous Gangster” brings to the table an edgy sound that is quite hard to find these days in the music business, at least done in such an overwhelming way like this one.

It’s a sound reminiscing of the early 00’s daring K-pop sound or even the late 90’s western pop that some groups embraced.

Dark guitar riffs and licks, eerie synths and piano melodies plus slow paced percussion, create a powerful ambience that is hard not to get entranced by.

For “einstaZ”, this song was re-recorded to included the vocals of Koutaro Nishiyama and Takashi Kondo. The song doesn’t lose its fierce, edgy flair, quite on the contrary, it gets more intense now that the group is performing in full gas as a 4-piece lineup.

10 – Bang!Bang!Bang!

[As previously reviewed]

Bang!Bang!Bang! strays a bit away from the group’s whole vibe but being way too cheery and electronica fueled.

Although the group’s trademark edgy guitar riffs make way to this track, those are only there to add an apparent “edge” to a song that sounds so uncharacteristically of the group that it sounds like it could have been performed by TRIGGER or IDOLiSH7.

Bubbly synths, the generic electro beat and overall upbeat, bright vibe that exudes from this song – contrary to what is on the lyrics – sounds off.

If you’re into ŹOOĻ going all pop-y, then this song will be up your alley, with an addictive chorus, simplistic verses, and consistent, quality vocals.

However, in comparison with ZONE OF OVERLAP or their first single, Poisonous Gangster, this song sounds too lazy, and completely strays away from the differential element that makes this group so enthralling – their edge and menace that comes from their urban, rock meets hip-hop and pop sound and intimidating lyrics.

Bang!Bang!Bang! does not capture most of that, instead it ventures to completely different territory.

11 – Attacca (Instrumental)

A strong dubstep melody wraps up the album in style.


Final considerations

ŹOOĻ have changed their sound quite a lot since their debut.

Their gritty, edgy and intimidating urban, rock-meets-pop-meets-rap sound has diluted into a hybrid of J-pop and K-Pop.

It is catchy at times, it is addictive at others, tries too much to be edgy when there is no need, and it lacks a distinctive flair – or is still morphing into something that we will, later, be able to call their “trademark” sound -, still, right now it seems like it lacks what was the band’s original identity.

Fans will, of course, say that this is due to the fact that ŹOOĻ, as group, have changed within the game’s story and their new dynamic led to them having a new, different sound (I am also playing the game so I’ve noticed these changes) yet, I still feel like the change is – story events taken into account – way too drastic to the point that there aren’t remnants of the group you first met and fell in love with in 2017.

But let’s roll with the new sound and see how the group faired.

Intro and closing tracks adding a nice touch to this release, feeling like a complete work that won’t be expanded upon later on.

Out of the new songs, the highlights are 4-ROAR and Ache.

4-ROAR is massive track, impressively aggressive and intense, I find a lot of K-pop influences in it, the whole progression, the focus on having a lot of synths on the table, the quick verses and a chorus that is insanely catchy, that distinctive touch of “fantasy” to their music.

There are, undoubtedly an attempt at emulating K-pop in this song. A nice touch in that song is the massive pre-chorus that had me hyped up as soon as it kicked off and made me anticipate the other pre-chorus sections in the song.

Ache brought back R&B and mixed it minimalistic electronica to deliver an emotional, introspective performance with a certain nostalgia underneath. It was love at first listen with this song.

The focus is completely on the melodic vocals by this talented group and their emotional range. I feel like this song illustrated pretty well the group and their new dynamic, more so than the other “edgy” songs in this album.

As far as the duo songs went, I’ve got mixed feelings.

Loved Haruka and Minami‘s “Unbalance Shadow” for how impressive their performances were. The tropical sound while trendy, didn’t expand much beyond what it had going on, giving the impression that something is missing.

Still, awesome song much in line with what we get in “Ache” – focus on the vocals.

Drift driving was a hit and miss. Too much effort was put into making the song sounding edgy that it really ends up not making much sense when you pay close attention to it.

There was too much dubstep going on – this must only be me, but I completely dislike dubstep and was sure it was far from making a comeback as a trend, yet, here we are -, it was something that made my enjoyment while listening to that song completely go out of the window.

When it comes to the previously released songs, I still stand by my opinion about Bang!Bang!Bang! being a weak and lazy song, composition wise. Almost a year after its release and I still can’t click with that song no matter how much I tried seeing / hearing it from a different prism.

ZONE OF OVERLAP continues to be the best song released by the group to date.

It was refreshing to finally have LOOK AT… and Poisonous Gangster with the quartet in charge of the vocals with equal lines distribution.

Although initially weird to have the 4 members perform a song that was originally 95% performed by Yuya Hirose and Subaru Kimura, I’ve grown to love the 4 member version and now, the weird one is the original one.

I loved the dynamic that the group had during the 2nd live and was pleasantly surprised to find that the re-recorded versions sound even better than the live performances.

There are a lot of highlights in this album but what stood out the most for me was how much synchronized are the 4 members, how beautiful and powerful are their harmonies and how each member improved their vocals.

Absolutely awesome work on this front, the biggest positive I take from einsatZ.

All in all, einsatZ was a pretty ambitious 1st album for ŹOOĻ that have a clear, distinct sound from all other units in the IDOLiSH7 franchise but have yet to define their own “trademark” sound (although it’s rather obvious which direction they will continue to take in the future).

If you are into K-pop and don’t mind intense dubstep melodies this will be the release for you, if you are still holding on to those precious memories of when ŹOOĻ sounded really good performing rap-rock, this won’t be the thing for you, the group has long changed into something completely different.


einsatZ is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.


einsatZ is available for streaming on Spotify.

Do not support piracy. Remember to support ŹOOĻ by streaming via official outlets.
REVIEW OVERVIEW
4-ROAR
ZONE OF OVERLAP
LOOK AT… – Album edition -
Unbalance Shadow
Drift Driving
ササゲロ -You Are Mine-
Ache
Poisonous Gangster – Album edition -
Bang!Bang!Bang!
The Hand That Feeds HQ founder and music reviewer writing about Japanese music since 2010. Also, the only person managing everything The Hand That Feeds HQ related. In 2011, I stumbled upon Mamoru Miyano's "Orpheus". Since then I have been writing about male seiyuu music. You may find me writing almost essays whenever music is really good (not limited to, but it happens a lot with Soma Saito's music). I also host the male seiyuu-centric podcast, SEIYUU LOUNGE (see Spotify link in this profile).

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