My thoughts on “Liberation”, the long awaited debut album from MANACLE.
Release Date: May 12th 2021
1. Bokura no Easter
2. Jubaku no EXIT
3. Genome burger
5. Look at me!
7. Kokoro no kase
8. Gokusai Reliever
11. Fuhen to fuhen
I’m not really sure how to word this so that it doesn’t sound weird, but these days there aren’t a whole ton of Idol releases that really get me excited and give me a strong sense of anticipation before their release. That is partly due to the sudden nature of most releases in this new digital age but I dunno, I just feel like I haven’t really had that giddy sense of looking forward to a new release from a group in a while now. Well, apart from this one.
Most of you probably know of MANACLE, or at least 3 of the group’s members anyway. Imaizumi Ray, Kakizaki Risaki and Takatsuji Hina were of course all former members of NECRONOMIDOL before setting out on their own to start this new project a little over a year ago now. They’re joined by new face Maon to round out the 4-piece and they’ve been working very hard over the last 12 months to build up their new group’s name and reputation within Japan. Not so much outside of their home country though, which is why I’m assuming a lot of foreign fans haven’t been as switched on to them as I thought that they might have been.
This should hopefully all change with the release of the group’s debut album “Liberation”. A nod to the concept of being liberated from the shackles of daily life, and all that that entails, that the group has chosen to base both its name and the name of their fans (“Liberators”) on. A solid 11 track line-up features, a good number of which we’ve been hearing over the past year, but this is the first time everything has been presented together in one place and with a decent number of totally new songs too. Like I said, I’m pretty excited to hear this one so let’s cut to the chase so I can finally get around to doing just that. I’ll even try to be as impartial in my opinions as possible too, promise.
Things get off to a pretty ominous start, with the album’s lead track “Bokura no Easter” painting a very creepy picture with its opening instrumental which invokes a lot of old school horror vibes with its creaking doors, organ playing and what have you. From there the track transitions seamlessly into a sort of Darkwave style with a lot of synthesizer work continuing that dark, unsettling vibe that we started out with. The tempo of the track begins to build with the introduction of the vocals, which if you’re familiar with the core of MANACLE’s singing talent you pretty much know what to expect here. By that I mean very mature but also melodic delivery and also a little eerie edge to things too to tie everything together rather nicely. The build to the choruses is quite beautiful, in a haunting kind of way and the choruses themselves a quite the highlight of the track actually as the tension lifts a little bit and the track brightens up to allow the girls to stretch their vocal ranges a bit. The results are fantastic and the hooks are quite infectious too despite this not perhaps being a track that would obviously offer up that sort of thing. This is just a great track honestly, from the vocals to the intricacies of the instrumental to the atmosphere created it’s just all so well put together. What a great way to get started here.
“Jubaku no EXIT” continues the theme introduced by the previous track but it doesn’t waste any time pumping a very catchy synthesizer melody into our ears right from pretty much the second that the track starts. The slightly fuzzy beat that’s accompanying it is also packing quite a bit of punch too which I definitely helps the instrumental really get stuck in your head quite quickly even after just a couple of listens. Vocals are once again in a very natural style that you would expect from the people involved but there is a bit more intensity here and I really do like how each of the members trade off a couple lines back and forth during the verses. It sort of makes it feel like people are talking all around you which is an interesting auditory experience that you don’t get every day from J-Pop songs. Very gothic feel to it all, what with the piano and very deep beats from the synthesizers and drums though still with plenty of Pop sensibilities. The choruses once again are standout features here, they go pretty hard in the paint both in terms of intensity as well as with how catchy and well placed the hooks are. One thing is for sure, MANACLE definitely know where to find composers who can write a chorus. Not much of anything to complain about with this one as far as I’m concerned, it carries on the initial them of the album while putting a different spin on it and they nailed the hooks and the choruses. I can’t ask for much more than that really.
“Genome burger” is one of the tracks from the album that I wasn’t familiar with coming in, but it’s good to see that MANACLE managed to include a few totally new songs here too in addition to the ones they’d been promoting in the months leading up to this release. There’s a sort of glitchy feel to this one which is a bit different to the tone that was being set previously but a bit of variety is never a bad thing. Indeed the track’s downtempo, Hip-Hop inspired flow is a far cry from what we’d been hearing out of MANACLE so far on this release but there’s something of a Higurashi no Nako Koro ni vibe going on with the synths and the tone of the vocals which is probably just me making a super random connection but if you’ve seen that anime you’ll know what I mean. Quite a lot to wrap your head around from the instrumental in any case, with various synths, samples and other instruments all feeling like they give little snippets of melodies here and there while being underpinned by a steadying beat with a deep tone. The lyrics might not be instantly catchy to some but the almost chanting nature of them will have you humming along at the very least in no time at all, at least that was the case for me anyway. Like I said, something a bit different from MANACLE but still very creative, well executed and above all else enjoyable to listen to.
Despite sharing a name with an ancient Japanese word describing a far-off land full of bliss and peace, “MAHOROBA” is anything but that and you can hear it right from the opener with the track’s instrumental being very heavy on the string section and a very tense beat marching everything along at a nice quick pace. Definitely back to the sort of tone heard on the album’s first 3 tracks here and I’m down with it because I do quite like this sort of style that they’re going for here. There’s that mildly eerie feel to everything going on and those really nice, mature melodic vocals also make a reappearance too so I think it’s fair to say at this point that this could be considered the “base” MANACLE style. They add to it here though, with some rapid-fire line deliveries that as technically impressive as they are an enjoyable albeit quite intense listening experience. I have no idea how they pull this song off live but they do somehow and it never gets any less impressive. The middle stretch of the song is also a masterclass in that high pitched, ethereal style that I know a lot of people loved from several of the groups’ members previous music endeavors so if you’ve been missing that then this track is definitely recommended listening for all of you. A great track but also a great, familiar place to start if you’re only just checking the group out for the first time too.
“Look at me!” is being used as the main promotional track for this release, getting the full MV treatment and everything, and it’s pretty clear to see why MANACLE went with this one for such a role. The super catchy beat and funky guitar riffs of the opening instrumental are an instant hook and it feels very accessible and contemporary when taking into account for current trends in music. The vocals take a little bit longer to build themselves up and get going but the wait is more than worth it and despite the slower nature of things for a spell there’s no denying that they’re still managing to cram as much tone and as many lyrical hooks in as is possible here. I think once the first chorus hits is where the song really takes off though, with the vocals finding this really nice warm flow and while the instrumental takes a bit of a backseat during these particular parts it’s all in aid of letting the lyrics and vocal performance shine, and shine they certainly do. Also of note is the pretty epic guitar solo leading into a breakdown of sorts in the bridge towards the end, that not only sounded great but the change in vocal tone and delivery really helped to inject a bit more energy into the track and the change in tempo was perhaps a bit unexpected but very welcome by that point and it made the last go around of everything before the track ended that bit more impactful. Another great track that I would highly recommend that you check out.
Things then get taken down several notches as we mark the halfway point of this release with “KAKOU”. A very ambient synthesizer instrumental with a mildly fantastical feel is the tone on which things open and indeed that’s pretty much the groove that this track settles into for its duration. Vocals enter the fray after a short while and it’s at this point you figure out that this one is going to be a bit of a Ballad. A very nice one with lots of nice vocal melodies as well as several very pleasant sections with some great harmonies and I guess if anyone had any doubts that the members of MANACLE could sing traditionally then this song should probably answer question with a resounding “Yes”. I’ll be honest, the instrumental isn’t doing a ton for me here, though I do like the low rumble of the drums and there’s a couple of melodies that stand out too but yeah it’s just not really my sort of thing as you guys all know by now. That’s not to say that it isn’t a good song and there’s certainly an audience for this style of track and yeah, after the Gothic intensity of several of the previous tracks this is a nice little break from all of that too. Pretty good stuff but you’re probably going to figure out exactly what you’re getting here pretty quickly, and if that’s for you then great but if not then I’m sure there’s going to be plenty more on the back half of this album that will be more to your liking.
“Kokoro no kase” is another newer track in the MANACLE repertoire, so even if you’ve been following the group pretty closely since their debut like I have there are still a few songs on this release that you won’t have heard a whole lot of before. There’s a bit of a Latin flair to this one, something we haven’t heard out of this group previously, with quite a bit of acoustic guitar being woven into a nice ambient synthesizer beat. Quite a calming, warm atmosphere being created here on the whole and the use of less bells and whistles really gives the vocals a lot more room to show off some nice melodies as well as the very natural sounding emotional nature of things. There’s a bit of vocoding going on which I thought was a bit odd at first but it does sort of tie everything into the background synthesizer stuff that’s going on and it’s not crazy amount or anything like that, it’s just there and I felt the need to point it out I guess. The choruses are kinda along the same lines as the verses in terms of style but they do crank the tempo up and the lyrics get delivered a faster, more flowing style which I thought sounded pretty cool. It’s all quite catchy and even if you could boil everything down to this being a bit of a Ballad, MANACLE do a lot here to give you something a bit different to listen to I think that goes a long way to making this song as interesting as it is, to me at least.
Ever since I first heard it, “Gokusai Reliever” has been right up there as one of my favorite MANACLE songs if not just my outright favorite one. Things do get off to a slightly slow start as the track builds up its Darkwave inspired instrumental but you can kinda tell by the tone of the synthesizers and the catchy beat that this one is going places and the wait will be more than worth it in the end. The mature, rich vocal style from earlier tracks on this release also makes a reappearance here which makes sense given the vibe they’re going for and I do really like this side to MANACLE’s sound so it’s more than welcome as far as I’m concerned. A bit of a slow build on the vocal side of things too honestly but they work in a few pretty catchy lyrical hooks along the way so there’s plenty going on to please the ears as the track builds to its first and subsequent choruses. Yeah, the choruses are very much the star of the show here, which is me somewhat doing a disservice to everything else to be fair, and man does it go hard. The pounding beat, the floor filling EDM synths, a powerful vocal delivery and a ton of hooks all over the place and it all just comes together to create these wonderful moments on the track. Easy to see this one appealing to a wide variety of people as it hits on several popular musical trends from recent years and MANACLE and their producers have all the talent in the world when it comes to pulling it all off flawlessly. Highly recommended listening.
If you’ve been looking for something with a bit higher of a tempo out of MANACLE and nothing on this release has managed to scratch that particular itch so far then perhaps “toACE” might go some way to doing that. The track still has some nice piano melodies and that darker synth tone that’s been a feature on many of the previous tracks but it also has some pretty energetic guitar riffs added into the mix and along with a catchy drumbeat it really does bring a different dimension to what might be considered to be the base MANACLE style. The vocal melodies that you’d expect to be here are also out in force and they do a really great job of transitioning between a few different styles over the course of the track. More mellow, melodic and rich for the verses to energetic and emotional in the choruses and stopping off in a few places in between along the way. Speaking of the choruses, they’re pretty much built to have the crowd take part so I guess in that sense this is the most Idol-like song we’ve heard from the group so far. It’s pretty simple crowd participation stuff but catchy vocals, a high quality singing performance and a bit of tension and excitement and you’re really left wondering what more could you really ask for. A very accessible track that could potentially help MANACLE reach some new fans who aren’t just coming over and expecting them to keep doing more of the same.
It took a while for it to show up here, but with 2 tracks left on this release “Youdentity” finally makes its entrance. I don’t think it would be too out there to say that this is something of a theme song for MANACLE, at least it’s one of their songs that I would most strongly associate with the group anyway. From the dark, fantastical feel to the instrumental to the structuring a flow of the vocals this one makes an instant impression on you pretty much right from when the song starts playing. It’s catchy but not in a beating you over the head sort of way I guess I would say, obviously the hooks are pretty easy to pick out but there is a little bit of subtlety involved too and I appreciate that sort of thing. While the instrumental is no slouch, I would have to say for me that the vocals really do steal the show here with their fantastic melodies once again as well as how the members of MANACLE are all trading off lines back and forth between each other. It’s kinda hard to keep track of at times honestly so I’m not sure how they manage to do it in a live setting but they certainly do. It’s actually brilliant in how simple the structure of the track really is, it’s only a couple different parts if you listen closely enough but the flow and tempo changes really make you feel like you’re taken on a journey and the end result really is much greater than the sum of its parts. One of my favorites from the group for sure.
Which then brings us onto the final track on the album. “Fuhen to fuhen” is another one that has been out for a while at this point so I’m already pretty familiar with it and to say that MANACLE are closing things out on a high note here would be an understatement. This is another high energy Rock number from MANACLE and you can hear that very early on as one of the track’s main guitar riffs starts to play everything in. Very warm in tone and pretty bass-y once the drums and everything else comes into play. Kind of interesting to hear a distorted gang vocal style for a brief moment early and then several times throughout the track, as that isn’t something MANACLE have done too much of elsewhere to date but it certainly added a new dynamic to the track I did rather like it. The flow and structuring of the lyrics plays a large part in driving the song in fact, so much so that even the verses all have their own built-in hooks and that’s before we even touch on the choruses which not only are super catchy but also feel like they were just made for the crowd to take part in. This just has such an anthemic feel to it and they’ve achieved it in an interesting way as the instrumental isn’t super crazy or complicated but it does provide some key transitions by way of a quick guitar riff or drum fill and I really don’t want to understate just how important those things are in making this track what it is. A fantastic way to close out a very impressive first album.
“Liberation” is the culmination of not only 8 months of very hard work from everyone involved but it’s also an incredibly impressive feat given all of the uncertainty that has existed and indeed still continues to exist in both day to day life as well as the Idol scene. Risaki, Ray, Hina, Maon and all of their producers and collaborators can and should feel incredibly proud and satisfied by what they’ve created here and, not that my opinion is really worth a damn but, this is probably nailed on to be one of the best releases of 2021.
I kinda feel like the sky is the limit for MANACLE as far as…well, anything is concerned really. They’re calling all of their own shots, doing a bunch of really cool things both musically and outside of that and the 4 members are all insanely talented, driven people who clearly know what they want and are prepared to work hard to achieve it. That’s pretty much the perfect combination for success and I’m very excited to see what they have in store for us next.