Given his uncanny ability to layer singable melodies over dissonant chords, Number Girl leader Mukai Shutoku could have gone in one of two directions: more accessible or more weird.
On Num-Heavymetallic, he’s definitely chosen the latter route.
Right from the start — with the title track opening the album — all is not normal. Guitarist Tabuchi Hisako grounds the track with an eerie arpeggio, over which drummer Ahito Inazawa plays a spare, dub beat. Inazawa also sings on the track, his voice wrung through an arsenal of effects.
“Inuzini” is no less weird, with shifting tempo and meter and muddy effects being the order of the day. The band even quotes one of its own songs, “Urban Guitar Sayonara”, at the end.
Hints of Number Girl’s experimental tendencies showed up on the pre-release single, “Num-Ami-Dabutz” — the chorus has a disco beat, a first for a Number Girl song.
(Trivial interjection: “Num-Ami-Dabutz” is a play on the phrase “namu amida Butsu”, which means “praise the Buddah”. That must mean the album’s title translates to “praise heavy metal”.)
By the middle of the album, Number Girl goes back to being the hyper-energetic punk band of its previous work, but not without a few tweaks to its fast-is-more work ethic.
“Cibbico-san” starts off with the double-time intensity that gave “Teppu Surudoku Natte” some guts, but half way through, the band switches tempo and changes the character of the song. Aside from Tabuchi’s reverb-heavy noodling, the song’s second half sounds almost pop.
“Tombo the electric bloodred” is so loud, digital clipping occurs at points in the track. Clipping is the digital studio equivalent of scratching nails on a chalkboard, but smack dab in the middle of a Number Girl song, it sounds almost downright appropriate.
“Fu-Si-Gi” trods along at a hulking pace, with thick, atonal chords punctuating the song, but at the end, Number Girl gets thrown down a hill, the song hurtling to a blur of a conclusion.
Dub seems to be a favorite rhythm for Mukai and Inazawa this time around.
The drummer is the most prominent accompanist on the reasonably mellow “delayed brain”, following the singer’s phrases with thoughtfully timed fills.
“Frustration in my blood” calls to mind the Police in the way the song alternates from a half-time reggae-like beat to a double-time punk beat.
Through all the twists and turns, Number Girl still delivers a passionate performance. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the album’s closer, “Kuromegachi na Shoojo”. Mukai practically screams himself apart. He and Cocco ought to hang out.
Num-Heavymetallic has a lot of neat, brainy things going on to make listeners scratch their heads and pay close attention. But in the end, it’s Number Girl’s ability to put on a riverting show that draws listeners in.
For all the weirdness on the album, it’s still about four people making music in the end.