If you’re reading this post, it’s because—surprise, surprise—too much music exists these days. The highlights for the second half of the year was LONG, and that was from cutting stuff out. So, since I’m not a reputable magazine consisting of many people who listen to various albums 24/7 in order to publish reviews on time… I’m probably going to have to make posts like this if a year’s music is just too darn good, especially if a lot of good stuff comes out so close to the end of the year that I can’t possibly finish it in time for the next. That, and the fact that I almost never listen to an album at launch.
Terra Atlantica: Beyond the Borders
Music is rarely more whimsical and escapist than power metal, and Terra Atlantica is ready to prove that fact once again with their third album, Beyond the Borders. While the first two albums were great, they showed the usual growing pains. However, I go by a music equivalent of anime’s three-episode rule in cases like this, and sure enough, Beyond the Borders is the breakthrough for them. With higher quality production, several guest vocalists, and—finally—a pirate-themed song set in their steampunk world, the album is a fun ride.
This album has a kawaii moe anime girl on the cover art, yet it’s black metal? I had to give this band a try, and boy… I’m not even remotely surprised that it’s weird stuff. The first album was quite experimental and all over the place, and by comparison, Island is… happier? Yeah, it’s weird. It’s not straight-up power metal, but the melodies still have an upbeat, contemporary rock feeling that’s integrated into unquestionably heavy black metal. Whatever you wanna call it, it’s a quantum leap forward for them. Island is definitely one of black metal’s most hidden gems of 2022.
Mori Calliope: SINDERELLA
“Didn’t you just talk about this chick?” you ask, recalling my previous highlight post. Yes, I did. Thing is, she just released her second full-length right at the end of last year, the same year as her previous full-length, and the Shinigami Note EP. V-tubers don’t get to sleep, do they? Also, this record is basically the entire reason for this post, since it came out in December.
Not to sound cliché, but SINDERELLA takes what Calliope has been doing and kicks it up a notch. For the most part, tracks hit harder, and still have the same wild variety as her previous efforts; there’s pop, rock, rap, and… well that’s pretty much it. I don’t imagine she has creative control over the compositions, at least in some cases, such as the song produced by The Oral Cigarettes (another popular J-rock band I never listened to); fortunately, her excellent singing voice is genuine. I hope. Regardless of who made the music, it’s still a step in the right direction for Mori Calliope.
Dream Unending: Song of Salvation
Wow, that was fast. Sure, their previous album (which I previously reviewed alongside Hand of Kalliach’s debut) wasn’t particularly intricate, but it’s still something that is hard to pull off well. In any case, here we are with a pleasant surprise: Dream Unending’s sophomore album, Song of Salvation!
Expect quality over quantity again, because there are only five songs, two of which are pretty simplistic instrumentals. Anyway, it’s still good stuff. As usual, you have surreal atmospheric doom metal with eerie death growling and melancholic twang. Honestly, I don’t know what it is, but I love it.
C Z A R I N A: Arcana
C Z A R I N A is my first ever experience with electronic music, which apparently has more sub-genres than metal. Yeah, I didn’t think it was possible either. In any case, I started with their debut, Painted Holograms (btw, I know that everyone else calls C Z A R I N A a woman, but they said they were “gender fluid/non-binary” on their official Facebook page, so I’m using “they” for now). It was an interesting showcase of futuristic, atmospheric music, but I wasn’t exactly floored. Their sophomore release, Arcana, is a classic case of going from zero to a hundred.
It’s much simpler than metal, but has way more personality than mere pop. Arcana is a pulsing, fantastical record that takes the best of the 1980s and puts it all in a blender, with a touch of modern spices. C Z A R I N A has a deep and powerful voice, which only enhances the feel of the record. There are some points where the choruses overstay their welcome, but I presume that’s just a given with the genre. I don’t really have much of anything to compare it to, so I’m not really qualified to discuss anything else. Hooray for listening to metal 99% of the time!
Warforged: The Grove | Sundial
Aaaaaah… blackened death metal. My first ever extreme music experience, back when I put on good ol’ Behemoth, and found it—hot take incoming—kinda boring. Of course, because I’m me, I got acclimated much better to an obscure little band known as Warforged, who put a progressive spin on an already VERY specific subgenre. Their 2019 full-length debut, I: Voice, was truly terrifying, not because it was about blood, guts, and/or Satan, but because it was a surreal, supernatural horror concept album that was all kinds of whack. Fortunately, I’ve only been into them for a few months, so I didn’t have to wait much for their long-awaited follow-up: The Grove | Sundial.
The other noticeable change is that the tracks were shorter. However, they make the MOST of those fewer minutes! The Grove | Sundial is full of madness, with blackened death metal that goes all in, then tends to turn into an acoustic piece out of nowhere. It’s really quite scary. I honestly don’t know if I can follow this band, since—in case you didn’t know—I’m a squishy little boy.
Ado: Kyougen & Uta’s Songs One Piece: Film Red
As I said once before, I really want to like SG5 (whom you’ll be hearing my opinion on soon), and as such, I need to be able to tolerate more mainstream J-pop. While I got good enough impressions of Mori Calliope, she alone isn’t enough. I needed to try someone truly mainstream, such as Ado, Japan’s youngest insta-star, who basically conquered the globe overnight and only just turned twenty. They definitely gained tons of brownie points with their role in One Piece: Film Red, but their debut album, Kyougen, was already a chart topper even then.
One thing that stands out about Ado’s music is that it’s wildly varied. However, they deserve no credit for it; the reason is simply because the songs are all written by different people in Ado’s stead. For the most part, all of these out-sourced artists are Vocaloid musicians of great renown. The Vocaloid rabbit hole is deep, and that alone makes Ado easy to recommend, since newcomers can get a sneak preview of a myriad of these artists. On the flipside, there isn’t any telling what’s a cover and what’s originally written for Ado unless you’re well-versed in Vocaloid stuff. The other great aspect of Ado is their voice. What a beast (unless they use a voice changer). Husky and powerful, Ado is simply too charismatic for mere J-pop and I really hope they will be performing metal pieces in the future.
Kyougen was already a phenomenon, but Ado REALLY became mainstream when they performed in One Piece: Film Red. The soundtrack album contains many VERY popular songs made just for the movie. I’d say it’s a huge step forward for them… well, only because I think the record is hard-carried by ‘New Genesis’ and ‘Tot Musica’. The other tracks have merit, but those two songs blow the rest out of the water. It turns out that those are generally among Ado’s most popular tracks.
Considering the numerous composers, it’s quite obvious that results will probably vary; I know it did for me. You’ll probably love some, and feel meh to others. As implied with the Film Red album, I’m willing to bet Ado is someone whose hits are so “hit-y” that every fan’s favorite will be the same handful of songs; that’s not exactly something I consider a good sign from a musician. Additionally, a couple of Ado’s best stuff has gotten a metal upgrade courtesy of V-tuber Futakuchi Mana, rendering the originals obsolete. Overall, Ado is off to a good start, but be wary of their mainstream appeal.
Verdict (Kyougen): 8.5/10
Verdict (Film Red Songs): 8.75/10
Hammer of Dawn: Uzil
I’m generally too scared of death metal and the like because they project gore and nihilism to the Nth degree. Symphonic blackened death metal supergroup Hammer of Dawn is no exception… at least on the surface. What makes their violent imagery tolerable is something that I’m sure some nerds might pick up on from their name: their brand is the famous videogame franchise Gears of War. Having stumbled upon them right after watching ProtonJon and Greg Chun’s stream playthrough of the second game, I listened to them on a whim and didn’t regret it.
Yeah, it’s lit. Even if you aren’t a Gears person, the band is at least a great way to be exposed to this type of music without—you know—having your brain smashed by a sledgehammer (as well as your flesh rended, your mind warped, your cerebrum shattered, and other things the press says about what extreme music physically does to your body). With a myriad of vocal styles, as well as symphonic and occasional electronic elements, Hammer of Dawn delivers some VERY intricate metal in a subgenre that’s complex enough as it is. They don’t do anything new, but with their branding, they prove themselves to be more cultured than the eight million “f*** the world” bands that saturate the market.
Stormruler: Sacred Rites & Black Magick
I previously reviewed Stormruler’s debut album, and wasn’t exactly in love with it. However, with them being my second black metal experience, I wasn’t really qualified to talk about it at all. I’ve become more familiar with the subgenre, and as such, I was willing to give their sophomore record a shot.
I don’t know if it’s the natural evolution between the first and second album, or my better experience with black metal, but I definitely made a good call keeping tabs on Stormruler. This is top-dollar black metal; dark yet whimsical. They don’t seem to do anything new with the subgenre (not that I really qualify to say), other than their usual thing of having an interlude track for every regular track. If you like fantasy black metal, then this record is an easy listen.
Finland is the most metal-headed nation in the world, and they do NOT let quantity offset quality. Vermilia is a talented woman, and Ruska is the second of her two excellent full-lengths. Her style is your usual blackened folk metal (classic), but there are a few reasons why she stands out from the crowd.
Well, the gist of it is that her music is really good. The music is atmospheric, melodic, epic, AND pagan all at once. It’s a tough blend of subgenres to do, and she does it. However, the cherry on top is her vocal performance. Using multi-tracking, Vermilia is a one-woman choir, complete with black metal’s banshee-like shrieks. Better yet, she sings in Finnish, which is strangely rare for artists from Finland. Well, there’s another artist to add to the list of why Scandinavia is among the best!
Devenial Verdict: Ash Blind
I knew about this band for a while, but on their hypetrain late because… I was scared of them. The idea of the “dissonant death metal” subgenre they are categorized as sounded really intimidating. However, what makes them novel is that they are an unusual combination of that and atmospheric death metal. Ultimately, curiosity took hold.
Despite being tone deaf, I know what dissonance is in music theory: when people play the music wrong on purpose just to make you feel uncomfortable. However, when I put on Ash Blind, it didn’t sound dissonant at all. The guitars seemed to play at a higher pitch, but it didn’t sound “wrong” exactly. That’s what happens when you’re tone deaf I guess. In any case, the album is still very—no—REALLY good, and does a lot of stuff out of left field to keep you on your toes. Just be wary of it if you’re actually versed in music theory.
Te Ruki: Marako Te Ruki
I discussed this band on my metal diversity post, but. I have to talk about them again because this is definitely a highlight of last year! To sum up, Te Ruki is a French Polynesian black metal band that captures the traditional feeling of said ethnic group. Their songs are aggressive and primal, and they have Polynesian drums to boot. With this, Alien Weaponry, and a certain other band I will discuss in the future, we have a perfect trifecta of authentic Indigenous Polynesian metal. It’ll be enough to save their endangered languages and cultures, right? Please?
There. That should be ALL of the 2022 releases I wanted to discuss. Hopefully I’ll never have to make a post like this again, but you know I probably will. Well, see you in June for the first half of THIS year’s music that no one else talks about!