Area 51 – Goddess – 4/5
It's been two long years since their last album was released (and 18 months since I first found them) and it certainly feels as though their absence has been too long, as once again they prove themselves to be one of the most exciting offerings to emerge from the Japanese PM scene in recent years. Suffering the loss of their vocalist shortly after their debut, they returned with a new face and succeeded in surpassing their previous effort. Now with the departure of the bassist and drummer they find themselves relying on session musicians and yet, quite impressively, their third offering feels their strongest to date.
As you might expect much of the attention feels focussed on the combination of guitars and vocals, neither of which disappoint. Anyone familiar with past work will have no reason to find flaws with the delicate vocal lines, working her familiar soprano range with a surprising range and fluidity. And the guitars have also managed to once more raised the bar on their capabilities, adding a eloquent neo-classical flair that feels upbeat and yet with melodies so well crafted that it manages an oddly simplistic beauty, and with his ability to consistently provide a fitting solo that often becomes the track's highlight his abilities as a guitarist would seem to be underrated.
But that's not where his role ends; as the last remaining original member he finds himself burdened with much of the duties of writing the compositions, and yet the variety between the styles presented is still impressive, ranging from the almost 'Heavy Metal' overtones, instrumental interludes, quiet choral works and subtle keyboards emphasising the atmosphere. Whilst it never feels complex or a departure from their familiar style it maintains a continuation of their old formula, working on the individual elements to return with an marked improvement.
Yet, for my praise of these two musicians there is to my mind an unquestionable third presence from the producer, Jens Bogren. Comparing this release to their last reveals how much of a difference he has made on their sound; the guitars have a richer and more powerful crunch to them, the drums fire away with a biting intensity that was simply absent before and the presence of the bass has been raised to the point that “Daemonicus” feels remarkably tinny when placed side by side. There aren't many bands that can claim to genuinely improve on each release but Area51 have earned that right, and with some mild concerns about a stagnating sound I now await number four knowing it couldn't come too soon.
Highlights: Regret et Larme, Begins of Dissolution, Sincerity