Closer to conformity

Okay, I confess — I love TOKIE.

She played an upright bass in the middle of RIZE’s heavy metal guitars, and she grounded Asai Kenichi’s atmospheric strumming in AJICO.

She has an incredibly sense of rhythm, and like the very best bass guitarists in the world, she lays a musical foundation every bit as melodic as a singer or lead guitarist.

Which of course means Foreplay, RIZE’s second album, had to work harder to impress me.

TOKIE left RIZE in March 2001, and as a result, drummer Nobuaki Kaneko and guitarist/vocalist Jesse auditioned a new bassist and a second guitarist.

The new line-up went straight to work, releasing three singles before unleashing Foreplay.

On the surface, RIZE continues to pack the rock half of its rap-rock equation with beefy riffs and aggressive vocals.

The addition of guitarist Nakao Hiro definitely injects RIZE with an extra dose of testosterone, and TOKIE’s replacement U-ZO does a fine job painting within the lines of heavy metal bass picking.

As such, RIZE brings itself closer in line with the rap-rock aesthetic ground to death by bands on a Vans Warped Tour itinerary.

Is that necessarily a good thing? TOKIE’s smart bass work made RIZE stand out. The two-guitar attack makes Foreplay far more dramatic than the accomplished debut Rookey, but it takes a bit more work to get past surface predictability and uncover the album’s true heart.

Foreplay does a great job continuing RIZE’s hook-friendly metallic muse, and as a youth-market product, the album does a fine job delivering head-banging, body-slamming music.

But without TOKIE, RIZE loses just enough of its edge to make it stand apart from the Limp Bizkits of the world. Get this album if you don’t mind a little conformity.