Area 11 – All The Lights In The Sky Review

Finally it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for. After a couple of years touring and several shorter EP’s Area 11 have finally released their first full length album. Due out later this month, it’s a mash-up of new and unexpected sounds from the band thrown in with their usual dose of heavy guitars and speedy keytar fingerings. It’s time to sit back, plug yourselves into the network and enjoy a heavy dose of the UK’s first Gaijin rock band.

Area 11 – All The Lights In The Sky is available as an MP3 download from Amazon.co.uk

System;Start – The album starts with a track that’s not so much a song, but more a scene setting short audio story. We get introduced to the thud of a heartbeat, talk of calibration, that familiar modem dialling sound and the sound of a tube you’d expect test subjects enclosed in opening. A woman tells us that a subject is responding normally, a man starts up a machine which can be heard firing up in the background as electronic bleeps and bloops.

The subject is awake and we end by hearing the male voice ask, “Cassandra, can you hear me?”

“Yes,” she replies.

“Are you ready to begin?” he asks.

“Yes, I’m ready,” she says.

In comes a short burst of guitar and the album kicks off with a bang.

Vectors – Vectors has a strong guitar based opening, which flows extremely well from the ending of System;Start. When the first verse kicks in we hear the song drop down to just the drums and vocals in a nearly acoustic style that has a very unexpected rhythm and caught me completely off guard. This is nothing like the Area 11 you’re used to, and I mean that in the best possible way. It has a strong rhythm pumping throughout, pushing it forward, making it a great track to start the album with. It’s the kind of track that would make for a perfect live opening, ramping up at a nice pace into the right speed to get an audience up on their feet and jumping about, head banging or pumping their fists into the air.

The title seems to be a reference to the Diclonii in Elfen Lied, specifically to their mentally controlled ethereal extra set of arms, a conclusion strengthened by several parts of the songs lyrics. The lyrics refer to the main character Lucy being mentally broken during the beginning of the series with her split personality Nyu. These include the lyrics, “Something broken inside you” and “Regress into a child again.” There is also a lot of imagery about trying to save and understand someone different to yourself, such as, “Common ancestry / almost the same but not enough,” and “Reach out your hand to catch me / reach out your hand but you tear me apart.”

Euphemia – Next up are a pair of songs that will be familiar to existing Area 11 fans, but have been updated for the band’s first full length album. First up is Euphemia, which starts as much as you would expect it to. The introductory section of ambient scene setting music is extended a little in length, but nothing revolutionary. Where the song really starts to seem new is around a minute in when the track kicks into full gear. This new version is faster paced, more energetic and throws out its music in a method that’s best described as a little aggressive. Every tiny pause in the original version’s audio is gone, replaced with lengthened guitar sections that create a continuous wall of music that doesn’t let up for even a second.

Many of you reading this will be aware of a commonly misheard line in the song’s chorus. More than once I’ve watched a lyric video to Euphemia on YouTube only to be greeted to, “Oh, she may die” rather than the song’s actual lyrics “Mou oshimai da.” In an attempt to combat this the newer version of the song sees the band make a concerned effort to pronounce this section more clearly, changing a little of the inflection to make the misheard section a little more clear to newcomers.

The second chorus changes things up a little with some additional use of synth sounds and bass drum, with some musical and vocal moments taking slightly different turns that caught me off guard for a moment. Towards the end is the song’s biggest change; a last minute chorus played on the acoustic guitar. This is the only moment where the song lets up, which ultimately serves to make the fast and furious ending all the more powerful by comparison. This is without a doubt the best version of the song and well worth listening to for fans that think they’ve experienced everything Euphemia had to offer them.

Knightmare/Frame – While the second of the album’s redone tracks has fewer notable changes than Euphemia, Knightmare/Frame shares the previous track’s propensity for speed and aggression. With expended guitar and drum work to cover every pause in the original song and the music feeling like it’s racing full speed into battle, it feels like this version is more polished than ever before and will be even better to experience live.

Tokyo House Party – With track five we’re back to the album’s completely new tracks, and my word, Tokyo House Party comes out of leftfield for Area 11! Starting with just a bass guitar and light drums, the song has a very un-produced and raw feeling. With a single layer of lead guitar layered on top and a fairly straightforward vocal tune, the song feels fairly tonally distinct and fits in nicely after Knightmare/Frame. The most interesting part in terms of the musical side is that the last quarter of the song kicks into what can only be described as a mixture of electro and drum & bass, which transitions into a nice section of rock meets dance music. I listen to this song and imagine it feeling quite at home with strobe lights, UV lamps and a dark back room at a crowded anime convention.

Lyrically there’s a lot of talk of a visitor from space coming into someone’s life, and their challenges trying to understand why this person came and trying to understand them. While several anime stories came to mind, I couldn’t quite place my finger on this track’s lyrical inspirations. Needless to say the lyrics are engaging, with lines like, “I know, that this’ll never work out / so we shouldn’t even start / ’cause I’m just a kid at heart,” and, “’cause I don’t know what you came here for / rising through the clouds into light.” The song paints a beautiful picture of someone coming into your life and suddenly replacing the humdrum boredom with excitement and intrigue.

Shi No Barado (Feat. Beckii Cruel) – Shi No Barado appears to be a song about Death Note, sung from the point of view of Misa Amane, and my goodness it’s lyrically impressive! The track starts with just a piano, backed with a very gentle set of drums. As the guitar joins, it straddles a line between acoustic love song and late 1980s rock ballad at times. Sparkles’ vocals have a mix of mournful sorrow and unwavering conviction to the lyrics being sung, which just strengthens the song’s impact.

The song covers everything from Misa’s desire to thank Kira for killing her parents’ killer, her attempts to contact him on local TV, to the fact that even after losing her memories of Light being Kira she remembered that she loved him. The chorus focuses on the central point of her narrative arc, that she would do anything for Light, to the extent that he is free to kill her once she is no longer of any use to him. It touches on her self-destructive attitude of being happy to throw away her personal happiness for the sake of Kira’s continued success and uses a beautiful set of lyrics to point out her role in Kira’s vision of the future – “’Cause you’re bigger than the planet Earth / and I’m your satellite.”

Part of the beauty of the way the song is written is that even without knowing it’s about Death Note (I didn’t pick up the references until the fourth or fifth time listening), it’s still an incredibly moving song about the dangers of taking unconditional love to self-destructive extremes. It paints a picture of an unrequited relationship where one party is doing everything in their power to win the affection of someone who clearly doesn’t feel the same, but is willing to make the most of the situation for their own gain. It’s a beautifully touching song that tackles a difficult theme in a way that references its source of inspiration in a very natural way.

Beckii Cruel’s guest vocalist spot is used to great effect, acting mainly as a female echo of Misa’s voice and at one point having a back and forth with Sparkles playing the role of Light. I feel that her addition added a lot to the song, and her vocal style fit the character brilliantly. Her voice was amazing and fit really naturally with the rest of the song’s individual parts.

Cassandra (ptII) – Cassandra (ptII), presumably the second part of the story of Cassandra who was mentioned in System;Start, is a fairly straight up rock song. A slower pace than Euphemia and Knightmare/Frame, it has a guitar line that consistently chugs away like a train, pushing the song along at a constant pace, leaving the vocal line to do the majority of the variation and experimentation. Light-hearted and upbeat, we hear lyrics talking about a life-changing encounter in a digital space. While I’m yet to fully understand the song’s story, the chorus is lyrically engaging with a grand sweeping musical movement behind it that catches my attention every time I hear it. ‎”You wear a red dress when you’re in a bull fight / you’re drawing attention to your double life / this was the moment / this was the place / this was the night that everything changed.”

The Strays – If there was a single track on this album with an opening I didn’t expect it was that of The Strays, which starts off with a piano accompanied by a very sombre saxophone that wouldn’t sound out of place in a jazz cafe in the pouring rain. An acoustic guitar is layered on top briefly, being strummed fairly viciously, before the addition of a brief section of electric guitar showmanship and a sudden drop.

Following the drop we get a fairly laidback verse followed by an angry, almost violent, chorus structure. The song goes back and forth in terms of its emotional tone. While the verses use an acoustic guitar and minimal light drum work, the chorus ramps up to a much louder mix of electric guitar and heavy drum work, even including some exhale screamed lyrics.

The lyrics seem to me like they may be about Cowboy Beebop. From the talk of asteroids to the mention of how “you can outrun everything but the debts that you owe,” it seems to be a reference to Faye’s struggle to escape her gambling debts. There’s even references in the chorus to the violent nature of the group’s methods including, “You think I’m vicious but you don’t know what vicious is.” The contrast between the calm verses and the angry chorus nicely mirrors the series’ balance of the two emotions, bouncing back and forth quickly and efficiently when the time is right. Just like the group, who bounce back and forth between their moments of friendly banter together and their aggressive moments of chasing after bounties.

Dream and Reality – This starts off with an electronic scale that lightly twinkles up and down, conjuring images of space and travel through the stars. This is joined by a rumbling low tom beat and finally a guitar fighting its way to the front of the mix, creating a sound that wouldn’t be out of place as a boss battle theme in a video game.

Overlaid onto the upbeat melody we get a song about fighting on together to achieve your dreams and not letting anything stand in your way. Including lyrics like, “This feels better than the best thing / ’cause we are stronger than anything / we’ve coped with all the things we’ve been through / and they couldn’t break us if they wanted to.” The song is incredibly optimistic and has left me with this wonderful feeling that you can accomplish anything no matter the challenges that you face along the way.

Heaven-Piercing Giga Drill – The album’s final remade track and my word, it doesn’t waste any time! Much faster than the version Area 11 fans will be used to, it feels like they took the song and put everything but the lead vocals on some kind of illegal performance enhancing drug designed to increase speed. There’s more intricate guitar work and drums than before, constant run arounds and sweeping guitar lines in the place of previously simpler ones and a reworked pre-chorus which seems to be perfectly poised for headbanging or fists pumped in time with the lyrics. This version of the song should make for an amazing experience for live crowds lucky enough to hear it.

A couple of sections of the lyrics have been slightly reworked; including making Kogie’s echo of “believe in THE me” more pronounced and easily picked out. All in all the track is an improved version of one fans will know only too well.

Bōsōzoku Symphonic – The album’s eleventh and final track, which is coincidentally 11 minutes and 11 seconds long, is made up of five distinct ‘Movements’. Each of them does something very different, but I’m personally not convinced mashing them all into one song at the end was the best use of what could have been five shorter tracks spaced out across the album.

Movement 1 – Ryōkan. This first Movement starts off as an instrumental track, with lots of ambient noises that sound like they’d fit into a jungle level in a game like Metroid Prime. This is slowly layered with a low tribal chanting, followed by the addition of a strong heavy guitar and accompanying electronic crashes.

Movement 2 – Senbazuru. As the second Movement starts we drop right back down to a quiet piano melody, with a heavily Feudal Era Japanese inspired sound. I’m reminded of walking in the snow, with a lingering emotion which conjures up that sensation when you share that first magical kiss with your partner. There’s a very romantic feeling running throughout, which is truly relaxing, but I’m also left feeling a little like this track doesn’t quite fit with the ones on either side of it.

Movement 3 – Redline. From there we transition into a chiptune style battle theme. It’s got a rock vibe which wouldn’t feel out of place in an NES JRPG and while awesome, still feels like it’s a little out of place. It doesn’t particularly flow on from the previous Movement or share any kind of musical or tonal consistency.

Movement 4 – All The Lights In The Sky. A short song performed on just an acoustic guitar with Sparkles’ vocals dancing across it, the song is truly beautiful and brought me to tears on the first listen. I interpreted the lyrics as being about someone trying to balance their love life along with going after their personal ambitions. There are lines about putting your own personal happiness on hold in exchange for more time to do the things you need to; knowing that the person dear to you won’t be waiting upon your return, feeling more free around that person but knowing one day you’ll have to go through the pain of ripping yourself out of the shackles rather than just living with them and picking fights just to see them show emotion. I think showing you some of the lyrics is the best way to let you see just how well written this song is:

I deferred my happiness

for loneliness and time

but once I’m where I wanna be

you’ll be far behind

All the lights in the sky

are falling to the ground

and the chains that hold me down

slacken up when you’re around

Sometimes I disagreed

just to hear you scream

You were right

but I needed you to give emotion back to me

There’s a huge amount of emotion and beauty in the Movement and it is without a doubt my favourite moment in the album. It just feels a shame it’s almost buried in this Movement rather than getting its own moment to shine.

Movement 5 – Black Hole Giga Drill. Our last moments with the album are the same as our first moments, in that the track that was used in the album’s announcement video is the final Movement of the final track. You can listen to its guitar-y dubstep goodness below.

All in all I have really mixed feeling about Bōsōzoku Symphonic. While each of its constituent parts are of a very high quality, they don’t really mesh very well and don’t feel like the right way to end an album. I can see why they made them a single track (ending with track 11 which is 11 minutes and 11 seconds long is pretty genius on paper), but I kind of wish that each of these Movements were separated and given their own space on the album rather than being forced together into a single track.

Overall Album Thoughts – While there is not a single weak song on the whole album (if you treat Bōsōzoku Symphonic as five separate songs), the album’s ending feels a little unusual to me and personally didn’t feel like the ending I’d been hoping for. There was also a bit of a missed opportunity with the songs about Cassandra being a running theme throughout the album that I don’t think was fully realised.

With that said, All The Lights In The Sky is still an album I’d recommend day one to any Area 11 fan, as well as any anime or gaming fan that’s into rock music with a bit of a Japanese tilt to it. It’s subtle enough with its references that you don’t have to be embarrassed about showing it to your non-nerdy friends, yet there’s a second layer to all the songs where half the fun is trying to find the references and the feeling of pride that comes with knowing that you get the song’s true meaning. Area 11 have put together a terrific first album and I feel very excited to see what the future holds for the band.

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11 Comments

  1. edward fitzmaurice says:

    Cant wait

  2. ZooRopa Station says:

    Euphemia sped up, Knifhtmare/Frame sped up, and Giga Drill sped up… looks like sprinkles* had some influence there. I love the nightcore’d versions on YouTube.

    • ZooRopa Station says:

      * Knightmare/Frame

    • Greconi says:

      As fun as it would be for him to be called sprinkles* he is far more commonly known as sparkles* 😉

      • ZooRopa Station says:

        I was referring to the fact that his female alter ego is called Sprinkles*, and his voice sped up for the nightcore versions of the songs sounds more feminine… just go check out the comments on those vids to see all the talk about “Sprinkles*”

        Basically, yes I know it’s Sparkles*.

  3. Piplupishawesome says:

    Cant wait till it comes out <3

  4. RamdomNoob says:

    It is gonna be amazing

  5. Adiguna Amal says:

    It’s already the end of January! Hopefully it’s going to be released in (maybe) 3 or 4 days, so yay!

  6. I heartily disagree on Bosozoku Symphonic! It is probably my favourite track on the album!

  7. Wolfeth says:

    I do kind of have to agree on Bosozoku Symphonic. It’s pretty badass, but some parts just don’t flow as well as the rest of the album. I had a good chuckle when I bought the album, but after listening… My brain divides them up into three separate songs, really. They’d have fit better as separate songs throughout the album.
    I still love it though.
    ATLITS is overall amazing.

  8. Jamie Murray says:

    I thought Tokyo House Party was based of FLCL. There are various similarities between the anime and song, such as: the idea of an alien lover; the constant mention of fire; ‘just a kid at heart’ (the main character is 12) and that it’s ‘the town where nothing goes on’ because the character repeatedly says that in the anime. I would definitely suggest watching it because it’s very funny, although most of the comedy is surreal so it’s extremely random.

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