I Review Things: BiSH | “KiLLER BiSH”

Cover art for Japanese idolcore group BiSH's

For all of the chaotic good news surrounding the return of BiS to actual existence, the first major-label release of their official successor, BiSH, almost managed to fly under the radar. Hell, even the introduction (and subsequent Internet love-in) of Ayuni D seems to have gotten more hype. And the one-day bonus sale pre-release of KiLLER BiSH actually garnered complaints from people — I’ve seen everything from “it’s a cheap stunt” to “why are you such a rip-off, Watanabe?” — and warranted official replies from BiSH on Twitter.

I hope everybody has a chance to clear their heads and shut up for a second so they can listen to this album. (Also, the lyrics are available here if you can Japanese.)

It’s BiSH’s third full album release, all in a span of roughly 16 months (insane), which also includes the “OTNK” and “DEADMAN” singles, which is remarkable; considering that they tour pretty much constantly, it’s almost impossible in fact. For the sheer number of songs now in their discography, plus the schedule and move to a major label, one could be forgiven for thinking that they’d be toning it down. The same was expressed around “DEADMAN,” for which “toned down” is not something you’d use as a description. But this is an album, a major investment by a label that knows what it’s doing.

Basically, did KiLLER BiSH deliberately get a little lost in the shuffle? Or is it delivering on BiSH’s burgeoning promise?


Homicidols Album Review Scale:

Five Heartbleeds  One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews: Both in relation to itself and music as a whole, this album could not possibly be any better.
Four Heartbleeds One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews: This is a very damn good record, and you should probably buy it and listen to it all the time and consider starting a website dedicated to the artists that made it and albums like it.
Three Heartbleeds One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews: More good than bad, but not great; one or two awesome songs can’t get it over the hump.
Two Heartbleeds One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews: More bad than good, and lacks the kind of standout track that can take it out of the crappiness wallow.
One Heartbleed One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews: This is a bad, bad piece of work. Do not buy this.
Zero Heartbleeds: People associated with this should be ashamed of themselves; there’s pride to be had in any effort made to meet a goal, but that’s your only reward. Please don’t make music anymore.

For all of the things that KiLLER BiSH is, one thing it is not is easy. There are 13 tracks packed onto this sucker, 12 of them never heard before (I think(?)), and the average track length is something like 4:30. It does a bit of the obligatory idol genre exploration, and it merrily smashes genre tropes together in ways that made people respond so positively to Babymetal once upon a time.

But KiLLER BiSH is also a positive challenge, and it comes at a crucial time in idol; we’re in something of a golden age of quality, experimentation and proliferation, Babymetal rules the world, BiS is back and we are blessed. If BiSH has been something of a standard bearer for the past year while everybody from PassCode to Pikarin has soldiered on and some of the most emotionally shattering music imaginable has emerged from the marriage of underground sounds with big-budget concept and production, what can they deliver now that they’ve reached the point where craft beer enthusiasts in retro-chic flannel would start to call them sellouts?

I’d say that BiSH not only hasn’t given an inch of ground, they’ve thrown down a gauntlet that may as well be Thor’s Mjolnir for how easily others will be able to move it.

What it isn’t, though, is a perfect album. There are a few foul tips (not outright misses, thank goodness) and one broken-bat single. Sort of like Russell Branyan, though, the home run threat only manifests in a couple of spots, and it’s the gappers that ultimately save the day.

What worked less well

There are three songs here that didn’t work out as well for me.

One, unfortunately, is “KNAVE,” which has a great title and is a genuine by-gods idol punk song; the problem is that we’ve heard it before, including from BiSH. It’s doubly a letdown in that it’s one of the songs that most noticeably includes the four members not named Chitti and Aina.

The other semi miss is “My distinction,” a rather typical “idorock” song that sounds like a lot of difference-splitting between the demands of the label and the wishes of the producers; it’s not bad, it’s just not a BiSH song.

Also working less well, but making a lot more sense while doing so, is the closer, “Ikite te Yokatta Toyuu no Nara.” Why, it’s a very standard idol ballad, without a peep of rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s the last song on the album! Yes, it’s an agreeable very standard idol ballad, and in realizing that is where I realized why it’s here: This is what happens when you get to the major label. You need radio-friendly fare somewhere, and pleasant idorock and pop ballads are the way to do that. Granted, the title translates to something like “Are you glad that I’m alive?”, so it still has its BiSHiness going for it somewhere.

The same view applies to “summertime” just as much, which is a shame, because I see and hear a definite summer single (a few months late, but whatever) and wish it were coming from almost anybody else. Again, it’s not bad, but it is safe, and the English lyrics reach a little too hard for that mainstream cool factor.

What worked like a champ

If those are the weak spots, you should feel like the rest of this album roars, and it definitely does. “DEADMAN” kicks things off sounding almost exactly the same as the original, with all that MC5-esque rampage tapering to a big ol’ chorus that deserves to live in your brain. “Hey gate” will sound happily familiar to fans of Rancid, using a ska bounce to boost the energy. I also really enjoyed “Hontō Honki,” which I described in my notes as Bowling for Soup playing disco after listening to Suicidal Tendencies for a few hours; it sounds like something that Zenbu Kimi no Sei Da would do if it were arranged a little bit differently.

Those are nice, and I could go on and on about the old-school hardcore in “Fāsutokicchinraifu,” the chorus in “Throw away” and the very deliberate metalcore power play on their foremothers in “IDOL is SHiT,” but I want to call out the two songs that make this album what it is and should make it a must-own.

The first is “Am I FRENZY??” which starts off like a love letter to Jimi Hendrix before taking cues from the likes of the Mars Volta and Bad Religion (tell me that chorus doesn’t remind you of “The Defense” so I can call you a liar). It takes a minute, but it builds and grows and ultimately succeeds because of the way that liNGliNG’s voice just craps out on her at the end — if you can wear out that weirdo, you deserve a lot of credit.

The second, and to me the best song on the album and into the discussion of BiSH’s all-time best work with “Hoshi ga Matataku Yoru ni” and “NO THANK YOU,” is “Stairway to me,” which is heavily laden with tributes to its sort-of namesake “Stairway to Heaven.” It begins as a quiet ballad backed by strings, turns the melody over to keys, transitions into a Queensrych-gone-country verse … and then tells all of the aforementioned themes to fuck right the hell off because it’s time to go on a progressive series of heavy metal guitar solos, even pulling in the bass and organ. Instrumentally, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever heard from an idol outfit (including Babymetal, to whose “Tales of the Destinies” this can rightly be compared), and the idols’ portion works very well to set it up. Every time I listen to it, I genuinely get upset that it ends, as if it has two more minutes and another chorus or two in it.

I ragged on FAKE METAL JACKET‘s production, but no complaints this time: The overall tone and clarity on this album matches each track well, and the mixes were spot-on between instruments, vocals and vocals-to-vocals. I do wish that more of the membership were more involved, but you pay Chitti and Aina to carry your music, and that’s what they’re going to do; someday, when it’s Ayuni and Atsuko running the show, we’ll probably have the same observation about them.

So where does KiLLER BiSH stand? How about this: In all of the marriage of punk rock and idol, in all of the world since BiS punched the world in the face with IDOL is DEAD four years ago and declared idolcore to be a thing, exactly one album — the sum of its parts — has done as well, and it’s the aforementioned magnum opus from BiS. With the old boss back on the scene and a thousand and one challengers for the throne, BiSH flat-out declared that for all of the good work being done, everybody else is still playing catch-up.

It’s not perfect, it doesn’t deserve a perfect score, and it suffers in equal measure by its own success as much as by not quite hitting the bull’s eye in a few places, but mark this down: This is a great album, and it’s going to be remembered that way for a long time.

Score: One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews One half of a Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews

Added to the Ultimate Homicidol Playlist:

5 thoughts on “I Review Things: BiSH | “KiLLER BiSH”

  1. I love summertime, why are you attacking me like this???

    I have to agree with the bit about Aina and Chitti carrying these songs though; there were a few on first listen that I didn’t even notice until Aina’s voice kicked in

  2. Thanks for link to Lyrics, I asked my friend to explain the title of track 13, and how close I was to translation. He said complicated to work out, he would have to read lyrics. haha didn’t think I would be able to find those so soon.

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