The queen of candy-colored Rococo – and frou frou dresses Julia Nishimura and her revolving cast of sharply dressed men (generally referred to as princes) are back. On their debut "Birth Of Romance" Cross Vein played completely over-the-top flowery power metal that sounded like a perfect synthesis of Italian – and Scandinavian variations of the genre, "Royal Eternity" continued largely in the same vein, but hinted at a more measured approach. "Gate Of Fantasia" fully capitalized on their newfound restraint and was significant for exactly the same reason. “True Castle” – surely a stopgap EP to whet our appetite for their fourth album – harkens back more to the pre-“Gate Of Fantasia” days and offers two new songs (including instrumental versions) or 20 minutes of brand new music.
Since 2017 things have been relatively stable in the Cross Vein camp. There haven’t been any notable changes in personnel since “Gate Of Fantasia” other than bass guitarist Ookatsu Shōyō being replaced by Zary. The once so volatile line-up has solidified and (besides Julia eventually embarking on a solo career) it’s unlikely that there will be any more Cross Vein splinter projects. 2013-2014 rhythm section Nakano Yosuke (bass guitar) and Kouichi Shimizu (drums) branched off with frontwoman Miki (実稀) to form Octaviagrace in 2015. Even though Ibuki (息吹) left in 2009 (and later fronted Art of Gradation and Disqualia, both tragically shortlived constellations with plenty of initial promise) her solo debut didn’t materialize until 2018. “True Castle” is a twofold release that not only premieries two new songs, but offers the same two songs in instrumental form as a bonus, or padding, whichever you prefer. It follows the same template as the “The Revival” single from 2017 and as always the artwork is pretty amazing. Like “The Revival” before it “True Castle” indulges the central duo's aggressive inclinations after the more measured direction that "Gate Of Fantasia" took last year.
These two new songs ‘True Castle’ and ‘Existence’ offer the best of what the two principal songwriters typically specialize in. ‘True Castle’ is a high-speed power metal rager that very much sounds like something from “Royal Eternity” and “Birth Of Romance” and is likely a Yoshinari Kashiwagi composition. Well, maybe “rager” is a bit of a stretch for what is by all accounts a triumphant, uptempo cut with an arrangement and orchestral – and choral accoutrements that oozes classic Rhapsody (Of Fire) vibes. As a bonus there’s a guitar – and keyboard solo trade-off that could’ve come from a pre-2003 Children Of Bodom album (or back when they still worth taking seriously.) In comparison ‘Existence’ is more measured sounding and probably from the hand of Masumi Takayama. While there always has been a sense of technical flair and something of an progressive undercurrent to Cross Vein’s music it has never been so pronounced as it is here. It’s difficult, if not to say impossible, to estimate whether that is indicative of the band’s future material or not, but it’s an interesting development for a unit that has largely set its formula in stone over the last couple of years.
While Ibuki (息吹) was the early voice of Cross Vein Julia Nishimura certainly has become their most identifiable and iconic frontwoman since debuting in 2010. Shrill would be one way of describing Julia’s vocals, glass-shattering another. Over nine years and three albums Nishimura’s golden pipes are one of Cross Vein’s greatest assets. On “True Castle” Julia is her kawaii self and, thankfully, she continues to sing in her native Japanese (despite both tracks being Englisht titled). There are no instances of forced heavily accented English, something which prevented Lovebites highly-publicized Nuclear Blast Records debut “Clockwork Immortality” from unlocking its full potential. Not encumbered by having to appeal to the international market Cross Vein is content to remain a titan force domestically. Due to the sheer intensity of their attack, the relentless optimism, and triumphant technicality Cross Vein is best enjoyed in limited dosages. Offering 2 new tracks, and a total of 20 minutes of music, “True Castle” has the ideal duration while offering a glimpse of where Cross Vein is headed in the future.
“True Castle” doesn’t so much chart new waters as it offers a slight refining of the direction Cross Vein has been specializing in since “Royal Eternity”. Just like on the earlier “The Revival” single Julia doesn’t feature on the cover (even though she did on the earlier “Profusion” and “Maid Of Lorraine” singles) and “True Castle”, at least visually, seems to be a callback to the “Moon Addict” days with artwork that very much looks like a stylistic continuation of “The Revival”. Those pining to see Julia and her dresses again will in all likelihood have to wait for the fourth Cross Vein album. There’s a point to be made that Cross Vein might just be a tad much for the average power metal fan, but bands like Twilight Force, Frozen Crown, Elvenstorm, and Dragonforce are drawing massive crowds despite, or maybe in spite of, their inevitably tacky conceptual nature. The closest thing you could call Cross Vein is fairytale metal, or Tim Burton metal. Whichever description you prefer, “True Castle” very much manifests that the Yoshinari Kashiwagi-Masumi Takayama songwriting partnership continues to pay dividends. As sugary and shiny as Cross Vein tends to be they are emblemic of Japanese power metal in the sense that they do it better than the European masters. That fourth album cannot come soon enough. Let’s hope Julia’s on the cover again.