Yoko Shinto’s cover illustration is incredibly beguiling: simultaneously dark and light, mysterious and accessible, a treasure trove of associations. We see a weeping woman on a cliff, her tears mingling with the rain and the flood. The broken land in the foreground is balanced by stable architecture in the background: a tower, a steeple, a town. The blackness of night is countered by the glow of the full moon, miraculously visible despite the covering of clouds. Is this the black rain that fell after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the fallout from the 2011 reactor meltdown, a metaphor for the fears of an embattled nation? The video for “Finale” seems to imply the former, but while this suggests the title’s origin, it only hints at its current context. The Black Rain screams concept album, but invites listeners to decipher the concept. Like its cover, the album is darkness and light, despair and hope, enigma and interpretation: a possible reflection of a nation emerging from its largest victimization in over half a century.
Bea’s operatic vocals, which appear in both the prologue and the finale, are a bit unhinged, stretching for consolation through lament and lifted prayer. She seems to be asking, “Why?”, not caring who hears or what response they might provide. The effect is unsettling, especially as radio transmissions and dark strings extend a very uncertain safety net. This is not the Anoice of love and laughter; this is an Anoice living in the shadow of destruction. The Black Rain withholds answers, preferring to dwell in the land of the buried in order to translate their voices. And yet there is great yearning in these sullen sounds: a violin that wishes to raise her head to heaven, a piano afraid to pause for fear the tears will erupt. “Colder Than Thermite” exemplifies this approach, stalling to silence at the midway mark, giving way to distant, mournful organ. And then everything slows down, like a clock losing energy after its owner has died. Even “Ripples” ends before it’s over, as if lacking the strength to finish. A hint of circus melody is carried on the breeze, a phantasm of better times.
The rain is made audible two tracks later: a combination of elements associated with life, twisted by radiation to its opposite. But “White Paper” intimates a blank slate, a future yet unwritten. The scroll is calling for a scribe, the ink for a brush. What characters will be written on this catastrophe, what lines will embrace its lineage? In the opening bars of “Drops”, a shift: the last tears, the last drops, the last ripples, the last advancing tide; and the trains begin to run again, and the marching band begins to march. The only drops now are from buckets and ceilings. The clouds have moved away. In the end – as portrayed by Shinto on the back cover – the weeping woman rises, head upright, as if to say, I no longer need to be protected from the things of this world. She has wept the world’s tears, bathed in black rain, and emerged scathed, yet intact: irrevocably altered, irrepressibly resolute, the mirror of a nation that can not, will not allow its character to be determined by destiny alone. (Richard Allen)
U.S./Europe Release Date: March 27