Arlequin (c. 2013) quickly rose to top-shelf, basically-major-but-not-offically-major status through hard work, experience, sharp management and lots of (well deserved) hype, not unlike their contemporaries DEZERT, NOCTURNAL BLOODLUST, and DIAURA. And like their contemporaries, their name is rooted in sharp, well-composed, heavy-yet-melodic bangers. Unlike those names, Arlequin have the distinction of pushing their heavy x melody juxtaposition to the utmost extreme. Their lead singles are augmented by 7-string riffage, rough inhale vocals and furious drumming in conjunction with uber melodic, anisong-style choruses. "Haka ana", "ALIVE", "Stella", "Dame ningen", "Qualia", "Dilemma" and "ECLIPSE" follow this pattern, comprising their most famous--albeit monotonous work. Don't get me wrong, those are some of the best songs to come out of vk since 2010, but a body of work can't rest upon just highlights alone. It's the tracks that aren't singles on an album that make up the bulk of our listening, and this is where album filler comes to the detriment of bands that slay singles but can't do much else. Arlequin are exempt from this and I'll tell you why.
What most people don't know, is that Arlequin have a pretty funky experimental streak throughout their discography. If the band were the strength of their a-sides, and frankly whole first album alone, you'd have a solid but flat group of musicians. Luckily for us, Arlequin's most interesting work is tucked into b-sides, corners of albums, and (kinda) forgotten deep cuts. Why is this? Their A-sides and lead promo tracks are almost always easily digestible variations of their hit formula, and usually helmed by lead guitarist Nao. It wasn't until recently (i.e. post 2015) that Nao's hold loosened from Arlequin's compositions, incorporating bassist Shohei and rhythm guitarist Kuruto's songs into the fold. This, in my opinion, has greatly strengthened and diversified their sound. In fact, most of the tracks on the list aren't Nao's songs. Not to say he isn't a kick ass composer, but the band certainly benefits from bringing together clashing styles--just saying, maybe that's why near equal was a snooze fest. That's why the other guys (I hope?) have come to our rescue, bringing us some weirder variations on Arlequins usual formulas. The current result of Arlequin's more recent, integrative era is a sound representing a veritable pastiche of visual kei history: from minimal 00's alt-metal, 80's x-worship, melodic 90's ballads, and 10's modern boundary breaking. These guys know their shit, they're artists who compose with respect to the past, present and future of the scene that spawned them. Not a whole lot of what sounds like ghost writing; just honest sweat, red eyeshadow, hairspray, and broken bangya hearts (and probably condoms).
Without further ado, in no particular order, we'll get to looking at my offbeat favs that (I'd like to think) have solidified Arlequin's place as legends of the modern visual scene. No particular order, writing credits are courtesy of the lovely @peffy, though rocklyric has them up too. Live versions of the songs are linked when possible (and representative of the original), I think Arlequin sound way better live than on studio. Last three songs were remade into superior versions on Arlequin's recent best-of, so while originals are gonna be linked--just know where the sauce is truly at.
1.) "残響" (Zankyou)
Claim to fame: This sounds like a kaleidoscope
Of all the songs to fit on here, "Zankyou" is the most fitting. A clusterfuck of twinkling, dueling guitars, one hammering out a weirdly dissonant arpeggio and another tapping a lead line, holding on for dear life. What is just two guitar lines becomes the sound of a million starts shining in your face or just an overwhelming series of flashing lights and sounds. Rhythm plays second fiddle, a steady blast beat and bassline crashing against the star show. You'd have to wonder what the track started off as, as its certainly not a bass-centered track. I'd like to think Shohei gave the guys a bassline and said "go apeshit". Triumphant and riveting, "Zankyou" is unforgettable.
2.) "ハッピーセット" (Happy set)
Claim to fame: dissonance man, dissonance
What could be a fun banger is turned sour with dissonant rhythm and acrid lead guitar work, bringing a sense of dread from the get-go. As we await a pretty chorus, we're instead stuck with the same ringing chords and Aki shrieking the vocal melody. It's jarring to say the least--no pretty key shift or soothing refrain here. Kagerou/DEZERT-like octave chords play over the verse in the second half, bringing the tension up before the track implodes with more harshness. It's moody--yes, out of place--absolutely. "Happy set" is skipped over a bit when it comes on shuffle, I find Aki's inhales to be grating--especially without a break at all. That's the same reason I find it so interesting, who knew a mid-tempo track like this would be one of Arlequin's most brutal tracks.
3.) "独白" (Dokuhaku)
Claim to fame: CHUG CHUG CHUG CLACK CLACK
"Dokuhaku" is a weirdly shifting, "OBSCURE" esque, chuggy, alt-metal love fest for the first part. Spooky synths, evil laughter, sparse tom-drumming and all. Then it goes into a freak out phase, with blastbeats and screaming and the whole lot. Whats notable is how it just stops and starts between the sections, structure be damned. The acoustic interlude is especially interesting, paired with the stuttering intro cutting off Aki's crooning. The end effect is odd, and it is definitely a grower of a track. I go back and forth between liking and disliking this track, but in the end it's too engaging a track to put down.
4.) "棘" (Toge)
Claim to fame: Sad robot from Nagoya in 1997
"Toge" is a track that should immediately resonate with my old-school-loving peers, the chord progression and lead melody are straight up 90's gold. If you close your eyes and focus HARD, mentally stripping away the drop-tuned guitar and bleepbloops, it could easily be a ROUAGE or Laputa track. BUT...Arlequin aren't hellbent on 90's revival, and that's where it gets fun. Effects are overlaid on the guitarline and vocals that make them sound wonky, lightly distorted and distant, inducing an odd, campy-space-movie feel. There is something so weird about this, but it works because its such a traditional, mid-tempo visual ballad. The contrast is incredible but by no means distracting, and one of their ballad (+discography) highlights. In all honesty, someone should make a weird edited fan video of "WALL-E" footage (robot love!!) with "Toge" playing in the back--might actually pull a few tears out of me.
5.) "NEGA ABILITY"
Claim to fame: bass DOMINATION
Easily Arlequin's most stripped down, dark and atmospheric song. No twin guitar fiddles, bleepbloops, distracting melodies. It's Shohei's delayed bass, delicate vox from Aki, and grinding guitar riffs. I've never heard bass mixed so high in an Arlequin song, especially with such a distorted, crunchy tone. This goes out to all the post-vulgar DEG and 2000's MUCC stans, its a raw, emotive, and almost shockingly simple metal banger. The dazzling chorus hits like a bag of bricks through violent verses and sparse intro/exit sequences. Exist was a pretty strong single, and to leave on such an intense note leaves me curious as to the direction Arlequin will head toward with future releases.
6.) "僻目" (Higame)
Claim to fame: dizzying slow burn
Haunting, dissonant chords accent a djenting rhythm line dancing around complexly groovy, polyrhythmic drumming. When the good ol' Aki chorus hits, its sparkle is dampened by the dark mood of the verses, only looking up during an acoustic reprise toward the end. Lead work is less about virtuouso and more about inducing a disorienting atmosphere--which is something later-era Arlequin have been nailing. If I had to guess, I would've thought it was a Shohei composition with the moody, bass-heavy sound, but it seems like dissonance is a theme with Kuruto's work.
Claim to fame: the DRAMA
Looking at "link" in the context of their overall discography, especially the tracks that came after, it's not too shocking a track. But when it came out, it was a novel take on Arlquin's style. It has the heavy, angular alt-metal/djent chug of Shohei's (and some of Nao's) compositional style, paired with incredibly emotive vox from Aki. The sweet chorus+whispered(?) gang vocals save the track from turning into "NEGA ABILITY", but know it could've easily gone in that direction. Maybe that's why "link" is so interesting, like a time-travelling mix of Arlequin past and present. The overall mood is contemplative, with a meditative heaviness and stillness about the track. The live version is interesting, because the band flubs around a bit (was it the last song off the main setlist?), but I think it shows the band in the full mood of the song.
真っ赤な嘘 (Makkana uso) (2017)
Claim to fame: DAT RIFFING THO
Now less moody, more party. "gossip" is both early 2000's oshare/punk-rock fun and a tinge of 80's visual, a-la X. All parts of the song hit hard as hell, making for a fun and melodic listen, despite a pretty simple structure. That said, the second half with the dazzling Nao solo and thrashy drumming take the track over the top and really bring the power-metal vibe home. I was very pleasantly surprised to see the band revisit "gossip"'s throwback sensibilities with the even MORE X/Luna Sea-loving lead single "puzzle" in 2017. It stands alone within their discography for the mishmash of visual history, a recurring theme in Arlequin's repertoire.
Claim to fame: Bleep-bloop, rapping, triumphant solo...confusion
Let's be honest, Arlequin's first demo was a hot mess. All four tracks were salvaged (after careful reworking) on their Kaichikan... best-of album, which was a testament to the strong melodic sensibilities that the guys had since Arlequin--probably why it sold out like 3x over. "Fiction" is the hottest mess, with a nightmarish smattering of late-2000's visual cliches: slow-down choruses, rapping, high-pitched-leads-over-blastbeats, jumping section, gaze-thot(TM) backing vox, shrieking, bleep-bloops. To add insult to injury, the track randomly goes for a virtuosic solo to close it off, fading into nothing as if we didn't just get rap-screamed at three minutes prior. Why on earth would you want to listen to this? The same reason you'd gladly watch a car crash in slow motion. That and it's fucking Arlequin, who somehow fashion a shitstorm of bad ideas into something quirky and endearing.
10.) "像" (Zou) + BOOOOOONUS "ナミダノアト" (Namida no ato)
Claim to fame: Weirdly danceable metal + weirdly cryable metal
The ratchetness of their first demo didn't escape later works--thank god. Eclipse shortly followed their demo, with more-or-less the same stuff that made their prior work so fun, but with a bit of refinement. "Zou" is their crazy livehouse banger, with the original 3-and-a-half minutes usually stretched out to ~7 to accommodate an extended gyakudai (reverse-dive) section toward the end of the track. Dubstep synths clash against chugging guitars and drum machines before jumping into a little fiesta section, led by Aki's spicy la-la-la's and the guitars following with an 'oriental'-sounding scale. Of course afterwards all hell breaks loose with the gangshouts in the gyakudai section. Live version is linked because it's awesome, but "Zou" bangs because of the little phases it moves through within its unconventional structure.
Onto "Namida no ato", it has the heaviness and electronics of the usual Arlequin sound, but with this super-melodramatic style that turns it into this odd heavy-ballad. We're tricked into thinking its gonna be heavy, but after the first verse we see what we're in for with the chorus. It also happens to be one of my favourite Arlequin choruses ever, its long and lovely--all the pretty stuff Aki pulls out of his vocal chords, going up and down his range, it's all so beautiful. "Namida no ato" pushes ani-song territory for sure, and I don't think Arlequin even write tracks with progressions this cheesy anymore. Best of all, they repeat the chorus ad-nauseum so you'll literally NEVER forget it. It's a really special song in my opinion, and I love it nonetheless (although that key change before the solo can go!); prime last-song-at-the-third-encore-at-the-anniversary-tour-finale fodder, imagine all the confetti! boku ga kimi no namae wo...
Those are my top-10 Arlequin deep cuts! Agree/disagree with these pics/blurbs? Do you have any unsung favourites from Arlequin's discography that weren't featured here? Voice your opinions below! Also if you're a hardcore Arlequin fan and follow their interviews/stuff, I'd love to know more about how they approach composition. That and I'm curious as to what songs are loved/disliked among fans that attend lives.
Any bands that think you have B-sides/live-dists/lowkey songs that are overlooked in favour of lead singles? Let me know and I might continue this series.
Back to studying for my GREs...it's been real!