Some Old-School Prog for a New Year: Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen — Self-Titled Album Review

Part of being neck-deep in the metal hole is an obligation to look into new artists as they appear. Well, in this particular case, I wouldn’t call Esa Holopainen a new artist, but this solo project of his, Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen, is new. Plus, it’s my first time ever hearing of Holopainen himself, so he’s new from my perspective. Anyway, I think I’ve said a number of times that most dedicated metal bloggers only cover the extreme, underground stuff (and the rare time I’ve delved into those subgenres, it’s with bands that they DON’T cover). So yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if the amount of reviews of Silver Lake’s self-titled debut album can be counted on one hand.

According to the Internets, Esa Holopainen is the guitarist of Finnish prog-metal band Amorphis… which have been around about as long as Dream Theater. Cool. Well, I only JUST caught up with Dream Theater, so… Sorry, I’m sure Amorphis is great, but my hands are tied by the march of time. Anyway, I don’t know much about this Silver Lake project other than that Holopainen, well, decided to do it. An interview with him I read on Nuclear Blast Records’ website said that this side project of his might be a one-and-done deal, although he has also considered following it up. Well, if it is a standalone album, then that saves me time in the long run!

The artwork doesn’t look too impressive at first; after all, it’s just a posterized photo of—surprise, surprise—a silver lake, with the project’s name smack dab in the middle like a perfect Pokémon Snap picture. But for some reason, I dunno… something spoke to me about it. It’s very much in the spirit of old-school prog, and that choice of font style for the name is beautiful. Props to whoever designed that.

Silver Lake starts with a three-minute acoustic intro track. Yep, that’s prog alright! It’s melancholy, and weirdly beautiful, a perfect lead-in to an equally melancholy song called ‘Sentiment’. Well… that’s more-or-less how the whole album goes. Overall, it’s a very strange record.

I know it sounds like hyperbole to say that “every song on an album is different”; even I’m willing to admit that a lot of my favorite bands merely expand on an established formula as opposed to breaking it completely. Silver Lake, however, really makes every song stand out. There’s the aforementioned acoustic track, along with whimsical yet epic ballads (such as the MV embedded below), a track that’s just powerful riffs playing over some guy narrating, and even a track with death growling. 

What helps is the wealth of vocalists who perform in this album. I have no idea who any of them are, but they all end up being more than talented enough for Silver Lake. The lyrics, however, I cannot decipher to save my life. In fact, I don’t even know if this is actually a concept album or not. 

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 8.85/10

The only real flaw with Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen is the possibility that this really is a one-off project. While not album of the year to me, this is a hidden gem that gives classic prog that modern pizzaz. I recommend it if you’re someone with super eclectic taste.

Take a Drink Every Time I Compare This Band to Sojourner: Stormruler — Under the Burning Eclipse Album Review

I have a story about the subgenres of black and death metal. To sum up, I tried Behemoth (who are both subgenres at once), who—hot take—I didn’t enjoy. But then, I found out that Christopher Bowes’ new band Wizardthrone would be a death metal band, and I would be inspired to try some black metal to get myself wanting to try Wizardthrone. I tried Sojourner before this band, and I actually really liked it. Unfortunately, they were bizarrely soothing, and not a good gateway to the super extreme stuff. Meanwhile, I had some interest in the brand new black metal band, Stormruler, most of which is the fact that they’re signed to Napalm Records, who have a great taste in bands. So yeah, if you’re reading this review of Under the Burning Eclipse, then that means I at least liked Stormruler enough. 

The hardest part of reviewing these bands is knowing enough about them to even post an overview of who they are! I’m starting to consistently listen to bands that don’t have Wikipedia pages. Thank Facebook (even if their page is unverified)! Stormruler consists of Jesse Schobel and Jason Asberry, straight from the U.S. of A. They’ve been in so many bands before Stormuler, that you can literally say that the lineup features members from three or more bands; more than the amount of members! 

Most black metal album covers look so intentionally fuzzy that I can barely define what’s on them. Sojourner subverts that trope, but Stormruler is more keeping in tradition. Fortunately, it’s not to the point that I can’t identify the artwork, and Under the Burning Eclipse has some great artwork. Simply put, it’s a badass knight on a… lizard? Horse? Lizard-horse? Well, whatever it is, it’s cool looking.

Upon starting the album, it is readily apparent that Stormruler and Sojourner are absolutely nothing alike. That does mean, however, that Stormruler is—at the very least—the band I needed to train me for Wizardthrone. They’re faster and do not incorporate clean vocals nor woodwind instruments like Sojourner does. But then comes the million dollar question: who is more accurate to black metal? The Wikipedia page for the subgenre mentions fast tempos and atmospheres, but Stormuler and Sojourner only check out for the former and latter respectively. Subgenres, man. SUBGENRES.

Rant aside, Under the Burning Eclipse is… a record? I figured that black metal is supposed to have intentionally bad sound mixing, but this has REALLY bad sound mixing. It’s almost impossible to hear the vocalist at all, let alone what he’s saying. Even Sojourner’s records are crisp and clear by comparison. 

And you know what, sorry to say this but, it’s almost good that you can hardly hear this guy. Whether it’s Schobel or Asberry doing it… I just… look, he’s not very good. I get that it takes talent to be able to dedicate yourself to growling (or screeching as it seems here), but—I sound like a broken record here—he’s not that good at it compared to other growlers I’ve heard. Based on the lyrics listed, some of the stuff he says doesn’t seem to match at all. Apparently, all vowels are the “AH” sound, and whether or not some syllables even need pronouncing seems to be a case-by-case basis. Is this normal for black metal? Sojourner’s Emilio Crespo doesn’t sound like this, and he sings the same style. Furthermore, guys like Gg6 and Mark Jansen from Amaranthe and Epica respectively sound perfectly fluent.

I sound like I’m complaining a lot, but Stormruler did end up growing on me. The songs are wild but not to the point where it’s straight-up death metal. The lyrics are also themed after fantasy and mythology, as opposed to your usual themes of violence and Satan. They also have a plethora of atmospheric interlude tracks to break up the action and make the album stand out. But to add one more complaint—which might just be something in character with the subgenre—the beginning of every song feels exactly the same, with the same fast drum beat and the “dudololololola-dudolololola” sound of the guitar. Wait, why did I bother trying to write onomatopoeia for the guitar if I was going to put the MV in the post anyway?

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 8/10

Under the Burning Eclipse is a good album, but it’s not the most promising debut compared to others I’ve heard. Most black metal fans would probably tell me to try older black metal bands instead of one of the newest, but to clarify, I avoid the older black metal bands specifically because I figure that newer bands would’ve worked out the kinks by now. Plus, Stormruler is signed to Napalm Records, who are pretty close to my wavelength, meaning that I had a better chance of liking them than any of the “classics”. As far as recommendations go, I have no idea if a black metal fan would like Under the Burning Eclipse because I have nothing to compare it to. But if you’re thinking of getting into black metal for the first time—sorry, but—I recommend Sojourner over this (at least for the time being).

New Decade, New Edge: VEXED — Culling Culture Album Review

I’m not generally a cynical person, but I have let other people’s cynicism affect me on a very unhealthy level. That’s why I never listened to bands like Living Colour; their lyrics were so on-the-nose they would make me depressed. And yet, I decided to give the new U.K. alt-metal band, VEXED, a try, despite the fact that cynicism seems to be their brand. They seem to hate quite literally every aspect of first-world society. And as someone who’s had to get over depression from being around doom mongers who read headlines (and good people who listen to doom mongers), VEXED would definitely not make me mentally ill! Not at all!

According to Napalm Records, VEXED consists of the following: vocalist Megan Targett, guitarist Jay Bacon, drummer Willen Mason-Geraghty, and bassist Al Harper. This is my first ever experience with the alt-metal subgenre, and any alternative music, period. I wonder if there even is a musical distinction to be made in the first place.

But before we can figure that out, I must write a blurb on the cover art! There’s a lot of orange in it… Buuuuut, I think it’s supposed to be a car that’s on fire. One cool thing is their choice to include the track listing on the front cover instead of the back. Also… Oh God, is that a “Parental Warning: Explicit Content”? Well, to be honest, I don’t know what the threshold for that tag is. Disturbed’s Immortalized had it, and that album wasn’t too different from their usual angst. But given VEXED’s brand, I have a feeling that Culling Culture is going to be a bit more explicit.

Right off the bat, my expectations were both exceeded and unmet at the same time. The music, especially for a debut, is very powerful. But here’s the disappointment: How is this alt-metal?! As I initially suspected, there’s nothing that different from most modern metal bands. The only possible explanation is that I’ve listened to alt-metal before, but the million dollar question now becomes this: What bands were those? The only ballpark guess I can make is In This Moment.

And speaking of In This Moment… Holy crap Megan Targett! More like, Megan Targets you and opens fire with a Maria Brink-like combination of banshee death growls and emotive clean vocals. But unlike with Brink, Targett definitely prefers the growling. You might want to have the lyrics pulled up if you listen to this stuff, but at the same time, her growls are surprisingly easy to understand once you get used to them.

So, musically, VEXED definitely shows their anger right off the bat. They already figured out how to make themselves sound, a surprising feat for just their first album. I don’t usually put esoteric descriptors for stuff, but I literally mean it by saying that even their guitars sound “rude”. If you’re not used to metal, then this might give you anxiety.

Speaking of anxiety, let’s address what I’ve been building up as the elephant in the room here: the lyrics. Although I sound like a cool dude, I’ve been having heaps of anxieties over some invisible obligation to give a crap about things that have nothing to do with my life. I was worried about VEXED reminding me of all of this and making me feel like garbage. 

Fortunately, that’s not quite the case here. VEXED’s lyrics are more personal, dealing with the topics of removing—or culling—toxic people from your life (or technically, Targett’s life, but it’s supposed to be relatable). She draws from actual life experience, and the fact that there are this many songs with this theme makes me feel really bad for her, but I also admire her for being able to successfully deal with so many toxic relationships. The lyrics initially come off as that early 2000s emo sh** á la Slipknot, but VEXED already has much more substance:

“This is not a warning” / “It’s a f***ing threat” / “Remember lies have a price” / “And karma’s calling in your debt” / “This is not a warning” / “It’s your demise” / “Remember this” / “Narcissist, you’re nothing but a parasite”

(Disclaimer: I swear that it was a complete coincidence that I chose Targett’s favorite set of lyrics from the whole album for my example. It just goes to show you that she liked them for a good reason.) See? Way better, although Targett is just about as much of a pottymouth as Corey Taylor. Whoever writes these lyrics—be it one or more members of the band—bravo to you. However, it’s still nowhere near as cynical as Oceans of Slumber or Living Colour (wow, America having something super cynical, that’s new). Unfortunately, since my anxieties aren’t caused by people I know in my personal life, it doesn’t exactly help me either. But at the very least, it’ll probably help more neurotypical people who naturally seek relationships.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 9/10

Color me surprised. Despite the fact that I have no idea what makes this “alt-metal”, VEXED’s Culling Culture is a great start (and it seems to be doing well too). I’d say I like this as much as I did Avaland’s Theater of Sorcery. But due to the added addition of knowing the band’s background better, and being legitimately surprised at how sophisticated the music is for what it is, I think VEXED might just be my favorite metal debut of the year. I am 100% on board with them, and I hope that their career in metal is a lengthy one. I recommend it if there’s someone in your life who absolutely sucks and you need a kick in the pants necessary to kick them in the pants.

Imitation and Flattery to the Nth Degree: Icon of Sin — Self-Titled Album Review

I know you shouldn’t judge a band by its record label, but I’ve had a good enough track record doing just that. A lot of my favorite bands of all time are signed to Napalm Record, for one thing. And conversely, a number of my biggest disappointments have been signed to Frontiers Records. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve been ignoring artists that I would be interested in, such as former Styx vocalist Dennis DeYoung’s solo career, and former Queensrÿche vocalist Geoff Tate’s new band Sweet Oblivion. The only band of theirs that has remotely impressed me is the young and fresh Brazilian unit, Icon of Sin.

Icon of Sin is heavily influenced by the classics, specifically the 1980s. According to Frontiers, vocalist Raphael Mendes is a popular YouTuber who does metal vocal covers. That must be true, because—as per my nature—I had no idea who he was up to this point. In any case, he’s got a band now.

But first things first, album cover art! Normally, I’d give debuts the benefit of the doubt, but that’s not necessary here, because HOLY CRAP this album looks lit! It’s so cool… a gruff, forty-something-year-old man, with his car parked in the middle of the road (which hopefully talks), fighting demons coming out of the maw of Satan from within some vaguely Tokyo-ish city. The combination of red, black, and purple makes the album stick out like a sore thumb, and it has the feel of a turn-your-brain-off popcorn flick. I love how this thing looks… Let’s hope it sounds at least just as good.

What immediately jumps out is Mendes, and I’m not necessarily sure I mean it in a good way. Technically, his singing is very, very good. However, he very disturbingly sounds exactly like Iron Maiden’s legendary vocalist, Bruce Dickinson. Like, wow. I got used to Todd La Torre in Queensrÿche faster than I could get used to Mendes. I mean, being influenced by someone is one thing, but emulating them to that point is just… I don’t know. By comparison, Seraina Telli and Laura Guldemond, the former and current vocalists of Burning Witches respectively, both clearly try to be Rob Halford, but they manage to be something that isn’t quite him that is entirely their own thing. What Mendes does is absolutely astounding, but it feels like it’s something more tailored to a YouTube career, not a music career. I want to hear Mendes’ voice, not Dickinson’s. Unless, what, was he just naturally born with a singing voice that sounded exactly like Dickinson? 

Fortunately, I warmed up to the music fairly quickly. Icon of Sin is what it says on the tin; classic metal and 1980s culture (except for the one track called ‘Pandemic Euphoria’. I have a strange feeling that it has nothing to do with the ‘80s). Not all the songs are, as the young’uns say, “bangers”, but I thoroughly enjoyed a number of the album’s tracks. Favorites include ‘Road Rage’, ‘Virtual Empire’, and ‘Arcade Generation’.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 7.75/10

I’m sorry for the disgustingly short review, but there really isn’t much to say about Icon of Sin’s debut other than what’s been said. It’s safe, clean metal that does what it sets out to do. If you like the classics, this band will likely strike your fancy. While I didn’t find Icon of Sin to have started out on the best foot, a lot of these types of “emulate classic” bands take more than one record to not come off as knockoffs of their idols. Even Ghost’s first album was just them getting their feet wet before ascending into something more than just emulation. Here’s hoping Icon of Sin’s follow-up ends up being a good one!

A Brand-New Metal Musical: Avaland — Theater of Sorcery Album Review

I’m deep enough in the metal rabbit hole to follow new bands as they come. Of course, since metal marketing is very difficult in the U.S., my ability to find these depends entirely on the “Coming Soon” tab in Apple Music’s metal page (unless they’re signed under Napalm or Nuclear Blast Records, which are pretty damn good at promoting). One such band is a new French symphonic metal band, Avaland. They claim to be a “metal opera”, which sounds an awful lot like Dark Sarah and Gloryhammer (two of my favorite bands of all time). Since I love those bands, I had to try Avanland’s debut album, Theater of Sorcery, ASAP. 

Like with many concept albums, I only have a vague idea of what’s going on. Avaland is named after the story’s fictitious setting. The young wizard, Adam Wilstrom, is the one who has to save it from some sort of curse. In any case, despite this being a band, in the sense that it has more than one member, it seems that founder Adrien G. Gzagg is the band. He didn’t just write all the lyrics; according to their Facebook bio, he also composed the music all by himself.

Of course, I gotta go over the album cover art first. To sum it up, Theater of Sorcery looks amazing. It’s all mysterious and strange, with great composition and an appealing combination of purple, blue, and yellow-orange. I really want to know what the dude in there is up to, dammit! And the only way to find out is to listen to the record.

Since metal has to be infinitely complex… ugh. Avaland really isn’t that symphonic at all, to be perfectly honest. Symphonic elements show up just often enough to remind you that they exist. Fortunately, they don’t really need that fluff. In fact, Avaland weirdly reminds me of old-timey musicals, specifically from the 1970s. In particular, ‘Let the Wind Blow’ (which I can assume is one of the hits of the record) sounds like it would be in a disco movie. Heck, one of the guest singers sounds  like the backup vocals on Phil Collins’ ‘Easy Lover’. 

Hey, now that I brought up the guests, let’s discuss them. In essence… They’re good, but I don’t know who the f*** any of them are. The reason is that the streaming service I use doesn’t have the track listing specify who’s actually singing. Gzagg himself could be one of the vocalists, and I would be none the wiser. In any case, my favorite vocalist ended up being the deep, shouty guy; whoever says the lines “Here you come into the fabulous place of Avaland” / “Just take your seat and watch the actors play.” He’s good, man.

The one issue I had is the way the lyrics were written. I get that English is insanely hard to learn, but the bad grammar is kind of laughable. I get that grammar sometimes needs to go out the window for the sake of better flow, but I have a feeling that lines like “A hurricane was just about to ruin down on my life” were not intentional. But for all I know, the singers’ accents might be so thick that the lyrics generator mistook what they said. On the flipside, the less-than-fancy vocabulary makes these songs easy to remember and sing along to.

In terms of atmosphere, Theater of Sorcery has a wide range of moods. There are epic tracks like the titular opening song, prog-metal-like tracks such as ‘Gypsum Flower’, as well as the distinctively disco-esque tracks such as ‘Deja Vu’ and the aforementioned ‘Let the Wind Blow.’ But no matter what this album sounds like, it really reminds me specifically of the 1970s. Even the vocalists have that tinny, sound that I feel like a lot of 1970s rock singers had. In all seriousness, I apologize if I’m completely off the mark about all these ’70s comparisons, which l likely am.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 9.15/10

It goes without saying that there’s no way in hell I was going to enjoy this album as much as anything from Dark Sarah nor Gloryhammer, especially the former. Nonetheless, Theater of Sorcery absolutely rocked. Apparently, Gzagg is just in diapers when it comes to music experience, but it definitely doesn’t sound like it. There are veterans that I think he’s already outclassed with Avaland. Unfortunately, they will likely be at a disadvantage without bigger names performing the songs. But you know what, you gotta start somewhere! I will definitely be supporting Avaland, and if you like metal-infused musicals, then I recommend you support them as well!

Am I Late for This Hype Train? (Yes): ILLUMISHADE — ECLYPTIC: Wake of Shadows Album Review

I discovered ILLUMISHADE well after their debut album, ECLYPTIC: Wake of Shadows, dropped last year (hence why this post is so dang late). All the other music reviewers I’ve seen either get advance copies, or binge through their topics on repeat within the week they come out in order to get a professional review out A.S.A.P. I felt like that if I didn’t meet that window, I couldn’t help the band get noticed at all. To be honest, I’m not the kind of blogger who would help get a band noticed. But since most good metal bloggers seem to exclusively cover death and black metal, there’s a chance that ILLUMISHADE was overlooked. Fortunately, since I’m late for this, I’ve had time to listen to the album multiple times. And since then, I’ve actually grown to like ILLUMISHADE a lot more than my initial listen-through. There’s benefits to being a year late for this kind of thing!

ILLUMISHADE does not have a Wikipedia page, so… er… yeah, I know next to crap about them. All I know is that they’re a relatively new metal band from Switzerland. Similar to Gloryhammer and Dark Sarah, they create a fictional universe and lore that serve as the basis for their lyrical themes. Despite being so new to the scene, their marketing is already much more ambitious than the aforementioned bands. They have Tribe Tuesdays and, like, you can join a Tribe and it’s… a lot, especially for this early in their career. At the very least, similar to Gloryhammer specifically, each and every member has a stage name to make it easier to identify them, which mitigates the issue of the vocalist taking the face of the band. Most notably, their Guardian is Fabienne Erni from the death-folk-metal band Eluveitie.

I usually don’t like photos of the artist as the album cover art, but at least ILLUMISHADE goes for some style points. They look cool standing together like a group, and the sky background is kinda pretty. It’s way better than pop artists who just have a normal photo of their face as the cover. 

ILLUMISHADE is about as opposite of Eluveitie as it gets. Well, not that I’ve listened to them, since it’s death metal. But considering that ILLUMISHADE has a very poppy, clean, synth-heavy musical style, I’m going to make a ballpark guess that it’s at least a little bit different from Eluveitie. The only growls appear in the form of a guest vocalist on the third track, ‘Tales of Time’. If you’re an Eluveitie fan, then ILLUMISHADE could very well disappoint. 

If you don’t like death metal, or are eclectic enough to like more than just death metal, let’s continue on with the review. 

ILLUMISHADE’s ambitions show not only on their Facebook, but also in the album itself. This. Thing. Is. Ballsy. Half of the thing is instrumentals, and every song is wildly different in tone. The aforementioned ‘Tales of Time’ is super happy, but that’s pretty much the only happy song on here. Ballads like ‘What Have I Become’ are more existential, and ‘Muse of Unknown Forces’ sounds like a Disney villain song. All of these are handled excellently by Erni’s Fabienne-lous (bad pun) singing voice. Like I said in my Top Five Song Covers, she’s about as good as Idina Menzel.

As great as the album is, it’s not perfect. In fact, I feel like it’s too ambitious. First off, none of the instrumentals felt relevant to the story. I use the word “felt” because, to be honest, I have no idea what the story even was. This was my biggest problem with ECLYPTIC. Lemme start a new paragraph to elaborate.

Take this criticism with a grain of salt, for I am BAD with concept albums of any kind. Operation: Mindcrime by Queensrÿche is one of my favorite concept albums of all time, yet years after listening to its tracks over and over again, I STILL don’t know what happened. But compared to other concept albums, ECLYPTIC feels like the worst offender with story cohesion. I usually have a vague idea of what a concept album is about, but I got nothing here. Do I have to participate in their Facebook doo-hickeys to get more of the story? That’s kind of an iffy gimmick, since anyone late to the party (like myself) would not have any idea what to do. 

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 8.5/10

ILLUMISHADE has potential to be a really, really good band. But for now, they only have this album, a cover of ‘Into the Unknown’ from Frozen 2, and a 2021 single titled ‘The Endless Vow’. If you wanna invest in something early, then this band’s a good choice.

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. 

~~~~~

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.

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!

~~~~~

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.

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.

Putting the “Bang!” in BanG! Dream: RAISE A SUILEN – ERA Album Review

I’m not even sure if this counts as an album review; I’ve been following RAS since their debut in 2018, and literally every song they’ve released leading up to their first album, ERA, is on said album. This post is also more so of a discussion on the band itself than a review of the album, and I was indecisive as to whether or not I wanted to post it at all. Basically, I’ve been working on an updated version of my Top Japanese Music Artists list from the tail end of the last decade, which now features ten people, and I was debating between RAS and Gacharic Spin for 8th place. While I ultimately decided to go for the latter, I still wanted to bring up RAS, hence this post!

If you’re not familiar with the BanG! Dream franchise, then… you’re not alone. From what I understand (i.e. Wikipedia), BanG! Dream started as a manga and expanded into all mediums- from anime adaptation to a mobile game- featuring in-universe all-girl bands based on real life all-girl bands who actually put out the music. Confused? Don’t worry; so am I. I don’t get the point of the mobile game (other than money of course), but I feel like that Bushiroad could’ve done just as well with the ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS working for them. And if this music is supposed to advertise the mobile game and anime, I don’t get how it’s even supposed to do that. Why follow a fake version of a band when there’s, like I said before, ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS?

Bang! Dream has covered lots of genres, but they haven’t even remotely dabbled in metal (Roselia is hard rock). But that changed with RAISE A SUILEN. With their first single, R●I●O●T (I tried my best with the hovering dots in the title, okay?!), the band presented a new sense of angst for the franchise. With their combination of synth, aggressive guitar playing, and dubstep, they’re poppier than Crossfaith, but heavier than Passcode. Furthermore, this is the first BanG! Dream release to feature the real life band on the cover art!

The music has great consistency and energy. They’re fast and loud, while also catchy enough to be played on the radio. The brand new songs on the album are very enjoyable (even if a couple of them are my least favorite RAS songs released thus far). One thing that I’m surprised by is that they haven’t done any power ballads, which is good, because I don’t find BanG! Dream’s ballads to be that spectacular. In terms of percentage of songs enjoyed, RAISE A SUILEN should’ve placed on my Top Ten over Gacharic Spin.

And yet… Why didn’t they? This is going to sound stupid, but for a “rock band-themed franchise”, I hesitate to consider RAS- and the others for that matter- actual rock bands. First off, if you look up any of their songs, you won’t see any of the band members credited for actual song composition. While I do understand that the producer for a band is just about as important as the members themselves, I still expect the band members to write their own stuff. And speaking of production, RAS sounds a bit too polished and refined for a metal band. Part of why I like Gacharic Spin better is because the production for them has the crunch that I expect from a bona fide rock band. And compared to other rock bands, the members don’t seem to have that much talent. While they definitely play their respective instruments, you’d be disappointed if you expected them to be on par with- say- Kanami Tono or Midori Tatematsu.

Following that last paragraph up is an even stupider reason: RAS isn’t anti-status quo enough. While not straight-up pop, they definitely put emphasis on trying to gain mass appeal with how they’re marketed. This is readily apparent in various ways, such as the fact that all BanG! Dream band members are obligated to Tweet at nauseum about every episode of the BanG! Dream anime as it airs just to force it to Japan’s trending tab. Another the reason that I enjoy Gacharic Spin more- even if I do find some songs to be not too great- is because of the fact that they convey the feeling of hanging out in the house of whoever has the biggest garage and just jamming together for fun. I’m sorry, but a band embracing the spirit of rock, like Gacharic Spin does, is very important for me to like them.

Yeah, I’m aware that I’m the ONLY one who cares about that crap. But if you look at the music in a vacuum, RAISE A SUILEN’s first album is a “HELL YEAH!” in all caps. While the members don’t do any of the songwriting (as I prefer), there is at least some talent behind the scenes. If you think that BanG! Dream is too idol-y, give RAS a chance to prove you wrong. Leave me a comment on your thoughts of RAS, and BanG! Dream as a franchise!