Man, I really hate seeing adaptations of stuff before reading the source material. The phrase “the book is better than the film” cannot be truer in the anime world, a medium notorious for cutting corners and taking creative liberties that ruin the heart of the thing. However, I had no choice with Inu-Oh, based on one of the stories in a book called Tales of the Heike; a book not licensed for legal Western use to my knowledge. Thing is, though, that it’s by Science Saru, and they have a vision for it that’s only possible in the Twenty-First Century.
In Inu-Oh, a blind biwa player named Tomona meets the titular Inu-Oh, a person who was disfigured because of a curse. It turns out that the latter’s curse can be lifted if he performs the stories of the fallen Heike soldiers from important battles throughout Japanese history (or, in the context of the movie, relatively recent news). Nothing left to do but to form a traveling theater troupe and become famous!
Science Saru really is an excellent animation studio. This is the third movie of theirs I have seen, and all three of them are drastically different visually. Ride Your Wave looked aggressively generic, while The Night is Short, Walk on Girl looked all weird and liquidy. Inu-Oh is like Ghibli’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya on steroids. It combines traditional ink-brush-y art styles with modern anime visuals to make a stunning visual experience. The mouths of characters might look off-putting to some, but that’s just manga legend Taiyo Matsumoto for you. Yes, the creator of Tekkonkinkreet did the character designs.
Speaking of characters, they are no doubt the weakest parts of the movie. The only real characters are the two protagonists, and they’re pretty simple for the most part. Honestly, there really isn’t much to say about them. However, that’s okay this time around, since the whole point of the movie is the music.
By the way, Inu-Oh is a rock opera. It doesn’t take long for Tomona—hence known as Tomoari—to don garish makeup and glamorous clothes like someone who didn’t know whether or not they wanted to cosplay as Gene Simmons or a Buddhist priest. Inu-Oh’s dancing rivals that of Michael Jackson, while the troupe somehow manages to create show-stopping stage effects that match that of this century despite it being a thousand years before. Although there are only three musical numbers, they are long, intricate, and utterly moving.
However, all of that is shallow compared to Inu-Oh’s voice actor… at least his Japanese voice actor. Inu-Oh is voiced by none other than Avu-chan, vocalist of Japan’s famous glam rock band, Queen Bee. I have spoken of them once or twice, and sadly, I ended up falling out of their music despite how much I wanted to enjoy it. Despite how little I care for Queen Bee to this day, I’ve dearly missed Avu-chan’s utterly amazing vocalwork. It was bittersweet and nostalgic to hear them again for the first time in years, and boy, they REAAAAALLY go ham in this movie. Inu-Oh is one of the reasons to never watch dubs. There is no way in hell anyone can replace Avu-chan in their role, and I feel sorry for whoever did in the dub.
If there is any real flaw with the movie, it’s that there isn’t much closure. To be as vague as possible, the main protagonists do find closure in a way, but for the most part, that’s it. I really can’t elaborate further than this. It has a bittersweet and anti-climactic end, but it’s thankfully not on the level of abrupt nonsense of Ghibli movies.
Final Verdict: 9.75/10
Inu-Oh is a truly spectacular movie. It is an example of the creativity of animation and why animation is better than anything in Hollywood. It also shows the power and passion of a nation that actually cares about animation in the first place. I could pretty much recommend it to anyone… except for those who are triggered by gore. There are only a couple of scenes, but they’re still there.
I know that the National Day of Racial Healing was four days ago, but… well, I have no excuse. That’s just what happens when you only do one post a week, and that day of the week isn’t on the holiday. In any case, this may or may not be the last time I do something for the National Day of Racial Healing, since a lot of bands like this are—sadly—still quite under the radar. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, though!
A literal month after I published the post from last year, something truly miraculous happened. A 100% independent band from New Delhi, India, unleashed its first album—Rakshak—and actually took the world by storm! For once, I’m not alone in loving a weird niche band from East Jabip (even though most people still liked Lamb of God, Slipknot, Lorna Shore, etc.’s albums a lot more by comparison).
What makes Bloodywood special? Well, kind of everything about them. As a folk metal band, they incorporate heavy modern instruments alongside traditional Indian ones. The music is exceptionally well-composed; and they’re not afraid to throw in some electronic sounds to spice things up. The lyrics are also exceptional, going into themes like personal struggles and politics. In fact, I think Bloodywood is perhaps the only band able to discuss the latter without trying to divide the community like an overtly Left or Rightist band would. These lyrics are conveyed—you guessed it—exceptionally well by Jayant Bhadula, who growls in Hindi, alongside Raoul Kerr’s rapping prowess.
The only Mexican musicians I listen to other than Mariachi Cobre in EPCOT’s Mexico pavilion, Cemican is a unique folk metal band that uses Mesoamerican instruments in their heavy sound. They have elaborate costumes that represent their native roots, and look fun to see in concert, based on the clips they’ve shared on Facebook. They really get the ball rolling on their third album: In Ohtli Teoyohtica In Miquiztli. They haven’t released anything new since COVID, but have been pretty busy with gigs, so they seem to be doing alright for such a niche band. Hopefully, you’ll be a fan of theirs as well.
Of course, Mexico isn’t the only country with marginalized Indigenous people (well, technically, EVERY nation has some but I’m just trying to make a segue here). Sgah’gahsowáh, the sole band member of Blackbraid, is another excellent example of native people going heavy. Hailing from the Adirondacks, this man delivers top-dollar black metal (with the occasional woodwind accompaniment) and has left a lot of people wanting more. Fortunately, as someone who sold VERY well on Bandcamp, we’re pretty likely to get more in the future. Time to be good noodles and wait!
Taiwan has had a passionate metal scene since its important pioneer band, Cthonic. However, the country in general is still pretty slept on, even in the metal community. Sounds like a perfect place for underground enthusiasts to search, with Bloody Tyrant being one potential result of said search.
It took a while for them to get the ball rolling though. Their first album, while still enjoyable, is pretty garden variety black metal, but over time, they started to incorporate the Eastern folk instrumentation that makes them stand out. Each album has gotten better, with their most recent record from 2020 being a legitimate knockout. I can’t wait to hear what’s next!
Of course, I HAVE to gush over at least one Japanese band; at least this isn’t one I’ve discussed before, like with last year’s entry. As much as I hate the excessive amount of metal genres, I feel like hanabie. (yes, the period is part of their name) should be referred to as “otakucore”. They attack with aggressive metalcore energy, dual vocalists, and an uncharacteristically silly vibe. A lot of their song titles have to do with being nerds and hikikomori (and presumably the lyrics as well?)—hence the “otaku” descriptor from before—with the occasional cultural commentary. They’re pretty new to the scene, but they’re off to a strong start, and the prestigious Dutch metal festival they’ve been booked for later this year will probably earn them international attention.
Despite the wild success of Disney’s Moana, Polynesian culture is still dying in this world. A new hope emerged in 2018 when the wildly successful New Zealand Maori metal band, Alien Weaponry, began their career in reclaiming their people’s culture. While that band is all well and good, it turns out that “Polynesian” is an umbrella term for numerous Pacific islanders. The people of French Polynesia are in even BIGGER danger; according to Te Ruki’s page on Encyclopaedia Metallum, only a few thousand people can speak their unique Tumutoan language. As far as I know, they are this ethnicity’s only voice in pop culture whatsoever.
Fortunately, it’s a damn powerful voice. In fact, they are everything I’ve wanted out of Alien Weaponry and more. However, unlike their Maori cousins, they employ primal-sounding black metal. Performed with tribal rhythms and singing in their native language, Te Ruki’s rituals knock it out of the park. The cherry on top is the use of TWO sets of percussion instruments: the usual drum kit, along with a set of traditional Polynesian drums.
Does this neofolk group even count? Sure, they represent pre-Christian Europe, which is kinda-sorta a marginalized culture, but… they’re still European. Well, for three White people, their popular music is almost scientifically proven to break barriers. I mean, just look at their policy: “Remember, we are all brothers. All people, beasts, tree and stone and wind, we all descend from the one great being that was always there, before people lived and named it, before the first seed sprouted.” I HAD to include them here, despite them technically not being a metal band (although they are still popular among metalheads, and are signed to a metal-devoted label).
In any case, Heilung is an uncharacteristically bizarre band, considering their immense fame. With pretty much no rules to their music, they can have an epic, melodic masterpiece like the embedded video… or six-plus minutes of Nordic ASMR. They mold the ancient instruments of the past into something new and otherworldly; something beyond comprehension that we can all be baffled by together, regardless of our color and creed. Heilung is one of those groups who can’t NOT be described without hyperbole, because they are just that kind of experience.
People complain about there being a lack (still) of diversity in popular culture these days, music included. Yet, as you can see from this post and its prequel from last year, that lack isn’t exactly—you know—real. Not to sound rude, but it’s honestly people’s fault for listening to the same small group of household names over and over again and never going out to discover anything new. That’s just how the mainstream works, I guess. This might be the last time I can do a post like this, but if I can find MORE good groups, then we’ll meet each other again next year.
I’ve done at least eighty iterations of this post, because I keep finding new artists and my tastes keep getting more insane. Back in the day, I only liked music from Japan, but that’s changed… somewhat. Now it’s 20% Japan, 75% Europe, and 5% other, but that’s besides the point. Anyway, my older lists were outdated. Just for closure, here’s my real list. NOTE: Contains artists I have talked about before.
10) MYTH & ROID
My first ever exposure to modern music. If it wasn’t for this band, I would still be a classic rock boy. This progressive hard rock duo is everything you could ask for: heavy beats, heavy synth, and emotive female vocal work (with the latter courtesy of the talented Kihow). They’ve been pretty quiet though, with only sparse releases of singles and EPs. I don’t listen to them too often anymore, but I definitely keep my eyes trained on them.
My other first exposure to modern music. nano is an anything-goes bilingual hard rock soloist who has pumped bangers for over a decade. I remember when they hardly showed their face, and now… we just know what they look like. What a trooper. Anyway, nano’s music is simple with relatable lyrics, but it’s great stuff. Their talents have been wasted on openings for anime that the community never seems to care about, but whatcha gonna do. The fans still love nano nonetheless.
8) RAISE A SUILEN
I haven’t talked about this band in years, and that’s because I hadn’t listened to them in years! Of all the Bang Dream! outfits, they were the one I was obsessed with. However, I eventually fell out of love with them, mainly because right after their debut came out I had discovered Amaranthe, a band that’s been doing the same type of music for longer and better. However, as superior as a lot of bands are to RAS, it turns out I still love RAS all the same.
RAISE A SUILEN is Bang Dream!‘s heaviest band, standing right on the line that separates rock from metal. Just like Amaranthe and many others, they frequently use electronic elements to give their music extra zing. I honestly don’t know what my beef with them was… and honestly, I’ll cringe at myself if I go back to the old review of their full-length and find out. Feel free to bash my past self if you so choose!
I don’t talk about this experimental J-pop group too often, considering how much I love them; always have. This trio knows how to make any idea into a good one (even a cursed song like ‘Ocean Bby’). With moving piano playing accompanied by all forms of symphonic and electronic effects, and lyrical themes ranging from food to existential horror, Mili almost always delivers. They are a group that feels metal in terms of creativity, despite not sounding metal whatsoever. Of course, vocalist Cassie Wei brings the band’s weird lyrics to life; easily one of J-pop’s best and most underrated voices.
I’ve gushed about them many times and I’ll do it again, except with even more fervor than ever because they’ve gotten REALLY GOOD lately. BAND-MAID is considered hard rock, but they have a heaviness and aggression that sounds more like metal. They hit hard with an old-school feel, and it hurts so good. Also, vocalist Saiki Kasumi has an amazing singing voice.
Being a Lovebites fan was hard once upon a time, but fear not: they have a new bassist. Since their inception, Lovebites has put forth some amazing classic-style metal and power metal. Vocalist Asami has a powerful voice, but her English isn’t the best. Hopefully she’ll improve with time. Anyway, expect me to fan-gush over their first album with the current line-up when it drops later this year.
Apparently, this was my second ever metalcore band. While I felt like they had a rough start (although I might think differently now if I go back to the older stuff), they’ve gotten to the point where they hit hard with metal and meaty synthesizers to create futuristic heaviness. Vocalist Kenta Koie takes some getting used to, especially in the older stuff when his English wasn’t as good, but he definitely shows his capabilities soon enough. In case you’re still intimidated by those extreme vocals, Crossfaith does tend to incorporate more melodic stuff, giving them even more tools to work with. Unfortunately, they’ve seem to be on hiatus, question mark? They generally put out at least SOMETHING every year, even if it’s just a single, but they’ve been quiet lately.
Naturally, with Crossfaith being my second metalcore band, you might surmise that my FIRST metalcore band would ALSO be Japanese. That assumption is resoundingly correct! Only a certain popular Japanese metalcore band would give me my first exposure to extreme music…
3) Crystal Lake
You really thought I would actually like a POPULAR band? Well, believe it or not, I had a phase where I didn’t like PassCode at all (and now they’re THIS HIGH on the list). The irony is that—of all things—this niche alt-idol outfit truly is my first ever experience with metalcore! Additionally, the first unclean vocals I ever heard came from them. This band is basically why I had a history of underwhelm-ment with BABYMETAL; I found PassCode first.
My reason for not liking them was because their songs were so intricate at the time I first listened to them. Metal-virgin-me had figured that I didn’t like a song if I couldn’t commit it to memory in the first several listens. Now that I know that’s not the case, I eventually missed and returned to PassCode, more in love with them than ever. I wish I had never left, because the band has only grown, especially after 2020’s Strive (holy crap). Imagine Perfume but with metalcore (or you could just watch the video so you don’t have to imagine it at all).
Utsu-P is special for multiple reasons. One is that he churns out music like a factory, juggling his own solo career with a band AND producing for an idol group. Another reason he is special is because he’s hired an unusual assortment of vocalists… or should I say, Vocaloids. Oh, and did I mention that his music is heavy and chaotic djent metal?! That’s right, Hatsune Miku and her friends sing and even perform death growls in Utsu-P’s staggeringly large catalog of insanity. Right, and the final reason why Utsu-P is special is because his music is simply some of the best that Japan has got. He’d be in the number one spot, if it weren’t for…
1) Broken by the Scream
I’m sure you know of BABYMETAL: one of the—like—three globally, truly mainstream Japanese music artists, earning collabs with death metal icons like Alissa White-Gluz (actually she might be the only death metal icon to collab with them… for now), and having endorsements from veterans like Rob Zombie and the Metal God himself. If you know me, then you know that I find them to be… okay. Broken by the Scream is the same idea—Japanese idol pop with metal—but on steroids. BBTS takes it a step further, focusing exclusively on extreme metal elements. Connoisseurs of the current extreme music scene can easily recognize death metal, metalcore, and even deathcore in BBTS’ practically perfect cacophony of J-pop. It is the kind of chaos like when you boot up Katamari Damacy for the first time… every time I put them on, I am always boggled with how they managed to pull it off.
This went from having Dempagumi.inc and MYTH & ROID having top spots to only the latter being on the list at all. Hooray for metal. Anyway, Japan has amazing music; I don’t know why South Korea gets all the love now. In any case, this is the FINAL LIST. I will not update it even if I actually end up believing the positions need to change (which you won’t know regardless). If you like the embedded MVs—which I actually put in this post unlike the other lists—then check out the artists yourself!
I always have to specify when I’m reviewing an adaptation of something without consulting the source material… mainly so I don’t look like some normie who just watches movies without knowing where they come from. According to MyAnimeList, Pompo the Cinephile is an adaptation of a two-volume webmanga from several years ago. It sure-as-hell doesn’t seem available over in the West, and honestly, something that short could probably be adapted with most of its soul intact. Hopefully.
In Pompo the Cinephile, movie magic is made in Nyallywood. A classic underdog named Gene Fini works with the titular loli producer herself, Pompo, who specializes in skimpy B-movies. She’s young, but really talented, being the granddaughter of one of the most famous producers in the world. Anyway, despite the movie being named after her, it’s really about Gene’s spiritual journey through the world of film when given the opportunity to shoot a contemporary drama as its director.
Like in actual filmmaking, there’s a LOT to go over, i.e. the actual process of making a film. However…
We can’t talk about that yet! This is an ANIME feature film, so we need to discuss the visuals. As expected with the better budget and less time to fill, Pompo the Cinephile is gorgeous. The movie does all kinds of clever edits that fit with the filmmaking motif it conveys. Every minute of it is full of life and color.
Anyway, as I said before I was so rudely interrupted by myself, this movie REALLY shows how hard it is to make a movie. You have to book all kinds of things, arrange for flights to the filming location, make sets (or use CG if you’re Hollywood), get sponsors to fund the movie, and… a LOT of editing. Gene’s movie, Meister, ends up clocking in at ninety minutes, but there was SEVENTY-TWO HOURS of raw footage to go through! Is that… realistic?! For the sake of whatever Earth’s resources are used in filming, I hope that’s a gross exaggeration.
With Pompo the Cinephile itself also being ninety minutes, you can expect the story to be simple, approachable, and concise; none of that mundane stuff that boomers get dopamine over. It goes through the whole Murphy’s Law laundry list of hiccups, and they really end up getting down to the wire with this one. Furthermore, it has layers in that Meister has parallels to Gene’s life.
Oops, I talked about Gene’s character arc, which means it’s time to discuss the cast! Pompo is great, in case it wasn’t obvious enough. She’s short, spunky, and eccentric, and is basically the Roy Disney to Gene’s Walt… or something (you know what I mean). We’ve already talked about Gene, but there are more characters than just him and Pompo Natalie is a young girl who seems wholly inadequate to act, yet her existence inspires Pompo to write the screenplay for Meister. She learns the ups and downs of acting, and gets a little spiritual journey of her own. We also have a sad banker named Alan, who ends up compelled to invest in Meister, and learn what it means to run a bank. Wait… then wouldn’t that make HIM the Roy Disney to Gene’s Walt? Crap… my analogies suck.
There are plenty of supporting characters with a lot of charm, like the sleazy other director who works in the B-movies. We also have the famous actors, Mystia and Martin Braddock, the latter of which is the lead role in Meister. The cherry on top with all these characters is that there is NO ROMANCE on set whatsoever. That’s my kind of movie.
We all know how hard it is to make a film, but Pompo the Cinephile never fails to be light-hearted at its core. There’s plenty of good humor while still hitting us in the feels. It also gets pretty psychological and philosophical when the characters dissect what a “movie” really is. I, of course, humbly disagree—at least where live action is concerned—but they do a good job with the dialogue when viewed in a vacuum. What’s important is that it gives a shout-out to introverts by claiming that they are inherently more creative than people who fit in.
Speaking of humbly disagreeing, I feel like the movie would start some interesting debates. Walking out of it, I interpreted that—due to the nature of some later scenes—it was trying to endorse that notion that there is no cost too great for living your dreams. Not even cutting away all of your loved ones, and having disregard for your own life. It’s ironic coming from a place like Japan, where that self-sacrificial lifestyle is leading it to its demise. Maybe there was something I didn’t get; I’m not exactly good at this subtext thing.
Final Verdict: 9.5/10
Pompo the Cinephile was an excellent movie, even if it didn’t make me appreciate live action cinema any better than I already do (or lack thereof). It does just about everything right, and I’d daresay it was one of the best anime of 2021 (which sure holds water considering how little anime I watch anymore). Do you like anime? Do you like movies? Do you like anime movies? If yes, then watch this one.
This was supposed to be a good year. I was planning to start this paragraph where I say 2022 was turning out to be one of the best years for metal, and that we were FINALLY free of COVID. However, that didn’t happen (thanks, Putin!). Well, at least music is still great. Seriously, though, music REALLY went off the rails this year (and I didn’t even review the popular records that people actually care about!). Get your popcorn; we’re gonna be here a while.
Alestorm: Seventh Rum of a Seventh Rum
Going into this record is really… weird, to say the least. For some reason, last year’s controversy regarding Christopher Bowes and his other band, Gloryhammer, seems to have vanished off the face of the earth. That particular controversy is also a heaping huge contradiction to my belief in metal’s capability to fight racism. At the very least, I have been able to enjoy their music since, if only because pirates are—historically—pretty immoral dudes. Let’s see what Alestorm’s latest full-length work has in store.
As much as I hate to say it, this is perhaps their best record yet, and one of the best of the year. They fire on all cylinders, and make sure the album is well-rounded with everything that makes the band great. This includes catchy power-folk metal and silly memes. The album also has their lewdest song since ‘F***ed with an Anchor’, a less meme-y, more power metal-focused remix of ‘Tortuga’, and… a THIRD installment of ‘Wooden Leg’?!
Final Verdict: 9.75/10
Oceans of Slumber: Starlight and Ash
Oceans of Slumber have been building up this newest album of theirs to be a huge departure from their usual stuff. To be honest, it’s not. Well… it sort of is, but isn’t at the same time.
There are some noticeable changes if you’re familiar with their other stuff. Right off the bat, the songs are WAY shorter. Secondly, there is some added focus to the twangy acoustic guitars of the American south over your usual electric guitars. I suppose comparisons would immediately be made to Behemoth vocalist Nergal’s dark country band, Me and that Man, but I wouldn’t know… since I’m an uncultured swine who never listened to it. Oofies.
Another thing that’s the same is how dreary the songs are. As expected, each track is slow, with a melancholic atmosphere that’s both haunting and beautiful in that Oceans of Slumber way. What brings it all together is the outstanding vocal work of Cammie Beverly. As always, she’s on another level .
One last thing I want to say about the record is that it’s a kick in the pants the fandom needs. Every review, even positive ones, say that this album isn’t metal. Even the band says it isn’t metal. However… I don’t agree. Even if it’s against the band’s wishes, I still want to consider Starlight and Ash to be a metal album. In the short time I’ve listened to metal music as a whole, I’ve had a gut feeling that there is more to metal than the specific type of sound that’s understood as “metal.” It’s something that can’t quite be described in words, and Oceans of Slumber gets that. TL;DR, subgenres suck ass. We are blessed that this band has unleashed something utterly uncategorizable onto the world.
Dreadnought: The Endless
I literally found out about this band the day the album was announced. Thank goodness they have so few tracks per album, or I wouldn’t have caught up to this one in time!
Anyway, Dreadnought employs a combination of—no, scratch that. I am not doing them a disservice by using subgrenes to describe their unique style. However, to get you interested in them, I will say that they incorporate folk instrumentation and smooth jazz into the mix.
Well, I say that, but The Endless pretty much abandons all that. What’s left is still some of the weirdest metal in the market. In fact, I’ve listened to this and their four other studio albums, and I still don’t know what to make of the band. When I’m listening to them at the moment, I think it’s amazing, but looking back, I wonder what I even listened to in the first place. Well, whatever it is they do, they keep getting better at it!
Kardashev: Liminal Rite
In the world where everything gets categorized, you’d think we’d be out of new subgenres. However, Kardashev shows that there’s still room for more! They have pioneered a combination of post-metal, shoegaze, and deathcore(?!) that they dub “deathgaze”. With this unusual union, Kardashev manages to be both dreamy and visceral, and by some miracle, it works really well.
Boy, this band’s growth has been insane. If you start from the beginning, you’ll hear the evolution in the band’s sound. Heck, the older stuff is still really good. In any case, Liminal Rite comes out swinging, with more intricate, heavier tracks that still have that signature Kardashev feel. Being a concept album about an old man suffering from dementia, this is also the band’s most emotional record to date.
What ties it all together is vocalist Mark Garrett. I generally find the deathcore style to sound try-hard and stupid, but the right person can turn it into an art, and Garrett does it. His growls, screams, and crooning all bring out the emotions of the album in a truly stunning and surprising way. Overall, Kardashev is on its way to stardom… or at least a very passionate cult following. I’d say it’s another contender for album of the year (which I doubt is on anyone else’s list because only popular bands are allowed to be on those).
As much as I love folk metal, sometimes it’s good to have just the “folk” and not the metal, especially with a group as unusual as Heilung. They’ve become one of today’s most popular folk groups. It was inevitable that I would want to give them a try, considering their name is German for “healing”; something we ALL could use.
However, they took getting used to, and not because they aren’t metal. Their sound design and production are absolutely top-notch at immersing you in whatever atmosphere they try to convey. The problem is I wouldn’t call a lot of their songs “heilung” in the literal sense of the word; a lot of them can be described as “terrifying” or even “ASMR” (literally half of their first album were songs of just a guy talking). Sophomore album Futha is a LOT better, though, and single-handedly got me hooked on the band.
Anyway, we’re supposed to be talking about Drif, not Futha! In any case, Drif continues Helilung’s tradition of top-dollar and otherworldly folk. Heilung continues to do whatever it wants, taking inspiration from all parts of Europe’s history. From whimsical melodies, to atmospheric soundscapes, every song on the album is quite DRIF-erent from one another (I should let myself out, shouldn’t I?). While mileage may vary because of the wild nature of the band, it doesn’t really matter how much I like an individual track; regardless, Heilung always has me wanting more. This is one of those rare times when an experimental band becomes mainstream, and they deserve it.
Spiritbox: Rotoscope (EP)
The statistically most popular metal band of the decade that will inevitably define said decade (whether you like them or not) somehow broke into the mainstream with last year’s full-length debut, Eternal Blue. While we ponder where they could possibly go from there, they have given us three new songs to lose our minds over. With this release, Spiritbox proves that Eternal Blue wasn’t a fluke. Rotoscope maintains the band’s combination of deceptively accessible melodies with djent-progressive-metalcore. I think it might be heavier than Eternal Blue was. As much as I hate being mainstream, I can’t deny that Spiritbox has at least earned some of the accolades they’ve been getting (even if I still don’t agree with everyone’s claims that Courtney LaPlante is the most powerful woman in metal right now). To be honest, Spiritbox is probably my third favorite debut from 2021 now.
Queensrÿche: Digital Noise Alliance
After three years of posting old band photos on their Facebook page, prog-metal veterans Queensrÿche return with their fourth album featuring the current lineup: Digital Noise Alliance. Their previous outings did an admirable job at maintaining the band’s legacy, however, it’s hard to top the Geoff Tate classics. Will this be the one to do it?
Well, to be honest, I’m not really qualified to say. My tastes in metal have changed a LOT since I started getting into more current stuff, and… er… I don’t know if I’m a big Queensrÿche fanboy anymore, versus when I was a teen. Sure, it still holds up, but on the witness stand, I would rank a lot of bands above even the Tate era.
Regardless, Digital Noise Alliance is this lineup’s most well-rounded effort yet, reflecting every face of Queensrÿche over the years. It’s by far the best album they’ve put out in a while, but like I said, it’s greatly outclassed.
Mori Calliope: UnAlive & Shinigami Note
Hang on… did I just include a famous V-tuber on the list?! Well, funny story: I still have yet to watch a V-tuber’s videos (you actually thought I’d swim with the mainstream?). I kind of just stumbled upon Calliope, saw that her name was Latin, and an interest in her music career grew from there. Yes, I was expecting something like Powerolf from her, as low as those odds were. Also, I REALLY want to like the up and coming idol group, SG5, and I need to train myself up with more mainstream J-pop to prepare.
While her music isn’t European gothic in any way despite her design, Calliope has pretty good stuff. There’s surprising variety for a mainstream artist, and the songs themselves have the youthful, chaotic energy I expect from J-pop. She also has a great singing voice, although I don’t know if it’s autotuned or not. I’m also not sure how much creative control she has over song compositions. Her lyrics seem to revolve around her built-in lore as the Grim Reaper’s apprentice, which is nice and nonsensical as opposed to the nihilist crap that seems mainstream these days.
Verdict (UnAlive): 8.75/10
Verdict (Shinigami Note): 8.9/10
Blackbraid: Blackbraid I
Well… this is awkward. I can’t possibly discuss this artist without outing myself as a user of Bandcamp. I got an account to support my favorite bands, and I didn’t want it to be something linked to my identity here on WordPress. The cat would’ve come out of the bag eventually, probably—like now, since it’s pretty much impossible to know about Blackbraid without being a Bandcamp user; the guy’s a Bandcamp celebrity right now, with his debut—Blackbraid I—being one of the highest-selling metal records on the platform.
What stands out at a glance is that Blackbraid—a.k.a. Sgah’gahsowáh—is a Native American from the Adirondacks. Although he’s not the first Indigenous metaller, he’s perhaps one of the best. His music isn’t exactly unique, but it’s still really good. There is a great balance of epic and atmospheric black metal here, and two instrumental pieces to boot.
The Hu: Rumble of Thunder
HOW MANY MORE BIG BANDS ARE RELEASING ALBUMS THIS YEAR? Heck, this list only scratches the surface of that laundry list. Anyway, The Hu has managed to become borderline mainstream with their blend of classic metal and hard rock with traditional Mongolian folk music. I wasn’t 100% sold on their debut album, The Gereg, although it was a solid and novel record nonetheless.
With Rumble of Thunder, I’m sold now. It feels like they’ve managed to strike a more proper balance with Eastern and Western instruments, while having catchier, heavier songs to boot. This record’s a certified banger (well… not really since Metal Hammer decides that, but you know what I mean).
Ozzy Osbourne: Patient Number 9
I think most of us thought 2020’s Ordinary Man would be the final Ozzy album. Well, as if 2022 wasn’t more clogged with new releases by big artists, here he is with Patient Number 9! This is probably the last one for real, right?
I’m generally not a fan of vanilla metal anymore, nor do I listen to the classics too often, yet—possibly because of nostalgia—I still come back to Ozzy. Despite how new and novel a lot of modern artists are, there’s still something to take away from the simple yet feel-like-I’m-locked-in-an-asylum groove of classic Ozzy metal.
I really enjoyed this one a lot. I don’t know if it’s because of the guest musicians—ranging from Zakk Wylde, to Toni Iommi and Eric Clapton—but this is probably the best Ozzy album since No More Tears. It’s not really too different from his previous stuff; it’s just really high quality. The guests do bring their own personas to the table, at least from what I could tell; the song with Clapton could easily be confused with Cream. However, like I said with Queensrÿche, I do think the veterans have been long since outclassed. On the flipside, not many metalheads can brag about being in the business for fifty-four years.
BAND-MAID: Unleash (EP)
Well, it’s BAND-MAID, so you know what I’m going to say. To those who don’t, here’s a TL;DR: these girls know how to jam better than most men, and their music has only gotten heavier. Also, the MV for the title track is anime. That alone makes this a great release.
Zmey Gorynich: Izhitsa
It’s a Christmas miracle that this unique and hilarious folk-deathcore band gets to release its third album. Why is it a Christmas miracle? They’re Russian. I got into this band and fell in love with them a literal month before Putin’s attack on Ukraine. I haven’t followed Russia’s metal scene since—not because of any racist thoughts on account of Putin—but because, due to the brutal sanctions from NATO, I figured that the market would be ground into dust. However, it seems that the sanctions didn’t amount to much (big surprise), because it seems many-a Russian metal band have survived, Zmey Gorynich included. So, here we are with Izhitsa.
Well, somehow, they did it, and despite the circumstances, the band is stronger than ever! As expected, the songs are unapologetically heavy and unapologetically polka. Russian meme-y-ness assaults your eardrums, and makes you feel like you’re drowning in kvas. Pretentious hyperbole aside, this is another banger. Is it too much to hope they’ll be making more?
Defacing God: The Resurrection of Lilith
Of course, the 2022 debut I waited the longest for took this long to drop… Well, the wait was worth it, for reasons I will discuss. Defacing God’s name sounds super blasphemous, but that’s just because they’re themed around witchcraft and Feminism; two things that do NOT mesh with Christianity.
As a symphonic melodic death metal band, you can expect it to be both aggressive and catchy, with plenty of that old-time European mood sprinkled throughout. It’s over-the-top and feels very theatrical, which is exactly how I like it. Oh right… and their vocalist is a witch. The band is fronted by the titular Lilith herself, and boy, she proves the idea that metal is just the modern evolution of witchcraft. She feels right at home in the band, with high-pitched growls that fit their imagery quite well; definitely do not expect a cup of tea, a cookie, and yoo-hoo from her.
ANOTHER debut I’ve been looking forward to all year?! Well, fortunately, I at least knew what to expect, since Remina—consisting of Sojourner’s Mike Lamb and former Draconian vocalist Heike Langhans—had already released 4/7ths of Strata‘s tracks prior to release. So yeah, at least I was a fan before it was cool.
Lamb is clearly a master of atmospheric music, whether it be atmospheric black metal back in Sojourner, or—as Remina calls itself—cosmic doom metal. In essence, the band consists of big riffs accompanied by space-y synth. Langhans’ performance throughout the album is also phenomenal; what a beautiful voice. The cherry on top is the epic seven-minute track embedded above you. Any BLAME! fans reading this post? Well, watch the video, and you’ll see their tribute to Tsutomu Nihei.
Brand of Sacrifice: Exodus (Single)
I literally said I don’t talk about singles, yet I’ve done that with Gloryhammer in the other post, and I’m doing it again here! This is also my first time on the blog fan-gushing over Brand of Sacrifice. I’ve been following them for a few months now. For those who don’t know what makes this brutal deathcore group special, here’s three words: Kentaro Miura’s Berserk. Yes, that’s their lyrical theme.
In any case, this latest song of theirs is a lot. Their music has always been a lot, but this is A LOT a lot. As usual, you have ludicrously heavy instrumentation, and various synth effects to give them a Hiroyuki Sawano-like epic quality to them. What’s different is their vocalist, Kyle Anderson the Demon King. Clean vocals appear for the first time (I’m still not convinced that it’s him singing those), but his growls continue to be guttural and plentiful. The song’s bridge is the most intense arrangement they have ever created thus far… it’s just wow. The press seems to have decreed this the heaviest song in all of 2022, yet there are still bands I’m more afraid of than this.
Moving on… I’m a bit concerned that they’re going to pull a Shadow of Intent and abandon the beloved nerd I.P. in favor of the usual misanthropy. Anderson’s blurb about the song doesn’t say it’s a reference to Berserk, nor does he say they’re dropping the—no pun intended—brand. Oh well, we’re just gonna have to wait to find out!
Broken by the Scream: RISE into CHAOS
I’ve known about this band for years, yet I never got around to them because their sophomore album wasn’t available at the time, and by the time it got added, I forgot about the band. It’s a shame, because Broken by the Scream would have otherwise been my first extreme metal band ever, and it would’ve blown my mind. Oh, and here’s the real kicker: they are like BABYMETAL, but better. BBTS has everything that I felt was lacking in BABYMETAL: chaos, raw energy, and death growls.
Anyway, this album—as usual with BBTS—is ridiculous. Unclean vocalists Io and Kagura continue to be some of the best I’ve ever heard (and they’re young women to boot), while Tsubaki and Ayame’s clean vocals continue to contrast. The music, as usual, is something akin to blackened melodic thrash/death metal with elements of electronic, power metal, and the occasional deathcore breakdown. Heck, I don’t even know if all that nonsense I just said is accurate. All I do know is that BBTS has put out another masterpiece.
Electric Callboy: TEKKNO
As an Amaranthe fan, it’s no surprise that I also fell in love with Electric Callboy’s fusion of metalcore and EDM. It’s taken FOREVER for me to catch up, and I barely managed to finish their newest album, TEKKNO, in time for the post. Anyway, the band is catchy, memey, and lewd.
The band has also really grown. They had already hit it out of the park with their debut album in 2012, but TEKKNO is a magnum opus. Heavier and meme-ier than ever, this album does everything right. Their popular song ‘We Got the Moves’ is by far my favorite Electric Callboy song of all time. However, the entire album is a masterpiece beyond my highest expectations. It seems like the new vocalist, Nico Sallach, who joined when they did the MMXX EP, has helped breathe new life into an already excellent band. Seriously, this album is so perfect. I had considered Amaranthe my favorite metal band with pop elements, but TEKKNO is easily better than anything that band has ever put out (still love them though). It’s obvious that I have it as another contender for album of the year, regardless of if Metal Hammer agrees.
Before giving the album its score, I must also give a shout-out to the band’s amazing music videos, such as the masterpiece embedded above. They must be really popular in Germany in particular (that’s where they’re from btw), because their videos have really high production values, with elaborate sets and lots of extras. I usually call music videos dumb and corny, but Electric Callboy injects a sense of humor and absurdity into them that only adds to their songs. How have these guys not been nominated by the Grammys nor MTV yet?
Gotta end this post with the only early 2000s nu-metal pioneer that I actually love: Disturbed! Even though ‘Down With the Sickness’ continues to overshadow their twenty-year career, Disturbed has always been delivering heavy bangers that deal with personal struggles and societal issues. Hopefully the title of this album won’t reflect its reception…
Well surprise, surprise, it doesn’t (at least not for me). What stands out with Divisive is that it—once again—shows that Disturbed are one of the few current bands who actually became adults over the years. Social commentary has become a staple of the band’s career, and this time, they go into the heart of the matter: the current endorsement of outrage in today’s mainstream. While most bands these days are part of the problem, and willingly fan the flames, Disturbed goes out of character and speaks out against it. That’s the entire theme of Divisive, and it’s a wake-up call we need more than ever.
Not to sound like a hot take guy (again), but I kind of feel like ‘Don’t Tell Me’ was a letdown. What stands out is that it’s a collab with none other than the original queen of heavy music, Ann Wilson of Heart. The issue is that you only get to hear her during her solo verse, and she is drowned out when harmonizing with Draiman. Also, I feel like it’s a cover of some cheesy Barbara Streisand song (or something) because the song has the weakest, most generic lyrics on the album, and has nothing to do with its themes (my salt could just be because I was physically ill when I put it on for the first time). Otherwise, Divisive is easily Disturbed’s best album since Immortalized.
Well, we survived 2022. Putin’s still wrecking Ukraine, and nature just will not let up with COVID. At the very least, the human race is going to go out with a bang! Anyway… there’s still music I have yet to talk about from this year, some of which I have yet to finish. I guess I’ll be making an un-classy follow-up to this post in 2023!
I have the longest story with this book. I’ve been battling serious depression over the past two years (longer than that by the time the post actually goes out) because it feels like human civilization is falling apart. Heck, you could argue it’s been happening longer than that; since the #MeToo movement in 2017, it feels like violent protests have been a way of life. Of course, 2020 set a new precedent of despair, when COVID took the world, and simple matters of health became political. That same year, George Floyd was murdered, and divided the human race amongst itself overnight. 2021 began with a terrorist attack on Capitol Hill, organized entirely by American citizens with a political agenda. At the time of writing this paragraph, Russia is invading Ukraine, laying the groundwork for World War III. To top it off, earth is being ravaged by climate change, at a rate that keeps increasing at an exponential rate despite all the efforts that have been put in to delay it. As of completing the book, Ukraine is still at war, and abortion is now illegal on a constitutional level following the result of Roe v. Wade, not to mention a spike in mass shootings.
This is where Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged comes in. I was at a point when I finally figured out how to enjoy life, but now I’m drowning in despair. I can’t begin to list the violent emotions and twisted thoughts I’ve felt. To give you an idea, my mother has considered sending me to the psych ward numerous times. After some intense discussions with her, she offered up Atlas Shrugged. According to her, it would—at the very least—expose the media and these new-fangled activists as the BS-spewers that they allegedly are. I was skeptical, but Atlas Shrugged is apparently one of the most influential novels of all time; second only to The Bible.
Atlas Shrugged, however, is massive. This is the kind of book that I can only read with the new purging of pop culture media that I have committed to. One chapter can take about an hour, and there’s a lot of chapters; over a thousand pages’ worth. I started the book in February 2022, and you’re reading this post not long after I actually finished the book. That’s how much of an investment it is.
Like any hard SF novel, completing it is a monumental task. One aspect of these kinds of books is that merely figuring out the basic premise is a headache that you’re meant to experience, and thus, it feels like discussing any aspect of the novel is spoiler territory, even though it’s super old. So… Here’s a spoiler warning then. Read on if you wish.
Right off the bat, Rand’s prose feels like what a lot of modern writers, whom I consider pretentious, try to be. A lot of Atlas Shrugged is very verbose, and at first, it feels like nothing is happening. However, unlike books such as Monogatari, I wasn’t mad. A lot of passages give you hints pertaining to the book’s worldbuilding and how characters think and feel. The writing is also very poetic, describing things metaphorically but in a way that can be understood by anyone with a basic grasp of the English language; unlike a lot of YA and light novels that vomit nonsensical similes at everything.
You are given your first signs of how messed up the world of Atlas Shrugged is with the initial conflict centered around Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad company. The organization has always been run by Taggarts, and this generation is brother and sister James and Dagny Taggart. When one of their lines desperately needs fixing, Dagny is literally the only person to do anything about it. She orders an untested metal from a company that James doesn’t trust, while his “trusted” metals haven’t been delivered in over a year since being ordered. What jumps out is that she is the only one in the whole organization who’s proactive; everyone else, except a guy named Eddie Willers, sucks.
The story also involves the creator of the aforementioned untested metal, Hank Rearden. He went from slaving away in the mines to owning his own steel plant, an achievement that he knows he’s damn well earned. Dagny’s order for his metal is the first big order his company has ever received. The reason for this is because everyone else is afraid to risk using it.
Right off the bat, Atlas Shrugged should resonate with just about anyone alive, especially these days. Heck, a lot of the stuff brought up in this book is stuff I’ve had internal debates about for years. I one hundred percent relate to Dagny and Hank, who feel like they’re surrounded by morons at all times. Well, I say morons, but a more literal term would be sheep; they just stick to doing what they’re told, with no drive to make anything better. This isn’t even remotely a new trope, but in Atlas Shrugged, it feels more grounded and real. Every writer and their grandma these days would chalk this up to how humans are wired to behave and there’s nothing we can do about it. Good ol’ Ayn Rand, however, presents this behavior as an unnatural, conscious choice that most people—unfortunately—decide to make.
Words cannot describe just how vindicating Atlas Shrugged is. Every other scene, there’s something that feels like Rand literally wrote for me specifically. The inane ignoramity (professional term) of mankind feels like every day of my life since Donald Trump ran for President. On a side note, Atlas Shrugged is significantly easier to digest than what I thought going in. It’s lengthy, sure, but the actual content of the book is incredibly straightforward. If you could get through crap like Of Mice and Men in high school, then Atlas Shrugged will be no problem.
The plot starts off in earnest at the end of part one. Dagny and Hank go on a road trip and stumble upon a mysterious machine, abandoned in a junk heap in an equally abandoned factory. Turns out that this device, if seen through to the end, would literally solve all of humanity’s energy problems and save the world. However, its creator is unaccounted for, and she scrambles to find that creator or reverse engineer the machine, all while surviving the ignorant world she lives in. Survival is not easy, especially when the few smart people that remain start abandoning their businesses unannounced.
Of course, you could look at the publication year saying “1957” and chalk Atlas Shrugged up for yet another McCarthy-ist novel written during the Red Scare. The thing is, due to everything discussed up to this point, I would’ve never guessed this was a Red Scare book because it sure didn’t feel like it at all. Despite the difference in eras, I could attribute so much more about Atlas Shrugged to real life in this day and age than any other cyberpunk I’ve ever experienced. However, the fact that Atlas Shrugged feels even more relevant than it did at the time isn’t exactly a good thing.
If you couldn’t tell, Atlas Shrugged is meant to have only two likable characters, and they are Dagny and Hank. Let’s talk about Hank first, since I’m saving the best for last. He loves his career with Rearden Metal, especially more than the stupid people he’s surrounded by, including his stupid wife. He doesn’t let other people’s thoughts get in his way, including those in the media. It’s ironic that someone who cares so little about people contributes more to their lives than most… or at least he would be if there weren’t politically correct idiots trying to ruin his business.
Meanwhile, Dagny… ho-hoh boy, lemme tell you. I daresay that she is the Best Girl in all classic literature. She’s like Hank in not caring, only better. Her proactive personality feels so modern compared to any other character of classic literature. Dagny is unimaginably badass, and if you told me that girls like Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind or anyone from Little Women were better, I would absolutely not believe you.
Among these two awesome protagonists whom you’re meant to love, and these wingnuts that you’re meant to hate, there is an anomaly named Francisco d’Anconia. You could argue he’s the main villain of the book, despite him definitely not being an ignoramus like the rest of mankind. He has iconic and inspirational moments that feel amazing, like he really understands how life works, yet he seems to be working against the human race with most of his actions. I’d say he’s the extreme end of Dagny and Hank’s personalities, but at the same time, he could just be a massive troll.
If there are any flaws in the book’s writing, it’s that I always had trouble telling where anyone was in 3D space. The dialogue is the heart and soul of Atlas Shrugged, and it’s so easy to get absorbed in it that they can seemingly teleport to another location. You could also argue that some of the big long passages that convey the book’s themes get redundant (including a seventy page speech that is more-or-less a summation of all the themes explored), but the way Rand thinks is so unconventional, that you kind of need to see it multiple times to really process the full weight of her words.
Final Verdict: 10/10
Why does anyone bother with any classic literature other than Atlas Shrugged? I’ve read crummy books with blurbs that say “I’ll be thinking about these themes for a long time”, but Atlas Shrugged is the first time I truly feel that way about a book. It’s so insane that—scratch that—it’s saner than almost anything else out there. If Ayn Rand wrote and published it today, it would get canceled ten times over. Heck, the FBI would’ve personally hunted her down. Atlas Shrugged would be considered by many to be pure evil, and that’s precisely why it’s a must-read. Just keep in mind that it will not give you hope for mankind; it’s only meant to give you hope for yourself.
Well, this is a first for me! I have never read an independently published book before, and Evolution’s Hand Book 1: Executive Action is by the very same Crow from Crow’s World of Anime right here on WordPress! I had a Barnes & Noble gift card leftover from Christmas, and since I don’t read light novels on nook anymore, I basically got this for free. Well, what’s important is that this review is going to help spread the word. That makes up for it, right?
I can’t really discuss the premise of Executive Action in a single paragraph like I normally do. It’s structured like a good ol’ fashioned sci-fi novel. You’re thrown right into the story, and introduced to many characters all at once. You don’t know who’s a main character or not because they all have full first and last names. There are also many different plot threads and POVs introduced right out the gate, making it even harder to know what’s going on. I would’ve devoured this book back in my teen years when this genre was my jam, but now as a weeb reading books for children… yeah, “rusty” would be an understatement here.
If anything about Executive Action is simple, it’s that it’s got the classic cyberpunk trope of “conglomerates ruin everything.” The big, bad company this time around is Terra Consolidated Products. They’ve gained so much traction that even the United Nations is powerless against them. Meanwhile, one of our intrepid heroes—Melchizedek Conrad—is running a small outfit called TranStell. They have a secret technology called Fissures, which expedite space travel, and it is inevitably leaked to TCP very early on in the story.
Crow, despite being an anime blogger, definitely didn’t write Executive Action for anime fans; this is adult fiction, and the first rule of being an adult is no fun allowed. The pacing is deliberate, the characters are grounded, and the “action” boils down to various forms of big business and subterfuge instead of cyborg Hollywood actors gunning everything up. On top of that, there are about as many subplots as characters, and you gotta keep track of them all!
The worldbuilding also keeps in hard sci-fi tradition. In order to be immersive, none of the actual mechanics are explained to us in any way; it’s supposed to be imagined as a contemporary novel in the actual future, instead of a hypothetical future. There are many new ways to address workers, for instance. Also, the notion that America will one day split into several splinter nations comes true in the book’s worldbuilding.
The main plot starts in earnest when a crew goes on their first expedition to the star system on the other side of the Fissure. TCP sends a mole in the form of Quaid Atair, who I of course pictured as Randy Quaid, to sabotage the crew. At this point, Executive Action becomes a long game of Among Us where we already know who’s sus thanks to the power of dramatic irony.
I sure sound like I’m giving Executive Action some flack, but I really mean the opposite. What I’ve described may sound like negatives, but this is simply what this kind of book is. Crow, for all intents and purposes, did everything one hundred percent correctly. The plot and its subplots all progress organically, and it feels like if Fissures were actually discovered IRL, things would play out more-or-less how they did in Executive Action, for better or for worse. In my case, it would be that latter.
As for characters, it’s a huge cast, and you’re generally not given enough features to visualize them, let alone keep track of them (this is also a hard science fiction trope, so it’s not a flaw on Crow’s part either). I’m sure I’ve put my fifteen cents in when it comes to super-grounded characters, but in case you didn’t see it before, allow me to tell you now: I have autism, and thus I cannot understand the appeal nor nuances of “normal” characters who behave very much like real people. It’s why I hate it when reviewers praise a character for “feeling like a real person” because I cannot understand how to arrive at that conclusion. In any case, I did find Matsushita to be the Best Girl. She’s Conrad’s secretary, and to be honest, she should be having his job because she’s better at it and more. She also gets to beat the crap out of someone, which was fun to see.
Final Verdict: 8.35/10
Objectively, Executive Action should have a higher score than this. While not on the level of peak sci-fi like Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, I could definitely see the same level of quality as with any big contemporary franchise of the genre. However, when you start reading manga for children for a decade, you kind of become… er… stupider. I was unable to appreciate Executive Action for what it was, and it’s entirely my fault. If you enjoy business-y, dialogue-driven dramas, then Executive Action is an easy buy.
Oh, and Crow, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for being harsh. I get the struggles of being a writer, and I truly wish you the best for your new career!
Welcome to yet another new attempt at formatting my blog! In case you couldn’t tell from reading my music reviews, I struggle hard with them. For some reason, other music reviewers can really break down each individual track, and provide distinct descriptions for each one, using terms that I don’t even understand. They’re super professional, and I am not. However, I was able to salvage two pretty meh reviews I did recently by combining them into one post. The reviews were still what they were, but for some reason, the post just felt more substantial by having two short reviews of those albums instead of me trying to replicate what I read on other sites. Mack’s Music Highlights is the same idea on steroids.
I plan to post this new series on a bi-annual basis. Like this, I can put short blurbs that more-than-sufficiently do the bands justice. More importantly, I can cram in as many bands as I want, as opposed to having to schedule one day for that one album review. I can also cover bands I wouldn’t normally talk about, due to my desire to prioritize more obscure bands over popular bands that I happen to like. Word of warning in case you’re new: I mostly cover metal here. I would call this “Mack’s Metal Highlights”, but there are a few non-metal bands I follow, and I love them just about as much as any metal outfit. Anyway, without further ado, let’s begin this… thing!
Power Paladin: With the Magic of Windfyre Steel
Power Paladin is my first ever impression of Iceland’s metal scene. The band consists of bassist Kristlefur þorsteinsson, drummer Einar Karl Júlíusson, guitarists Bjarni þór Jóhannsson and Ingi þórisson, keyboardist Bjarni Egill Ӧgmundsson, and vocalist Atli Guðlaugsson. Like with many new and obscure bands, that’s all I know about them. Holy crap, it took me at least five minutes to type the members’ names because of how many special characters I had to use!
What immediately jumps out is that Windfyre Steel is eighties A.F. Sure, I once said that DragonForce was “Survivor but with a touch of very fast metal” back before I knew what power metal was, but Windfyre Steel REALLY feels eighties. The tempo is a lot slower than DragonForce (i.e. normal, human speed), and the sound of the vocals is way more reminiscent of the time as well. In fact, the whole production has that tinny quality of a lot of hair metal, and it felt very nostalgic. There’s also the added benefit of it having nonsensical medieval theming versus the “I wanna grab that girl’s massively large posterior” that a lot of actual hair metal was about.
Vorga: Striving Toward Oblivion
I know nothing about Vorga other than that they’re from Germany. Don’t blame me; their label is literally called Transcending Obscurity, so this is one of those bands that’s proud to be underground. Unfortunately, here’s where it gets awkward. As of the release of Striving Toward Oblivion, their drummer has left the band. It must be really weird hearing an album that was recorded with the original lineup, but without that same lineup existing in the present. I wish them luck in finding a new member, or that one of the remaining members can play drums.
I wasn’t expecting much with Striving to Oblivion, but it ended up surprising me as one of the best black metal debuts of the year. As evidenced by other sci-fi black metal bands like Imperialist, the subgenre really conveys the darkness of space (which is ironic, considering that most sci-fi extreme metal bands are technical death metal). However, I found Vorga to really kick it up a notch. While you might not like their modern sound (versus the REALLY staticy old black metal), each song is engaging and powerful. It’s nothing new, but it’s something worth checking out!
Pure Wrath: Hymn to the Woeful Hearts
According to Encyclopaedia Metallum, Pure Wrath is an atmospheric black metal band run by a dude named Januaryo Hardy. Although, to make things more confusing, Pure Wrath considers itself to be “melancholic black metal” on its Facebook page. Cool. I love subgenres.
Pure Wrath’s basic style is that of a more aggressive Sojourner. There’s some fast tempos, but always time for some string and woodwind instruments to put the “atmospheric” in atmospheric black metal. However, Woeful Hearts is a lot more intense. Surprising, I know, considering the cover art is an old lady with her back to a burning house. Pure Wrath’s 2020 EP, The Forlorn Soldier, was about the dark side of Indonesian history, and I can only assume it’s a new lyrical theme for his career moving forward. With that in mind, it makes a lot of sense for this album to be so much heavier than the previous outings. Unfortunately, Hardy’s vocal performance isn’t the most fluent. Well, it’s the emotions that count, right?
Apparently, Bloodywood is this year’s Spiritbox; i.e. 2022’s most anticipated debut. However, unlike with Spiritbox, I was on the hype train for this as well, even though I barely managed to board it on time for the album release! All you need to do is look at the epic cover art (not pictured) to know exactly what Bloodywood is about: folk metal straight from India.
However, it’s so much more than that. Bloodywood incorporates electronics and rap in addition to the usual traditional instruments and multilingual lyrics. Unfortunately, that’s about all that can be described in words, because you have to listen to the embedded music video to get an idea of just how good this record is. I’m totally not just using that as an excuse to make you watch the video and give them YouTube money. I also won’t tell you to share the band’s existence with everyone you know, but I highly advise it.
The band’s best strength, other than its youthful energy, is its lyrical themes. Rakshak goes through a wide variety of emotions, from anger, to joy, to loss; mostly anger, though. Half the songs on here are brutally honest social commentaries, but for some reason, something is more cathartic from them than any other metal band that covers politics. Even their angriest song shows some hints of hope for a peaceful solution. The lyrics themselves are also clever; only they can roast politicians and WWE during the course of the same song. To be perfectly blunt, Bloodywood saved my life. Although for the sake of staying on topic, I’ll elaborate in a future post.
One of the worst aspects of this new series is that I really have no room to gush over cover art anymore. It sucks because I love showing my appreciation for a lot of the talented illustrators who make this artwork, especially whoever does Ghost’s art. This band’s album covers have been consistently getting better, and IMEPRA is a cut above the rest. It’s so intricate and detailed, yet not busy. I wouldn’t mind a mecha anime with this Papa Emeritus Gundam they got here.
For the past ten years, Ghost has employed an evolving but simple marriage of old-school metal and 1970s pop. However, IMPERA shows that they’re still capable of catching us off-guard. ‘Twenties’, for example, is just… really weird. Every time I hear the word I’m instantly going to think of the high-pitched “Twen-tieeeeees!” in the song’s chorus for the rest of my life (along with the “Yesssss” in ‘Griftwood’). Of course, there are some normal-er Ghost bangers, such as ‘Call Me Little Sunshine’, and ‘Hunter’s Moon’, the latter of which was wasted on Steven Spielberg’s “final” Halloween movie. Overall, IMPERA was well worth the wait.
Vanaheim: Een Verloren Verhaal
Bloodywood might be the big folk metal band everyone is talking about, but from within the Netherlands rose an underground sleeper hit: this debut album by Vanaheim. Ironically, I only found out about them by Googling Bloodywood and this having come up in the “people also search for” tab. With no real experience in Dutch folk metal, this was an easy impulse listen.
I’d say I made a great call. Basically, take the extreme metal elements of Hand of Kalliach—one of my favorite debuts from last year—add the catchy pagan anthems of Elvenking—one of my favorite folk metal bands of all time—and you get Een Verloren Verhaal. The lyrics are also sung in Dutch to boot. It’s a no-brainer that I love everything about this record.
Esprit D’Air: Oceans
I had tried to get into this famous Japanese-British soloist, but for some reason… their music just didn’t quite hit me. I liked about half the songs they had been putting out, but that’s not enough for me to be a fan. I wasn’t too excited for their new full-length, Oceans, but Esprit D’Air’s cover art is always so eye-catching that I just had to give it a whirl!
Surprisingly enough, I really enjoyed it. For a while, I felt like Esprit D’Air’s style was more of a poppy sound with metal instrumentation, but I didn’t get that vibe on Oceans at all. It’s much heavier, but with no shortage of the artist’s usual, whimsical synth sounds. There are also some growling guest vocalists to contrast mastermind Kaito Takahashi’s silky-smooth clean singing. Overall, it’s a solid record.
Angel Nation: Antares
Boy, I really shot myself in the foot with this one. In my review of Catalyst Crime’s self-titled debut from last year, I said I would cover Angel Nation’s third album, and here we are.
Angel Nation likes their music nice and simple. If you enjoy old-school, 1980s-pop-y metal, this band has it all, and Antares is a further step in the right direction. There are also plenty of synthesizers to boot.
Luminous Vault: Animate the Emptiness
I just learned of industrial metal, which is yet another of metal’s umpteen subgenres. I’ve apparently listened to a lot of bands considered industrial, and loved them without even knowing what it was. At first, I thought it was just a term used for high-synth elements in metal. Seems arbitrary.
However, on Luminous Vault’s debut, Animate the Emptiness, I learned of an important distinction that I would personally consider blasphemous: the drums are fake. I find percussion to be of utmost importance in music, and generally, those synthetic boots n’ cats just sound lifeless and wrong to me. Yet here we are with Luminous Vault, integrating that stuff with black metal.
Despite how much I don’t like not-drums, I actually found the album to be pretty solid. The sense of wrongness with the fake drums coupled with the actual guitars was very interesting. To give credit where credit is due, though, Luminous Vault is not remotely the first band to do this; apparently this style was pioneered by a band called Blut aus Nord from WAY back in the day (they just released a new album, and since they’re a popular band, I of course haven’t listened to it). In any case, this album’s pretty interesting.
Moonlight Sorcery: Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity (EP)
Hot take: I don’t exactly like old-school black metal. I tried with Behemoth, and I found myself pretty underwhelmed by them (well, there goes any qualifications as a metalhead that I could possibly have). However, I was still drawn into Finnish trio Moonlight Sorcery, on their compressed-as-all-get-out debut EP: Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity.
Moonlight Sorcery specializes in a rare subgenre called “melodic black metal”, which was apparently very criticized in the 1990s for no good reason. The icey-sounding synthesizers (which are the only other instruments that you can hear clearly besides the guitars) really sell the band’s brand, and make the album quite whimsical. What also stands out is hints of power metal melodies. This band has a lot of potential, hopefully to become the even rarer subgenre of “blackened power metal” in the future. We’ll have to see where their path leads them next!
Gloryhammer: Fly Away (Single)
I normally don’t talk about singles, but I REALLY feel like I need to discuss the current state of this band as soon as possible, just to get it off my chest. For those who don’t know, Alestorm vocalist Christopher Bowes has also been running a memey power metal band called Gloryhammer, chronicling the Scottish hero, Angus McFife, and his quest to defeat Zargothrax in the distant future of the 1990s. The band hadn’t done much after the third album, which ended with the presumed death of McFife. However, last year, they fired the charismatic Thomas Winkler, who had taken the role of McFife. Literally a day later, the band was accused of White Supremacy and misogyny, with evidence found in leaked private chats from several years ago.
They survived cancel culture by maintaining radio silence, and it somehow worked. Despite the possibly unjustified hatred (honestly, I didn’t read the source posts since they were supposed to be PRIVATE, so I don’t really know the truth), they were able to hire former Helion Prime vocalist Sozos Michael to assume the role of McFife. I didn’t exactly like his presence in Prime’s second album, since it was more sci-fi oriented than the band’s usual brand of real-world science. However, in an over-the-top sci-fi-fantasy metal band like Gloryhammer, Michael couldn’t be a better fit. While his tenor voice isn’t quite as good as Winkler’s, Michael has the passion and energy to be McFife. Oh, and the song’s great too. The only issue is that it doesn’t really seem to explain his situation. It seems to take place in McFife’s consciousness, moments before his death. We’ll have to wait for the actual fourth album to find out what actually happens next!
Planeswalker: Tales of Magic (EP)
Speaking of Sozos Michael, here’s his current band now! Alongside Jason Ashcraft—also of Helion Prime—these two have created an old-fashioned power metal band themed off of Magic: The Gathering. Everything about the sound production and composition has that same Prime energy, but with some fantasy whimsy instead of edutainment. This album helped me to appreciate Michael’s ability as a songwriter.
The highlight of the album is no doubt the twelve minute song shown in the embedded MV: ‘Oath of the Gatewatch’. It contains three guest vocalists: original Helion Prime vocalist Heather Michele, the iconic Brittney Slayes from Unleash the Archers, and whoever R.A. Voltaire is. While the whole album (other than an out-of-place KISS cover) is really good, this song is definitely a banger that’s worth checking out. Also, I really hope this band does more music please.
Well, I definitely feel like this is the way for me to cover music reviews moving forward. I don’t have to worry about making them poetic and verbose like most actual reviewers do. With that, let’s see if the rest of the year will be as good as this first half (music-wise)!
Oh dear… it’s been a hot minute since this happened to me. Thank you, RiseFromAshes, for this tag! Without further ado, let’s dig into this thing! I’ll just Ctrl-C-Ctrl-V these rules real quick…
Use the official logo/graphic of the award and display it on your blog post
List the rules (Oh hey! I’m doing it right now!)
Tag the original creator, Riddhi of WhisperingStories, and the person who nominated me (did the latter already. Alright, I’m speedrunning this thing!)
Mention the most exceptional thing about you and your blog (Oh… hm. Okay)
Mention one thing exceptional about the blogger who nominated you
Answer the three questions posed by the person who nominated you
Share your favorite post from your blog
Tag SEVEN people?! Because seven is such a magical number?! Well, SOMEONE hasn’t watched Schoolhouse Rock.
Exceptional Thing About Me
My statement here might sound pretentious, but from my perspective, I don’t know anyone else who possesses the following quality. The exceptional thing about me is that I’m restraintive, which is apparently a real word, since Google Docs didn’t put the red lines underneath it. I’ll keep it short for those who have already taken the time to read my various blurbs of emotional insecurity. Basically, I’ve been fighting to consume less media in this society where you have to consume all media, especially what’s popular. I’ve had a great time exercising this much restraint, although I still have anxiety over my tendency to take the path less traveled every. Single. Time. Well… A for effort, as they say!
Exceptional Thing About My Blog
This claim might be biased by my perspective as the writer of the posts on my blog, but here it goes anyway! In essence, my blog is not pretentious. One of my biggest issues as an autistic man is that I read other blurbs and blogs about stuff, and get taken in by some of the hyperbole they use. I go into the thing expecting literally what they said, I don’t experience it, and I end up feeling really salty… mostly about myself, since I take stuff too literally. In any case, other than some sarcastic humor, I try to refrain from phrases like “life-changing” or “transcendent” (the website J-rock News LOVES the latter). I feel like my writing style makes my blog more transparent than that of most people.
Exceptional Thing About Rise
I say that not being pretentious is an exceptional thing about my blog… Yet, ironically, I feel the same way about Rise. Their posts are down-to-earth, and I’ve felt that they’ve been pretty consistent with the aforementioned unpretentiousness. Also, I have simply not seen anyone else on the Internet discuss Japanese dramas. It’s pretty fascinating that there’s a whole other industry of acting outside of anime, and that it doesn’t really seem to ever take off in the West at all. Availability is a problem too (fyi, Rise lives in Japan, where it’s easier to see that stuff).
What medium (books, movies, etc) do you think is best for an immersive storytelling experience?
Well, I basically have this down to three candidates who all have different advantages, and those advantages only work out in the best case scenario for each thing. However, I feel like the one that’s easiest to strictly nail immersion is the realm of videogames. They have all the advantages of movies, but you’re an integral part of them. The right combination of artstyle, music, and ambience can really make you feel like you’re really there, no VR required.
Who is the blogger whose posts get you thinking the most?
I can’t answer this without spoiling someone whom I’m going to tag. Oh well! My answer is Irina, the drunken anime blogger. As if it was the late 1960s, her being so inebriated makes her smarter (I guess?)! She has a wide range of tastes, ranging from mainstream to off the beaten path. While she mostly posts anime reviews episode-by-episode, her little rants are her strength. She really cracks open the nut that is the anime community and digs deep into why it’s so depressing and horrible. It’s nice to hear a sane anime fan for once.
How often do you write for your blog in a given week?
Almost all the time. Whenever I have a thought, my phone, and a private place, I write away, right away (hooray, English puns). There are many posts you haven’t seen, and probably never will.
Favorite Blog Post
For some reason, I’ve actually come to be the proudest of my retrospectives. I don’t do them too often, mainly because I have to both be willing to re-experience something, and not have re-experienced it in years. As much as I want to plug the Xenoblade X retrospective that I worked so hard on and got almost no views for, I kind of feel particularly proud of my Atlantis: The Lost Empire retrospective. While I ended up making a claim about its representation in Disney Parks that turned out to be incorrect, I feel like it has a good balance of love and criticism that isn’t blinded by nostalgia. Give it a read if you want to learn about one of Disney’s weirder movies from the 21st Century.
It’s been a while since I did an anime community-oriented post, on account of me abandoning said community. However, I still follow MyAnimeList on social media, mainly for news regarding manga. Speaking of manga (and light novels as well), North American publishers have really grown to the point where they’ll publish a lot of franchises well before they get picked up for anime. Because of that, I’ve had a great track record of predicting exactly how message boards will react to their anime adaptations. I’ve noticed that, for some reason, certain series with mature themes don’t get any controversy until after the anime in particular premieres; examples being Goblin Slayer and Interspecies Reviewers. It seems most anime fans are too young to comprehend anything other than a specific set of universally appealing tropes.
With that in mind, boy oh boy! There have been some very… interesting adaptation announcements over the course of last year and this year. So, using my knowledge of my days in that community, how about I put together a fun list of upcoming series that I’m pretty darn sure will light a few fires in the digital world?
I never actually posted my final, full review of this manga following my First Impressions of it, mainly because said review was kind of awful. To reconcile that, I’ll basically state that Jigokuraku, after having finished it, remains a solid, edgy ride all the way through with a gaggle of likable characters.
With this being at the bottom of the list, I don’t anticipate Jigokuraku being too controversial. MAPPA is a renowned studio, albeit pushed to unrealistic limits with having to animate this, the finale of Attack on Titan, and the most highly anticipated battle shounen anime of the year; at least the trailer shows promise.
Jigokuraku is a pretty straightforward battle shounen with seinen tropes. I imagine people will love Gabimaru for being edgy, and Yuzuriha for being sexy. There is some horror imagery with how the monsters look, as well as what happens to people who get consumed by the plants, but it’s not too bad, relatively speaking. Most of the controversy I anticipate is in Jigokuraku‘s antagonists. These androgynous superhumans can shift gender at will, and are bisexual as well. On top of that, they tend to be naked a lot. Any anti-LGBT people in the community will probably lash out unfairly at the show, and defending it will be a nightmare if that occurs.
4: Blue Lock
People familiar with Blue Lock might not agree with me putting it higher than fifth place, and to be honest, I feel like this should merely tie with Jigokuraku in terms of controversy. My logic with putting it here is based on the fans it will attract: those of sports anime, and probably yaoi to an extent.
From watching Dr. Stone and The Rising of the Shield Hero as they aired, I noticed that a lot of people’s brains didn’t have the capacity to appreciate good anti-heroes, and more notably, well-written characters with bad personalities. As much as we don’t like Mary/Gary Sue, the trope’s existence makes sense because writers want young audiences to feel like they’re them; and they can’t do that if the main character isn’t “good” enough to connect with.
With Blue Lock, any semblance of teamwork and manly bromance that make other sports series appealing is thrown out the window. It is deeply psychological, with a training regimen oriented entirely around building the individual rather than the team. To top it off, it’s a battle royale, with the loser getting written out of the series permanently. Anyone who cries over Danganronpa is guaranteed to follow suit in Blue Lock. Conversely, astute observers might notice the appropriate flags. I’m a bit further in the manga from when I wrote my First Impressions, and it seems that they won’t kill off anyone until their character arc feels sufficiently resolved in some manner. Of course, the series is still young and my enjoyment of it is not dampered in the slightest. But knowing seasonals, critics won’t give it that chance.
3: The Executioner and Her Way of Life
This subversive isekai is going to be a doozie. The Executioner and Her Way of Life is a time-travel-driven murdering spree disguised as a yuri Isekai. People will cry as they draw fan art of Menou and Akari in an intimate relationship, knowing that said relationship canonically can never happen, since Akari is supposed to be murdered at the end of the story.
On top of that, it’s very visceral. While not as horrific as Torture Princess or Roll Over and Die! (both of which have no anime adaptations, for obvious reasons), it has a lot of violence and gore. Plus, Princess Ashuna is a skank who will win the hearts of perverts, and be the target of just as many critics.
2: Dead Dead Demon’s Dededededestruction
This is the most surprising for sure, because—to my knowledge—none of Inio Asano’s manga have been given a greenlight for a TV anime adaptation (Solanin might’ve gotten an OVA but don’t quote me on that), despite his popularity in Japan. The reason is simple to anyone familiar with his works: he’s brutal. I’ve actually read most of Dededededestruction myself, and I plan to publish my full thoughts on it once Viz published the rest of the series. In the meantime, I can say that it only got this adaptation because, at least compared to Goodnight Punpun, it’s the tamest of Asano’s projects.
Of course, given some of the gratuitous content in Punpun, “tame” doesn’t mean squat for Asano. What can be—on the surface—described as “Slice-of-Life Meets Independence Day” is much more layered than that. It’s a bizarre and abstract social commentary on how humans are more of a threat than the imminent alien menace that looms over them. In addition, the forums can easily devolve into debates over whether or not the series is pretentious.
The big question manga fans might pose is: “How?” Asano’s style of storytelling is heavily reliant on the manga format. Plus, his backgrounds are intricate to the point where any studio would have a mass heart attack trying to draw them with a TV anime budget. If anything is certain, it’s that people will probably be horny over Oran’s really hunky, obese older brother.
1: Chainsaw Man
There is so much hype behind Chainsaw Man. Not only is the manga very popular, and deservedly so, but the manga’s sequel will also be launching later this year. To be fair, Tokyo Ghoul had some really messed up content. However, to my knowledge, none of the really heavy stuff—like the sex scene—was actually incorporated into the notoriously rushed anime. Conversely, if the adaptation of Chainsaw Man proves faithful, it will be one of the most brutal anime in recent years. Possibly ever.
Chainsaw Man has a pretty straightforward story, but twists shounen tropes into something more, well, twisted. All poor little Denji wants is a girlfriend, and a girlfriend he gets… sort of. He spends most of the story being exploited by older women in a harsh and psychological character study, while engaging in gore-infested battles with demons. And that’s just the tame stuff.
The last third or so of Chainsaw Man is a constant, visceral rollercoaster of nightmares. People are crumpled into distorted shapes, entire cities are gunned down, and more. It culminates in one of the most unusual and creative ways to defeat the main villain I have ever seen in a battle shounen. Lastly, I really hope “Halloween” becomes the meme I imagined it would be; liking cultural phenomena before it was cool always feels cathartic.
Not gonna lie, I’ve been tempted to dip back into the anime community to laugh while people lose their minds over these shows. More likely than not, however, I’ll just see the same robotic reactions I’ve had to sift through for years on MyAnimeList. Regardless, this year will be rather interesting in the anime world.