Visual-kei, a movement stirred up in the Japanese musical mainstream from the 1980s (founded by bands such as X Japan) has since then triggered a wave of artists/bands who characterise themselves with their elaborate visual style (e.g. make-up, hair styles, costumes) and voltage-charged music that is pulsating and aggressive at times. L’arc-en-Ciel in particular has proved to be one of the most successful bands to come out of this trend.
While L’arc-en-Ciel are no longer directly associated to the cultural movement now, they started off with a visual-kei identity. From their major label debut and a career lasting over 20 years, they gradually made a transition away from the movement, but yet they still retain a sense of exuberance that made them an exciting visual-kei band in the first place. ‘Honey’ is a high-octane number that glorifies from the somersaulting vocal personality of hyde, a rock ‘n’ roll tinged pulsating beat and guitar chugging, all coming together to blow an adrenaline rushed sonic force that parallels the feeling of riding a sports car.
‘Bless’, released more than a decade after ‘Honey’ is totally original in the context of the rock-centric history of L’arc-en-Ciel. Used as the theme tune of NHK’s 2010 Winter Olympics broadcast, rock ballad and orchestral landscapes meet one way. The musical details in ‘Bless’, from opulently scored string melodies, the moderately driven rhythm section, fine operatic-like vocals, an elegant oboe solo and electrifying guitar riffs create an epic track that is both sonically and emotionally powerful with an overriding soft anthemic quality.
Two decades in the musical mainstream would not come without the occasional musical experiments, and ‘Chase’, released in late 2011 is a radical change in style. In this particular track, L’arc-en-Ciel are not afraid to experiment with techno synth palettes beside a progressive rock backdrop with some Led Zeppelin-esque guitar riffs. If the verse and pre-chorus weren’t extreme enough, the chorus leaps into another stratosphere as a gothic-tinged choral line exclaiming “must speed up” amplify the intensity of the section alongside perpetuating synth patterns, hard-hitting drum beats and guitars, and the vocals of hyde emitting a hostile energy.
With two decades of experience and a countless number of hit records, L’arc-en-Ciel are at the pinnacle of acknowledgement in the Japanese rock sphere. With a growing influx of global audiences to add to their name, they are the quintessence of unique rock music.
- 虹 Niji
- Good Luck My Way
- Ready Steady Go
© Isaku Takahashi