My thoughts on “Gyakuten Colorfulrhythm”, the debut EP from Gekijo Refrain.
Release Date: November 1st 2020
1. Gyakuten Colorfulrhythm
3. THE ETERNAL ALTHEA
4. vs FLOOR
5. Kodoku ni chiru
6. Gyakuten Colorfulrhythm (instrumental)
7. Neotonic (instrumental)
8. THE ETERNAL ALTHEA (instrumental)
9. vs FLOOR (instrumental)
10. Kodoku ni chiru (instrumental)
Interesting new things have been in fairly short supply this past year, for reasons that I don’t need to even bother going into at this point honestly. There has definitely been an extreme slowdown when it comes to new Idol groups debuting but it’s hard to argue considering it was (and still is) very difficult to play shows and do much of any of the things needed to get a project off of the ground in Japan’s underground music scene. There have been a few projects who are making a go of things though, and we’re going to take a look at one of them here today.
Gekijo Refrain are a group that has been in the works for about a year now, having originally auditioned members for the unit at the tail end of 2019. Clearly the plan probably wasn’t to be debuting almost a year later but that’s just how 2020 decided to deal them their cards. The 5-piece are looking to make up for lost time though and honestly, this is one of the more well produced debuts I’ve seen in a while with a flashy website, high quality costumes and other such things seeming to tick all of the boxes…providing that the music is also up to scratch.
Billing themselves as an “Emotional Rock” unit, there’s definitely a lot of preconceived ideas one could have about what the Nagoya collective might sound like and there’s a pretty good chance that you’d be right with at least some of them. I try not to judge a book by its cover though and I’m interested to hear what exactly Gekijo’s interpretation of “Emotional Rock” sounds like and the 5 tracks of the group’s debut “Gyakuten Colorfulrhythm” EP seems to present us with plenty of opportunity to do so. I suppose the main thing for me is I’m hoping that the musical content lives up to the image, the year+ of planning and the very lofty debut live at Nagoya’s famous Electric Lady Land music venue. A lot to live up to for sure so let’s see how Gekijo Refrain does with their CD debut
The EP kicks things off with its title track “Gyakuten Colorfulrhythm” which is a bit of a mouthful I have to admit, but it does sound a lot better if you’re pronouncing it like a Japanese person would for what it’s worth. The instrumental wastes little time becoming very intense and in your face with its familiar brand of EDM laced Hardcore making for a very energetic introduction to Gekijo Refrain. None of this lets up when vocals get introduced either, in fact I would say that the drumming probably becomes even more hard hitting and high tempo so don’t expect to be afforded much time to catch your breath on this one. Speaking of the vocals, I was honestly surprised at how not vocoded they were, as such a production style does lend itself very favorably to this particular genre, but here it seems like they decided to play things a lot more clean and natural sounding. A welcome change in my opinion and the vocal performances on this track are very impressive so I’m glad they weren’t obscured by a bunch of effects and what have you. You like harsh vocals? We get some of those here too, with one of the more brutal guttural vocals I’ve heard from an Idol group in…well, ever I suppose so if you’re looking for another group offering this kind of stuff then I can highly recommend this one, well at least on this track anyway. If the more melodic, Pop style is more your thing then the track’s choruses are offering up buckets full of that too, with a high energy, sugar coated arrangement that while definitely lighter in tone is still very much in keeping with everything else going on. It does sort of feel like they’re trying to show off a lot of different things at once here but I suppose when it’s the first track on your first release it sort of makes sense to try to give people a taste of everything you can do. Doesn’t hurt that the end result is really good either.
We continue with the digitized Rock theme into the release’s second track “Neotonic” which follows a similar sort of style to what we’d just heard previously but not quite as intense or hard hitting in nature. Perhaps a difference that will be too subtle for some to discern but these are definitely two very different sounding tracks so I’m not going to knock Gekijo Refrain for going back to the well a bit here, brand building too and all that. The vocals are still highly emotionally charged too, but less in a venomous, screaming way and more in a dramatic, at times somewhat sad tone that added another dynamic to the group’s sound that was not previously apparent from the one song I’d just heard from them. It’s a bit hard to pin this one down really as it’s pulling in influences from a lot of different places like Electronica, Rock, Ballad and a bunch of other stuff in between. I suppose in the end it sort of comes out sounding like one of those anime style J-Pop slathered Rock songs that you would probably all know exactly the sort of thing that I’m referring to if you heard it. In that sense I suppose this song is a little bit more by the numbers and it’s certainly not looking to reinvent the wheel either, but once again the end result is really solid so it’s hard to really find any real fault in what they’ve done here. There’s some great personality behind the vocals, the dramatic instrumental sections are memorable and the choruses are catchy enough, though perhaps in a slightly too familiar way. It probably isn’t going to knock your socks off, but there’s plenty of opportunity for this track to catch the ears of casual listeners and if it does that then it can’t be seen as anything less than a success in my opinion.
Then almost out of nowhere, along comes “THE ETERNAL ALTHEA” which really caught me off guard and almost blew my ears off with the brutal assault that this track wages on the sense right from the very second it starts playing. This one is intense, heavy and not shy on the harsh vocals folks so if any of that sounds like a good time to you then strap yourselves in. Heavily distorted guitars and chaotic synthesizers create the backdrop for much of the track, making a very strong and immediate impression on the listener and keeping the tension high for large swathes of the song. The vocal performance somehow manages to not only keep up but sometimes even best all of this though, with easily one of the most impressive displays of harsh vocals I’ve heard from an Idol group this year and there have been quite a few of those these past few months. The ears are offered a bit of respite when we get to the song’s choruses, where things take on a markedly more melodic tone vocally which I think on balance is probably what the track needed and they kept the post production to a minimum too so it wasn’t your typical vocoded sort of style either which was nice. The instrumental is noticeably brighter too but still fairly busy and distorted in a way which isn’t really my preferred direction but it ties everything together nicely so it’s hard to really say it’s a negative here. Once again Gekijo Refrain aren’t trying to over-complicate things too much so the structuring and base elements of the track are pretty straightforward and don’t try anything too flashy but again, when the results are as good as they are here then why try to overthink things. If you like your Idol music loud, intense and with plenty of screaming then I wholeheartedly recommend that you listen to this song as soon as possible.
If you thought that the last track didn’t have quite enough synthesizer for your liking then “vs FLOOR” is bringing that back in a pretty big way with another one of those Digital Hardcore style compositions that’s sure to get everyone out on the dancefloor headbanging, circlepitting and all of that fun stuff…once the whole global health situation allows anyway. This one has quite a bit of build-up to it so we get to hear plenty of the instrumental, which is fairly repetitive after a while I must admit but it’s pretty catchy so I’ll allow it. I was honestly expecting the vocals to be vocoded in some fashion so it was a pleasant surprise when they were introduced about a minute in a were very clean and natural sounding. It added a bit more personality to the performance which was already pretty strong on the various emotions that bubbled their way to the surface throughout the course of the track, something I think would have been missed otherwise. It’s almost kind of a Ballad in some ways, which you probably wouldn’t be able to tell by how uptempo the beat is and the overall variety in vocal tone so if the intent was to make a well explored style of song interesting then they’ve defintiely done that here. I suppose my only slight knock on the track is that the chorus isn’t perhaps the most exciting thing in the world, with its fairly vanilla Idol style being a bit at odds with much of the rest of this EP. It’s still a pleasant listen, don’t get me wrong, it’s just not leaving quite the same impression on me as some of the other stuff that I’ve heard from Gekijo Refrain so far. Still well worth a listen or two to make up your own mind though.
Last up on what has been a very strong debut offering to this point is “Kodoku ni chiru” which takes things in yet another different direction by offering up to us a dramatic, somewhat moody sounding Rock number. This is achieved by using some appropriately Gothic sounding piano notes to accompany the harder Rock instrumental that is serving as the backbone to the composition and the results are very effective in capturing the sort of mood that they were clearly going for. The vocal performance in the opening verses matches the feeling in the room with this sort of downcast, breathy style that has been proven to work time and time again with this sort of track so it shouldn’t come as much surprise that this is what they’ve decided to go with here too. Once we hit the first chorus though, the track really burst into life and becomes a lot more energetic as the mood shifts to something much brighter and this carries through to much of the rest of the song. Quite the catchy chorus too might I add while we’re on that subject. A bit of a song of two halves I suppose which as a fan of releases ending on a high note is something that I’m not complaining about. We even get one last dose of the harsher side of the Gekijo vocal department as the bridges gives us one last unhinged breakdown of sorts to make sure that no matter where you fall on the chart when it comes to the group’s sound that you’re going to be going home happy after listening to this one. Not how I thought this track was going to go I’ll admit but in the end it ended up being a very strong note to end things off on I think.
After being a year in the making, I think the wait for Gekijo Refrain was more than worth it and the group is shaping up to be one of the more interesting additions to the harsher end of the Idol spectrum of late. There’s definitely some elements of the group’s sound that are a little bit played out at this point but I heard a lot of promise here and if harsh vocal are your thing then there’s some of the best ones I’ve heard lately contained in this EP. As a starting point to hopefully push on from, I don’t think they could have done any better honestly.
Where things go from here of course remains to be seen, with the last year or so showing more than ever that you just don’t know what’s going to happen next. Gekijo Refrain seem to be keen to make up for lost time though so hopefully there’s plenty of motivation and determination behind the project to see them through what is probably going to be a pretty difficult first half of 2021 and that they can build up a decent amount of momentum to serve them well when things are back to “normal” and they can really show everyone their full potential. Definitely a group to watch in the next year or so I think, I know I will be anyway.