REVIEW: the GazettE Pens a Fiery Love Letter to Their Live Audience With "NINTH"

Note from the author: We're hosting a special edition of our live stream show VKH Live to talk about NINTH and the GazettE's upcoming world tour with fans. Click here to watch it!

Last summer was quite hectic for me, so I've unfortunately been waylaid in putting up this review until now (thank you for your patience by the way). The silver lining of this is that I've had 6 solid months to intensely ruminate over the GazettE's latest album. I've listened to this album so many times that I've lost count. And yet, after all this time, I still find NINTH incredibly entertaining. This album isn't perfect, but it was never meant to be. NINTH is raw, unfiltered, and fast-paced, but with good reason: it has successfully captured the intense energy of a GazettE live show more accurately than any of its predecessors. Using this "lightning in a bottle" effect as a foundation, the GazettE constructs a fresh and exciting experience on NINTH that will leave any fan absolutely pumped for the band's upcoming world tour.

NINTH Album Cover
1. 99.9999
2. Falling -NINTH MIX-
6. 虚 蜩 (Utsusemi)
7. その声は脆く(Sono koe wa moroku)
9. 裏切る舌 (Uragiru bero)

With a total play time of 42 minutes and 42 seconds, NINTH is the shortest full-length album released by the GazettE to date. And although you could make the case that another 8 to 10 minutes of music would have been better, I've rarely listened to an album that does so much with so little. On this album, the band goes further than they've ever gone in terms of trimming any and all filler from the listening experience, and this definitely works to NINTH's benefit.

Each track on the album falls into one of two categories. The first category tracks are what I'm going to label as the "showcase" songs, in which the members push their talent and creativity to their absolute limit. These tracks are separated by the "transition" songs, which serve to regulate the pace of the album while highlighting the GazettE's versatility in song structure. Using this strategy, the band strikes an excellent balance between wowing the listener with interesting sounds and maintaining a steady, engaging pace throughout NINTH's duration. This allows for the album to showcase a very raw sound, but without coming off as too harsh, and without the album progression going off the rails at any point. The end result is an album that will make listeners feel an intense energy similar to that felt while attending the GazettE's live shows or while watching DVD recordings of their concerts. With all of that being said, let's take a look at the individual tracks.

NINTH kicks off with the instrumental "99.9999." This short instrumental features a pounding remix of elements used in intro tracks on past albums, followed by a swift transition into a low and buzzing dubstep melody. While "99.9999" definitely stands out from past album intros, I would have preferred if it was a little bit longer and more fleshed out. I'm also unsure as to how the first half will sound to new listeners unfamiliar with the band's previous albums and their intro tracks. That being said, it's still enjoyable, and closes out with an epic and flawless transition into "Falling -NINTH MIX-." Unlike the version of "Falling" used in the PV, this mix was produced by the GazettE themselves. It sounds somewhat different from the PV version, which is coated in the slick western production values of famous producer Josh Wilbur (who has produced for metal greats like Lamb of God in addition to other Japanese bands like Crossfaith and VAMPS). "Falling -NINTH MIX-" serves as a thunderous-yet-elegant opening to NINTH, this time presented in a rather "rough around the edges" production style, which the GazettE uses throughout the album. As an individual track, I tend to prefer the PV version of "Falling," but I would say that the album mix fits in much better with rough production style of the rest of the tracks on NINTH.

Speaking of rough, the next track, "NINTH ODD SMELL," accelerates the pace of the album into a vicious alt-metal frenzy. The song rapidly transitions between song structure types, but it never lost me. In fact, the GazettE seem to have finally fixed their longtime problem of making early-album transition tracks that go over well live, but seem unimpressive on record (tracks like "SLUDGY CULT" from TOXIC and "RAGE" from DOGMA come to mind). "NINTH ODD SMELL" is followed by "GUSH," which is only slightly less intense. This track moves away from bombastic chaos and into the territory of a rocking banger track. Equal parts cool and weird (did you catch the croaking electronic sounds in the verses?), this track works in tandem with "NINTH ODD SMELL" to share the burden of steering the album's pace away from its grand opening in order to set up a slightly more experimental phase. In summary, not only does the opening third of NINTH noticeably improve on the attempts of past albums, but it also outright rivals the closing third of this album (which is traditionally the strongest point of modern GazettE albums). Given this improvement, I can't wait to see what the live performances of these first songs look and sound like.

For "THE MORTAL," the GazettE uses a variety of sounds they've used in recent years. The band puts a twist on these dark elements by combining them with a handful of new sounds and styles, along with a particularly well-done mixing style. This is sure to be a favorite among fans of the band's music from PROJECT:DARK AGE. "THE MORTAL" makes use of unique electronic music samples, subtle industrial influences, and powerful metal breakdowns to reinvent the powerful atmosphere of their darker music. The song also slows down the overall pace of NINTH, and is followed by "Utsusemi," which stabilizes the pace at its new level. "Utsusemi" is probably the least interesting track on the album for me personally. That being said, I certainly acknowledge that its purpose is to show off the GazettE's famed emotional energy that they've used in past songs like "Ibitsu" and "INCUBUS." I found the main disruption of this song to be odd dubstep backing the guitars in the hooks. It feels a bit out of place, and its low squealing tone comes off sounding a little "wonky" to me. I suppose these things help to differentiate "Utsusemi" from the previous tracks, and I definitely find the emotional chorus to be quite impactful. All in all, this track isn't really my cup of tea, but it's not to the point where I would skip it when listening through the album. I'm sure fans who have more of a preference for these types of GazettE songs than I do will find it enjoyable.

I was quite impressed by the shift in tone the GazettE pulls off with "Sono koe wa moroku," which is the only ballad on the album. Having started NINTH off with an incredibly aggressive alt-metal sound, the band successfully transitions all the way over into to what could arguably be described as alt-rock for this track. This was something the GazettE had not been able to do on their previous album DOGMA: a frequent criticism of that album seems to have been that it droned on in the same heavy tone with little variety. But the GazettE's solid pacing regulation of the previous songs allows them to smoothly transition across two very different genres as they reach NINTH's midpoint. I really have to hand it to the GazettE: they seem to have outdone themselves here as far as ballads go. "Sono koe wa moroku's" silky-smooth production values are subtly-yet-artfully implemented, and the result is a genuinely soothing atmosphere that permeates the entire song. This track captivated me in a way that few ballads are able to do. (I fully admit to being an "adrenaline junky" music listener; it is hard for me to slow down and appreciate many ballads.) The soft tone and slow pace allows listeners to catch their breaths and become captivated by the song's ambient aura. It's a nice break that comes at just the right time in the album. "Sono koe wa moroku" is then followed by a clever shift from soft and soothing to slow and ominous, in the form of "BABYLON'S TABOO." This track projects an powerful and brooding tone. Vocalist RUKI's low chanting in the verses kick off a steady and ominous buildup early on in the song. "BABYLON'S TABOO" peaks at its rather intriguing chorus, where crooning guitars merge with layers of rough and clean vocals. The curious combination creates an almost "rock n' roll" type vibe that subtly contrasts with the track's dark metal undertones. "BABYLON'S TABOO" feels like a loose continuation of "WASTELAND" from the band's previous album DOGMA, and I would consider it to be a notable improvement due to the interesting experimentation employed throughout the song.

My hands-down favorite track on NINTH has to be "Uragiru bero." I have literally played this song on repeat for an hour or more at a time as motivation music while doing various tasks during the day. This absolute earworm of a song makes excellent use of layered repetition and tight instrumentation to jump-start the pace of NINTH back to near where it was during its opening tracks. The subtle, high-frequency EDM music rapidly pulsing in the background adds an almost hypnotic effect to the parts of the song that use it. That subtle electronic music pairs perfectly with tightly tuned guitar riffs. This combination sounds subtle on paper, but it's highly effective in practice, and it comes through fantastically when played on high-quality speakers. KAI's frantic and varied drumming is absolutely stunning "Uragiru bero." In fact, the drummer seems to have utterly unleashed himself throughout all of NINTH. I found this newfound intensity in drumming to be a welcome addition to the GazettE's overall sound. As for "Uragiru bero," I never thought I would see the GazettE top their fan-favorite song "VERMIN" (which shares some of the "rocking-yet-heavy" vibes of this track), but they just might have pulled it off. Personally, I would love to see a PV for this song, perhaps featuring a compilation of live footage from the band's recent concerts.

"TWO OF A KIND" is definitely another transition song, and it features quite a bit of versatile instrumentation. Irregular drum beats, frantic slap bass, and rapid spoken-word vocals give way to chanting growls and breakdowns, which turn give way to a melodic and catchy chorus. "TWO OF A KIND" also includes a brief guitar solo that I would almost describe as having a sort of progressive rock aura, which is interesting because it's located in the middle of an otherwise alt-metal song style. All of these changes in "TWO OF A KIND" result in an engaging a roller coaster ride of a song. I found this rather impressive: a song like this could have easily ended up as a forgettable "in-between" track in the hands of a less-experienced band. And so, with a rapid pace and heightening intensity, NINTH dives into the good old-fashioned metalcore anarchy that is "ABHOR GOD." This song keeps it simple, intense, and fun, although it does add in with a few trademark GazettE twists for good measure. While it's less experimental than many of the other tracks on NINTH, "ABHOR GOD" does a solid job of continuing the GazettE's time-honored tradition of late-album bangers. The previously-mentioned twists added to the traditional metalcore formula are subtle but appreciated. For example, the EDM claps in the background of the pre-verse buildups give an almost party-like vibe (I was ready to take a shot while listening to this song). This "pre-game" atmosphere helps build the song's hype up to a fever pitch before exploding into the savage, mosh-pit-inducing verses. It's clear that "ABHOR GOD" was meant to expend most of NINTH's electrifying energy, and it does so in a familiar, brutal way that I thoroughly enjoyed. "ABHOR GOD" isn't the most orignal track, but it certainly has personality, and it's a blast to headbang to. I can only imagine the hell that this song would raise during live performance.

With a good deal of its pent-up energy consumed, NINTH ends on an abnormally high note for the GazettE. Reminiscent of older GazettE classics like "REGRET" (off of the STACKED RUBBISH album), "UNFINISHED" puts a 90s-esque punk twist this classic GazettE song style. It's worth noting that KAI had stated in a past interview that "UNFINISHED" was intentionally meant to cause listeners to imagine an extended what an version of itself would sound like (source: Natalie interview). He went on to say that he'd like to see how bands in the current generation of visual kei respond to this song, and I certainly share this sentiment. I consider "UNFINISHED" to be an energized reboot of the tired, LUNA SEA-inspired trope in visual kei. Personally, I would prefer to see newer visual kei bands abandon this now-cliched song structure altogether. That being said, it would still be an acceptable first start if younger bands started creating songs that continue the tone set by the GazettE with this track. Hopefully, we will be treated to a reinvigorated update to this overdone trend in the near future. Overall, "UNFINISHED" is an anthemic and upbeat closing track that serves up a pleasant surprise of an ending for such an intense album.

With the release of NINTH, the GazettE has provided us with a solid status update of the ferocious sound they've been crafting during their many live shows and tours. On the surface, NINTH seems to serve a similar purpose as the GazettE's 2013 album BEAUTIFUL DEFORMITY: it recaps the band's recent experimental phases, and also combines them with more traditional GazettE sounds and styles. However, the GazettE's dedication to experimentation and self-improvement on NINTH has resulted in an album that stands on its own like only a handful of their other albums. This "slim-yet-fresh" approach seems to have paid off in spades for the band: NINTH reached the number one spot on a myriad of iTunes charts across Europe (source here) and grabbed the 7th place position on the Billboard World Albums chart (source here). Perhaps most impressively, the album broke the top 25 of the U.S. iTunes Top 100 Albums chart, despite having no official promotion here in the United States at the time of its release. (We took screenshot proving this, which can be found here. I believe I've heard it peaked at number 21 shortly after this was taken, but unfortunately archives of past iTunes Top 100 Albums rankings by week are hard to come by.) We even saw a positive responsive from here at VKH: we asked our readers and viewers to rank the GazettE's albums from favorite to least favorite shortly after NINTH's release, and the album ranked quite highly in spite of being so new (you can view the live stream where we go over the survey results by clicking here).

More than anything, I've found NINTH to be a consistently enjoyable listening experience. The quality-over-quantity nature of the album makes it incredibly digestible (I've lost count of how many times I've replayed it). NINTH's recreation of the GazettE's live atmosphere is a commendable accomplishment, and the album's pacing is some of the best I've seen from this band in a very long time. I was also impressed by how far the members pushed the limits of their creativity and talent on NINTH—I found KAI's stunning demonstration of his drumming prowess on this album particularly exciting. Some of you may be aware that the previously-mentioned Josh Wilbur was originally supposed to produce the entire album, and that this was cancelled due to time constraints. Personally, I think that the GazettE did a fantastic job capitalizing on this change of plans, and the end result is some of the rawest and fiercest music they've ever released. I'm perfectly fine with waiting until the next album for the band to go all out with the masterful production values he heard in the PV version of "Falling". That would much more appropriate for something as special as a band's 10th studio album, and growth that the GazettE has shown on NINTH could very mean that they've positioned themselves to craft their magnum opus in the next album. In the meantime, I will be getting plenty of mileage out of this album, and I desperately hope that the GazettE focuses on playing more of these newer tracks when they embark on their world tour this year.

One final thought about this album: I can't stress enough how much potential exists within this experimental and "lean" formula that the GazettE has adopted in NINTH. At face value, a shorter album may seem undesirable, but the amount of experimentation and pace control that was achieved on NINTH using this shorter length is quite frankly astounding. LM.C actually set a similar tone for oshare kei just a couple months after NINTH was released with their latest album (click here to read that review). Much like the GazettE on NINTH (yet using a drastically different musical style), the veteran pop-rock duo took a slimmed-down approach, and the result was an incredibly fresh sound that maintained excellent pacing throughout the album. I don't think it's a coincidence that I find myself choosing these two albums as my personal top two picks for visual kei albums of the year. But speaking specifically to the subject of this review, I suspect that the GazettE (and perhaps other bands we don't know about yet) have finally found a way to bring about the next modernization of visual kei music (at the very least neo-visual kei music). The fact that this standard for modernization is being pushed by multiple major bands only gives me further hope that the younger bands who look up to them will be influenced to move in this direction as well. When it comes to songwriting and experimentation, lot of visual kei bands have struggled to stop clinging to trends that now date as far back as 2013, and it's high time they make the leap of faith into 2019. Here's hoping that influential visual kei bands like the GazettE can become the spark that ignites a new flame of inspiration throughout visual kei. If that were to happen, many of the bands in this scene would have a shot at contributing to a long-overdue worldwide comeback of rock music. That would make for a very bright future indeed.

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