Released by: Lion Music
Release Date: February 14th, 2013
Genre: Atmospheric rock/metal
Natasha Vaichuk – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Hiroaki Kato – Guitars, Keyboards, Backup Vocals
Yugo Maeda – Bass
Yushi Soutome – Drums & Cymbals
1. Ashes & Yarrow
2. Cry Havoc
3. Hymn to the Fallen
4. In the Half Light of the Canyon
6. The Pilgrimage
7. The Fog
What is the first thing that comes to your mind as a non-Japanese person?
Now, how many of you said “sushi”? Indeed, a few cultural milestones from Japan have crept their way out of their birthplace, much to the joy of some. Sushi is now common ground and even some small towns in North-America now have their sushi joints. Besides culinary things, others may have said Nintendo or Sony, the video game giants. But would you be as easily able to name a Japanese export when it comes to music? No, I don’t mean the (occasionally good) J-pop or J-rock of the 90s – things like Two-Mix, Glay or L’Arc-En-Ciel – but rather, in a metal order of idea. Who among you can name me at least 10 Japanese metal bands? Not many, right? That’s what I thought. Beyond the language barrier, when it comes to music, Japan still remains a very exotic and misunderstood country to most.
That’s not to say Japan doesn’t have their hidden gems; I can name a handful of worthy Japanese metal bands in avariety of genres. For example, I could name Sigh in extreme metal. Mirai Kawashima and co.’s brand of metal is quite unusual and unpredictable, but always brilliant. I could also name Blood Stain Child, who crafts some pretty awesome melodic death metal with trance/electronic sonorities. And to get closer to this site’s target audience, there are Galneryus and Versailles, which are happily enjoyed by many power metal fans. Or even Saber Tiger, who did some pretty great heavy metal back in the 90s. And then, what could be said about Yoshiki Hayashi and X-Japan, who are pretty much responsible for kick-starting the “visual kei” movement? To me, X-Japan’s Art of Life EP is to Japan as to AC/DC is to Australia and Iron Maiden is to the UK.
Unfortunately, as with every other country, where there’s brilliance, there’s also mediocrity. Japan doesn’t escape that, as Defiled’s tired and strained brand of brutal death metal or Gallhammer’s coma-inducing black metal shows. Thankfully for Early Cross, the band I’m introducing today, they don’t quite stand on the mediocre end of things but (unfortunately) they don’t quite fall into brilliance, either.
Their weapon of choice is atmospheric rock/metal and indeed, their debut album Pathfinder is quite atmospheric, if anything else. I willingly admit that the first few listens to Pathfinder were a bit tedious at best and sometimes, I daresay I felt discouraged and I got a bit bored. Given that this is their debut, I attribute this rather to their lack of songwriting experience rather than a lack of talent. Some parts of Pathfinder are absolutely brilliant, such as the beautiful and dynamic “Cairn” (perhaps the best song featured on Pathfinder) but “Cry Havoc” doesn’t really seem to go anywhere to me and meanders around without a set goal or destination. I also don’t find much of a point to a 37 second interlude (“In the Half Light of the Canyon” which could easily have been part of the previous song and transition into the next without need for a separate track).
This ultimately results in a sometimes frustrating experience but I progressively managed to find it a rewarding one after 5-6 times through Pathfinder. Much to my surprise, one of the highlights here is the epic and aptly titled “The Pilgrimage”, clocking in at just over 14 minutes. It does feel like a journey through many different moods and atmospheres and I really like that. Funnily enough, it seems the shorter track here is the weakest one. My theory on that is that the band needs longer songs to truly deploy their sense of scope and atmospheric meanderings. A lot of post-rock/metal bands are like that, actually.
This kind of music is quite often instrumental but Early Cross has Natasha Vaichuk to provide vocals, who has quite an airy voice which may turn off some. Personally, I find her oddly nasal tone to be adequate for the music they play. She does fit in well and her ethereal voice adds to the music and atmosphere, which is the goal of atmospheric rock/metal, no? The rest of the band is more than competent as their instruments, which is a good thing, of course. Speaking of which, there are a few unusual instruments showing up here: I heard bouzouki and mellotron, which is pretty cool. There’s also a cool organ on “The Pilgrimage”.
If the band can tighten up their songwriting a bit, their sophomore album could be quite a great record. My suggestion to the band is to stick with the longer songs, because that’s where their strength seems to be, judging from the great journey that is the aforementioned song. Besides that, I also really like the dramatic “Hymn to the Fallen” which not only sees Natasha shine, but also features some heavier moments and some mesmerizing atmosphere. The beautiful “The Fog” closes the album with its drawn, post-ish sound and is a fitting end to the album.
As a conclusion and footnote to the review, I started the review two days ago and I’ve listen to the album a lot more since then and I just find myself liking it more and more. I would therefore say it’s a grower, at least for me it was. It’s one of these albums that might demand a bit more patience than say, an Iron Maiden album, you know? I went up apoint from my original score because the songs keep revealing themselves more and more and I find myself spinning the album willingly and for my own enjoyment rather than for reviewing purposes, which is a sign that the band did something good. We’ll see what the future brings but until then, Lion Music did a very good signing with this band.
Written by Chris Auclair