FACT - Self-titled
Record label: Vagrant
Release Date: April 14, 2009
Over the past year my eyes have been opened to the wealth of praise-worthy music falling outside our domestic circle by bands such as the UK’s Johnny Foreigner and Australia’s Closure in Moscow, but despite this, my first reaction to Japan’s FACT was extremely hesitant. Their eerie stage attire, complete with Kabuki masks, makes them look like a gimmick at first, an impression that I can say is completely reversed upon listening to their first US release on Vagrant Records.
The heavy metal image projected by the masks is really just a starting point for this band’s sound; it provides a solid base for the music but the band throws enough fresh and melodic elements on top of it to make this album highly accessible and even moving at points. A little online research revealed that the band was previously a more straight-forward metal group, and they have clearly retained many of its characteristics while embracing those of several other genres. Over the course of the album's fifteen tracks (plus a throwaway remix of the single, “A Fact of Life”), the five-piece blends the sounds of bands ranging from Fall Out Boy (opening of “Los Angels”) to Underoath (the epic breakdown in “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”), to the Lostprophets (“A Fact of Life”), but the best part is how they make the transitions appear so flawless. The music shifts rhythm and tempo constantly, the guitarists are keenly aware of when to play blisteringly fast metal riffs and when to provide ambient, intricate lines instead, and the overall sound moves smoothly from brutal pounding to melodic interlude without once showing you the seams.
The rapid musical changing-of-the-guard on Fact means that its weakest songs are hard to isolate, as they all have some redeeming value. There are definite highlights on the album, including the gorgeous bridge in “A Fact of Life,” the ripping guitar solo of “Reborn” fading into its final chorus, the heartbreaking acoustic opening of “45 Days,” the elaborately woven bridge of “Why…”, and the almost Lagwagon-like bombast of closer “Rise.” Spending time with the album only yields more of these great moments, and this is truly an album that grows stronger as its shifting parts become more familiar and cohesive.
This leads to the last element of the album, its vocals, which benefit more than anything else from repeat listens. Lead singer Hiro is noticeably not a native-speaker as he belts out sometimes confusing, often clichéd lyrics in English, but his accent eventually becomes part of the band’s overall sound and actually helps distinguish his vocals and makes even the bad lyrics somewhat endearing. Some of the quieter moments are downright goofy sounding (cringe at the opening of “45 Days”), but he more than makes up for it with raw energy in tracks like “Paradox” and frantic, honest emotion as he sings simple but nonetheless genuine lines like “I have just myself” towards the end of “Rise.” There is also a decent amount of screaming on the album, which is serviceable at worst and like the rest of the music gets better with repeat listens.
There’s little else I can say to convince you that this album is worth at least a few listens if your musical tastes lie anywhere near the broad realm covered by FACT. The production is top-notch, the musicianship is astounding mostly because of how well the complex pieces are integrated into the whole, and the album exudes so much enthusiastic heart that it’s really hard not to cheer this band on. This is an incredibly solid first release in the States, and deserves to make FACT’s transition across the ocean an easy one.