Neither rap nor rock

It used to be that Dragon Ash was two different bands.

At the start of its career, Dragon Ash was a straight-ahead rock band, but by its third album, Viva La Revolution, the band mastered hip-hop.

But even after flexing considerable rap muscle, Dragon Ash just couldn’t leave its rock past behind, interrupting the flow of the chart-topping Viva La Revolution with a set of incongruous punk numbers.

On the band’s fourth album, Lily of da Valley, Dragon Ash has finally reconciled the two halves of its distinct sound. In doing so, the Japanese quartet has created music that can’t easily be considered rap nor rock.

Rap-rock nowadays of course means Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach and a slew of Latin alternative bands. Ever since Rage Against the Machine pioneered the idea of floating a rough-hewned freestyler over heavy, metallic riffs, rap-rock has pretty much locked into a live rhythm section playing hip-hop beats with buzzing guitars.

On Lily of da Valley, the guitars and the hip-hop simples are integrated. Removing one from the other would make the songs on the album unravel.

“Glory,” for instance, sports Furuya Kenji dub-chanting over some buzzsaw guitars during the track’s chorus. On “21st Century Riot,” the guitars provide as much rhythmic backbone as the tub-thumping beats. Although the guitars are sampled on “Deep Impact,” their huge presence isn’t mere window dressing — they clearly characterize the song.

Perhaps the integration of both rock and rap is most obvious on “Yuri no Saku Basho De.” Furuya whisper-raps over a quiet beat, until the chorus bursts through with a head-banging, double-time punk chorus.

Because of this tightly-woven texture, assessing whether this combination works is difficult — Dragon Ash has clearly created something entirely new from very familiar sources.

The rap delivery on this album often borders on punk screaming, while all the screaming sometimes transform into discernable hooks. Furuya keeps up with the ever-changing shifts in the band’s sound, switching between freestyler to screamer to crooner at the drop of a proverbial hat.

Lily of da Valley requires more than a few spins to channel the lines Dragon Ash actively blur, if not downright assault. This album could very well be the future of both hip-hop and rock.