exist†trace – THE LAST DAYBREAK (Review)

J-Rock Reviews


Review by David Cirone


THE LAST DAYBREAK belongs to the guitars this time.

While bassist Naoto and drummer Mally do excellent work with the tricky turns of “Daybreak” and “be Naked”, they’re in supporting roles this time for an EP dominated by miko and Omi’s ferocious guitar work.

Jyou’s vocals are always the soul of exist†trace, and her audible deep breath at the beginning of “Daybreak – Jyusan gatsu no shikisai” (“The colors of the 13th month”) makes it personal. A plea to find human connection in the world’s final moments, she celebrates “my lovely gasmask” as she paints a vivid picture that twists our expectations — usually sunrise plays the symbolic role of hope and renewal, but the rich colors in “Daybreak’s” sky signify a certain doom.

Daybreak / The morning glow signifies the end
Daybreak / Let’s huddle close to view
Daybreak / The vivid conclusion
Daybreak / The 2 of us together

Similar to TRUE, the dueling guitar solos are the climax of “Daybreak”. miko and Omi dip in and out of synchronicity and opposing melodies so smoothly, it becomes a musical dance with the majesty and power of two dragons in flight.

The just-plain-mean motorcycle-guitar riff at the heart of “be Naked” pumps up the lyrical challenge: “Can you fight when you’re naked?” In a dreamlike battle between two opposing sides of the same self, one side seeks to destroy the weakness and doubts that come to every person. An aggressive song defined by a female view of power and fear.

Jyou’s theatrical prowess gets a turn in the spotlight with “Little Mary to Utsukushiki Nikushimi no Danube” (“Little Mary and Beautiful, Hateful Danube”). A fantasy tale set in a dark forest, it’s no surprise that Jyou portrays the (evil?) Queen, but miko’s electronically-altered voice as the daughter who’s lost her mother’s ring is immediately disturbing and hypnotic.

Written as a conversation between the mother and daughter, “Little Mary” conjures a dark image of pain and love linked together. The Queen laments her never-ending loneliness, while Mary scurries to prepare for a 16th birthday party without her beloved father, who despite her best efforts (the repeating chorus of “Nee, papa-!”) remains cold and unmoving in the corner of the castle, his eyes permanently closed.

Musically, the waltz structure subtly builds dramatic tension, and when the story’s poison is revealed, we’re already primed for things to end badly. A violin is used for effect in tandem with the guitars and in the song’s coda, creating a truly haunting mood. Ultimately, this song will be a challenge for Western fans who might now follow the Japanese lyrics, but there’s a wicked intelligence in this songwriting that few current visual kei bands could match or copy.

“I Feel You” is the most straightforward “rock” song on the album, and at first listen, it can seem deceivingly simple, but listen close for some unexpected change-ups from Mally. Built for audience participation, the song’s non-stop tempo fits the lyrical image of lovers racing toward each other against a red sky.

The hidden treasure of THE LAST DAYBREAK is Omi’s contribution, “Kimi no Masshiro na Hane” (“Your Pure White Wings”). A perfect contrast to the title track’s dramatic, hard-rock version of the apocalypse, Omi’s beautiful vision of “The end of the world / Wings dropping down in a dance / in a gentle light” is complimented perfectly by melodic guitar phrasing and Jyou’s heartfelt vocal performance.

On its own, THE LAST DAYBREAK is a success, but listening to TRUE and THE LAST DAYBREAK in succession reveals a symmetry of design so clear that it’s hard to imagine that exist†trace didn’t plan these two releases as a set. Each song on THE LAST DAYBREAK seems to have a twin corresponding track on TRUE, just as the stark black and white jacket design (and music video) of TRUE are contrasted by THE LAST DAYBREAK’s super-saturated colors.

Earlier this year, exist†trace proclaimed that their move to major label Tokuma signified the beginning of a new chapter that would combine old and new qualities, and THE LAST DAYBREAK shows a hunger to explore that duality without limits or fear.

Recommended tracks: Daybreak, Kimi no Masshiro na Hane, be Naked

Buy exist†trace – THE LAST DAYBREAK at CDJapan