IBUKI - ExMyself
The ironwoman cometh.
Since 2008, IBUKI has been a persistent presence in the Japanese metal scene, fronting at least seven bands before she went solo in 2017. Add to that enough guest appearances to make Pitbull proud, and you could argue it was high time someone overseas gave this ironwoman a shot. Enter Setsuzoku Records, who’ve put out a special edition of IBUKI’s debut solo album ExMyself, released domestically in 2018 via Proud Rose Records.
Falling Bird opens proceedings in a fashion that’ll be familiar to many IBUKI fans: a broadside of swirling synths and crunchy guitar (played by CROSS VEIN and Innocent Material guitarist MASUMI). Between moments of relative calm, the track sounds a smattering of growled vocals away from metalcore at times.
MASUMI turns up again on Un soldat, a power metal number that verges on symphonic with its bevy of synthesized strings, horns, bells, harps and pipe organ. Coupled with some scorching guitar lines, the cumulative effect feels like a snapshot from an alternate timeline in which IBUKI still fronted CROSS VEIN.
The majority of the guitar work on ExMyself is provided by Shinji Hori, IBUKI’s old Around the Nation bandmate. His first appearance - on the album’s title track - feels like a throwback to 2014, where he battled to be heard over racing synths until laying down a suitably incendiary solo. He’s also on hand for shake your body, in which IBUKI draws on some of her less metallic influences.
Just one track, Jealousy & Desire, wasn’t solely produced by IBUKI. Despite arranger Takao Konishi and guest guitarist YASUO ASAI’s work histories, including with the cream of idoldom (think Morning Musume. and SMAP), the song is no mid-tempo meanderer. In fact, after a first half dominated by blistering electronics, its mix of lumbering riffs and genteel piano work eases the listener into ExMyself’s more diverse second half.
For those in possession of the European special edition, the concluding ballad Sky above won’t be the limit. As if to make her first overseas release live up to its "special" billing, IBUKI enlisted ex-VELATRIA guitarist Kabaya’n (whose solo mini-album she guested on in 2019) to help create a potent power metal coda in the form of bonus track Door to the New World.
Musically speaking, it's not quite from another world compared to the rest of ExMyself, but there’s a definite sense it was produced separately. Synths take a backseat to a more orthodox metal approach as, after a mellow lead-in, the song explodes to life with a primal roar from IBUKI.
With Kabaya’n’s unobtrusive riff work and the platinum-haired songstress belting out similarly sonorous notes at the top of each chorus, the song effectively becomes a showcase for IBUKI’s considerable vocal talents. To top things off, in the time-honoured tradition of going out on a high note, the singer signs off by going to the absolute upper limit of her four-octave vocal range.
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