Disclaimer: I am not what people would call a Deathrabbits fan. I’m not against them, per se, but some nice moments and willingness to acknowledge good elements do not a fan make; like, I was a lot more fond of the idea of Prince than his actual music. And that’s fine. Not everything has to work for everybody.
Nonetheless, given this site’s tumultuous history with the Deathrabbits Army, it only seemed proper to take them up on the opportunity to give The Second Usagi War a serious listen and review it as openly and honestly as I’d do so for any other album.
On to the review!
I had the hardest damn time writing this review. Not because of who it is and all that, but because you want to do a full album justice, and that means taking chunks of time to really feel it out over plural listens. And I had no time, at all, to dedicate.
I also found that lacking a more thorough background in Deathrabbits’ music and other activity was a hindrance, the whole-hearted attempts by some folks to fully convert me notwithstanding.
Still, I think I managed to get close to the right spirit for this one. I may not know Deathrabbits terribly well, but I now better understand what they’re about than I did a few months ago, and I felt comfortable being able to measure The Second Usagi War as a Deathrabbits album, holding it up against the expectations that would come with that rather than against something that it wouldn’t be trying to be.
So then what’s the takeaway? Primarily, as a body of work, not all of the pieces fit well together, but the pieces do generally get their assigned job done individually, if that makes sense. The review and scoring try to reflect that.
The biggest takeaway from this album is how much Deathrabbits literally and conceptually has grown up.
This is “Usagi Stream 2.” I don’t think it was released as a single, but it’s the lead track from the album. I like it, and I like it because it puts the talent front and center, happily relying on a nice vocal melody that gets shared around more between the three girls than is often the case; they and their talents are catching up to the ambition in the songwriting. Bucho is there, too, but more as a vocal effect. The song bounces, it gets a little aggressive, and it works out. But think about it formulaically — this is more “pop” than “death” as far as death pop goes. And weirdly, considering the thrust of this site, that’s auspicious.
The album as a whole does best when it’s following that same model, de-emphasizing the harsh vocals in favor of cleans and calming down a little bit to let the songs explore their space rather than charge headlong into the next element. Some of the best, in fact, are the simplest.
“By Your Side,” for instance, is a nice ballad. It’s not terribly original, but it’s a nice song that lets Emi, with all of that tiny power, do her thing; it’s also a nice pace-changer in the center of the album that heralds some of the other more elegant moves further along.
A surprising number is “Chu-Ni no Natsu Ojisan no Natsu,” which sounds almost like something an Especia would perform, or Sakura Gakuin would have done in their first few years, and Bucho’s inevitable entry isn’t as jarring because rather than growl and scream, he employs rather nice cleans that sound damn near like reggaeton. That’s a completely new elemental inclusion to me, and I found that it complemented the overall formula really well.
In terms of the girls’ singing, I mentioned above that the trio gets more work than I’m accustomed to, and “Nihon Tamago Kyoukai Koshiki Song” and “Hontou No Sekai Juuni Arigatou” both give good opportunities to Yuzu and Karin to show that Emi may lead, but they aren’t slouches, either. The former is a much more typical Deathrabbits track, with a nice guitar solo and cool deathy bit before the (of course) randomly inserted piano break; the latter recalls R&B, not of, say, Destiny’s Child, but All 4 One, in another nice ballad.
My highlight is “Uchuchu,” an energetic metalcore-y song that is a great choice for the closer. It left me wishing that The Second Usagi War had more songs like it.
Perfect albums are few and far between, and I had my share of less favorable reactions here, though it’s worth pointing out that they’re very rooted in personal responses to the group and its music, and the music’s overall disposition.
I’m already on the record as being not a fan of Bucho’s contributions. Yes, I am probably biased somewhat by his attire (I’m of the “Nazi punks fuck off” variety), which I understand isn’t carrying the same meaning or weight in Japan as in the West, but still I’m in the West.
That doesn’t have much to do with the music, though, and I know that Bucho isn’t actually in the Waffen SS (or is he?!). It is nonetheless a bias. I also seem to be missing the joke some of the time (I mean that literally), so when this manic harsh male voice blasts in, my first reaction is almost always negative. “Honyara Company,” for instance, is a song that I think would be just aces without having him involved.
A couple of the other tracks I found didn’t live up to their ambitions. As above, when you’re willing to sort of lash out at your own themes with random instrumental breaks, tempo changes, what sounds like snips of entirely different songs, etc., it’s just not always going to work. “Akira’s Boot Camp” was that for me — my sole note for the song on the first listen was “Weird.” I also didn’t/still don’t think that “Nande?” is any damn good (#comeatmebro), and “Usagi no Kimochi” always manages to get stuck in my head even though I’d never admit to being a fan. “Kaiju Anpontan” is another one that doesn’t work for me.
In a general sense, how far the minus question extends comes down to whether you like, can like or don’t like the composition style (like free-form jazz after an eight-ball of coke); when you’re flipping between death metal riffs and piano runs and the song’s only halfway through, and THEN the harsh vocals start, you either dig it or you don’t, and that Deathrabbits formula really permeates the whole shebang.
Deathrabbits are in such a weird place in a weird scene. In a world marked by just how full of unique performers it is, they nonetheless stand out in a lot of ways; as such, they have their fans and their non-fans.
To a fan, I’m sure that The Second Usagi War is just what the doctor ordered. It does Deathrabbits pretty hard, if you know what I mean, and the group rises to meet the challenge present in some of the material; they’re growing up, quickly at that, and the whole formula is maturing. You should be well-pleased.
To a non-fan, I have to say that a lot of the things that make Deathrabbits what they are are here in spades, so how much you enjoy the album comes down to how you feel about the mixed vocals, the out-there songwriting and oh just so much pyon. But just musically, there’s a lot more to like here than dislike, and an open mind can come away pretty satisfied from the experience.
This score, then, is a conditional one that splits the difference — if you are a Deathrabbits fan, you probably think this warrants at least four full heartbleeds (note: I have not yet published a review higher than four); if you’re the person who once PMed me “death to the bunnies” during the Corenament, you probably wish that the first-ever sub-three score were available.
I personally liked the album on the whole, and I think its pluses outweigh its minuses enough to give it a good-to-very-good score. Seriously, though, this is one that you should listen to yourself. Have an informed opinion about it. We have better arguments that way.
Added to the Ultimate Homicidol Playlist: All that’s there to add right now is “Usagi Stream 2,” but I could be entertained otherwise.