Saeko – Life

Saeko – Life – 4/5

And so we come upon young (alright, she’s 35 now, but damn she doesn’t look it) Saeko Kitamae, Japanese vocalist and keyboard/pianist, who ventures out of her homeland to Europe in search of the musicians and the label to make her music known. Sounds like something out of Wizard of Oz doesn’t it? Going down the yellow brick road, bringing her bass playing scarecrow with her, and along the way meeting the drumming tin-man Michael Ehre (Metalium) and the lion of a guitarist Herman Frank (Accept), always the focus clearly on young Dorothy singing her hearts content, this is evidence they must have found their Wizard.

The vocals are exceptionally good. Not simply ‘good for someone from Japan’ (who are notorious for having generally awful singers), but a genuinely remarkable vocalist. Forced to leave her previous band for very nearly, quite literally, practicing to death (Scroll down to “Between Dream and Reality”), she straddles a fine line between annunciation and embracing her accent, succeeding in providing a natural Japanese-toned grace whilst making every word easily heard. Sung largely in English, and with not only a superb range of pitch, but also the contrast between her soft and gentle emotion, instantly turning into a rather thin (but not piercing) and powerful falsetto that would make Kiske (Helloween) or Halford (Judas Priest) take a second glance. Already enough to make it up there amongst my favourite vocalists, she feels the need to prove herself further, providing the lavish keyboard melodies for the slower tracks, which come in no short supply – particular in the second half of the album.

In fact, if there was one major argument against this album, that would be it. Whilst often playing a basic tune, utilising acoustic almost as frequently as electric, the guitars and keyboards can create an atmosphere not unlike ‘Ambeon,’ in a softer-than-ballad beauty, which whilst effective often feels as though it renders the musicians she travelled so far to discover feeling redundant. Frequently with a distinctly German Power hard-edged tone, the guitars perform basic power chords for the majority of the tracks, and whilst the guitars have solo’s they feel uninspired, as though they were simply told to create a solo without being told the rest of the track. The drumming, too, is proficient, but again sounds as though he is clearly playing below his capabilities.

Those looking for ballsy Heavy/Power will find half an album to their liking, as will those looking for something more delicate. Hopefully in the future, she will find a way of allowing the backing as much intricacy and diversity as she proves capable of, currently feeling too much of a solo effort - not that she alone isn’t capable of sustaining interest with ease - and when that day comes we may discover we have a new player in town.

Highlights: Wings of Broken Dreams, Sa-Ku-Ra, Eternal Destiny

Bonus Round: Saeko – Above Heaven, Below Heaven – 3.5/5

This debut is in a similar style as before, but didn’t feel as strong. The vocals felt weaker, the riffs weren’t as catchy and the solos less memorable. Still wasn’t bad though.

EDIT: Yes, im editing one already, for I wrote this a while back and realised there was no mention of the lyrics. Whilst I didn't notice it at first, these aren't your typical power metal lyrics, not by a long shot. What's she aimed for is something both slightly dark in tone and yet uplifting, powerful, vying for improvement, be it of yourself or of society. As cliché as this sounds, its not how it comes across. Instead it feels genuine and poetic, and perhaps even inspirational at times.