nega | vanitas (2012)
The above statement has been uttered by myself many times to many people (who respond with little resistance) ever since I heard these guys cover Dir en grey’s “Zakuro” and call it “Guilt Trip”. They aren’t similar, they’re damn near the exact same song! Nega drummer Yuu rips Shinya’s drum fills note for note. There’s a mid-song build up right before the guitar solos in both songs, and then the solos even share near-similar time marks! 4:12 in “Guilt Trip”, and 4:16 in “Zakuro”!
And both guitar solos end with slides down the guitar neck with a reverb effect! Madness!
But this is what Nega does; they shamelessly use other bands’ songwriting as blueprints for their own. It’s mostly a despicable practice, but something about Nega gives me the impression that they’re still putting their heart and soul into this. But they have two other major problems aside from plagiarism, and their latest album, Vanitas, has both in spades.
1. Jin is a terrible vocalist.
2. Their production is so bad it’s hard to believe it’s supposed to be that way.
Jin alternates between a nasal caterwaul and a shriek that sounds like someone stole his shoes and laced the studio floor with thumbtacks. And then they have the audacity to put him right in front of the mix, as if they are actually featuring him. Which brings me to the production: a cornucopia of harsh white noise that’s the aural equivalent of what it feels like to chew on tin foil. It hurts the brain and saps energy and makes listening an exhaustive experience. But then how is the music itself?
The album starts with “Vanitas Vanitatum”, an intro track whose opening dissonant piano notes might make you think you downloaded Dir en grey’s Dum Spiro Spero and the files were tagged wrong. That leads into “Purgatory”, which slaps you across the face immediately with Jin’s unholy screeching. The band slips and tumbles down the stairs behind him until they reach a bright and open chorus you’ve heard a million times before.
A few tracks later, “Goodbye Human”, comes in to make things worse with its tired, shuffle beat jazz groove. Following that is “biranyueni”, a relatively interesting number with some odd meter changes. By this point, though, you notice that the band is a bit of a one-trick pony. Nearly every riff is a chug-fest punctuated by pinch harmonics, and the drummer seems to have nailed down quad fills right before they started recording and he’s really excited about it because, man, does he use them a lot!
“V-Rock Is Dead”, I’m guessing, is supposed to be an ironic statement of sorts about the poor state of visual kei at the moment. The use of cheesy synth and auto-tune is attempting to drive the point home about “fake” rock stars, but, for crying out loud, this is Nega. They aren’t established or respected enough to be pointing the finger at anyone, especially not when their entire catalog is based on emulating the work of other bands.
“tamerau koto naku o kizutsuketa yubisaki wa, to madou koto naku kegareta o kazaru” is your standard issue VK soft rocker. Opens with some acoustic guitar plucking, runs through some jangly guitar work, ends with the acoustic guitar from the beginning, and closes out two minutes longer than it should have.
But, oh man! Here comes “munashiki `nama’ no guui ≒`shi’ no shinni”, the albums centerpiece! Clocking in at over 12 minutes, it’s surprisingly filled with interesting ideas and is shockingly well-composed. It’s a bunch of melodrama, as expected, especially the middle section where each band member busts into a cadenza, earnestly displaying their skills on their respective instruments, with guitarist San choosing to channel Sugizo for his part.
The album is a nondescript blur after that, with “Will” being the only standout because it reminds me a bit of Dir en grey’s “ain’t afraid to die”.
So, yeah, Nega is nothing if not consistent. And I, unfortunately, have this morbid fascination with them, so I find myself listening to them once in a while. ON PURPOSE! Like I said, they’re doing nothing noteworthy, but I sense true sincerity behind it all. I respect that, and who knows, maybe one day Nega will emerge from the shadows of their peers and rise above as something truly great.