A Bittersweet Return: Evanescence — The Bitter Truth Album Review

Evanescence is a strange band all right. They went mainstream overnight with their massively popular first two albums, Fallen and The Open Door. Unfortunately, things got complicated within the band and they have since gone on numerous, long hiatuses. Their 2011 self-titled album wasn’t just different, but it was also the first after a long hiatus very early in the band’s career. Needless to say, they’re still strong numbers-wise, but nowhere near as much as they were. 

As mentioned in one of my older music posts, I decided to check them out. I enjoyed Fallen and The Open Door, but I never fell in love with them. And it’s probably because I wasn’t in love with those albums, that I was able to enjoy the 2011 album with an open mind. Saying that anything beyond those first two albums is Evanescence’s best work seems to be the minority opinion these days. So, of course, I want to piss off their fandom by saying that 2021’s The Bitter Truth is their best album yet. Let’s see whether or not I agree with such a claim myself.

Of course, I gotta look over the album cover first. I always thought Evanescence had weak album cover art, and The Bitter Truth is no exception. It’s just a mouth with a pill on the tongue. If I wasn’t already listening to this band before the album’s release, I probably would’ve ignored it when stacked up against others. Good thing that what matters is the music!

I might as well start by discussing the pre-release tracks, since those technically came out first. Most of them are good, but they’re kind of… ordinary. Of course, I’m probably just saying that because I—again—am not a diehard Evanescence fan. My least favorite track of the pre-releases ended up being ‘Yeah Right’, but not because of the song itself. Musically, it’s good, but when the band stated that it took them a decade to write it, my impression of ‘Yeah Right’ was colored in a negative way. By way of comparison, Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was written and recorded a couple years faster. My favorite track (of the pre-releases) ended up being ‘Use My Voice’, which felt like it had the same pompous, tween spunk of their classic stuff, while still feeling different stylistically. 

In fact, the whole album feels like that. The Bitter Truth retains more of their original, early 2000s emo style than the previous studio outing (which was a decade ago. Holy shit). There’s your usual gothic synth, as well as the sad piano (although they’re still missing the world’s smallest violin). Even the lyrics are their old brand of dreary, esoteric nonsense. For example…

“I’m not fine” / “I don’t know if I will be alright” / “But I have to try” / “I know you’re with me, so what if we do fall apart?” / “Give into all that we are” / “And let all the broken pieces shine.”

Um… I guess that’s relatable? Those lyrics sure take me back to when I was a miserable, friendless child in high school that no one understood. But to be honest, Evanescence is the kind of band where the lyrics don’t matter. Vocalist Amy Lee can sing the menu of Papa John’s Pizza and we would still love her. Even though she’s all old and stuff, she’s still as talented as ever. 

If there’s any real problem with this album, it’s kind of… Evanescence itself. Like I said before, I enjoy them, but I never once thought that anything they made—even Fallen—was worth all the hem and haw. I don’t even think Lee is the goddess that most fans consider her. They’ve been working in the music industry for twenty years, and there are debuts that I would consider better than this album. 

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Final Verdict: 8/10

Evanescence’s The Bitter Truth is—indeed—their best album (according to moi). However, it’s just not god-tier. I don’t know why this band is so big, when Fallen is outclassed even by stuff that was out at the time. I can’t recommend this to someone who’s not acquainted with Evanescence; there’s just so much better out there. I feel like only fans of the group can love it.

Top Five Song Covers

Theoretically, anyone can make a cover of a song. However, it takes balls to make a cover that offers a new take on a well-known hit, especially if it ends up surpassing the original. For the heck of it, I thought I’d showcase my Top Five favorite covers. The rules are simple: I cannot reuse the same artist, both in the case of the cover-er and the cover-ee. Also, in order to properly gauge the cover, I need to be familiar with the original version. With that said and done, let’s cover the covers!


5) Ad Infinitum — This Is Halloween

Of course, I gotta have an obscure band that none of my readers, let alone most of the Internet at large, knows about! Well, I suppose I should tell you who they are. Ad Infinitum is a very new symphonic metal band; in fact, they only have one album so far. For a debut, their first album is really freaking good. However, what made me want to listen to them was seeing the track listing and noticing a cover of ‘This is Halloween’ from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

Gotta love a fellow Disney fan! Given the original song’s darker theme, metal is a perfect genre to incorporate into a cover. And, well, if it wasn’t obvious given my taste, I think this is a better version. Since the original is sung by multiple characters, vocalist Melissa Bonny sort of had to do some roleplaying. And guess what, she kicked ass! She’s a great singer normally, but this cover gave me new respect for her singing prowess. 


4) ILLUMISHADE — Into the Unknown

You’ve probably never heard of ILLUMIUSHADE, since they’re new and all. ILLUMISHADE is a Swiss metal band that released an extremely ambitious concept album last year, which just so happened to be very enjoyable. Similar to Gloryhammer, every member is a character in an original story that they made up.

Oh, and the song they cover is another Disney number: ‘Into the Unknown’ from Frozen 2! Knowing this cover existed is what convinced me to check them out, and well, it’s worth it. Their Guardian (good God, I hope I got that stage name right) does an unexpectedly good job of being on par with Adela—I mean—Idina Menzel (it’s as if metal singers are the best or something), and the heavier instrumentation obviously helps. This version’s a real banger, that’s for sure!


3) In This Moment — Fly Like an Eagle

I have praised In This Moment a lot, specifically for being the effed up American metal band that I wanted, but didn’t get, out of Slipknot. They have never stagnated, and have tried numerous approaches to their sound. This also includes covers of songs that don’t seem to suit them at all! They’ve done an effed up version of Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ (with new lyrics and Rob Halford), a banging cover of Phil Collin’s ‘In The Air Tonight’, as well as a cover of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ with guest singers.

For some reason, I really love their cover of Steve Miller Band’s ‘Fly Like an Eagle’ (a.k.a. Hot take: the only Steve Miller Band song I like). It maintains the trippy feel of the song, but with that In This Moment touch to it. The best part is that, apparently, this song wasn’t originally intended to be a cover of ‘Fly Like an Eagle’. They just did the music and were like “What if we made this ‘Fly Like an Eagle?’” In This Moment is such a good band, that they can put out amazing music by accident! 


2) Disturbed — The Sound of Silence

Why do I have something popular on here?! Well, because I actually love it for once! Disturbed has done a lot of covers, from Tears for Fears’ ‘Shout’ to Genesis’ ‘The Land of Confusion’, all of which were really good. But—and this probably goes for a lot of people—none of them beat their cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s somehow still relevant ‘The Sound of Silence’.

Seriously, wow, it’s really hard to describe just how good this cover is. One thing that truly shows a talented metal band is not how good they can be as a metal band, but how good they can be completely unplugged, and this song conveys that. The most unexpected thing to come from this cover is how amazing Disturbed’s vocalist, David Draiman, is at crooning, of all things. His voice is deep, sad, and full of emotion, even when he cuts in his signature gravelly sound toward the end. It’s absolutely incredible. It’s also the first time EVER that a song not pertaining to Disney ever moved me to tears. Literally; I was crying after I heard this for the first time. I don’t bat an eye at any Danganronpa character death, but for some reason, some metal band’s cover of a folk song I’m not emotionally attached to has me spilling buckets.


1) Epica — Dedicate Your Heart!

Does this song title not sound familiar to you? Translate it into Japanese: “Shinzou wo Sasageyo!” That’s not a coincidence. The winner is a cover of the third opening of Attack on Titan. In fact, Epica has a whole EP of Attack on Titan covers. Your favorite of these will likely be dictated based on how much you love the originals, and since the third OP was my favorite, ‘Dedicate Your Heart’ is first place on this list. 

Sometimes, I regret abandoning Linked Horizon, the original artist for the first three OPs, the fourth ED, and the fifth OP. I actually ordered one of their albums. They were my first ever symphonic power metal band. And looking back, they’re only an impressive band if you’re like the many twelve-year-olds who’ve never listened to power metal before, and got their first impression of the subgenre from Attack on Titan. After hearing Epica’s covers, I no longer regret falling off of Linked Horizon.

Epica does such good justice to these songs, that they become the originals. I believe everything about them is better than the originals in every way. The instrumentation sounds so real that it makes Linked Horizon look manufactured and fake. And of course, Simone Simons—who is pretty much a Titan herself—blows the original band’s vocalist into oblivion. Not gonna lie, my whole idea behind this post was for me to offer a sizzling hot take on one of the most iconic anime openings of all time.


Conclusion

Alrighty, that’s another controversial music post wrapped up! Apparently, we learned that Western metal bands should cover anime OPs more often. With that said, AMARANTHE NEEDS TO COVER ‘HACKING TO THE GATE’… uh… please.

Can We Call Them Metal Now?: BAND-MAID — Unseen World Album Review

I’ve been following BAND-MAID for a while. In fact, I’ve been following them long enough to be considered a fan before it was cool. At this point, they’ve been getting pretty damn big, considering that Japanese record labels seem to have low priority in international appeal (and the fact that COVID does not want them to perform at Budokan ever). 

Fortunately, not even a pandemic can stop them from somehow putting out a full-length studio album on an almost annual basis. 2021’s Unseen World is their SEVENTH album. I know bands that have been around for longer who have fewer albums. While that seems like they have a quantity-over-quality approach, BAND-MAID has proven to be only getting better with each release. And, to no surprise, Unseen World is their heaviest album yet.

If you’ve somehow clicked this article without knowing about BAND-MAID, then I should inform you (also, it’s more professional to provide a bio of the band before going over the album itself). BAND-MAID was formed in 2013 by Miku Kobato with the gimmick of all the members wearing French maid outfits. This is meant to contrast with a very heavy hard rock sound. Their big break was their 2019 album, CONQUEROR, which featured a track produced by David Bowie’s original producer, Tony Visconti. Another, more recent boost was when Kobato and guitarist Kanami Tono were guests on DragonForce guitarist Herman Li’s Twitch channel back in February.

First off, good God, that album cover is terrifying. Hands have been one of my weaknesses when it comes to horror imagery, and Unseen World is no exception. I have no idea whose idea it was to have that for an album cover. Furthermore, I have no idea if I want to praise or criticize them for it.

Anyhow, Unseen World kicks booty butt cheeks. The first track, ‘Warning!’, starts out with a whimsical and happy symphonic sequence before kicking into the heaviest rock sound that BAND-MAID has to offer. And when I say heavy, I mean metal. It doesn’t sound that much different from their usual style, but something about this album (literally) screams “metal” to me. Each and every track is a blast to hear.

If there is any issue with the record, it’s that it seems to confirm that BAND-MAID is at its best only when it comes to unhinged hard rock. Unseen World doesn’t have a single ballad, and I admit that I found those to be a weak spot for them in their past albums. As much as I like it when bands experiment, it takes about as much gumption to stick to one thing (look at AC/DC for instance). And as such, we get an unrelenting assault of metal!

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Ever notice that I hadn’t actually rated any albums I reviewed up to this point? Yeah, I don’t know why I haven’t been doing that. In any case, if CONQUEROR was BAND-MAID’s British Steel, then Unseen World is probably going to go down as their Screaming for Vengeance; far better than its predecessor, but likely to be overshadowed by said predecessor since it was their breakthrough (Ohhhh snap). It goes without saying that this is my favorite album of theirs to date, and it definitely hikes up my standard for them moving forward. So yeah, less than half of the post actually talked about the music itself… Oops. Sorry, I’m not good at reviewing a single album like other bloggers I’ve seen.

The Me and Music Tag!

Oh, RiseFromAshes, what have you done, by tagging me? You definitely seem interested in the mindf*** that is my music tastes. Well, thanks for the tag! In case you’re new to my blog, you might notice an incredibly simple pattern emerge after the first few prompts. 

Rules

  1. (1) Link back to the original (Sophie @ Me and Ink) so she can see your answers and listen to the tunes.
    1. Oh god, Sophie, you’re going to LISTEN to this stuff? Looking at what she wrote for her own tag, er… Girl, just skip this one. It’s for your mental health.
  2. (2) For every prompt you choose to do, name 1-5 songs (you can use Sophie’s graphics).
  3. (3) Have fun and play your music LOUD!

Well, let’s begin.


For the sake of anonymity, I can’t reveal the exact state I’m from. BUT, since I am from the United States of America, so I figured I’d meet you guys halfway. If you thought I’d answer with ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ by Bruce Springsteen, then… Hi! Welcome to my blog, Weeb Revues, person who’s clearly never read any of my music posts before! 

There are a lot of songs about America, but for the sake of keeping this post shorter than a novella, I’ll only put two. Kansas’ ‘Song for America’ is a nice, long track chronicling the history of my [overly] proud home nation. Something that’s a bit more on the nose is Queensrÿche’s ‘Empire’. It’s a much more accurate portrayal of the U.S. than the ‘Star-Bangled Banner.’


If you weren’t freaked out by my previous entries… then, well, get out your holy water. My music tastes leave little room for love. I could include some Disney musical numbers, which I do love, but that’s not how I roll.

Two more songs come to mind, the first of which is In This Moment’s disgusting power ballad, ‘Sexual Hallucination’ (surprise, surprise, no MV for it), with special guest Brent Smith (I actually don’t know who he is though). It’s a sick, twisted little song that I should hate, yet it’s one of my favorite songs from them. Did you use your holy water yet? If you did, then you should’ve saved it for the other love song: ‘He Is’ by Ghost. It’s a sappy ballad dedicated to none other than Satan. Since I’m an agnostic, it’s no skin off MY nose! Your nose, however… I can’t vouch for that.

Sophie, if you’re actually reading this, then I’m sorry. You should stop now before it gets worse. Yes, it gets worse.


I don’t like dancing. However, I will select some songs that I would dance to if I enjoyed dancing. Fair trade, right? As tempted as I am to bring up Ghost again, I want some variety. Amaranthe has some very danceable metal songs. In fact, the vast majority of their stuff is perfect for dancing. Out of all of them, I feel like ‘Drop Dead Cynical’ is the best one to dance to. There’s something “jamming” about it, I dunno. I’m no dance-ologist, so I could be talking out of my ass here.


If you made it this far, then you’ll at least have some respite here. Since most of the stuff I like isn’t popular enough to be used in film, I will need to rely on music made FOR the film instead. And by that, I mean Disney songs.

I don’t even know if saying I like ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen is a popular opinion or not, since that song getting memed to death garnered some criticism. Well, regardless, I love it, along with ‘Into the Unknown’, ‘Lost in the Woods’, and ‘Show Yourself’ from Frozen 2. I also love most of Moana and The Princess and the Frog‘s soundtrack.

Of course, for the sake of consistency, I’ll end off this segment with something metal. ‘Crazy Train’, the classic Ozzy Osbourne hit that launched his solo career in the 1980s, was randomly used in the movie Megamind for what is likely no reason other than pandering to dads. Hooray, marketing!


What could I possibly put for this prompt? Metal is the exact opposite of calm in every way, after all. Well, fret not, for really talented metal bands can sound just as awesome even if they turn the rev down by a large margin.

The immediate example is an old track from Ritchie Blackmore’s old band, Rainbow. The track in question is called ‘Catch the Rainbow’, and it’s a very slow and strange little mind trip. This was back when they had Ronnie James Dio (a.k.a. one of the greatest singers of all time) on the vocals, and that man was as good of a crooner as he was a shouter. Of course, since it’s so old, there’s no MV to embed. Oh well, saves me some work!


In case it wasn’t obvious, I more-or-less have stopped listening to most of what I liked as a kid. I liked Heart and Journey, but the keyword is “liked” (past tense).

The longest band I have been an ongoing fan of is Rush, the classic prog pioneers. Like a simp, I started with the one everyone started with, at least after 1981’s Moving Picture‘s dropped: ‘Tom Sawyer.’ I don’t know if it’s my favorite Rush song, but it’s still a banger.


Pretty much any and all music from the subgenre of power metal counts for this category. I could write a book called 101 Power Metal Songs to Listen to Before you Die or something. Oh, that basic premise is taken? Nevermind.

The first band that comes to mind is DragonForce, the band behind ‘Through the Fire and Flames’. Or, if you’re a super-weeb, the band with “the guy who streamed with Miku and Kanami from BAND-MAID”. Since their enduring commercial hit overshadows their almost two-decade long career as it is, I’ll bring up one of my favorites of their newer stuff: ‘Tomorrow’s Kings’ (which has no MV to embed, sorry). I don’t know what it’s about, but it sounds vaguely motivational enough, and is one of their most pulse-pounding songs. It’s one of many that I think transcends ‘Through the Fire and Flames’.


I brought up a lot of older stuff up to this point, but to be perfectly frank, I don’t like a lot of older stuff. Unsurprisingly, I don’t really like much of anything in the first half of the Twentieth Century and earlier. In keeping with the spirit of this prompt, I shall give a shout-out to the oldest band that I actively listen to: Black Sabbath.

If you aren’t a metal-headed guru, then you wouldn’t know that they are one of the original pioneers. In terms of sound mixing, they sound dated as f***, but their ambitions are anything but. A lot of household classics, like ‘Iron Man’, are still really good. Oh, and apparently, they have a new edition of their fourth album, Black Sabbath Vol. 4, out this year. Don’t know what’s in it, but uh… buy it, I guess?


I don’t want to be that guy who reminds everyone about how 2020 was “the worst year in human history even though there were many far worse years” …but a lot of things definitely changed for the worse nonetheless, even if you exclude COVID. One example is the fateful day when the #BlackLivesMatter riots, following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a White police officer (Fun Fact: the chief of police was actually Black but nobody cares about that detail), occurred… It felt like the bridges built by Martin Luther King were single-handedly burned to the ground… 

And I’m going to look like an idiot and a horrible person if Oceans of Slumber’s ‘Pray for Fire’ is not a commentary on that very incident! Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that it is. I mean, the album it was on came out only months after all that went down, so. In any case, that’s one of the few songs to reduce me to tears. Last year was rough (thanks to the media), and this song was basically pouring lemonade, salt, and sulfuric acid directly into the wound. Oceans of Slumber are experts in making you feel like crap, and this song is one of their best for that reason.

‘The Banished Heart’, a slightly older track by the same band, moves me as well since it sounds vaguely hopeful toward the end. There is one more song that REALLY made me cry buckets when I first heard it, but I’m actually saving it for a future post!


I don’t really have musical obsessions. I believe that everything needs to be enjoyed in moderation, so that stuff doesn’t burn me out. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t have temptations to listen to stuff on repeat. And of all the bands I’m into now, I have the biggest temptation with pretty much every song from Dark Sarah. Since you have a near 100% chance of never having heard of them, allow me to explain. Hailing from Finland, Dark Sarah achieves the impossible union of metal… with musical theater. Yes, they pump out heavy-ass jams with a Phantom of the Opera-like twist, and WHY ISN’T THIS A THING IN DISNEY YET?!

Also, literally a week ago to this day, I just got into a new band: the Viking-themed Brothers of Metal. They’re not even remotely the first band with such a theme, but they’re the ones I picked because, well, that badass name! I just finished their first album, and I’m already hooked. Is there some mistake? 2017’s Prophecy of Ragnarӧk is too good to be their debut. Oh, and yes, one of the members is a woman. DEAL WITH IT.


I’m not that great at lyrics (especially if I’m wrong about the aforementioned Oceans of Slumber song). But in my defense, it’s the interpretation that counts (thanks, Dead Poets Society). I have a number of entries, but I must bring up the discography of Rush first. Their drummer, the late and great Neil Peart, was one of the best lyricists ever. I could write a thesis of different Rush lyrics, and of all of them, I have to post the chorus for ‘Freewill’. It’s a relatable song that deserves to be in the motivational category, and it’s very apt for our “You gotta do what everyone else is doing!” society.

“You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice” / “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice” / “You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill” / “I will choose above, that’s clear” / “I will choose freewill!”

I also love the lyrics for the pirate-themed metal band, Alestorm. The lyrics so authentically capture the feeling of pirate sea shanties, I always question if I’m listening to a cover. Allow me to include an excerpt from one of their songs:

“Hey, you’re banjaxed!” / “Hey, you’re screwed!” / “And death is coming for you!” / “Trapped on an island, lost at sea!” / “Shipwrecked you’ll cease to be!”

Another song with great lyrics is ‘When the Wild Wind Blows’, one of the more recent tracks from metal veterans Iron Maiden. I think it’s pretty timely, considering the reason behind recent events. Key word: “Think”. I could be reading these damn lines wrong!

“Have you heard what they said on the news today?” / “Have you heard what is coming to us all?” / “That the world as we know it will be comin’ to and end” / “Have you heard? Have you heard?”

Lastly, I’ll bring up a very obscure band that has recently released a massive banger factory last year: Helion Prime. They are power metal, with lyrics influenced by real-world science. Question Everything, the aforementioned banger factory, is a phenomenal album and I highly recommend buying it to support them (and listening to it to). Since it’s Women’s History Month, I’ll include an excerpt from the track ‘Madame Mercury’, which is (probably?) a salute to computer programming pioneer Ada Lovelace. Or NASA engineer Katherine Johnson. Or… well, in this context, all that matters is that it’s about a woman!

“Let’s hear it for the human computer!” / “West area warrior!” / “Pillar of justice and honor” / “Madame Mercury is here to” / “Fight for the dream and” / “take her place in the race to go beyond” / “the stratosphere” / “the highest tier to space!” / “Hold your ground, take a look around” / “It’s in your right to ignite” / “The flame that fuels the mind” / “Do your best, and you will rise!”


Well, this is a conundrum. I, more-or-less, don’t like anything in the charts. Epica’s new album, Omega, is in the charts. However, I’m still playing catch-up with them and I don’t want to skip three whole albums just for this post (it’s called O.C.D., F.Y.I.). Fortunately, Sophie didn’t specify that the choice has to be in the CURRENT charts.

Thanks to Amaranthe’s Facebook page, I learned that their first ever single, ‘Hunger’, actually topped Swedish charts a little over ten years ago (I’m tempted to move to Sweden if their tastes are THAT good…). Compared to the beasts they are now, ‘Hunger’ shows signs of a young, feisty Amaranthe that was still trying to figure itself out. But hey, I still love it.


Honestly, I don’t have many, like, life-based memories associated with a song. I think the first time I heard Iron Maiden’s classic, ‘Run to the Hills’, was back when I made an attempt to have friends as a lad. I actually went to their house (which I would never do now, COVID or no COVID), and watched them play the hip new XBox game, Rock Band. ‘Run to the Hills’ was on there, and I thought it was a really good song. But thanks to me ol’ mum, I wouldn’t get to listen to Iron Maiden in earnest for twelve more years. That’s a lot of buildup for a band!


I hate singing. I don’t know about you, but I wanted to smash my face into a window whenever we had to sing Americana songs in music class in grade school. So, generally, no matter how much I like a song, I will never sing it. I’m also bad at memorizing lyrics to even my favoritest songs (in case you couldn’t tell from me not knowing what Oceans of Slumber’s ‘Pray for Fire’ is about). 

But if I can memorize lyrics, I tend to mumble them at times. Remember Ghost? Thanks to their combination of disco, metal, and the occult, I find their lyrics to be some of the easiest to commit to memory. But in case you couldn’t tell, not all of them should be sung in a public place. ‘From the Pinnacle to the Pit’ and ‘Rats’ are fine, but I would get exorcised on the spot if I dared break out into the chorus of ‘Monstrance Clock’.


Honestly, I tend to go into artists expecting to like them. However, there are some times where I liked something more than I thought I would. UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT! For instance, I kinda-sorta like the newer music of Evanescence more than their older stuff. I felt like they had the same angst as before, but with more class to it. I didn’t expect to like them at all, and the fact that I listened to the pre-released tracks for The Bitter Truth is… actually, I don’t know how I should feel about that.

Beyond that, though, I was legitimately bamboozled by In This Moment. The beauty of listening to bands in order is to see them change in a time-lapse-photography-y manner. I imagine most people started with Blood or Black Widow. But I went through their very normal-sounding first three albums first. And when I got to Blood’s titular track, I was hoodwinked. The change in style was one thing, but the other factor was that it sounded like a song from Slipknot, one of my least favorite bands of all time. Of course, since I brought up the lewd song with Brent Smith before, ‘Blood’ won’t exactly catch you off guard. Hooray, context sensitivity!


I can’t name an all-time favorite album! Aaaaaaah! I can’t even name several of my favorite albums, since this post would be double its current length. As such, I’ll just name my favorite album from one band I haven’t discussed at this point. 

The band in question is one of the most enduring (and still active) metal bands: Judas Priest. If metal was a religion, vocalist Rob Halford would be its god (since that’s, you know, his stage name). Since I’m me, my favorite album is not British Steel. No, it’s not Screaming for Vengeance

It’s their newest album, Firepower. 1990’s Painkiller was my favorite for several years, until I listened through all of Firepower. The album is, well, pretty much perfect. It’s classic Priest, but made with the experience one would gain by writing metal music for—at the time—forty-eight years. It’s too good for its own good! (F.Y.I. the below MV is of one of the tracks from the album since the titular track didn’t have one)


I hate music videos. “Hate” is not a word I use lightly. I think music videos are stupid, to be perfectly frank. I haven’t even watched a single MV that I’ve embedded up to this point (hope they actually worked). And I’m not judging something without the experience; I’ve watched a fair share of them. They weren’t so bad when they started out. It was a new field, and while they were stupid, they were corny enough to have a charm to them. But nowadays, with advancements in technology, they’re just as corny, but take themselves so much more seriously. We go from one half of the screen showing the performer and the other half being a sideways close-up of his lips, to the band performing in a warehouse while they spam particle effects and seizure-inducing jump cuts. And holy f***, don’t get me started on AC/DC’s ‘Realize’ video, where they decided to do the whole thing with a fisheye lens for some reason.

But in the spirit of the post, I tried to hastily come up with at least two remotely decent MVs to show. The first one is of ‘The Surprising’, one of the newer tracks from the classic hard rock band, Deep Purple. The video is done entirely in 2D animation, and I actually liked it. Although it reuses a lot of assets, it has a very interesting art style, and is chock full of references to the various album covers throughout their career. One of the best parts is that there really isn’t too much going on in it, unlike most music videos that hate people with epilepsy.

The other enjoyable video I found was another 2D animation: Disturbed’s cover of the Genesis hit, ‘Land of Confusion’. The artstyle is kind of “Don Bluth meets anime” and has a lot of that 2000s edge culture in it. It’s also “much more relevant today than it was then because I only pay attention to the media and politics at face value and none of the actually good things that happen in the world.” 


Conclusion

Wow, this was the longest tag I’ve ever done. At least I don’t have to tag eighty people; I can decide the amount. I tend to tag the same people over and over again, but I think I’ll give them a break. I’m going to tag some WordPress bloggers who are deeper in the metal hole than me!

…Is what I would say if I actually found ones that weren’t just news! I found two that consistently posted reviews, but other than that, I suppose I WILL be nominating the same people over and over again!

With all that said and done, it’s time for my first major hiatus! I’m taking a break from the Internet just to make sure that I do not get spoiled of the Attack on Titan manga finale next month, especially since it’s possible that the anime will actually end before the manga. My next post will be a review of Attack on Titan, so look forward to that!

Five Great Women in Metal in No Particular Order

It’s Women’s History Month once more, and every year, I am peeved at a very blatant bias regarding the specific women who are honored throughout the month. Sure, I get it’s Women’s HISTORY Month, and they have to prioritize, you know, HISTORICAL figures. But when it comes to this current generation of female entertainment figures, they always choose people like Taylor Swift, Alex Morgan, Beyoncé, etc.; all popular, inherently appealing, and mainstream. No thanks. In order to even the playing field, I’m going to give a shout-out to several women who aren’t so saintly. I’m talking about women in the most “manly” musical genre: metal. I might not be as powerful as, you know, the media, but hopefully one young girl who gets made fun of for not playing with Barbie dolls will read this and feel better about herself.

But before we start, I need to say some things regarding the content of the post. I only came up with the idea a couple days ago, so—to be brutally, brutally honest—this post will feel a bit rushed. It’s not as big of a deal, since I would be hard-pressed to research most of my entries, as they are from a more niche industry. Also, I would be expected to post pictures of each person as I introduce them. Well, I won’t be doing that for two reasons. The first reason is that I don’t know the copyright restrictions when it comes to official promotional photos versus, say, a post that they publish on their own social media accounts. And the second reason is that I personally don’t feel comfortable Google Image searching a single, living, breathing person. I know that they would expect such a thing, but as a grown man, I don’t want to come off as a stalker. Anyways, how about I stop beating around the bush and actually contribute already?!

Oh, and RiseFromAshes, you might just get a preview of what I’m going to write about in the Music and Me Tag that I’m going to post about next Saturday! Yipee!


Brittney Slayes

I’m starting off with someone who’s quickly become one of my favorite singers of all time. Brittney Slayes is the lead vocalist from Unleash the Archers, a power metal band from Canada. She’s so darn good, I’ve wondered if they digitally alter her voice (I’ve never seen them live, so…). Her voice goes so deep, I know men who sound more tenor than that! And when she shouts… hoo boy, it feels like a volcanic eruption! If you’re curious, check out Unleash the Archers for yourself!


Maria Brink

Before I go over Maria Brink, the vocalist of In This Moment, I need to discuss one of my least favorite singers of all time: Corey Taylor from Slipknot. In case you didn’t read my old rundown of several early 2000s bands, I shall reiterate that I think Taylor is a frat-boy in a middle-aged man’s body. His combination of angsty crooning, whiny shouting, and his attempts at sounding emotionally disturbed made me laugh more than anything.

By comparison, Maria Brink is more-or-less female Corey Taylor in the way she sings. And yet, I love her? She does everything Taylor can do, only better. I’m not even being Feminist. I just really love her singing, despite the fact that I shouldn’t. If you wanna know just how demonic she sounds, check out In This Moment. Just be forewarned that she doesn’t show her true colors until their fourth album, Blood.


Elize Ryd

Amaranthe seems to be one of those bands that’s wildly popular closer to where they’re from, and more-or-less unknown everywhere else. You probably don’t even know what Amaranthe is, which is perfectly legit (and that also implies you’re from the U.S. where they pretty much don’t exist). They are a Swedish metal band that incorporates pop elements in a way that somehow still sounds metal, and I love them.

Anyway, let’s actually talk about the actual person sometime this century. Since you are so likely to not know about Amaranthe, I must explain that they have three dedicated vocalists, all with different styles. And, well, there’s a good reason that Elize Ryd is the sole original vocalist left in the lineup. That woman basically has a party that erupts from her throat whenever she performs. Ryd is just an all-around great singer.


Simone Simons

I was hesitant to include Simone Simons from Epica. It’s not an issue of whether or not I admire her, but apparently, the band’s new album has placed in the top ten in charts from all over the world, even America. So clearly, Epica is popular enough as it is!

Well, gotta talk about popular stuff sometime (and also, she’s still less popular than a lot of women today). What makes Simons stand out in metal is that she doesn’t sing in a style suitable for the genre whatsoever; she sings opera-style. Despite this clash, her beautiful voice somehow suits the very metal style of Epica to a tee. In fact, I can’t imagine the band without her. Hooray for not having to be completely masculine in order to still be an empowered woman!


Sharon Osbourne

There’s a number of articles about great women in metal, so I had to throw a curveball to try and stand out from the rest (hopefully this is an actual curveball). As such, my last entry is Sharon Osbourne, a woman who is not a member in any metal band whatsoever. What makes her qualify for this post?

In case her surname didn’t catch your eye, I should inform you that Sharon is the wife of the legendary metal pioneer himself, Ozzy Osbourne. Anyone who has a vague idea of what Ozzy’s life has been like would know that Sharon was the most important person in his life. In fact, she more-or-less saved his life and his career. Her father owned Ozzy’s label at the time. However, her dad was a bit of an ass. And to quickly sum up, she basically flipped off her own father and became Ozzy’s support. He would not be alive if it weren’t for her. That’s a fact.


Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this hastily cobbled together post. I had fun writing it, and I kind of want to write another one next year. The problem is that while there are certainly more than enough women in metal—a lot of which get even less attention than the ones I wrote about—I only have so much time to juggle so many bands. In the off chance I try to make this a yearly tradition, I’d probably have to reduce the amount of people to three. I currently have enough left for a couple more years (double that if more than two members of Lovebites made their surnames public). I’d love some feedback on this post and whether or not you’d like to see more!

Ten Japanese Music Artists I Wish I Liked More

It’s been a while since I talked about J-pop stuff, mainly because my music tastes have changed a lot since last year. Over 99% of what I listen to is metal, and more than half of that consists of European artists. But even before then, there were a number of artists that I liked, but didn’t exactly love. I’ll go over them here because there’s a chance you might be more interested in them than me.


BURNOUT SYNDROMES

You might recognize the band known for three Haikyuu!! openings and one Dr. Stone opening (among others). They actually have a very long career. Their opening songs tend to be very mainstream-y pop rock, but they actually have a good amount of weird avant garde stuff. A lot of their deep cuts are very different from one another, and tend to be better than stuff like ‘Fly High!’. The problem with them is that they’re very outclassed. Bands like Mili are better on the experimental end, while a lot of other bands are just better from a musical standpoint. Once in a while, I’ll throw them on, but they are pretty forgettable overall.


Passcode

This was the first artist I listened to when I got into music streaming. They were also my first impression of the death metal growl style of singing (even though they are not a real death metal band). Passcode is a more electronic take on the same idea pioneered by BABYMETAL: idol pop crap fused with metal. For starters, their album covers are really cool (especially 2020’s Strive), plus, they’re just straight-up better than BABYMETAL.

Unfortunately, the inherent issues of idol pop mar Passcode by quite a lot. The songs are great, but tend to blur together, and are honestly quite forgettable. They’re only enjoyable in the actual moment you’re listening to them (at least to me), but there are so many better bands than them. 

Ultimately, the one band that made me fall out of Passcode ended up being one that fused metal with Western pop: Amaranthe, from Sweden. Their music is better and more memorable, and they also have three distinct vocalists who are really easy to identify. I don’t know how BABYMETAL is more popular since Amaranthe even predates them by three years. Oh well, that’s just how it is in this world!


Memai Siren

This band is so mysterious that they don’t even post photos of their members. Memai Siren is a bizarrely melancholy and chill hard rock band with some cool, edgy album cover art. They also have some prog elements, with most of their releases starting out with trippy instrumentals. 

Honestly, that’s about it. Their vocalist has a unique voice, but yeah… this is another case of bands outclassing Memai Siren. Again, Mili does the bizarro stuff way better, and there’s definitely better hard rock out there. In any case, most of Memai Siren’s discography consists of EPs, so it won’t take too long to give them a gander if you’re curious.


Queen Bee

Even though I borderline stopped enjoying Queen Bee, there are some things that do earn mad respect points from me. First off, they have phenomenal fashion sense. Second off, they have a great logo. And most importantly, their vocalist, known simply as Avu-chan, is one of my favorites in Japan. Avu can go from Prince-level high pitched to an almost death-metal-like growl (unless there’s two separate people, but hey, researching these obscure bands is next to impossible, okay?). Those opinions remain unchanged.

However, the band’s music didn’t exactly move me. A lot of their older stuff is very late-60s-ish, “what the f*** are these people on?” hard rock, which is very good, even as someone who doesn’t really like the late 60s. But after a while, the band essentially moves toward a jazzier sound. And as someone who doesn’t like jazz, well… let’s say that not even Avu could make me enjoy it.


UVERworld

You must be screaming at me by now. “No,” you reply, “since the post is ‘Japanese Music Artists you wish you liked more’, that obviously just means that UVERworld is so banger, that the human mind is incapable of giving them the love they deserve.” Sorry, but that’s not true. Like the others, I wish I liked them more, but I don’t. The band known for Bleach‘s ‘D-Techno Life’, My Hero Academia‘s ‘Odd Future’, and The Promised Neverland‘s ‘Touch Off’ (among many others) is just straight-up not that great.

But I didn’t “wish” I liked them for nothing. Since licensing older bands sucks, I only have access to their newer stuff, where they employ a unique, synth-heavy blend of jazz, rock, and rap. The songs I mentioned before are actually very good, and somewhat deserve their recognition in the anime community. However, that’s about it. I’ve listened to a couple of their albums all the way through and was more-or-less underwhelmed. For me to really like an artist, they must have a good number of enjoyable deep cuts as well as hits. UVERworld simply doesn’t have good enough deep cuts.


Ironbunny

They aren’t just called Ironbunny, but their guitarist—and mascot—is a tokusatsu-looking cosplayer named Edie. Coincidence? I THINK NOT! If it wasn’t obvious, Ironbunny is a relatively new hard rock band with heavy influences off of classic rock and metal (hence the obvious Iron Maiden reference in their imagery). 

Overall, the music is pretty darn good. The reason why I fell off of them is because one of their members had to leave due to health issues and… that’s it. The band seems to be part of some radio show or something, hosting other rock and metal figures in Japan, but they haven’t released anything new following the departure of that person. But honestly, they’re outclassed even in the case of their best stuff.


King Gnu

This might make some Asian readers mad, because it seems like King Gnu is significantly more popular in Japan than anywhere else. I listened to their first three albums, up to their chart-topping record, Ceremony. King Gnu is a weird combination of rock, hip-hop, and jazz that I can at least respect from a creative standpoint. Unfortunately, a lot of them leaned toward “catchy pop crap”, ultimately making me lose interest in the band.

As a side note, vocalist Daiki Tsuneta also has another band called millennium parade (lowercase is actually part of the official name). They would be well-known for ‘Fly With Me’, but it ended up being the OP for Ghost in the Shell S.A.C._2045, which nobody liked, so… yeah. millennium parade has the same style as King Gnu, but with more electronic and prog elements. Overall, I liked them better, but they only had four singles when I tried to get into them, and I just couldn’t commit so early on. They have since released their debut album, The Millennium Parade, so I might try to get back into them if I could squeeze them in.


Flow

Time for some anger! Yep, Flow, the band known for everyone’s two favorite Naruto openings, among other things that don’t come to my recollection, is on this list! To be honest, this entry is pretty much identical to UVERworld, but kinda worse. My first attempt to get into them was through a greatest hits album, and even then, there were tracks I found forgettable. I respect them for being a no-gimmick, old-time rock n’ roll band, but as someone who doesn’t like that kind of music in general, they were not doing it for me.


ORESAMA

These guys have done a bunch of anime openings… for stuff that you’ve probably never heard of. In fact, they might be more popular in J-Pop than anime, at least over here in ‘Merica. ORESAMA employs a unique style of bubblegum pop that’s both upbeat and chill at the same time. They’re perfect for perking up after a crappy day at work. Obviously, given the fact that they’re a pop group, I fell off of them overtime. It’s a shame, because even with my metal-headed-ness, I find myself missing them. However, at this time, I just don’t miss them enough.


ONE OK ROCK

I gotta end with the one that’s most likely to make you angry. ONE OK ROCK was one of the first non-anime Japanese artists I ever tried to get into. Key word: “tried” 

In any case, I do like their older stuff. I listened to those albums all the way through and they were great. However, they seemed to gradually move toward a poppier, boy-band-ish artist with their newer stuff. ‘We Are’ is good, but that’s about it when it comes to their power ballad stuff. I didn’t even finish 2019’s Eye of the Storm because all the songs sounded like pop crap. And to rub salt in the wound, a lot of the metal I’ve been getting into greatly eclipses ONE OK ROCK at its best, so yeah. 


Conclusion

Well, that’s that. I wish I liked these guys more, but I don’t, and that’s how it is. Like I said before, you’ll probably enjoy any of these bands more than me (especially ONE OK ROCK). Please feel free to leave a comment as to how vehemently you disagree with my sizzling hot takes!

Peer Pressure Tag

Well, this is amazing timing for two reasons: 1) I was really running out of blog posts, and 2) I had actually written a whole rant revolving around this very topic! In any case, RiseFromAshes tagged me with this very relatable… er… well, it’s not really an award. It’s more like… the opposite. Anyway, let’s go over the rules!

Rules

  • Link back to the creator, which is Random Thoughts of My Fandoms.
  • Provide a link to the person who tagged you.
  • Answer all questions honestly
  • Come up with 5 questions of your own. (4 have to be about peer pressure; 1 can be random and about whatever)
  • Tag at least 10 people and provide links to their blogs. Please no “you!”
  • Recommend at least 5 books or songs you see everywhere/are very popular that you’ve read or listened to.
  • Use the hashtag #peer pressure tag for easier visibility

This first part was confusing, because it looks like you actually have to answer five preset questions in addition to the custom questions asked by the person who tagged you. The rules don’t say “answer the default questions first”, so I’m going with my gut here. Speaking of going with my gut, that’s how I’m going to go about answering the questions!

Questions 

  1. Have you ever done anything because you were scared you’d be missing out? (FOMO)

I’ve got no idea what that acronym means because, in case you’re new to my blog, I’m an uncultured swine! That’s exactly why I’m such an interesting recipient of this tag, not to toot my own horn. In any case, I never did anything because I feared I would miss out. I didn’t care about prom or nothing, folks.

  1. Do you often do things just because your friends or someone close to you is doing it? 

This I haven’t caved yet, but damn, have I been tempted. I watch a lot of people on YouTube, and since I choose to have no friends, those YouTubers are the closest I’ve got to being close to someone outside my family. They have vastly different tastes from me, a lot of which lean toward the mainstream. It’s really hard to watch their videos at times.

  1. Have you ever felt uneasy about giving your opinion simply because it would be unpopular?

Well, yeah. However, I have my blog that’s chock full of unpopular opinions. The good thing about WordPress is that it seems pretty low in toxicity. If I dared Tweet something like “#Gloryhammer slaps, dawg”, I would likely get a negative response (but that’s also the Internet in general). I’ve also heard horror stories of K-Pop fans somehow being able to end careers, but luckily for me, I haven’t witnessed it for myself.

  1. Do you ever find yourself running away from popular things because you don’t want to be labelled as “basic?”

Honestly, I’m not afraid of being labeled as “basic.” I’m afraid of not being labeled as a human. I tend to proudly proclaim the fact that I’m an uncultured swine, but it’s really a front so that I can pretend like it’s okay to be one. 

  1. (Random question) What’s your dream job?

I’m doing it.

Rise’s Questions:

  1. What’s the best result you’ve had from doing something because of peer pressure? (I.E. made new friends, discovered a new TV show, etc)

The following answer doesn’t even count as peer pressure, but there’s no other example that comes to memory. Like, eight years ago, someone I had tried to be friends with made an offhand comment about how much they loved Disturbed. That ended up being why I tried the band last year, and I love them too. That’s not peer pressure, I know, and I probably would’ve tried Disturbed if they had shown up in my recommendations on Apple Music. But I’m gonna be honest, I don’t have peers to pressure me.

  1. What’s the worst result you’ve had from doing something because of peer pressure? (If it’s really bad, skip this.)

My mom made me attend the graduation ceremony from vocational school. It made me miserable and anxious. 

  1. During your time online, blogging or not, what’s the best case of peer pressure going well that you’ve seen/experienced?

I’m sorry, but I have no recollection of such a thing.

  1. If you have a funny story involving peer pressure, can you share it here? (If not, give advice on dealing with peer pressure)

I don’t have a funny story. So, as per the rules, here’s advice: Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life. I recommend getting into metal, because that genre embodies not caring if you’re accepted by society. But honestly, any music is good, as long as it helps.

  1. (Random question) What is a video that lives in your head rent free? Link it in this post.

The community of YouTubers that I follow has been doing a yearly charity stream since 2018. And of all the segments of all the streams up to this point, a particular segment from last year’s stream is pretty special. It’s three hours long, so make sure you have popcorn.

Tags (Why do these posts demand so many?!):

Questions for the Tagees:

  1. Do you frequently consume media for acceptance in a community?
  2. What do you do if a close friend is really adamant about making you read/watch/listen to something they like, even though they know you don’t, but they’re making you do it anyway because fwiendship?
  3. Have you ever been peer pressured into voting against your will? If you voluntarily enjoy voting, then give advice on how to deal with peer pressure.
  4. Have you consumed media because a celebrity made a positive offhand remark about it?
  5. (Random Question) This sort of counts as peer pressure but not really… Anyway, do you feel like you are obligated to consume media by diverse people because you’re afraid of being called a racist by toxic P.C. people? I don’t know how bad it is outside of the U.S., though…

Recommendations: I was stumped with this part. My first answer was the five books of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, since they are mainstream books that I enjoyed as a preteen. But honestly, with how consistently disappointed I’ve been with the books published under the Rick Riordan Presents imprint (and the later Trials of Apollo books), I question if Percy Jackson was ever that good. Fortunately, I still have a good record of loving Disney movies, but movies aren’t allowed in the rules! As such, I’m just going to put Disney songs as recommendations, since I actually listen to them casually.

  • Let It Go
  • Show Yourself
  • Friends on the Other Side
  • Under the Sea
  • Be Our Guest

I Risked My Life to Watch Earwig and the Witch! Was It Worth It?

As someone who suffers from anxiety and an inherent fear of physical contact, and as someone who follows a number of public figures who think COVID is the threat that the media says it is, I was—and am—a nervous wreck. Even at this point where people are just tired of it, I’m still scared for my life. I was forced to see Studio Ghibli’s Earwig and the Witch in theatres (since my family doesn’t have HBOMax) as a way for me to face my fears, and I truly did feel afraid for my life. Was I able to enjoy the movie despite all that was going through my head? Also, is the movie itself enjoyable? That’s the more important question! Oh, and of course, I never read the source novel for it!

In Earwig and the Witch, the titular Earwig (a.k.a. Ayatsuru if you like subbed) is left at an orphanage. After living most of her young life there, she is adopted by the titular witch, Bella Yaga. Since she’s empowered and all that, Earwig is determined to own her new home.

Let’s not beat around the bush. This is Ghibli’s first CG movie, and I wanna talk about the CG. It’s not Pixar to where they individually rig every single hair follicle, but everything else checks out. The lighting is good, the style is faithful to 2D animation while still being 3D, and the characters are very emotive. It’s not perfect, but it’s at least better than some of the horrid TV anime CG.

Sadly, that’s really all that makes this stand out from Ghibli’s filmography. Well, I say “sadly” as if it’s a bad thing. Ghibli sets a high standard for Japanese animation for a reason, after all. Earwig is full of the same charm and homeliness you’d expect out of My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. It’s simple, to the point, and has a lot of wholesome charm.

Unfortunately, this also means Earwig has the same problems as most Ghibli flicks. The pacing is abysmally slow, despite its short length. It’s also structured like most Ghibli movies, to where more than half of the core narrative isn’t tackled until the last ten percent of the runtime. A lot is also left up to interpretation, assuming Ghibli even bothered to leave subtle clues in the first place.

The cast consists of four main characters, and literally no one else. Earwig is an unusual subversion of characters of her ilk; she enjoyed her life at the orphanage, and is incredibly headstrong and feisty when at the receiving end of Bella Yaga’s… er… parenting. As someone who tends to like control freak types, I was initially drawn to Earwig’s character arc. But with this being a family-friendly coming-of-age story, I’d thought they’d try to give her a redemption arc, which ends up not happening. Her adoptive mother, Bella Yaga, has a fetish with worms, but other than that, she’s your typical lousy foster parent character. 

Also living in the same house is Thomas, a black cat who tries to be comic mischief (key word: “tries”). The movie’s tragic hero is the owner of the house, known only as the Mandrake. He comes off as super sketchy, but different elements about him are organically divulged over the course of the movie, making him the most complete-feeling of the cast.

In a completely spoiler-free manner, I warn you about the ending. Honestly, we [the anime community] have seen this often enough to know that it’s just Ghibli being Ghibli.  Even the ones that aren’t as, well, Earwig-ish, have left me with a sense of… lack of accomplishment. I dunno, maybe it’s the uncultured swine in me talking. 

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 7.15/10

To be brutally honest, the fact that Earwig and the Witch is CG is the only incentive to watch it. It is bog standard Ghibli in every other sense, and it’s still outclassed by stuff like Spirited Away and Kaguya. I’d only recommend it to diehard fans of Ghibli and the art of animation itself.

I Miss Hard Science Fiction: A Rant

Honestly, I don’t even know if I wanna post this, but it’s something that’s bothered me for a couple of years and I wanted to get off my chest. If you’re familiar with my other rants, you’d know that I had very different tastes back when I was a teenager. I was SO edgy, I did things that not even edgy kids did. For music, I only listened to classic rock. For movies, I only watched old movies; from classics like Dead Poets Society to freaking Spellbound (which is a boring slog that’s only any good in the climax). And for books… I read hard science fiction. 

Hard? Haha, like a—

I know it’s a euphemism, but hard science fiction is a genre. Think of popular science fiction like Star Wars. Epic battles, witty dialogue, memorable characters, spectacular spectacle… Now, think of the opposite of all that; think of Star Wars’ rival older cousin, Star Trek. Slow pacing, tons of dialogue, tackling some very difficult ethical issues… That is hard science fiction. 

As implied by the title, hard science fiction is meant to read like a history book of the future. And also implied by the title, it’s difficult. Perhaps more difficult than any genre to comprehend. They really pour everything into trying to make their worlds as immersive as possible, and it’s a damn undertaking. Tolkein was impressive enough with his Middle Earth. But hard SF authors had to do the same thing, only with multiple star systems, each with as much history as Middle Earth itself. Most adults would have a hard time reading it, and as a teenager, well… Results varied.

Greg Bear

Okay, so, technically, my first hard SF novel was Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But, well, that one is just technically a satire and definitely not meant to read like a future history (right?). However, when I first bought it, I saw some books by a Greg Bear next to it. And, well, after finishing Hitchhiker’s (and almost having my brain fall out), I tried out some good ol’ Bear. You saw the last two words of the previous passage, right?

The first novel of his I read was called Darwin’s Radio. The premise was simple.: Sscientists discover ancient cave drawings (or something) that show that mankind has been slowly evolving into a new species. There was a lot of dialogue, a lot of which was just buildup to the revelation that mankind has been evolving in the first place (oops, spoilers).

As expected, racism is the immediate public response (side note: one of my most distinct memories is Bear actually writing in dialogue from a certain someone who I can’t name because he was a celebrity until people realized he was a rapist. But it’s still funny how it makes the novel dated due to whom Bear chose). This isn’t “racism” as we know it today; unlike people with other ethnicities, this is a legit new species. And another curveball is that mankind had a decent basis to become racist. Due to how evolution and natural selection works, Homo sapien was essentially going to go extinct due to this new species, and thus they respond in fear, which is expressed in the form of racism. 

I remember being both bored and engaged with the novel at the same time. It was weird, but I loved it. There was also a sequel, Darwin’s Children, but all I remember is that there’s some kind of concentration camp for kids of the new species and it’s supposed to make us, the readers, angry that they’re being treated that way. One big issue with both novels is that they had incredibly loose endings. To this day, I have no idea if Bear wrote a third book (or if he even still writes). 

The Bear doesn’t stop there! I was hooked enough on his writing prowess to read a rather thick standalone novel: The City at the End of Time. This book went places. What I remember most is that there were these people who had these emblems and had to stop… something from happening. It was nonsense for the sake of nonsense, from the objects getting folded and crumpled into incomprehensible shapes, to cats guiding some guy through some weird castle. Beautifully written, but with no purpose nor meaning. After this, I would read several pretty lackluster standalones from Bear, and then…

I read Queen of Angels. A lot of positive reviews consider this his best novel, and I definitely agree. It had two different plots going on at once. Half of the book focused on this old guy (that I remember picturing as Jerry Stiller for some reason) who was supposed to investigate a murder, which would eventually involve entering the accused’s consciousness, and the other half was about some other guy who had to help an A.I. attain sentience. It was an amazing mess, with themes focusing on mental health and what constituted as being sane in the first place. It iconically ends with an entire page of I’s spelling out a giant capital I. Hilariously enough, it’s actually part one (or even part two) of a four-book series, and I didn’t know that because it ended so loosely, like all of Bear’s other books. I have not read Queen of Angel’s sequels to this day.

Kevin J. Anderson and Stephen Baxter

I was mixed towards Greg Bear. Afterwards, I would try to read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and fail spectacularly. It was too large in scope for me to handle, and I have always wanted to re-attempt at reading it to completion someday. However, after having given up the ghost with Foundation at the time, Kevin J. Anderson and Stephen Baxter would help hook me on hard SF.

Anderson writes books closer to Star Wars in pacing and action, but with more hard SF scope and mind-bending concepts. His epic series, Saga of the Seven Suns, was the first long book series I was able to read to completion (yes, before Harry Potter), and I remember it being great. I also read the much more recent sequel trilogy, Saga of Shadows, but I don’t recall it being as good.

If Anderson was the weak attack that staggered me, Stephen Baxter was the heavy finishing blow. I only read two novels from him, but they were bangers. I forgot their names, but I definitely didn’t forget what they were about. In one, the main character is trying to find his missing ex (or something), and stumbles upon a secret cult of women who have lived underground for so long that they evolved into an entirely different species. The other one is supposed to have been that book’s sequel, even though it’s set about a million years in the future, and involves some guy who needs to fight aliens… of some kind. Baxter wrote a lot of wild stuff, but my library decided not to stock them. He would’ve become one of my favorites if I had more access to his bibliography.

Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton

Now I was getting into the good stuff! I recall Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton being real good at incorporating crazy ideas in ways that were relatively easy to comprehend thanks to their writing prowess. Their novels felt like narratives, and not history books. 

My library had a lot of stuff from Reynolds in particular, so I was more familiar with his works. He was definitely the more imaginative of the two authors discussed in this section. To list off a few examples, Reynolds’ novels include but are not limited to: a disease that fuses people with nearby machines, a mad scientist plan of reversing a planet’s rotation, someone getting cut into 150 individual pieces while still being alive (sort of like Law in One Piece), and some alien race’s simulation of an alternate 1950s where WWII never happened, which was also infested with mutant five-year-olds for some reason. 

Peter F. Hamilton is a guy who thinks big. He’s written a lot of books set in various eras of his fictional Commonwealth world. I mainly read the Void Trilogy. It was… complicated, but I remember it being about this guy who dreamt of a parallel dimension where some wizard boy is supposed to do… something. There was also some android girl being chased by an assassin, maybe? I always wanted to read his gigantic Night’s Dawn Trilogy. But since I have this blog, and that series is about 4,000 pages in total, I think I will not be able to fulfill that desire.

Kim Stanley Robinson

Things got iffy again with Kim Stanley Robinson. From a literary standpoint, his books are absolutely phenomenal (at least out of the ones I read). They are among the most realistic-feeling science fiction novels I’ve experienced. He’s most known for the Mars trilogy, which is an incredibly well-thought out epic showcasing mankind’s colonization of Mars. It felt so real it was like reading an actual history book from the future.

But given what I think about realism, Robinson’s books didn’t do it for me. They were so real, so human, so grounded in reality, that I couldn’t get emotionally invested. I just don’t like people very much, and the characters all felt like people. Also, the hypothetical politics regarding things like preserving the natural beauty of Mars, to a parallel of the United States declaring independence from Britain, felt so real that I hated them as much as regular politics. If you can get into this guy’s stuff, then you’re a lucky duck.

Ending on a Great Note

I read one or two books by several people for a while, all with varying degrees of success. The last hard SF media I’d consume would be the best of all of those previously discussed. It was written by Cixin Liu, a Chinese SF author. I know, controversial little China.

Yep, I’m talking about the Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy, better known by the individual novels: The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End. THIS was a thing! Remembrance of Earth’s Past is a simple first contact story, but with none of the tropes and all of the innovation. It begins when a Famicom-style adventure game is released, and is meant to test people on how to solve the titular Three-Body Problem. Those who solve it are roped into a secret first contact cover-up that ends up being publicly revealed anyway (I forgot exactly how). I will be spoiling the rest of the trilogy from here!

It starts off slow, but gets REAL crazy. In the second volume, the aliens have more-or-less announced their presence, and the government—in desperation—assigns five random people, offering all the resources that can be provided to stop the aliens. These people cannot actually communicate what they come up with, or else the aliens will know. Almost every single person comes up with something unethical, like destroying or brainwashing humanity along with the aliens. The one guy who spends most of his money on a summer home with his girlfriend (I think he actually bought the girlfriend too I.I.R.C.) comes up with the best solution. The basis for the solution is the Dark Forest theory, which I think deserves to be recognized as the best hard SF theory since Asimov’s Laws of Robotics. From what I recall, the Dark Forest states that all civilizations are hunters in a dark forest; they try to keep themselves hidden, and indiscriminately pick off any sign of life they see. In galactic terms, this means that aliens will not attempt first contact in the grandiose way you see in movies; no, they will fire a probe and end it stealthily. No peace, no war. The guy’s solution is a thing that will alert other aliens to Earth’s existence, which will scare off the current aliens, but doom mankind.

It’s cynical, and if you’ve read a lot of my blog, you’d know how I feel about cynicism. However, Liu does cynicism in a way that’s almost beautiful, and Death’s End shows it. It does start off confusing at first, because its main protagonist is a diplomat sent to the aliens during the events of The Three-Body Problem. All this time, he’s been schmoozing the aliens. But in the meantime, the aliens have pulled a 2112 and assumed control over humanity. A butt-ton of the human race gets killed off (by androids or something), and it’s at this point that the Dark Forest Flaregun thing is used. After a series of reality-bending events, we learn that the weapons that various alien civilizations have been using on each other have been slowly reducing the universe to nothing, one dimension at a time. Again, it’s cynical, but beautiful. This is hard SF at its finest. You should be able to see why I miss this genre so much. 

But… Do I Really Miss It?

I’ve been thinking of getting back into hard SF. But at the same time, I don’t know if I can. Since finishing Liu’s books, I have become fully immersed in the otaku world of manga and light novels, while also focusing on kids’ and teens’ literature in general. 

As an example, I already made an attempt to return to the genre as recently as 2019. I read the self-titled opener of Peter F. Hamilton’s newest series, Salvation, only a few months after it came out. I did not like it. It started out with your usual premise: aliens send spies to live among humans, yadda-yadda-yadda, and some ship crashes in Antarctica or something. I know that setup is a thing, but Salvation is 99% the backstories of the main characters with 1% alien intrigue, and only two of the characters’ stories are actually plot relevant I.I.R.C.! The reviews on GoodReads were smarter than usual, and they mostly checked out positive. As such, I blamed myself. I was dumbed down by otaku culture, and could no longer enjoy hard SF. I no doubt would have loved it if I had read it as a teen, but ironically, I didn’t love it as an adult.

The way I look at things from a writing perspective has changed. I attribute long bits of dialogue as infodumping, for example. I’ll criticize lack of action, too. Also, ever since reading stuff like Monogatari, I probably would attribute any themes explored in hard SF as pretentious bullcrap. But most importantly, I have realized that those books contained an excessive amount of… sex. People say ecchi is bad, but there’s entire markets here in the good ol’ US of A that revolve around sex. I hate confessing this, but, er… this is how I first learned about the process. It wasn’t like watching “that video” in health class, but it was pretty close. I recalled not being disgusted as much as confused.

But there is one glimmer of hope, that I probably shouldn’t bother hoping for, and that is the impossible union of hard SF scope with the youth and accessibility of children’s media. As far as I know, it has been attempted thrice. The first time is the famous Time Quintet, starting with the iconic A Wrinkle in Time. It’s kind of… something. While the application of hard science is good enough, it has some of the usual bullcrap. The main protagonist, Charles Wallace, is one of those “special-for-no-reason” characters, and good ol’ nakama power ends up winning the day. Other than that, there’s the usual ham-fisted commentaries against Communism that show that the author grew up during the Red Scare. I think the series has aged relatively poorly, overall.

However, the glimmer of hope shown once more in two obscure and modern series, the first of which is called Randoms. It was a trilogy that started off like a typical wish-fulfilment fantasy, but ends up going into Star Wars Episode I-levels of space politics. I was very interested, but a lot of very arbitrary and forced drama scenes would come up starting in the second book and make me really livid. I actually haven’t finished the series, but since book three is the shortest, I might just push myself for the sake of discussing it in more detail.

There was also hope in The Chronicle of the Dark Star Trilogy. I read this one to completion only a few months before starting this blog. It had scope, it had hard science, it had youth, it had ethical quandaries; this one was a winner! It handled the ideas of time travel and multiple universes in ways that made it easy for kids to grasp. It only had two problems, the first of which was that the main protagonist was just as special as Charles Wallace (the characters literally say stuff like “Wow, you’re the only human who can time travel without exploding!” and it never gets explained). I also did not like how the series resolved. In the final book, the plot basically becomes a Star Trek episode, where the characters find this weird thing, and endlessly discuss how weird the thing is. In the climax, it ends up being almost a clone of the climax of Wrinkle. And similar to that, the main character ham-fists those American values of “individuality is more important than survival of the whole race!”, and leaves no room for debate nor interpretation. And of course, everything ends happily for all those involved. This could’ve been something to raise ethical debates, but like in The Giver and Arc of a Scythe, it reinforces the same viewpoints that readers have grown to understand instead of making them question those viewpoints. I know of no other hard SF series for young’uns, and if there are any, tell me in the comments!

In conclusion, I—to this day—have no idea if I want to try hard SF ever again. It takes me all of my free time just to keep up with manga and light novels, even after I get more gung-ho with DNF’ing stuff. This is something that will haunt me to my dying day, that’s for sure. In any case, if you’ve made it here, you’re amazing! If you’d like, leave a comment on your sci-fi experiences and tell me if there’s anything in this ballpark you’d recommend.

Dual Alter World Continues to be One of Japan’s Most Underrated Prog-Metal Bands with their World Distonation EP

One of my first posts ever was introducing three new voices in Japanese music from 2019, with a very underrated metal duo aptly named Dual Alter World being one of them. Personally, I’ve changed a lot since that post; I cringe at having been a Queensrÿche OG lineup purist, now that I’ve grown to like the current lineup in its own way (which is why I’m NOT posting a link to the old post *shivers*). Also, Dual Alter World really isn’t that much like Queensrÿche. My tastes have expanded so much since then, that I now have a better idea of how to describe their style. So now, let me rectify what I said before by reviewing their new EP, World Distonation.

For those who don’t know what this band is (which you probably don’t because these bands don’t like marketing), Dual Alter World (henceforth known as DAW) is kind of a poppy prog-metal band that formed in Japan in 2019. I don’t know much about the members’ backgrounds, except that lead vocalist Kotori Koiwai is a voice actor, and the guitarist—simply named Ryu—is a veteran of the trade, having been in a band called Blood Stain Child, which dates back to the 1990s. DAW’s debut album, Alter Ego, was a concept album about an android (I think?) and it was actually really good and underrated. Think of Amaranthe meets Dream Theater and you’ll sort of get an idea of what DAW is like.

World Distonation has the same electronic metal style as before, but more refined. It also seems that the weird “futuristic record scratch” synth effect (whatever it’s called) is going to become a staple sound in their music. There is still that poppiness in their choruses, but the vibe is way more prog this time. They even went as far as to hire other voice actors to narrate and sing with Koiwai. I don’t know all of them, but people would definitely recognize Asami Imai, the voice of Best Girl Kurisu from Steins;Gate.

I really can’t say much more, other than World Distonation is really good, even more so than Alter Ego. Not only do you have your usual narration tracks, but they also have narrated bits at points in the actual songs. I have no idea who has the creative input here, but whoever it is knows what they’re doing. They’ve really been going all-out. 

It’s just a real shame that they don’t seem to be that big, even by “under the radar” standards. For starters, the official hashtag for them cannot be typed on a non-Japanese keyboard; it’s in hiragana, followed by the letters DAW. I know most Japanese labels don’t seek out international fans, but that’s just excessive. Also, the fact that this is probably a side project means that I have no idea how long it’ll last. From what I could glean of both members’ social media, they seem to act like DAW doesn’t even exist until a new release is announced. This could be their last album, or just the beginning; that’s the risk with following a young band like this.

Another big issue that only pertains to non-Japanese fans is the language. Normally, music itself is universal and transcends language. However, DAW’s albums aren’t just both concept albums, but possibly part of a linear story; the only other bands I know that do that are Gloryhammer and Dark Sarah. Concept albums are very heavily reliant on the lyrics, and without being able to know what they’re saying, DAW becomes a very hard sell. 

Overall, if you can at least appreciate the effort they put in, World Distonation is an incredible EP. Dual Alter World is a great little band that doesn’t get the traction it deserves, and probably never will. If they were more popular, there could even be an anime adaptation based off these albums (as if adaptations of concept albums have never failed before). I recommend checking them out, especially if you can fluently understand Japanese.