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.

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!

How to Get Weebs into Western Pop: milet – eyes Album Review

Notice that I didn’t title this post “How to Get Japanese People into Western Pop”; after all, Western culture is already incredibly popular over there (*cough* for some ghastly reason *cough*). I specifically used the word “Weeb” because I imagine that a lot of non-Asians who love Japanese culture don’t exactly love Western music (as much). However, what happens when a J-Pop star feels very, very Western? Welcome to milet, Generation Z’s equivalent of Hikaru Utada.

I don’t know much about milet, but Apple Music shows a number of singles and EPs dating to 2019. However, almost all the songs in those EPs, and new ones, end up on milet’s first album, eyes (not to be confused with MYTH & ROID’s eye’s), released in June of 2020. She has become extremely popular already, with her album surpassing King Gnu’s smash hit album, Ceremony, on Japan’s Billboard (and btw, King Gnu is hugely popular in Japan, so that’s a big deal) and ranking in 1st place for a good while.

This milet album was incredibly challenging to get through. Something about the use of synth, sound production, and milet’s singing voice felt like the Western pop that I hate. “How can you hate it if you never listened to it, weeb?” you ask. Oh, I listened to it. Throughout high school, it played on the radio that they happened to have in classrooms on Pandora, and during various social gatherings that I begrudgingly attended (specifically in vocational school). Being exposed to this stuff was traumatizing. The annoying repetitiveness and lack of variety drove me insane, and defined my distaste of mainstream hits. From what I call “The Happy Song”, to “I Think We Can be Something for Real Yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah-uwu”, to “The One That Sounds Like it’s Saying ‘Jar Jar Binks’”, these… tracks are the reason that I eventually got into J-Pop. While not perfect (looking at you, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu), Japan has some amazing and varied music, a lot of which I ranked above many classic Western bands of old. It was my perfect escape.

But then milet… ugh. I didn’t really mind the music of her songs, but what triggered me the most was her singing. She sounds exactly like a lot of those Western singers I didn’t like, whose names I cannot say because it was on the radio and I never knew who they actually were. milet’s voice is… how do I even say it? I don’t at all mean to be hurtful with the following statements; I legitimately cannot think of a better way to describe her voice. milet comes off as nasally, whiny and like she’s constipated. Look up the song that’s like “Hello from the other side” or something like that in the chorus… that’s basically how milet sings. 

After getting through a third of her album, I was actually able to tolerate milet. Some of the songs have genuinely good atmospheres and melodies that aren’t ear-grating like the aforementioned “Happy Song”. Despite the album reeking of mainstream, there was still a decent amount of variety and experimentation. Also, from watching anime and actually meeting Japanese people in person (in Epcot), they seem to have an inherently pleasant way of speaking, which makes milet a better singer. I know it sounds stereotypical, but there truly is a visible difference in timbre between her and whoever does “Yer Guhna Hear Me Rooooa-oh-oh-oh-oh-ohar”. 

Overall, I found her album surprisingly enjoyable. Maybe someday, I’ll actually try to listen to people like Adele and Taylor Swift (or I won’t). With milet’s rising success and admirable English-speaking ability, I could see her being cast as the lead in a hypothetical Japanese Disney Princess movie (even though Mili’s singer, Cassie Wei, would be way better), and having listened to her music before it was cool would make me the hippest guy on the block. If you’re someone who’s trying to convince your J-Pop loving friend that there’s another hemisphere of music out there, then milet’s a good transitional point.