By Carl Begai

Five albums old, Japanese melodic cyber-death metal outfit Blood Stain Child have made a habit of overhauling their sound from record to record. The symphonic Euro-metal mess of their 2002 debut, Silence Of Northern Hell, evolved into various forms of Scandinavian worship in the years that followed, chanelling a grittier and altogether fugly Children Of Bodom on Mystic Your Heart in 2003. The band officially hit their stride two years later with Idolator and a trance-laced take on melding classic and new age In Flames, which continued on Mozaiq in 2007, albeit with more focus on electronic elements, female backing vocals, and a new singer in the driver’s seat. Blood Stain Child’s fanbase has grown with them in spite of these changes, but nothing could have prepared folks for the metamorphosis that has resulted in arguably the strongest album of their career.

Epsilon sees bassist / original vocalist Ryo back up front, replacing his one-album replacement Sadew, only he now shares duties with Greek female singer Sophia, who has effectively changed the way Blood Stain Child does business. Between the melodic and oft-times pop elements of her voice and pushing mad scientist Aki’s electronica up front, evil genius / guitarist Ryu’s vision of creating something unique have been realized. Call it perplexing and bloody impressive, because Epsilon is one of those albums where steel-chewing metalheads should be screaming bloody murder when confronted with anime inspired techno-pop in the mix, yet it works. Make no mistake; the guitars, solos, and death metal screams are the hook-heavy foundation of Epsilon, so there’s no lack of edge, but Blood Stain Child have tapped into something guaranteed to be emulated and ripped-off the world over, as all good things are.

The album packs a wallop from the word “go”, with the first five tracks setting up Ryo’s return to the mic and Sophia as the band’s new voice. She shares equal time up front rather than being some disposable enhancement, loading tracks ‘Sirius VI’, ‘Forever Free’ and fan favourite ‘Stargazer’ with an unexpectedly brash amount of melody. Call it a twist on Soilwork’s trademark flip-flop vocal attack. Personal faves in this regard are ‘Eternal’, ‘La+’, ‘Unlimited Alchemist’, ‘Stargazer’ and the guilty pleasure ‘S.O.P.H.I.A.’, the last of which incorporates every element splattered across the Epsilon canvas. Musically, the record is an up-tempo slash and burn for the most part, powered as much by organic drums as potentially (but not) annoying techno beats. Lone ballad ‘Sai-Ka-No’, and ‘Merry Go Round’ – complete with early ’80s Howard Jones meets Thompson Twins keyboards – round things out, with only ‘Electricity’ and ‘Dedicated To Violator’ (an homage to the band’s former drummer) disturbing the flow. A matter of taste, really, but the last two tracks step much too deep into the realms of happy happy joy joy rave for some diehard metal fans.

The only occasional downside to Epsilon is the tweaking of Sophia’s voice on some tracks. It makes sense that some processing was done given the cybernetic nature of the music, but her natural voice and deeper range is much more impressive and instantly seductive. It’s nowhere near the auto-tuned car crash of that disaster Ke$ha, so giving Blood Stain Child the benefit of the doubt, money is on the reality-based Sophia having a better chance to shine a hell of a lot brighter next time out.

No question, Epsilon is an album created by the band for the band. They’ve simply left the door wide open for anyone with balls big enough to join the party.

Fave tracks: ‘Ultimate Alchemist’, ‘Sirius VI’, ‘Stargazer’, S.O.P.H.I.A.’, ‘Eternal’