After several weeks of news about BAND-MAID, they serve up their ambitious third full album CONQUEROR. It weighs in with 15 songs that include most of the singles released since World Domination. Accordingly, on first listen, it may seem the maids are all over the musical map between hard rock and soft rock. They are known for creating a “gap” between their innocent image yet aggressive sound. However, a duality sets apart their traditional hard rock from the new tracks having less of that “gap”. Even so, the songs here burst with meaning on topics like birth, personal growth, life choices, one-sided love, death, as well as rebirth. Thus, they use heavy and simple expressions to weave together a theme in the cycle of living.
Furthermore, each song contains ideas and emotions from two separate but connected personalities, like in some anime where there is this trope of the “Red Oni, Blue Oni” individuals. The Red Oni can be rebellious, savvy, and spontaneous. Contrasted by the Blue Oni, who is stoic, serene, introverted but smart. Ever present on this album, these songs feel inspired by these contrary forces.
The Blue Oni songs
As those familiar with their first mini-album MAID IN JAPAN and the pop single start over will feel the Blue Oni in control on the softer songs. Surprisingly, that presence is felt right from the start with the first soulful track, PAGE. Metal fans are sure to revolt to this pop outing. Yet, it could be next year’s graduation song. As the intro plays, there is this effect like rewinding a symphonic harmony, perhaps to go back in time and go in a different direction. Moreover, it’s a tune filled with heart and every emotion that showcases even more maturity than the previous album’s Daydreaming. The soft ballad At the drop of a hat, where they use an old cliché to make fun of themselves heard in the line “My mind changes at the drop of a hat”. Throughout the entire album, lead singer Saiki reaches a new pinnacle in her singing abilities. She is more powerful and ferocious than ever before.
Then there is this diversion into blues-rock with Tony Visconti who produced The Dragon Cries. Their second ever all English song has the maids in the experimental territory. While it may be divisive for some, it proves to be a useful step in expanding their range as artists. Also, among English speaking fans, the most talked-about favorite maid is the bassist MISA. She has an uncanny ability to carry but not overpower the bass line. And for Mirage she gets the funk on in this progressive track. Finally, endless Story is a song about one-sided love as an arena anthem, but it does have a setback. The refrains of “whoa” come close to being an elongated millennial whoop that gets tiresome after several stanzas. But the commitment by the band energize a sweeping melody.
The Red Oni songs
But of course, hard rock fans will appreciate when the Red Oni is in charge. Starting with glory, the ending theme from Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS. This one has the upbeat hooks and guitar riffs necessary for a catchy rock song. Liberal must be a title that implies pressing the gas pedal “liberally” while cruising down the highway. As it gets engines running in this hot rod track, it is followed by the heavy Dilemma, with tight and fast phrases. It speeds along and mixes in a few key changes while asking, “What will I be?” The solo by guitarist Kanami guarantees this will be on some future concert set-lists. As the main songwriter, she injects various styles and influences on all BAND-MAID songs. Along with amazing music composition that makes their unique sound. As it turns out, Dilemma was composed in less than two weeks as a last-minute addition before they flew off for their USA tour.
Another hit single, Bubble finds inspiration from the classic rock band, Queen. That is made obvious in the music video where the maids reenact scenes from the film Bohemian Rhapsody. As for all their songs, the lyrics are penned by vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Miku Kobato. This song finds her in a frozen dream asking to be woken up from a bad relationship. As if stuck in the “bubble” between heartache and break up. The next banger, flying high, has a strong hook that makes progressive rock sound easy, breezy, and fun.
If there is an anime show in need of an excellent ending theme song, it could be here with Catharsis. While the soft start may be misleading, the pace picks up and clashes hard with a rush of adrenaline, like the feeling of swimming in stormy seas. Then Blooming opens up prog metal style with catchy hooks and the aura of the Red Oni revels in the soundscape.
As that spirit grows stronger, it finally fully comes to life in Reincarnation. This grunge metal tune beats with a frantic fury demonstrating more prowess since secret My lips from Just Bring It. The song thrashes at 190 beats per minute thanks to intense precision from drummer Akane. As the band leader, she acts as the glue, holding the band together on all these tracks.
Closing the gap
Over time, BAND-MAID have expanded the “gap” between their brand and their brashness. Now with CONQUEROR, they are coming back full circle. And the collective musical talent is at an all-time high as demonstrated in the range and inertia of sound. Though, as they start a new page, the star power is rising for these hard-rocking maids from Tokyo, but they have yet to connect with more mainstream audiences. That could change next year with their guest appearance in a Netflix film. Likewise, this album is worth at least checking out and is sure to be a must-have for Jrock collectors.
Ultimately, the duality of this album is a step up and departure from earlier work. As Red Oni wants to keep dancing with the hard rock partner that brought them to the headbangers ball, Blue Oni is looking for a side entrance to a dance hall where the cool kids are. No matter, whether having it heavy or taking it easy, there is a song here for everyone’s taste. In essence, it’s time for the Red Oni and Blue Oni to realize there is no need to fight. Because together, they conquer.
Buy at JPU Records