Kamen Joshi - MASK A RAID
A great victory for Japan's biggest independent idol group.
In early June, the king of underground idols, Kamen Joshi, released their long-anticipated first full-length album, MASK A RAID. With the increase in popularity Kamen Joshi have seen in recent years, it might be an understatement to say that the release of their first album was hotly anticipated. Since its release, many fans have been sharing social media posts showing themselves going to Tower Records locations and purchasing copies of the album.
Hard rock and heavy metal mixing with idols is, at this point, almost expected in a lot of cases, especially with groups with a strong image like Kamen Joshi. The sound you can expect from this album is exactly what you would imagine from a large ensemble of idols whose gimmick is wearing a goal tender's mask a-la Jason Voorhees from "Friday the 13th".
While not necessarily cutting-edge musically, Kamen Joshi do have a sound that distinguishes them from other similarly-sized idol groups. Kamen Joshi are a group who have been primarily known for their live performances, and MASK A RAID's sound falls directly in line with that reputation. One can't help but think back to memories of their famous 2015 performance at Saitama Super Arena while listening to this album. While it isn't necessarily dissimilar to their previous releases, this album sounds more like it's being performed in a large arena due to the delay effects on the drums and the fairly raw vocals. The production on the album is slick, and it's clear that any of the slight mixing flaws that exist are there to create one of the most realistic simulations of an arena live you can find on an idol CD.
RIOT☆DAISY is the second song on the album and it is notable for its musical direction, which seems to take influence from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, specifically Judas Priest. As Judas Priest were particularly famous in the early 1980s for their big arena rock songs, it makes sense that the song takes at least partial inspiration from that kind of sound. Of course, it isn't just influenced by NWOBHM, there is also a fair amount of rapping, synthesizers, and more of the typical Japanese pop melodic and harmonic tendencies one would expect to find.
POPPING☆SUMMER, the fifth track on the album and the last ensemble song in the first half before it breaks into sub-unit songs, is probably the most musically dynamic of the ensemble songs. The sound this time is more along the lines of a tropical, Caribbean style mixed with hard rock and J-pop. Most of the song sits in a happy medium between these styles with no genre influence getting more emphasis than the others until two separate, nearly-equidistant points in the song. The first is a heavy metal breakdown that is followed by a return to form with a repetition of the chorus. The song breaks into a pre-chorus which then goes into another repetition of the chorus, except all of the non-tropical instruments drop out completely and acquiesce to a reggae groove featuring an incredible solo vocal performance by Mitsuki Saki.
Of all the sub-unit tracks featured on MASK A RAID, PROUD☆KNIGHT by Armor Girls is one of the most unique on the album as far as musical direction is concerned. Armor Girls were always the most interesting, and maybe the most peculiar, unit in Kamen Joshi because of their fusion of J-pop, hard rock, heavy metal, and medieval European instruments. This fusion isn't like how certain heavy metal subgenres might combine these elements either, it is something much more unique. The song is, quite possibly, the most progressive track on the album. It's very fast-paced like the other tracks, with heavy rock guitars, drums and bass, as one might already expect, but it follows seemingly stereotypical medieval European jigs melodically and incorporates medieval wind and string instruments. For this reason, images from "Braveheart" might come to mind while listening to this song. It might be a bit of an acquired taste, but if you can get past that, what you're left with is a song that is extremely creative and enjoyable.
The one thing that binds all of the songs on MASK A RAID together is their unrelentingly high energy level. From start to finish, there is never a dull moment to be had. If energetic music and performances are what you want, you really need not look any further.
It was clear that MASK A RAID held a lot of promise even during the promotional campaign leading up to its release. Over the course of a year, certain tracks were uploaded to YouTube as music videos and comments showed much enthusiasm and excitement for the album's eventual release. What fans received was more than just an album, but an experience. Those who bought the CD, upon looking through the booklet, quickly realized just how big a moment this album is for everyone. MASK A RAID is a love letter to the fans, members, former members and staff. At the same time, it feels like a victory celebration, and it plays out that way musically as well.
However, whether or not someone is invested in the idol experience does not affect the quality of the release. If someone who is interested in J-pop or music from the idol world stumbled across this album with no context, the songs would still carry the same level of enjoyment as they would with context. But for Kamen Joshi fans, the added layer of knowing that this album serves as the swansong for many popular members, some of whom had graduated from the group before it was released, and that they even went so far as to include members who left before the album went into production, it is hard not to appreciate the seemingly grassroots movement in the idol world that is Kamen Joshi.
MASK A RAID is available for streaming on platforms such as Spotify, YouTube Music, and Amazon Prime Music. It is available in CD form from Amazon, Tower Records, CDJapan and HMV.
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A great victory for Japan's biggest independent idol group.
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