The Underneath - Moon Flower
Record Label: J Shock
Release Date: March 18, 2008
Hailing from Japan, The Underneath are an exciting addition to the so called "J-Rock Revolution." Initially formed in 1996 under the name Transtic Nerve, they released four full-length albums before deciding to change their name while retaining their original lineup, and shift their musical styling from straightforward rock to a "heavier, darker style." This translated to a slot on the 2008 Rockstar Taste of Chaos tour alongside contemporaries D'espairs Ray and MUCC, and United States rockers Avenged Sevenfold and Atreyu. To coincide with the band's U.S. invasion, J Shock released their debut album with the new name, Moon Flower.
I'm a huge Dir en grey fan, and as they are one of the most influential J-Rock artists today, I was honestly expecting a carbon copy. However, The Underneath surprised me immensely, and stand on their own feet. Vocalist TAKA is very talented, covering the spectrum by sounding deranged in some songs, and melodic and melancholy in the next. His voice carries the strong opener "Gekkoh," which is a good introduction to the bands' overall style: memorable verses and big rock choruses.
The second track, "Chain," is one of my personal favorites on the album, as it features some of TAKA's strongest vocal work and erratic, strong drumming. "Marie" features TAKA sounding like his heart is literally in his throat as he screams "Marie!" over a crescendo of sound. "Deep" is another song with a big chorus, and features some excellent piano lines between verses. Continuing the trend of interesting instrumentation, the next track "Fall" opens with a great violin bit, and closes with another good piano part.
"Fat Fatty Fuckin' Pigs" is one of the harder tracks on the album, featuring a yelp from TAKA at the beginning and fast paced drumming and driving guitars, among other various screams. Next track "Bite the Bullet" follows this formula as well, with TAKA sounding more deranged than ever, and the instrumentation behind him never letting up. After the two fast-paced bangers, the album loses some energy with the next two tracks. "Alone Together" is a solid track, but it seems a bit generic compared to the rest, especially considering the two it follows. "Womb is Planet" (poorly translated title aside) is a slow ballad type song that proves that TAKA is at his best while singing faster paced bits. It's not necessarily bad, but it doesn't play to their strengths. Luckily, album closer "Prayer" brings some of the energy back and closes the album on a high note.
The band sings entirely in Japanese, but the CD booklet provides the lyrical translations, some of which are very poorly done (e.g. "The crashing waves to my back in front of me as I frown"). Lyrically, there are many references to blood, sadness, depression, and various other dark topics. While this seems a bit cliche, some of them aren't bad, such as "The silent film starts to run / Stained with noise I can hear it / Love is an illusion inside the scenario / I am trapped."
Moon Flower is an excellent rock album that left me wanting more. TAKA's voice is so strong and the instrumentation so fresh that I forgot all of my prior misgivings. The Underneath are an great entry to the J-Rock genre, and if you have been hesitant, by all means give Moon Flower a whirl. I can honestly say that The Underneath will be right up there on my playlist with Dir en grey.
This release really surprised me. I got it and D'espairs Ray at the same time, and I thought D'espairs Ray was just a mediocre Dir En Grey clone. But The Underneath have their own style that really stands out, and I'm really digging some of the solos on this album.