Even in the flamboyant world of Japanese visual kei, Malice Mizer managed to stand out. They were the most theatrical, ambitious, and romantic band of the pack, both in their shows and professed philosophy, as well as music, which, despite its commercial aim, incorporated elements from darkwave, metal, techno, classical music, synth pop, and early gothic rock. Their career was short and tumultuous, if successful, but perhaps that's only appropriate, considering that the band's name -- made of French words for "malice" and "misery" -- stands as an answer to the question "What is human?"
The band was founded in 1992 by guitarists Mana and Kozi, whose views on humanity, malice and misery were then shared by Tetsu (vocals), Yu~ki (bass), and Gaz (drums). Malice Mizer premiered their first song, "Speed of Desperate," only in 1993, and after that Gaz was replaced by Kami, who played on the band's first album Memoire (1994), which was released on the Mana-founded label Midi:Nette; it sold out and was re-released as Memoire DX. At the time the group, bent on dark themes and French romanticism, expanded its live shows to include dance and pantomime, and that led to vocalist Tetsu leaving Malice Mizer, although he stayed on good terms with the band, who included his songs in their set lists later on.
The classical era of Malice Mizer arguably began with the inclusion of the new vocalist Gackt in 1995. They swapped gothic image for more elaborate and colorful "historical" attire and crossed Baroque music with French pop and darkwave, which brought them commercial success. Their second album, Voyage Sans Retour (1996), allowed them to have their first nationwide tour and got them a deal with Nippon (in 1997). The third LP Merveilles (1998) hit number two on the Oricon charts, and during the subsequent tour, tickets to the Budokan gig sold out in two minutes. The band shot a short video in France, frequented the TV channels, and got their own radio show, but the happy days didn't last. In 1999 Gackt, for reasons never fully clarified, left to work solo, causing a big scandal and a lot of angry finger-pointing on all sides. Two months later, the drummer Kami died of subarachnoid hemorrhage, aged just 25. The songs he left unfinished were later released on the EP/video box set Shinwa (2000), and the group never hired a permanent drummer again. They did find a third vocalist, though, in Klaha, and released their fourth and last album Bara No Seidou in 2000, again on Midi:Nette. The following live shows excelled in theatrics -- the two-day stint at Budokan included a 1:1 cathedral replica and a choir of nuns. In 2001, the band starred in a vampire movie of their own making and released three singles, trying a more pop-oriented sound, but that didn't work out, and in 2001 Malice Mizer went on a hiatus that was actually a full split. The group members went on to work solo or join other bands, the most notable being Eve of Destiny (Kozi). Mana also kept running his record label and started moonlighting as a gothic/lolita fashion designer, and Yu~ki disappeared below the public radar entirely, reappearing only for a brief time in 2004 to co-write a song with Kozi. ~ Alexey Eremenko