Grim Observations: Mardelas – Mardelas I (2015 Bonsai Bonus)

Japan’s Mardelas are a brand new female-fronted power/thrash act and they really do kick some ass when they’re playing heavier material. As is common with most Japanese acts, the styles that they play here differ quite a bit, but the whole thing really takes off with one of the best thrashers I’ve heard in quite a while, “Eclipse.” (4:43) From a musical standpoint, it’s clearly viable that these musicians can really play their instruments and they manage to illustrate that very well here. It’s definitely the head-banging kind of thrash you’d expect, but with a catchy J-Pop feel that fans will notice instantly. Essentially a supergroup featuring members of Alhambra, Light Bringer and Screaming Symphony, former Destrose frontwoman Marina Hebiishi really pours her heart out on several of these cuts as the rest of the band do exactly what they’ve always done best in their respective acts. Mardelas I features a metric ton of melodic leads, screaming solos and that same kind of Deep Purple “Highway Star” feel throughout it’s first three tracks. “D.D.C” (4:48) isn’t quite as fast as the opener, but it’s just as catchy. “Day break” (4:49) slows things down even a little bit more for a slightly more rock feel, but it still manages to channel those familiar power metal elements perfectly. Hebiishi’s vocal range is unparalleled and I’ve never heard anything like it in my life. She might as well be the female air-raid siren in all respects, and is equivalent to Bruce Dickinson or Rob Halford as far as these falsettos are concerned. Even on a much more common Japanese rocker like “Moonstone” (5:29) she really belts it out, as the rest of the guys help us to remember that this is still a metal act and it still needs powerful, pumping guitar solos aside from the opening disco-like crunches.

In all honesty, it’s a little odd to hear Hibiki’s bass riffs backing something that can sound as contemporary as this, but that’s only if you remember him from his potent power metal work in Alhambra. Even I didn’t know that he played the bass in Light Bringer, which is more of a hard rock/J-Pop style act that somewhat fits the style of our next track “Deep-G” (4:23) perfectly. Yes, it’s definitely the kind of thing you’ll hear as an anime opening, or possibly in the opening movie of a game, but it fits on a record like this. Additionally, Yumi from Light Bringer is also on the drums and she does a fantastic job of that. Kikyo from Screaming Symphony provides the majority of the majestic power metal leads here, and he’s also responsible for all of the solos, even on the next cut “Hyperfly” (4:26) which is definitely one of the funkiest songs on the record. You wouldn’t expect a solo there, but it appears and makes a very catchy song even more interesting. “Waves” (4:29) continues our foray into anime flavored soundscapes, which are set up very much in the same way they’d be featured in an opening. Again, this is far removed from the material that we heard in the beginning, but it again exemplifies what I say when I mean that many Japanese releases are a mixed bag of different sounds and styles. Hebiishi is far from high rising falsettos here, preferring a more romantic style of sound and vocal range. “Phantasia” (4:45) gets even more romantic, as pianos and disco-friendly grooves come in to bring a more traditional J-Pop style into the forefront. This is very commercial for Japan , even though I will say that Hebiishi’s vocal range certainly makes it quite listenable and I feel that both Japanese listeners and those in other parts of the world will find much to enjoy here. She really belts it out near the end as well, which is quite electrifying. “Amnesia” (5:29) comes in as a complete ballad, which of course, comes off more romantic than anything else featured on the disc. It’s definitely J-Pop at this point, with a slightly rocking edge. But that’s fine to me, as I find it quite beautiful, as well as Kikyo’s solo. This actually brings me back to the J-Pop I remember, where a guitar was not shyed away in a pop composition. Japan is after all, a country that has not forgotten the power of the guitar in a contemporary musical piece, much like America has. Even when guitar solo sections are featured in pop songs, or even in rock songs, they are usually stifled and not given a chance to breathe. You won’t find that similarity here, especially as we reach our closer “Scapegoat” (4:30). The disc ends with this punchier number, which sees a fiercer drumming effort from Yumi and an added dose of firepower from Kikyo and Hibiki. With Japanese rock and even metal albums, it’s not uncommon for a disc to end with a ballad like “Amnesia” but it’s good to hear them going out on a much heavier note here and cementing themselves as heavy band that doesn’t mind bending the genre boundaries a bit. One thing I’ve always loved (and always will love) about Japanese music, is that the majority of it’s artists don’t feel that they have to stay within the lines of a certain genre. They can play a song that sounds like Iron Maiden or Dimmu Borgir or even something like Death or Cryptopsy, and still put it on the same album without the need to form a new band or put it on a different album. It’s a record like that which gives me options – I can listen to a thrasher, a catchy little funk song, or a deeply romantic ballad. Mardelas I achieves everything that it set out to do and I’d consider it an overly solid effort in Japanese music.

(10 Tracks, 47:00)

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