ROCK DOWN “Rock Down vol.1 – Shido -” (Review)

Rock Down make their debut with Rock Down vol.1 – Shido –, album that, although not as brilliant as expected, still counts with an interesting collection of songs.

Rock Down is a band in which freedom and individuality are common. The band consists of Yukitoshi Kikuchi (leader), Yoshiaki Hasegawa, Takuya Sato, Taito BanTakuya Masumoto and Keisuke Koumoto.

Title:  Rock Down vol.1 - Shido -
Label: Tsukipro/Movic
Release date: 17/08/2018
Genre: Rock

Tracklist:

1. DRAMA「新しい日常」 
2. DRAMA「それぞれのペースで」 
3. DRAMA「ROCK DOWN始動!」 
4. DRAMA「そして迎える朝に」 
5. ROCK DOWN 
6. 優しい世界 
7. 孤独のVampire

Track by track analysis:

5. ROCK DOWN

ROCK DOWN‘s representative song introduces the listener to a dramatic yet alluring alternative rock sound. Setting themselves apart from Vazzy, this group relies primarily on synths to shape its sound into an exciting and dreamy mix. Bass elements play a big role into adding depth and an edge to a sound that would – if it was solely focused on synths – sound too tame and generic. The instrumental also counts with bassy synths, soothing synth pads, overdriven guitar riffs, snare-y drums and some sampled hi-hat triplets in the background. The final result is this high-throttle, exciting rock song that

This is the very first time we get to listen to ROCK DOWN perform. Some of the singing voices in this group are unknown to most listeners, mainly because some seiyuu part of this project haven’t been that much active with 2.5D idol groups/projects. This group isn’t blessed with powerful singers (aside from Takuya Sato, whose fame in this department precedes him), however everyone sounded great in the choruses, with all voices fitting in like puzzle pieces. Overall, solo parts were well performed, even if there were clear quality differences between some of the members. “ROCK DOWN” is an explosive opener for this album. 4.5/5 

6. 優しい世界

Yasashii sekai” puts aside fast paced guitar riffs and synths to deliver a sweet, R&-ish ballad. Despite its apparent simplicity, this instrumental blends pop with rock and R&B, all in the same place. Acoustic guitar melodies and the bass line introduced an R&B touch to this instrumental, at the same time that the delicate piano melodies and simple lyrics introduced pop, while the song is, at its core, a rock tune. The song ended up sounding sweeter as opposed to the typical melancholic ballad sound. On the same level of quality as the instrumental were the vocals. More than one member standing out, it was the group, as a whole, that impressed. What we got were sweet mid-tones in what is one of the most delicate performances in the VAZZROCK franchise. Hands down the best song on this release. 5/5

7. 孤独のVampire

This album wraps up with a dramatic pop-rock song with some symphonic rock undertones. The soundscape created is rather refined and, at the same time, dark, making great use of strings to create a somber and dramatic sound that is hard to forget. The addition of double-bass drums, a noticeable bass line and fast guitar licks steered this song away from symphonic rock territory (that would have been even more fitting with the theme of this song), towards a simpler, fast paced rock sound. The duality between the fast paced, darker choruses and the slower paced, bass-driven verses in which funk-rock elements lead the way, made this instrumental all the more interesting.

Despite the overall solid performance by ROCK DOWN – with the highlights being Sato‘s sweet mid-tones and vibrato, plus Koumoto and Ban‘s consistent singing – I find it odd how Takuya Masumoto sounded so devoid of emotion throughout the song. It’s as if he didn’t connect with the song at all. Regardless of that, Kodoku no Vampire stands as one of the best songs on this release. 4.5/5

Final rating:

There was both skepticism and excitement over ROCK DOWN‘s debut. After listening to this release and even after giving this rating, I’m still skeptic about this group.

ROCK DOWN surely wanted to set themselves apart from Vazzy‘s sound, however, that is barely noticeable. Most of the times their songs sound like a mirror of Vazzy‘s first unit song CD.

Their representative song “ROCK DOWN” relied on fast paced instrumentalization to deliver an electrifying performance. It felt like the perfect opening track to this release, carefully yet quickly introducing the listener to a whole new sound and a new set of voices (most of those unknown to some).

Yasashii Sekai” ended up being the best sounding and complete song on this release despite how quiet and lowkey it actually is. Whether it was the delicate instrumental or the sweet performances, my whole attention was on this song from start to finish. Embracing R&B was rather unexpected (much due to the fact that Tsukipro put an emphasis on saying that ROCK DOWN and Vazzy are unique groups, however from both releases they sound almost the same), but it paid off in the end.

The album wraps up with “Kodoku no Vampire“, song that, for a split second, sounded like it would venture towards symphonic territory but unfortunately ended up taking a faster and simpler route, adopting a fast paced rock sound.

ROCK DOWN surely aren’t flashy group but right now they don’t sound too different from Vazzy, of course, on the instrumental department.

The differences appear in the vocal department. This group isn’t as strongly build as Vazzy are. In 6 members we have 4 baritones, the majority within the bass range. With this much “bass” power in their group it’d be expected that the group would sound imposing, even menacing – especially if their sound had been more aggressive. What we got instead was inconsistencies. Almost no one has vibrato (except for Takuya Sato) and, at times, their performances lack emotion (the case of Takuya Masumoto). Yoshiaki Hasegawa and Keisuke Koumoto sound like they have potential to grow but as they are right now, they are far from being reliable singers.

Yukitoshi Kikuchi is, perhaps, the member with the most unique singing tone within this group. He has a high register and, if that wasn’t enough, he sounds too nasal. If I had to compare him to another seiyuu I’d say that he sounds like Hikaru Midorikawa (prior to his improvements in 2017). Kikuchi is far from being the group’s best singer, as a matter of fact, at times he sounds like he’s holding back the whole group.

Takuya Masumoto needs to put an effort into making his performances connect with the listener. He sings without emotion and, in songs like “Yasashii Sekai“, if it wasn’t for the other members, the song would have been a complete wreck.

On the other side, Takuya Sato is the most complete performer out of everyone in ROCK DOWN. His performances bring a lot of experience, passion and quality to their songs. His mid-tones are powerful, his vibrato is smooth, he can belt high notes if required and impress with his bass range. He’s the do-it-all kind of singer that most groups would love to have on board. Take Takuya Sato from the equation and, all of a sudden, ROCK DOWN turn into a forgettable group.

From what I could experience with this release, ROCK DOWN might have what it takes to turn into an interesting outfit, however there needs to be serious improvements on the vocal end, as well as a focus into making their sound distinct because right now, they sound like a carbon copy of Vazzy – well, minus the top tier vocals.

All in all, “Rock Down vol.1 – Shido –” is a release worth checking out. It isn’t brilliant but seldom do first releases impress a lot, so it’s not that worrying. They are still rough around the edges but they have the potential to turn into an exciting group.

Rock Down vol.1 – Shido –” is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.

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