FATE GEAR - 7 years ago

review - 02.12.2018 11:01

Mina and friends make the transition from band to "steampunk metal orchestra."

Where Mina goes, line-up changes are destined to follow.

So it seemed last year when, hot on the heels of their excellent second album OZ -Rebellion-, FATE GEAR announced frontwoman Nico and keyboardist Kurumi would step back from full-time band activities. However, it soon emerged this move was part of a reconfiguration of the group into what Mina has termed a “girls’ steampunk metal orchestra”, from which guest performers will come and go. Fans got their first taste of this new format back in April with 7 years ago.

The album’s centrepiece is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the title track 7 years ago, with two versions of the song bookending the tracklist. The key difference (besides a minor tweak to the title) is the guest vocalists: singer-songwriter Maki Oyama sings the opener solo while Innocent Material’s MANAMI and Ibara, one half of gothic duo Emilie’s Moonlight Serenade, duet on -refrain-.

There’s not much to pick between the two, despite the difference in vocalists. Oyama and MANAMI both possess powerful voices, and Ibara would be playing second fiddle no matter who she was partnering. Speaking of fiddles, despite the prominence of Rose Noire violinist Jill, there’s no whiff of any overt folk or symphonic influences.

About a third of the album is given over to tracks originally recorded by DESTROSE. Lest Mina be accused of using her old works as filler, it must be said only her most die-hard fans will have likely heard two of these songs. Heart’s Grave was a B-side on a now-out of print single, and Chained-Destiny only ever appeared on live DVDs.

Regarding Fenixx 2011, this is the original version of the song that was debuted by Mina’s short-lived side project Arch Roses, without the tweaks from Marina Hebishii. Having said that, it seems whatever changes were made were lyrical, as music-wise, there’s very little to tell it apart from DESTROSE’s take.

As if to allay doubts about Nico and Kurumi’s continued involvement in FATE GEAR, 7 years ago includes back-to-back songs featuring them both. With its Famicom-era RPG-style synthesized orchestrations and rousing chorus, Arashine echoes the best moments of OZ -Rebellion- without quite hitting the same heights.

This can be put down to some plodding verses and a lack of keyboards, something Little Spring goes some way to making amends for. In making Kurumi’s piano the lead instrument, Mina elevates what would have otherwise been a rather formulaic ballad.

Given the fractured nature of the production, it’d be unfair to compare 7 years ago to OZ -Rebellion-. Like the band’s debut, the combination of original tracks and DESTROSE covers makes the record feel more like an EP with a generous helping of bonus tracks. Some fans may lament the lack of Nico, but the guest singers acquit themselves well. It's tempting to think drummer idyako and bassist MAKI, who play on one song a piece, were brought in to pad out the guest list, but even if it's true, such a gesture underlines Mina’s ongoing commitment to the movement she helped start.

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