Friday, 11 September 2009

Quest For Blood - Quest for Blood. 80/100.

Since Asia is so damn big and I don’t want to continue this series forevermore, I will base my reviews around Eastern Asian, primarily China and Japan. I’ve chosen to do this because, seriously, Asia is huge and would require a series on a much larger scale than I was initially proposing to do. The Far East has treated me well, thus far, welcoming me with a passionate embrace and the soft touch of some subtle beauties that have managed to elude a lot of people. In search for a more experimental band to spend my time listening to, my attentions have been drawn to Quest For Blood, who seem to be a side-project of the members of well known Japanese black metal band Magane, amongst others. First and foremost, leave your expectations at the door and wipe the apprehension off your feet as you step over and into the unique world of this multi-talented band. From the description of the bands sound - that being a blend of black, folk and progressive - I expected a widely experimental sound that shape shifted without much notice, but I was not expecting this.

Generally speaking, I don’t read reviews for records I’ve not heard. I don’t know, I guess I just like the surprise that is in store for me when I enter into a records lair without knowing any information about it. This is precisely what I have done when I have found all of my favourite bands in the past and will continue to do so in the future because the sense of greatness is heightened when there is a lack of information on the bands sound. Particularly in terms of black metal, which is meant to be shrouded in mystery anyway. Quest For Blood are living up to the expectations of black metal musicians by not going into much detail about themselves and their music. The bands information is limited and no pictures are provided, though I do suspect that this is largely unnecessary given the successful nature of associated bands like Magane (a cover of one of their songs is even included on this record) and Misogi, who unfortunately never released any full-lengths. Accompanying the beautiful Japanese writing in the bands logo is some overwhelming folk inspired melodies that draw out a not-so-subtle beauty in the soundscapes.

Usually, when folk is crossed with black, the folk is low lying. It doesn’t reveal itself too much in an effort to suppress the merry and mirthful structures that might decrease the effects of the black metal soundscapes. Black metal, generally, requires the opposite of jovial atmospherics in order to perform to the standards the fans usually want to hear. Folk, on the other hand, has a tendency, or at least stereotypically, to provide a more upbeat, less depraved sound that black metal, eliminating any possibility of bleak structures and downbeat emotional patterns. However, there are always going to be innovative souls who’s mission it is to break down the barriers of stereotypes and provide the audience with the opposite of what they would expect. A number of black and folk hybrids have managed to attain an aggressive sound whilst keeping a fine balance between black and folk, in order to fulfill the needs of both sets of fans.

Its an increasingly difficult task maintaining the right balance between both sets of genres and a lot of bands fall foul to the perils of hybrids but, in the instance of Quest For Blood, the progressive structures have balanced out the potential problems by allowing these talented musicians to compose effective songs by reaching out to all possible emotional realms and pulling inspiration from each of them and pushing it into the atmospherics. Songs like ‘Yayema’ provide a startling sense of this achievement by establishing an introduction that screams happiness has arrived with the ever present flutes whimsically dashing across the skyline of the soundscapes like a still fit, wise old man in the outrageously over-the-top martial arts films of yesteryear and the jovial piano base solidly laying superb avant-gardé foundations. There is a traditional sound to this record which excites me. I have a thing for Japanese bands incorporating traditional Japanese sounds into their music (like Birushanah). The Japanese are seen, by Westerners, as a bit quirky and this record definitely fits that stereotype.

Most of the elements can be seen as that - quirky. The interchangeable vocals, from clean male vocals, chanted away harmoniously, to the clean female vocals, all of which are sung in Japanese, to the low growls that sparsely touch the soundscapes. The bass, the guitars and even the percussion are all overwhelmingly experimental. None of the above could be classed as repetitious, a usual theme for black metal bands and this, seemingly, is where the progressive element influences the black style of low lying bass lines and smooth guitars that offer numerous solos beneath the multi-layered surface. Unfortunately, these traditional elements, such as the bass and guitars, in particular, aren’t up to the same standards that the keyboards and flute are. The folk sections outweigh and out punch the black sections causing me to question the level of black metal actually on this record and the production alters drastically on the last song, which I found out. Its no longer as clean or concise. It contains too much emphasis on bass and stresses the importance of the guitars, which haven’t really been all that important thus far. Still, the flute is immense. Perhaps this is a bit too ahead of its time for now, but in the future, this may become a classic.

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