Knights push the envelope with a first album filled with exciting tunes and some of the best vocal performances in the Ensemble Stars’ franchise.
The unit consists of Shintaro Asanuma, Daiki Yamashita, Masami Ito, Ryo Kitamura and Reiou Tsuchida.
Title: Ensemble Stars! Album Series Knights Label: Pony Canyon Release date: 30/05/2018 Genre: Dance/Pop
01.Voice of Sword 02.Checkmate Knights 03.Silent Oath 04.Fight for Judge 05.Crush of Judgment (by Knight's Killers) 06.Article of Faith 07.Knights the Phantom Thief 08.Grateful allegiance 09.Birthday of Music!（Leo Tsukinaga solo) 10.Ironic Blue (Izumi Sena solo） 11.真夜中のノクターン (Ritsu Sakuma solo） 12.JEWEL STONE（Arashi Narukami solo） 13.With My Honesty（Tsukasa Suo solo）
Track by track analysis:
01.Voice of Sword
Knights kick off the album with their energy’s gauge hitting its max. Voice of Sword is a track with a catchy and danceable instrumental piece. The synths are certainly one of the main forces in this track’s instrumental piece. Not only do they give it a danceable vibe, but at the same time it makes them blend well with the ambiance created with the whole track. A bright and cheerful instrumental piece with the addition of EDM elements, namely the triplets, percussion and some of the synth pads incorporated in Voice of Sword. Vocal wise, the performance was uniform, as each member had the opportunity to shine in their solo parts, but did not fail to equally give their best when it came to harmonizing with the other members. Solid performance. 4.5/5
On a completely different note, Checkmate Knights has a distinct approach, despite it keeping up more or less the same energy. A playful piano, synth pads, strings and simple percussion create the perfect stage for Knights‘ members to shine in this track that takes on a more acoustic route. With that being said, the strings and piano plus the drums and bass definitely make one believe there is no better way to describe Checkmate Knights than it being a sort of (power)ballad from a movie, as it exudes a romantic and youthful sound. A solo moment for the strings and the piano, as well as the guitar is a nice touch to this track which has a simple yet rich instrumental piece. If there is one type of song to showcase the vocal prowess of a group the first choice will be a ballad. With that in mind, Checkmate Knights has strong harmonizations with each member being more noticeable in one or another moment in the track. 4.5/5
Silent Oath seems to incorporate elements of the two previous tracks, the danceable and catchy instrumental piece with the synth pads and more laidback mood. The acoustic guitar gives this track a R&B vibe that is complete with the percussion and the simple and ever present pads, which remain in the instrumental piece even in the chorus, though they take on a background role. If you think the chorus is catchy and has a hint of EDM elements, wait until you listen to the rest. Silent Oath has a different vibe from the other tracks in this album, hence why it sounds so distinct and perhaps even addicting. In this track, one can certainly listen to every member sing by himself, at least the majority of the time. Mysteriously, this track gives off a certain energy that makes one want to jump in the chorus. 5/5
04.Fight for Judge
Focusing on the EDM, Fight for Judge is without a doubt a track for the dance floor. With a groovy bass, heavy synths and pads usage, this track has also the perfect instrumental piece and energy for a live performance context as it makes one sing along and even jump, such is its energy. In fact, the chorus has quite the catchy instrumental piece. The synths in the outro certainly exude that 90’s synth pop-rock vibe, that can be found in other tracks of Knights, but also has the EDM elements that are so trendy nowadays. 4/5
05.Crush of Judgment
[As previously reviewed] The vibe changes completely for “Crush of Judgment”, song that sets aside the groovy melodies and danceable tunes in previous songs to bring back a retro pop-rock sound. Dreamy synths play in the background, blending with the simple rock instrumental to create yet another exciting and fresh tune. The instrumental might sound fast paced at times but it’s only an impression – mostly due to the some of the synths playing in the background with a different tempo -, for those 3:30 minutes we find a song riding on a solid mid-tempo. The verses are exciting and energetic; however, our attention was grabbed when the chorus kicked in. The whole late 90’s synth pop-rock vibe culminates in that part. Knights Killers, sub-unit consisting of Asanuma Shintaro (Knights), Hikaru Midorikawa (fine), Shinichiro Kamio (Akatsuki) and Yuki Yonai (Ra*bits), are on vocal duty for this song. What a lineup and what a performance we got! We couldn’t think of a better song to end this release with, nor we could think about a better lineup to perform this high throttle song as well as what we have here. The performances were powerful and engaging, impressing from the get-go. 5/5
06.Article of Faith
[As previously reviewed] “Article of Faith“ is dressed in a dance pop fashion in which synths leads, soothing synth pads, noticeable basslines and simple, danceable beats are kings. The instrumental’s progression is done flawlessly, creating enough tension when necessary and giving us soothing, quiet sections in which vocals are able to shine. Even though the whole instrumental is a winner, the chorus is a major highlight. The progression, the buildup and the delivery, all were made in a way that makes this chorus one of the most addictive in 2017. The vocal performances caught us off guard. KNIGHTS don’t play around with their performances, almost everyone brings something fresh and unique to the performance. 5/5
07.Knights the Phantom Thief
[As previously reviewed] Toning down a bit its tension, “Knights the Phantom Thief” embraces a groovy, jazz inspired sound. Brass introduces a classy element to this instrumental while a funky bassline sets an alluring vibe to this tune, add to it are melodic guitar licks, playful piano melodies and a tasty saxophone solo and we’re set to go with this loungy and classy vibe. This instrumental still has a bit of the danceable vibe from the previous track but executes it in an opposite way, one we find is the best to showcase the unit’s vocal prowess and versatility. This song demanded melodic vocal performances and flourishes and what we got was exactly that. There’s a whole lot of vibrato on this song alongside some smooth performances. When it comes to choosing someone that stood out we find ourselves unable to. Solo parts, choruses, there’s not a single section in which every member pitches in their best, enrich the overall quality of the vocals. This is the funky tune we didn’t know we needed until we heard it. 5/5
A powerful synth pop-rock intro gives place to an instrumental piece with dubstep percussion in the chorus accompanied by synth pads and a groovy piano. Grateful allegiance has a delicate and playful piano that changes the dynamics of the instrumental piece. The silent break before entering the chorus was an interesting choice as it almost makes one eager to listen to what is to come next. However, if there is a moment in Grateful allegiance that deserves more attention it most certainly is the chorus as that is the moment when the layers of the instrumental piece become complex, and with each listen one will find different elements or give more attention to a certain instrument. 4.5/5
09.Birthday of Music!
Birthday of Music! kicks off with a synth and pads driven instrumental piece that quickly morphes into a pop track with a jazzy piano, funky guitar and synth pads that go well with the unique vibe Birthday of Music! emanates. Whenever the piano becomes less noticeable, the strings steal the spotlight and give place to the synths bringing back the 90’s synth pop vibe, one of the trademark elements of Knights‘ tracks. Birthday of Music! has an overall playful and energetic vibe to it, much like Asanuma’s character in-game, provided by the piano and strings. 4/5
Ironic Blue explores comfortably the rock genre. With an instrumental piece that resembles the 90s rock bands, this track has the guitar as its core and the bass and drums work together to bring the instrumental together. Despite it being rock oriented there are still moments when a piano and a more pop/rock instrumental takeover, and surprisingly enough Ironic Blue does not lose its quality whatsoever, in fact it only upgraded its value making it all the more interesting. When it comes to Masami Ito‘s vocal performance, one has to say that his performance fit like a glove in the rock genre, so there are no complains there. Good performance. 4.5/5
真夜中のノクターン (Mayonaka no Nocturne) goes the acoustic route with a clean piano and delicate strings creating an emotional ambiance for Yamashita to beginning his performance. The previous elements are then brought together with an R&B percussion as well as an acoustic guitar that gives it all the more heartfelt vibe to Mayonaka no Nocturne. As a track with a simple instrumental with few instruments, one cannot say that it is lacking anything as its instrumental piece was so beautifully executed, so there are no flaws in that department. Yamashita‘s vocal performance just added more emotion to the overall ambiance of the track. 4.5/5
JEWEL STONE has a totally different vibe from the previous track. A jazzy and playful instrumental piece provided by the funky guitar, jazzy piano, groovy bass and synth pads create a sort of musical like stage. With that being said, this track is fully of surprises. It is up to the listener to notice its interesting elements that were added as JEWEL STONE is a track with several layers in its instrumental piece, so when listening to it one ought to be fully focused so as to notice all them. 4/5
13.With My Honesty
With My Honesty mixes the pop-rock elements and the piano and bright synth pads into an instrumental piece that sounds like the perfect song for an encore in a live concert context, as it has just the right amount of energy although its tempo is more on the mid-tempo range. The strings and playful piano in the background of an instrumental that has a groovy bass as its main focus make With My Honesty distinguish from other tracks as it sounds unique and fresh. At the same time, there are moments when there is a bell playing that makes one remember Christmas songs. 4.5/5
“Ensemble Stars! Album Series Knights” is an album full of great tracks with quality performances from all members, no exceptions. If there is something Knights are known for is quality danceable, 90s synth pop/rock vibes that make one want to hit the dance floor all the while listening to tracks such as Crush of Judgement or even in Article of Faith with its unique “sound”. At the same time, moments when they went for the acoustic or even ballad approach, such as in Checkmate Knights and Mayonaka no Nocturne, showed that Knights are not only kings of their “sound” but that they can also master when incorporating other and new elements into their tracks.
When it comes down to mentioning the members’ vocal performance, it is more or less expected the fact that all of them outdid themselves in order to deliver such high quality performances, vibrato and more that did not seem out of place at any time. Whenever there were moments to shine in a solo performance everyone gave their best and when it came to the harmonization moments the outcome was even better.
“Ensemble Stars! Album Series Knights” is a great album to listen to as it has catchy and danceable tracks with the best performances one could ask for.
“Ensemble Stars! Album Series Knights” is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.