REVIEW: Femme Fatale's Arcana

The newest project of Visual Kei mega-star Kaya is the gothic/metal band Femme Fatale. The band garnered some pretty polarized reviews with their debut single and set of EPs around mid-2014, but the majority of those reviews have been alarmingly positive. Personally, I had found them a bit disjointed as a unit and their compositions were largely all over the place and Kaya's vocals were oftentimes shaky and didn't mesh well with the theme of the songs. This made me nervous for my favorite singer's debut album with a band that I never believed utilized him to his full potential, but I'm happy to say that Arcana blew me away from start to finish.

1. Jester
2. Kurumeku Taiyou
3. Burn
4. Stardust
5. Hermit
6. The Fatal Day
7. Babel
8. Faust
9. Mephistopheles
10. Perverted Martyr
11. Kaiserin -Rosenkreutz-
12. Chariots
13. Moon
14. Grim Reaper
15. Judgment -The Die Has Been Cast-
16. The World
The version of the album I have is minus the instrumental interludes, and I believe I prefer it that way. It's easier just to get down to the meat and potatoes of the album, although someday I would like to hear it as it was originally meant to be heard. In any case, the LP starts with "Jester," a song that sets the mood rather nicely and shows immediate improvement since their last release. In fact, I think it's safe to say that they focused their efforts on making a great LP, rather than making their entire catalogue mediocre. The first thing you can tell is that the drumming has improved immensely and lends itself in a big way to the pre-chorus. Only small critique is that it can border on the frantic and messy at times, but no one's perfect after all. The number constructs this mood of darker Gothic-rock fare that can really only be accomplished by a band of such talented musicians. It really is a good introduction because while songs are so frequently like this on the album, this is the first and it's one of the more generally palatable songs. "Kurumeku Taiyou" is the second track and shows even further improvement than the first. This one sticks out more prominently on the above-average-lengted album because of how amazing Kaya's vocals actually sound here. In addition, the general composition is more based off of mainstream rock so it can be marketed to a wider audience and thusly gain a larger fan base rather than focusing 100% on niche rock markets.

"Burn" is one of the better songs on the album as well, even if it's only because it gives me a hint of familiarity. I feel like I've heard the composition of the song somewhere else before, but I can't really think of where. The composition comes off almost as punk/rock instead of gothic and the vocal mixing here is some of the best on the album. The chorus is powerful and sticks with you. The catchiest and most pop-oriented song on the album is track 4: "Stardust." It's extremely uptempo with a catchy guitar hook and some of Kaya's signature soft vocals that really sound more like typical J-Pop than actual J-Rock/VK. This is in no way a complaint, it's the first time I really hear a distinct change in his voice from his usual Femme Fatale persona. The follow up track is a total change up. "Hermit" interpolates what I'm assuming is an accordion and I'm imaging one of those wind-up monkeys from 18th century France as the one playing it. It's very circus-themed and if that's your cup of tea, then this is going to be your stand out favorite. However, I felt that Kaya's voice too often got drowned out in a sea of conflicting instrumentation.

What I can't seem to imagine when it comes to the next two tracks is why they were chosen in the first place. I would say that the first of the two, "The Fatal Day" from EP Gladsheim -Blanche-,  is easily my preferred song due to it's epic composition and overall VK-masterpiece-territory vocals and lyrics. I would also say that "Babel" is from the opposite EP and is the antithesis of the song I would've chosen. The original "Babel" was poorly mastered and produced so it seems as though they got it together in a much cleaner fashion for "Arcana," but it still fails to meet the mark of intensity that was brought on by "Digitalis" from the same EP. Additionally, it continues to baffle me why they would chose two songs from two different EPs instead of remastering their debut single and putting that on their debut album, but to each his own. "Faust" provides some of the best atmosphere on the album as it really is sort of haunting especially with it's intro being somewhat like a broken music box. This creepy start is brought to an apex by beautiful vocals and lyrics layered well with some great music. While the composition is not terribly interesting or innovative, it is well composed and never falls short or becomes repetitive or uninteresting.

"Mephistopheles'" saving grace is the fact that Kaya is brought to the forefront of this song, especially in the chorus. I would also go so far as to say the song was appropriately heavy without being ridiculous and pandering. The formula begins to get stale at about this point in the album though, due to how consistent the songs have been. Interestingly enough, this now second half of the album does change it up quite a bit from the first half. "Perverted Martyr" is sort of this bridge between the slow and fast. It's mid-tempo with the band in perfect sync with each other hitting all the right notes at the right times. While I find the song to be mixed and mastered extremely well (especially in comparison to the band's earlier work), this one is just a twinge on the boring side. While it's put together and arranged wonderfully, it would have done well to include a part or two that really stuck out to make the song more interesting. Following this slightly-boring song is the uninteresting song "Kaiserin -Rosenkreutz-" that is heavily drum and bass oriented and very, very slow. There are some attempts throughout at making it more interesting than "Perverted Martyr," especially in that the chorus is sung beautifully, but it isn't quite enough to make the overall presentation anything to hold one's attention for the full 5 minutes the song goes on for.

Now is when the album begins to get crazy interesting. First of all is "Chariots," the best song that Femme Fatale has put together so far. It likely could've done without the filtered vocals, but the instrumentation is actually very interesting and composed to be the live song to end all live songs. You wouldn't expect a mosh pit at a concert where Kaya was the singer, but with a song this hard it would be silly to not go all out. "Moon" is mostly too slow for my taste. It isn't quite as uninteresting as some previous tracks because Kaya keeps the song going with some very soft vocals and pretty lyrics, but if you aren't usually interested in ballads then you're going to want to skip this one entirely because "Grim Reaper" comes back to the same energy as "Chariots." These two may be on the same level of intensity, but the award for better composition goes to "Chariots." "Grim Reaper" is the shortest song on the album for a reason. They clearly wanted to pack as much as they could into a very short time. So in this less than 3 minute ride, you get the heaviest song of their career to date that doesn't waste time with pretty composition and interesting nuances. It just gives you heavy, hard hitting metal that is easily going to be their biggest hit played live.

Their final two songs are decent ways to finish out the album. First is "Judgement," the song used to promote the album. When the whole PV was released one could tell just how much effort they put into making this album what it was. The visuals were completely on point and executed with precision. This was easily the best song on the album used for promotional purposes because it's the most marketable to the widest audience. It in no way panders to any special interest niche groups and is still dark enough to keep fans of gothic/visual rock music happy. Maybe this was the song that should've ended the album, though, only because "The World" is too slow a song to finish out such a high energy album. It's got some great movements and performances on behalf of every member and I would no way diminish how beautifully the final track came out, but one always wants to go out on a high note to keep fans anticipating the next release. This song feels more like a "The End" instead of a "To Be Continued..."

To be frank, I wouldn't recommend this album to most people. Key word being most, of course, only because the majority of people would probably find the compositions throughout to be too messy or too dark for the average person. If you're as big a fan of Kaya as I am, though, you definitely want to hear him sing for a rock band for the first time in years. You can do so by purchasing the album from iTunes or buying a physical copy by clicking here.
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