The Japanese “girls metal” scene has been exporting its highly polished brand of glamorous heavy metal to the world for the best part of a decade now, with the likes of
making their mark abroad. Fukuokan five-piece
are no strangers to Europe, having toured there multiple times, but they stepped up their overseas outreach by signing an international distribution deal with British-American specialist Japanese music label Setsuzoku Records. Their latest
AEGIS OF ATHENA
, their swift follow-up to 2021’s well-received
, sought to sustain this momentum.
’s sound has been evolving over recent years, trading their original all-out metal attack for an increasingly eclectic and melodic approach, chock full of catchy pop hooks. This evolution hasn’t come without cost. A few years ago, the group’s
original guitarists and principal songwriters Misa
departed in relatively quick succession, blaming musical differences. Shortly afterwards, founding drummer Kai
followed them out the door.
The incarnation of BRIDEAR
saw vocalist Kimi
and bassist Haru
joined by guitarists Misaki
and drummer Natsumi
major line-up change like that could have completely derailed them but the past few years of writing, recording and performing together have meshed them into a tight unit, all pulling in the same direction and bursting with bright ideas. While they can
shred with the best of them, Misaki
come from a different place musically compared to their predecessors, citing influences as diverse as My Bloody Valentine
, while Natsumi
was inspired to pick up the sticks by Japanese pop-rock band UVERworld
. Longstanding fans might be concerned that there’s not much heavy metal to be found amongst that lot, but
the genius of BRIDEAR
is in taking metal, fusing it with other influences and spinning it in all sorts of new directions.
They seem so eager to get their creative ideas across that they crammed them all into the album's first song, Side of a Bullet.
The opener might start off in the manner of a '70s prog rock concept album but it blooms into an epic nine-minute
metal symphony, with different movements weaving around a central theme, artfully building tension between dissonance and melody. There’s so much impressive musicianship packed in here, it’s almost unfair to single any one out, but
puts in a spectacular performance driving the ebb and flow of constantly shifting rhythms.
It’s a bold and ambitious first card to lay down and BRIDEAR
aren’t shy about throwing more disparate ingredients into the mix across the rest of the album. They ambush you at every turn with something unexpected, melding their
melodic metal sound with a variety of other genres. Greed
kicks off with a dash of electronicore and the main riff is a dark reflection of the perky pop chorus. With Me
carves a path between power metal and power ballad, while Determination
a straight- up rocker, custom-made for live performance and begging for a crowd to sing along. Ray of Chaos
is the pick of the bunch though: a bluesy pop-rock anthem that has Ayumi
reeling off a suitably Clapton
solo and Natsumi
dazzling on the drums.
There’s still plenty of old school heavy metal here to enjoy. The Bathtub
boast some proper chugging riffs and BRIDEAR
deliver their own melodic take on speed metal with Past in Emerald
. The album heads in to the final straight with another sprawling prog metal opus, Brave New World Revisited
, originally released in 2021, that shows what they were building up to for Side of a Bullet
With the departure of Misa
have cut down on the harsh vocals but Haru
has taken over that role, barking out some gravel-gargling growls as counterpoint to Kimi
bright, upbeat voice. Japanese bands often drop in snippets of English to add punch to their songs that their own language can’t quite muster, but with an eye firmly fixed on the international market, BRIDEAR
have gone all in with
English lyrics for most of AEGIS OF ATHENA
’s tracks. Kimi
’s delivery manages to hit most of its marks in her second language, with only the occasional awkward lyric or two that are the only minor blemish on an album brimming
with catchy tunes, complex arrangements and brilliant musicianship.
AEGIS OF ATHENA
clocks in at a shade over 55 minutes but the time flies by as BRIDEAR
blitz their way through 11 tracks, treading a delicate line between heavy metal and more accessible pop-rock while still managing
to retain a consistent sound. Their technical artistry and creativity are on full display as they show they can take on any style; metal, rock or pop, often all in the same song. They can even do you a symphony.
’s guitarist woes struck again shortly after this album’s release. What began as a temporary hiatus for Misaki
for health reasons led to her permanent departure, meaning AEGIS OF ATHENA
the end of this particular era for the band. However, if past experience is anything to go by, they’ll take the arrival of new recruit MOE
as an opportunity to reinvent themselves yet again.
AEGIS OF ATHENA
is available on CD from Setsuzoku Records