My thoughts on “AN ALIEN’S PORTRAIT”, the first album from Broken By The Scream.
Release Date: August 22nd 2018
1. Koi wa Otome no Nakidokoro
3. Looking For
4. Tsunaida Seiza no Love Letter
5. Hadaka no Taiyō
6. I wish…
8. oh!my!ME・GA・MI ni Koishiteru!
9. Naite Naite Nakimakure
11. Sayonara Birthday
12. Sora Kakeru Kaze no Yōni
The wait is finally over everybody. Broken By The Scream have not only recently put out a brand new release, but they’ve gone all out and released their first full length album! I know a lot of you out there have been clamoring for more music from BBTS and I have been too so this release is definitely something that has been looked forward to since it was announced a couple of months back. It was a pretty painful wait for me personally but I’m sure it was worth it…right?
“AN ALIEN’S PORTRAIT” is only the second widely available release from the 4-piece since their “SCREAMING RHAPSODY” EP came out in November of 2017 (review here). There has been a few tracks uploaded to YouTube here and there in the meantime and they naturally have made their way onto this album. The tracklist is comprised almost entirely of brand new material so the group definitely went all out on that front. I am however slightly disappointed that personal favorites like “Yume Hanabi” didn’t make the cut for whatever reason. Oh well, such is the way things go.
It might surprise you to hear this, but I’m not really sure what to expect from this album. I mean, I’m sure there will be all manner of impressive harsh vocals from members Kagura and Io and obviously I have heard a few of the songs previously as well. Outside of that though, it’s a bit less clear. BBTS have been trying to position themselves as some kind of half-Idol, half-band thing for a while now for reasons that I’m sure are logical to those involved. As an outsider looking in though, it raises a lot of questions about the future direction of the group. Perhaps this album will be able to shed some light on things. I should probably get this review started and find out.
“Koi wa Otome no Nakidokoro” gets us under way in the way that we’ve all come to expect from Broken By The Scream. I’m talking about high and low harsh vocals that are almost impossible to believe out of group members Kagura and Io along with an instrumental that’s in your face and an all out assault on the ears. Yae and Ayame’s clean, well slightly modulated to be accurate, more Pop oriented vocals eventually manage to cut through the maelstrom and the song truly begins. Blast beats and distorted guitars accompany the harsher parts of the song while synthesizers are the order of the day for the more melodic portions. All of this then comes together for the chorus in quite the twisted harmony with Yae and Ayame’s delivery being punctuated by the tandem of Io and Kagura. The breakdown in this song is just filthy and the guitar solo that follows was awesome too. This song is probably a pretty decent idea of what else is to come so I suppose you at least know what you’re in for if you haven’t fled in terror yet. I quite like this song, the chorus in particular, but there’s a few production choices concerning the harsh vocals that I’m not that keen on. I’m far from a producer so I’m probably wrong anyway but I’ll elaborate on it as we go along here.
Without barely a second or two to catch your breath “Judgement!!” is delivered unto your eardrums in the form of what I’m sure is a fairly familiar drumbeat to all of the Metal/Core aficionados out there. Who am I kidding, none of them are reading this. Seriously though, the opening few bars of the instrumental on this song is a tried and true crowd hype move…which doesn’t last too long as all of the knobs once again get cranked to eleven. I really like the harsh vocals on this one, particularly from Kagura as I feel like they got the mixing right in post-production this time. It’s a bit hit or miss with the harsh highs I’ve noticed with them seeming to float above the rest of the track on more than one occasion. They got it right here though so thumbs up from me. Didn’t like the pounding drumbeat and crunching guitars on the first track? Well there’s a whole lot more of that here so don’t say I didn’t tell you there was a theme. Speaking of which, we’re once again treated to a nice Pop style chorus, kind of in a floor-filling EDM style this time. Io is the star of the breakdown on this one, with some demonic sounding lows that both impress and terrify at the same time. Somewhat similar to the previous song in structure it’s true (that’s a theme for better or worse) but I think I much prefer the chorus and more melodic parts here.
I’m already somewhat struggling to come up with creative ways of saying “this song starts out super heavy, then we get a great Pop style chorus” but that’s pretty much how third track “Looking For” plays out too. Now granted, the instrumental does sound a good bit brighter even with Io and Kagura doing their best to leave my ears ringing but like I said there is a bit of a pattern to Broken By The Scream songs that’s hard not to notice. After the first chorus you do start to hear several differences however, mainly an increased use of synthesizer and I think even piano on the instrumental side of things which are the main contributors to the brighter feel to this song in my view. Another pretty cool sounding guitar solo on this one too for all you fans of flashy licks out there. There’s also a much more even split between harsh and melodic when it comes to the vocals which I think is a good thing because it does feel at times like Yae and Ayame are somewhat relegated to the sidelines while Io and Kagura do their thing. Surprisingly however, I’m not that big on the chorus on this song which is unfortunate because this is one the most accessible “true” BBTS songs on the album…not that I expect many people to make it this far if they weren’t already down with the other stuff on offer.
“Tsunaida Seiza no Love Letter”, yep love letter (believe it or not a lot of BBTS songs are about love, maidens, shyness, etc) you read that right. So this song is a bit different in that it starts out with a Synth-Pop instrumental that wouldn’t have been totally out of place in the mid to late 80s. Now naturally we eventually bring in pounding drumbeats, guitars and what have you but all in an even more noticeably softer way than on even the previous track. The chorus while still very Poppy, is also sung with a more measured cadence, one that is still very modulated however. It’s a little on the Ballad side of things I suppose, as much as a song with a bunch of low growls can be anyway. One problem I had with the song is that Kagura’s high harsh vocals sound almost too clean on this track, if that makes sense to anyone. That’s part of what I alluded to previously in the review, sometimes the production on these BBTS songs just isn’t dirty enough for the genres they’re working in. Turn up the distortion pedals a bit more, get particularly Kagura’s vocals a bit lower in the mix, turn everything up to 11 if you will. That’s what I’d do anyway, this is still a fine song though but probably the least interesting so far for me.
I wish I could say the more traditional J-Rock opening section of “Hadaka no Taiyō” caught me off guard or surprised me, but this is BBTS so when the song changed pace to something more Metal focused, somewhat atmospheric this time, it was fairly predictable. What was a nice change of pace was Ayame and Yae not only getting more airtime once again but also outside of their usual chorus duties. There was a pretty nice split of verses between the clean and harsh sides of the BBTS vocal department on this one, something I’m sure which is hard to balance but I really enjoy the way BBTS structure their melodies so if they can squeeze a few more in here and there then it’s a thumbs up from me. The instrumental on this one I felt went a bit too heavy on the blast beats at times, although I did appreciate the subtle use of some piano once again. The synthesizers in the chorus complimented the lighter tone that the clean vocals brought as well I thought. The Thrash elements incorporated via the guitars also put a slightly different spin on what appears to be a much loved formula by the folks producing these songs.
If you’re like me and have been thinking things like “I wish Yae and Ayame got even more time to shine” as we’ve been going along here then the aptly titled “I wish…” is here to fulfill said wishes. This song sees the more typical vocal distribution turned completely on its head with clean melodies being the order of the day, with punctuation provided from the harsher side of things. It’s what worked so well on “SCREAMING RHAPSODY” after all. I know I mentioned the word Ballad previously but that term is definitely befitting of this song because for the most part that’s what it is. Great vocal performances from all involved and everyone getting a chance to show off what they do best. The instrumental was also very different, albeit rather schizophrenic, focusing heavily on bright tones and sparkling synthesizers. In a lot of ways this one is a palette cleanser from the brutality that has battered your senses for the previous 20 minutes. If for some reason you were looking for a powerful, emotive Rock song (with a bit of screaming) from BBTS then this is probably going to make you pretty happy. Not what most people will be I’d imagine but this one also gets a thumbs up from me.
Anyone else catch the Dragon Ball reference in the title for track 7 “Do・Do・N・Pa!!” or am I the only anime nerd around here? I’m not sure about the song being named after a finger laser, in fact most of the instrumentation feels more like those fast paced combat sequences where the characters are trying to kick and punch each other in rapid succession. If the softer, more melodic style of the past couple of songs wasn’t your thing then you’ll be happy to know that we’re back to the harsh vocals and tasty guitar licks that featured predominately on the album’s first handful of tracks. Speaking of predominate, this song is pretty much the Kagura and Io show with pretty much zero input from Yae and Ayame vocally. That presents its own challenges but I think they structured the song in an interesting way. I also don’t mind them doing a song like this because well, “I wish…” was pretty much the same concept but going the other way so fair is fair. I also like that they managed to make the chorus on this song just a tad bit more Poppy with the use of some EDM style synthesizer melodies. I feel like this song and the last one will divide opinion based on what people prefer to hear from a Broken By The Scream song. I personally like a bit of both.
Next up is “oh!my!ME・GA・MI ni Koishiteru!” which if you’ve been following Broken By The Scream for a while now should be a pretty familiar song to you. Originally released as their first, venue only single it’s nice to see this song finally get the proper treatment it deserves. By that I mean there have been improvements on all fronts with this song. For starters the original version still had former member Sumire singing on it, who has now been replaced by Kagura. That’s an upgrade in my book, although perhaps a harsh assessment given the former was only in the group for one single. Production as a whole has also been stepped up majorly on this new rendition of the song, hardly surprising given the fact the original was likely put together on a shoestring budget using some generic instrumental patches. This is the song that first introduced BBTS to a lot of people and has in a lot of ways become the basis for the group’s sound up until now as well. As such this is a very important song in the group’s history so it’s fitting for it to be featured on their debut album, it’s also one of the better songs I’ve heard on this album thus far too. You can draw your own conclusions from that statement.
In a lot of ways, “Naite Naite Nakimakure” is the style of song that I wish BBTS would have featured a bit more on this album. I think this song strikes a really good balance between harsh and melodic and provides ample room for everyone to shine vocally. I get that they’re trying to carve out their own niche, and a very specific one at that, but I think what drew a lot of people to BBTS initially was songs like this one that fuse Idol Pop with Death Metal/Core/whatever. Anyway, I like this song specifically because it feels like it’s driven mainly by the melodic vocal parts something of a breath of fresh air when compared to much of the other material that features both styles on this release. I also very much appreciate the decision not to fill the instrumental on this song full of blast beats, instead they opted to go with a more middle of the road Metal composition with some pretty catchy guitar riffs and an overall lighter tone than much of what we’ve heard of this album. I guess at the end of the day it just comes down to what you’re looking for and for me I prefer it when BBTS slant more towards melodies than screaming. They’re an Idol group after all, right?
Credit where credit is due, “Message” is another song where I feel like at least for my personal taste BBTS have got it right when it comes to harsh and melodic vocals. I probably sound like a broken record when I’m talking about this stuff but hopefully you understand why I’m making such a big deal out of it. The clean vocals used in the chorus really gave things an anthemic feel and just made the song feel like it was a big deal, if that makes sense at all to anyone. It’s pretty hard to put something like that into words I suppose. Instrumentally, to me the synthesizer work in this song added that extra dimension that I feel is missing from some of the other tracks on the album. It really did help to further liven up what was already a very upbeat instrumental by Metal standards. There’s a great tempo from the drums and a really nice guitar solo at the midway point of the song that felt both appropriate and not like it was overshadowing any other part of the song. I’m not really sure “fun” is an appropriate word to use to describe this song but after much of the brutality of the opening half of the album that is what these lighter songs end up feeling like to me.
It takes us all the way until the penultimate song on the album before we get to hear the song that BBTS are using to promote it. Nothing wrong with that of course and there’s nothing all that wrong with “Sayonara Birthday” as a song either. It’s certainly representative of what’s on offer on the rest of the album, which shows they put some thought into what song they picked to promote it. Indeed, this song incorporates pretty much all of the main elements found on the album’s 11 other tracks, from dirty guitar licks, to impressive harsh and clean vocals, sparkling synthesizers and yes…there’s a bunch of blast beats included as well. I wouldn’t argue too much if someone were to say to me that this song is trying to be too many different things at once, but it did end up working out pretty well all things considered. Once again the production is a bit questionable in places, most noticeably the unwillingness to mix Kagura’s high screams so they sound more like they’re part of the song. Questionable production choices have been the story of this album though so if you’ve made it this far you’ve probably learned to overlook them by now.
The album closes out with “Sora Kakeru Kaze no Yōni”, a ballad, something that may come as a surprise to some of you reading this. I personally think it’s a pretty nice touch honestly, something to soothe the ears after the chaotic onslaught that much of the rest of the album has put them through. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing either by the way, just that there were some particularly brutal and also impressive moments. Now of course they do sneak some harsh parts and a breakdown of sorts into this song, it just wouldn’t be BBTS otherwise, but for the majority of its over 5 minute runtime we are presented with a rather beautiful and very melodic Metal song with a healthy shot of synthesizer right into the arm for good measure. It was nice once again to hear everyone get their chance to shine vocally and there was more than one occasion where I was just blown away by one of the song’s multiple impressive guitar parts. Admittedly not the sort of thing I’m putting on a BBTS CD to hear but man if this wasn’t an awesome song. I also found myself enjoying it a good deal more than some of the stuff I thought I was tuning in for in the first place too, which creates some interesting thoughts and emotions in my mind.
You probably noticed that I ended up repeating myself quite a bit in this review. On the one hand I’m not super confident writing about some of these genres that BBTS are drawing inspiration from, but if I’m being honest there was a significant amount of this album that did feel pretty repetitive. Many of the songs follow a similar structure and the producers do seem to favor blast beats just about any time a song has to be on the heavier side of things. It’s not like there’s really any bad songs and some are actually really good, although the production is far too clean cut in almost all instances, but this album doesn’t blow me away like “SCREAMING RHAPSODY” did.
A fair assessment of “AN ALIEN’S PORTRAIT”? I’ll let you guys be the judge, and be sure to let me know what you all thought of the album either in the comments or on Twitter. I’m sure BBTS will be just fine regardless, but I do hope that they’ll try to get out of their comfort zone a bit on their next release. They can definitely do a lot of cool stuff with the talent and tools available to them and it did show at times on this album. Who knows though, they might not even be calling themselves an Idol group by the time their next release rolls around for all I know.