I Gave BABYMETAL Another Shot!

In one of my older posts, I ripped into everyone’s favorite Japanese kawaii-desu metal crossover band: BABYMETAL. In their defense, I only listened to their first two albums, which doesn’t tell you crap about a band in the long run (unless it’s with god-tier bands like Alestorm). Also, that post was horrible, and I wasn’t as much of a metalhead then as I am now. With a much firmer grasp of the genre (and its ludicrous number of subgenres), I decided to try BABYMETAL again. 

Anyway, in the off chance you haven’t heard of BABYMETAL, here’s a basic run-down. They formed in 2010 under the guiding hand of producer Key “Kobametal” Kobayashi. Their style is, obviously, a fusion of googoogaga J-pop with metal. But unlike most traditional metal bands, the girls have zero know-how with the genre, the songs are all composed by people behind the scenes, and the instrumentation is done with hired help. Somehow, they have managed to catapult themselves into mainstream status, earning acknowledgement from figures like Rob Zombie, and the Metal God himself; yes, Rob Halford likes them. And they probably don’t even know who he is. I’m not jealous on behalf of other bands at all.

First off, one criticism that I will still stand by is their album cover art. Every single one is just the band’s name with different Photoshop effects on it. I’m sorry, but I’ve never loved a band with horrible album covers. Maybe some of the ones from the olden days are a bit dated, but with the power of current technology (and freelance artists online), anything should be possible. A real album would’ve had, like, ridiculously busy hand-drawn art of Japanese highschoolers shooting zombies with machine guns.

So, the music. Um. Where do I even start? Upon reexamination, a lot of it is quite good. Of course, for me “quite good” is not a particularly high score. The sound production is great, and they do genuinely sound like metal, strictly in terms of music. And given the branding, the melody and lyrics are really catchy. I can thank Ghost and Amaranthe for making me realize that pop and metal work well together; after all, metal has its roots in R&B. But for some reason, I still wasn’t entirely enthralled. 

Admittedly, I have no idea how  the music industry as a whole works, but I feel like part of why I’m not enthralled is because the music production is manufactured. While some people can decide to not care that something is manufactured, I feel like there is a visible effect. None of the music is written by the girls, nor by the hired band. And that just feels… weird. There’s some kind of chaotic beauty when it comes to a band (with italics): even if it’s only two members, I want to believe that multiple band members bouncing ideas off of each other is important for the creative process. Of course, if it’s not, then feel free to reprimand me in the comments!

Because I’m insane, I didn’t only base this post on the music itself. I just had to consult the Internet as to why people like BABYMETAL, and then indirectly offer responses to each answer. Keep in mind that a lot of these were Reddit posts from well before other Japanese artists like BAND-MAID started to gain a foothold. But you know what, BABYMETAL is still one million times more popular than them, so they aren’t entirely outdated!

According to what I gleaned, they apparently have wild live shows. As someone who’s never been to a concert, I can neither agree nor refute that. Someone else, in addition to the Apple Music bio, says that they adapt all kinds of metal subgenres into their music. Honestly, metal has such a maze of subgenres that I don’t even know if the bands themselves know what their own stuff falls under. For example, Oceans of Slumber’s OFFICIAL Facebook bio says that they’re a prog-metal band from Texas. However, every review of any of their stuff I read was all like, “Oh boy, this is great doom metal!” So who do I trust? For me, BABYMETAL has only encompassed thrash, power metal, and straight-up vanilla metal. For the sake of simplicity, I’m just going to believe it to be a fact so that I don’t go insane from subgenre inflation.

A lot of the other reasons given by the less than 1% of humanity that can’t help but feel represent the entire human race are mostly refutable. Well, not refutable, per sé; they are technically correct as far as BABYMETAL itself is concerned, such as the notion that BABYMETAL is very clean and family-friendly by metal standards. However, their reasoning doesn’t appear to take many other bands into account, like a cappella metal band Van Canto for example (who predate BABYMETAL by a LONG TIME). That’s why I feel like most BABYMETAL fans aren’t really metalheads, because as a metalhead, I feel like they should at least know of a lot of these other bands by comparison. Some of the comments I’ve read implied that all the bands they had listened to were stale, and BABYMETAL taught them to love the genre as a whole again.

I must say: Who the eff have these people been listening to (or lack thereof) to think that?! In just the past ten years alone, metal has gotten more varied than ever, and without BABYMETAL’s help, thank you very much. If you name me a reason to love BABYMETAL, I can recommend at least two other bands that satisfy the same condition (and obviously, they do it better). If you have listened to these other bands and still like BABYMETAL more, at least you had a fair comparison to make. 

But you know what, I can’t blame people for having never heard of these other bands. Becoming mainstream puts you in a position of robbing the poor to feed the rich. What I mean by that is that you’ll get so much attention, the niche bands who have to work harder to get attention get exponentially less attention unless they become mainstream themselves. I, for instance, haven’t heard of most of my niche bands until I magically stumbled upon them by looking at random lists in Apple Music. But even before then, I knew I had something missing musically in my life. You just have to be explorative, which is easy if you have a streaming service for music. It’s not at all hard to follow the metal market. Have some of BABYMETAL’s older fans completely shut themselves out of the market due to nostalgia? And if so, why did BABYMETAL of all things drag them back into the fold? J-Rock News had an article with interviews of fans of various ages, but none of them explained exactly how they came across BABYMETAL. I know I did because of Mario Maker. But how could an old geezer who doesn’t follow the market come across them WITHOUT also coming across these other bands?

Seriously though, the gap between mainstream and niche is monumentous, especially in a country as powerful as the U.S. In my experience, BABYMETAL is the only 2010s band to become this big in American culture. Beyond them, the most popular American hard rock and metal bands have still been Linkin Park and Slipknot for the PAST TWENTY YEARS. What about Oceans of Slumber, Helion Prime, A Sound of Thunder, or In This Moment? All new, shiny American metal bands, and yet they’re still little babies in diapers. The latter even had a Grammy nomination and I still don’t know ANYONE who’s even heard of them. 

Another reason for my not liking them is something I didn’t write in the old post, but something I had discussed with another blogger in that post’s comments. It was actually my first ever interaction with RiseFromAshes (who has great Japanese pop culture blogs, by the way)! Plugging aside, the thing that bothered me about BABYMETAL has to do with how Japan is viewed on an international scale. By being an idol-metal outfit, they cement the stereotype that Japan is all about goofy silly kawaii-desu sensory overload nonsense. As someone who’s studied the nation at length, I know that this stuff is a big part of Japanese culture. However, an uninformed American might not necessarily understand kawaii-ness is a recent addition to something much deeper and infinitely more complicated. BABYMETAL gives off an impression that Japan can’t be manly, even with a genre as manly as metal, and makes things rough for old-fashioned-type J-metal bands such as Lovebites.

I also read a big fat post on Reddit about BABYMETAL being special because they’re accessible. I don’t know enough of the facts to vouch for the age variety of fans they claim to have, but I can say that I don’t like how accessible they are. What pisses me off about it is that it’s framed as if their accessibility is factually good. In my experience, the toxicity of fandoms has consistently been proportional to its size. Yet, the notion that “accessibility = good” is arbitrarily a fact makes me feel like a subhuman species. Of course, that could be how I’m reading into whoever wrote that. As much as I try to sound as subjective as possible on my reviews, someone could see my values and think that I’m assuming that those values are factually good. Being human is fun, isn’t it?!

But you know what, no matter how much I can explain with facts, this all remains an opinion. In the end, I cannot explain why I’m not in love with BABYMETAL. I don’t think Su-metal is a particularly talented singer, for starters. I welcome the earworm that is Ghost’s ‘From the Pinnacle to the Pit’, but songs like ‘Gimme Chocolate!’ feel like an ear-parasite. And as far as memey-ness is concerned, any band with Christopher Bowes has more memes in one song than BABYMETAL has in an entire album.

Overall, I like BABYMETAL more, but I also dislike them more. The music is better than I thought, sure. But now, my envy toward them is worse than ever. Not only have they taken more attention from a lot of Japanese bands, I now realize that they’ve taken attention from a massive slew of Western bands as well. It’s good, but I don’t know what makes people (including the Metal God) think that BABYMETAL is one of the greatest things since sliced bread. Well, it’s not exactly new for me to have animosity towards something mainstream, is 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.

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!

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.

Mack’s Top Ten Favorite Japanese Music Artists

I’ll always love the classic rock of yesteryear more than anything. But over the last several years of my life, I’ve realized the greatness of contemporary Japanese music, and want to spread the awareness of these artists as wide as possible. In this blog I’ll discuss my favorite Japanese music artists… for the second time, since things have changed a bit. In fact, there’s so many that I wanted to talk about that I had to double the length of the list! 

10) Kenshi Yonezu

One immediate difference between this list and the previous one is that Dempagumi.inc is not on here anymore. I still stand by everything I said originally; they are definitely the best idol group and one of the best examples of mainstream pop out there. However, I am biased toward rock and innovation (plus, Dempa’s newest album was pretty lackluster). As a result, someone else has snuck onto the list: Kenshi Yonezu.

Yonezu is a strange case. He seems to be one of the most popular singers in Japan… and only in Japan. I have no idea how someone as famous as he is has not gone global at this point, but that’s just Japanese marketing I guess! Anyways, while I’d normally be against someone so popular, the reason that I like him is that he’s not as mainstream as you would think. In fact, his music is very abstract and strange.

Why is his music strange? Er… it just is. Yonezu’s music falls into a weird, Beatles-esque prog-soft-pop-rock style (confused?), and it’s something you just gotta try. You never know what he will pull out of his eccentric butt. 

While I don’t love ALL of his songs (hence his position at the bottom of the list), he’s definitely a man who seems to care about quality over quantity. Since his 2012 record label debut, the man has only put out three studio albums. And it’s not like he’s an anime singer, like- say- Konomi Suzuki, who can only put out singles when they’re hired for an anime. He clearly invests all of his brain meats into his music, and I commend the guy for it. Yonezu’s music has been getting better and better over time. While I find his first album, Diorama, to be hit-or-miss, his second album, Bootleg is all-around great, and his newest album, Stray Sheep, is utter “Wow”. I put him on here in anticipation that he’ll evolve to levels beyond what anyone can predict (and maybe go global?). 

9) Hysteric Panic

Hysteric Panic is a very underrated J-rock group that I love because of their simple, primal energy. Songs fall within the hard rock category, but border on metal after their fourth album, Hypnotic Poison. For some reason, I want to describe their style as “memey” because of how nonsensical they sound at times. 

They also have a wide range of vocals, from a high-pitched, Axl Rose-sounding guy, to a guy who sounds like a constipated alligator (and on occasion, what sounds like a choir of Japanese school girls). Regardless of if it’s multiple guys or the same guy, this wide range of screams makes Hysteric Panic stand out as a thrash band. At present, their original guitarist has left (I think?), and they haven’t shown any signs of a new release. I’m concerned with how they will move from here, but if they’ve truly been acknowledged by the spirit of rock, they’ll party till they’re purple!

8) Gacharic Spin

I had a debate over Gacharic Spin or RAISE A SUILEN from Bang! Dream (which I discussed in my review of the latter’s first album). But in the end, I chose Gachapin. But even then, I was hesitant. I am fully aware that they have changed a lot since their initial formation, especially after their original drummer tragically passed away. The problem in my case is that Apple Music didn’t exactly HAVE the band’s older stuff, and as a result, I’m ONLY familiar with their newer, more electronic sound (side note: I’ve also just started listening to Galneryus, and they will probably replace Gachapin in a third version of this post).

But you know what, sometimes that’s them apples. Why would I not be qualified as a fan just because I never heard the original lineup? In any case, the Gachapin I know has garage-style jams featuring various auto-tuning and synth effects for style. 

The one problem I have with them is that they are pretty inconsistent. When they go full-on, they are fricking serious electronic metal. However, a lot of their stuff feels like typical rock and kind of… there. I get that not all songs can be bangers, but that really shows at times in Gachapin. But you know what, the great thing about rock bands is that if you don’t like them, then they can just say “Eff you!” and go about their day. Anyway, if you like rock with punch, then check out Gachapin.

7) Crossfaith

I dropped MIYAVI after two albums, Hikaru Utada after one and a half, and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu after just half of a compilation album. I’ve made my peace with them, but there’s always the classic counterargument for any critic who doesn’t finish a thing: “It gets way better later!” As much as you can argue about that defense until the cows come home, it is partially true, and Crossfaith is such a case.

I royally disliked them at first. I started from the very beginning: 2009’s The Artificial Theory of Dramatic Beauty. I loved the idea of thrash with a techno atmosphere, but it sounded bad. They only used one or two synth effects, and the singing was awful. Kenta Koie sings entirely through the type of throaty scream that I only previously heard as backing vocals (like Hysteric Panic), and in English. Oof. 

But hey, Crossfaith wouldn’t be on here without a reason. I was about to give up on them after 2011’s The Dream, the Space. However, I gave them one more chance on their 2012 EP, Zion. It ended up being a marginal improvement, and enough of one for me to try their 2013 album, Apocalyze. That album instantly changed my views of the band. As soon as I heard the intro track, ‘Prelude’, followed by ‘We Are the Future’, I went from a critic of Crossfaith to a fan in the span of a single song. I can’t describe exactly what it was, but they seemed to have a better sense of how to combine metal and synth to make a truly futuristic metal band THAT SHOULD’VE DONE THE BOSS MUSIC IN XENOBLADE X *grumble grumble*. 

As good as Apocalyze was, they kept growing. Koie’s singing goes from bearable to straight-up good, and they start experimenting with songs like Wildfire, a groovy fusion of disco and metal featuring the band Skindred (whom I know nothing about other than that song). Their 2018 concept album, EX_MACHINA, and 2020 EP, SPECIES, are great showcases of how much they’ve grown over the years. My only issue with them (besides their first two albums) is that they don’t really do guitar solos. Normally, I’d find that disgraceful, but when I’m listening to their raw cyberpunk rage, it never bothers me.

6) Wagakki Band

Before I start talking about these guys, I shall have you know that I was an avid fan of this group well before their collaboration with Evanescence. That being said, onto the actual discussion!

I know I shouldn’t make a post about “how wild and weird Japan is”, but Wagakki Band is something that could only be formed in Japan. And I’m saying that because their… equipment is much more accessible in Japan than anywhere else.

Wagakki Band is a massive group, and that’s because there’s a LOT of instruments (and yet Slipknot somehow has more members). Along with the usual rock instruments, such as guitars and drums, they also have some very vintage instruments. Specifically, wagakki instruments (which literally means traditional Japanese instruments). They are a true East Meets West rock band! But of course, I do not want to give them credit where it isn’t due; I’m pretty sure at least two bands have done the same thing way earlier. However, those bands are old, and older Japanese bands are shaky at best when it comes to licensing in my region, so… I’m gonna stick with Wagakki Band for pretty much forever.

In any case, the way they combine the two styles of music is so good it’s almost creepy. My favorite aspect is how well the *insert name of old-timey Japanese drum here* works for hard rock. What’s even weirder is the fact that their vocalist, Yuko Suzuhana, sings in an old-timey style, and it also doesn’t feel like it clashes. Whether it’s a head-banger or a power ballad, Wagakki Band delivers. Japan has always had a knack for seamlessly integrating its modem culture with its traditional culture, and Wagakki Band is one such integration.

5) MYTH & ROID

Led by TomH@ck of OxT, MYTH & ROID was originally my favorite Japanese band, and was in 1st on early drafts of the original post. Although they are a solid prog-rock band that has more of an identity than most people in the ainsong industry, I realized that I find the artists in the Top 3 more irreplaceable. I don’t know if it’s because MYTH & ROID has way less discography or what, but them’s the brakes.

But hey, they’re still in Top Five for a reason. MYTH & ROID has managed to craft a distinct style that basically allows them to do whatever they want, as long as they maintain one consistency: MAKE. IT. AWESOME. Out of all the artists on this list, I have always exclaimed “WTF?!” with every song of theirs the first time I heard it.

At the time, I remember when I threw on ‘Styx Helix’ because it was a Re:ZERO song, and thought it was decent techno-chill. I later noticed that they also did OP 2 of the same show. I put on that song, ‘Paradisus Paradoxim’, and it completely blew me away with how different it was. I fell in love with MYTH & ROID right then and there, making them the first Japanese rock band I ever seriously tried to get into. While they are no longer my favorite, they are still a great band that stands out from the rest. I recommend giving them a listen if you’re tired of that mainstream crap.

4) BAND-MAID

This is a band I literally found out of nowhere. Although they’ve grown substantially more popular with their most recent album, I was a fan since summer 2019- snug within the range of “before it was cool.” When I made the life-changing decision of subscribing to Apple Music, one of the first bands I got into was- no, not BAND-MAID- but Passcode. Passocde’s great and all, but in the similar artists tab, I couldn’t help but notice BAND-MAID. And the rest is history.

BAND-MAID, whose claim to fame comes from their maid cafe-like attire, is a hard rock band that skirts the line of metal. And they’re a damn powerful one at  that. One distinct vibe I get from their music is something I rarely feel in any other J-Rock bands: Classic Rock. It’s not as prevalent as a certain other band on this list, but they definitely have an old-school, garage-y style reminiscent of stuff like AC/DC. “You only like them because they’re mimicking Western culture, you traitorous lech!” you exclaim. Well… I don’t define rock by any nationality. Sorry, bub.

I had some concerns when I first started listening to their breakthrough 2019 album, CONQUEROR, but it has definitely grown on me in the latter half. In conclusion, BAND-MAID is a ludicrously good group. Apple Music doesn’t have their very first album, but it has everything else. I personally started with their third studio album, Brand-New Maid, but you can honestly start anywhere.

3) nano

I can’t believe nano is not in first anymore. It was already surprising when I docked her to second place, but as you can see, she’s actually in third now. But why? After all, she is one of the few people in the anisong industry who really has a true style that is entirely her own. But hey, she’s still great, and here’s why…

nano generally does very aggressive hard rock and metal tracks, but also throws in electronic, or even in the case of one particular song, combines rock with traditional Japanese instruments. I find her older stuff to be rough around the edges, but from her third album, Rock On, and onwards, she’s gotten better and louder. Her albums are one of the best showcases of the evolution of an artist that I’ve ever heard. A lot of credit goes to whoever produces and mixes the music in order to bring out the best of her powerful voice and the instruments that her buddies play.

nano’s music is divided into two distinct types: Regular J-rock that’s used as assets for anime and such, and straight up Western-influenced hard rock, complete with English singing. The latter is typically used in albums, as the designated deep cuts. However, I find those to be some of the best filler, and oftentimes among nano’s best songs. I recommend going through all of her albums, or at least starting with Rock On and going chronologically from there.

2) Mili

I never liked pop music. I always associated the pop genre with mainstream. But out of nowhere, a pop band took my heart and almost sniped first place on this list. I present to you: Mili.

I have never been surprised by a 21st Century artist more than Mili. The idea of pop not having to be mainstream was legitimately mind-blowing to me. Normally, I can compare an artist to someone else; you saw that in this post. But I can’t compare Mili to anyone. They are unlike anything I’ve ever heard in my life. 

Their music is otherworldly. They use a combination of piano and synth that just has an air of uniqueness to it. While all their albums are great, they get better and better, to the point where it outclasses their older stuff by a lot. 2018’s Millennium Mother is such a good album I haven’t actually gone back to their first album, Mag Mell.

I can’t praise Mili without giving kudos to their vocalist, Cassie Wei (a.k.a. momocashew). Her voice is just absolutely phenomenal. Her English, along with the lyrics she sings, are great. Her voice can be both soothing and terrifying depending on the mood of the song. She’s truly one of the best Asian singers I’ve ever heard.

1) Lovebites

Mili was originally first on this list until just earlier this week. While they are definitely the most unique band I’ve heard from Japan, it’s still technically pop (or soft rock?). I like the heavy stuff, and that’s why Lovebites took first place.

If BAND-MAID is classic rock, then Lovebites is classic metal. They aren’t just my current favorite J-Metal band of all time; they’re among my favorite metal bands of all time. Underrated doesn’t even begin to describe them. They deserve way more than their puny five-digit amount of followers, that’s for sure.

Immediately, Lovebites comes off as similar to DragonForce, with their orchestral synth in a lot of their songs, and their multi-minute guitar solos. However, they have much more variety in terms of tempos and melodies, which- IMO- makes them better than DragonForce in a way. They have a venomous and aggressive aura that reminds me of none other than Judas Priest, and they ALSO have a level of simplicity that’s similar to Iron Maiden. This is no coincidence, because (unless they’re faking it), at least one of the members is a classic metal fanatic. And by the way, their vocalist, Asami, is amazing…. For the most part. Like Crossfaith’s Kenta Koie, she sings in Engrish, and I admit she doesn’t sound too great. However, it’s still easy to tell that she has amazing talent when it comes to singing itself. It took Koie a decade to sound good in English, and it’ll probably take Asami about as long to do the same.

If there’s any remaining issue, it’s that Lovebites needs a bit of experimentation. While their fast-paced music is about as good as similar songs from Priest and Maiden, that isn’t all that those two bands can do. In Lovebites’ case, that kind of music makes up the bulk of their career, and I know that they are more capable. But hey, they’ve pretty much just started. 2020’s album, Electric Pentagram, already sets a new standard of quality for them. It took Priest and Rush a decade to cement themselves into rock history. Where will Lovebites go in 2030? I can’t wait to find out.

Conclusion

I feel pretty safe saying that this is my definitive list for Japanese music artists. The only one I see changing the list is Galneryus, but I don’t know if it’d be worth making a third, identical post just for them. Japan might come off as a country full of dainty, yukata-wearing tea-sippers, but rock is a language that anyone can learn. And hopefully with this, you can see that Japan has a genuine sense of metal that isn’t fake and superficial like BABYMETAL. If you have a hankering for this stuff, give it a try (and follow the artists’ on social media because you’re not going to have any other source of news from them because Japan doesn’t want you to know they exist).

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!

Making Metal Marketable: My Conflicting Feelings with BABYMETAL

I’m a big fan of J-Pop, and I’m a seriously big fan of metal. So, it stands to reason that I’d LOVE the kawaii metal group, BABYMETAAAAAAAAAAAAL! Heh-heh, you saw the title of this post; it’s not that simple, not even remotely. In fact, I only started listening to them over the course of Feb. 2020! Just keep in mind that no matter how critical I get, I don’t straight up dislike the group; otherwise they would’ve been on my Top Five Least Favorite Japanese Music Artists post.

So, what is BABYMETAL? Well, you probably should know, for they seem to be one of the few Japanese music artists that have become known even among those who don’t follow Japanese culture. Formed about a decade ago, they have grown incredibly popular, with performances all over the world. They even have a full bio for themselves and each of their studio albums on Apple Music. That’s how you know they’re a big deal! Their claim to fame is the unusual combination of cutesy idol J-pop and angtsy metal. 

With such a brilliant idea, BABYMETAL should’ve been right up my alley. But in execution, it’s nothing more than the same catchy beats of idol pop, but with an edgy paint job. They’re mainstream in disguise. “Well, you cur, you seem to like risky and eccentric groups,” you point out (Assuming that you’ve read my other music posts up to this point), “BABYMETAL is an incredibly brilliant and ballsy band. You’re having the same reaction as the old farts who hated Elvis Presley and the Beatles because it was different from the crap they grew up with. You’re no different.” 

BABYMETAL is ballsy? Actually, I think the exact opposite is true. My problem with them isn’t that they’re too eccentric for me. On the contrary, BABYMETAL is mainstream to the max. It sounds like an idea that couldn’t possibly fail; by combining catchy, “radio-friendly” tunes with metal’s angry vibes, they are able to appeal to both pop and metal fans at once. And that bothers me to no end. It’s kind of like how a lot of young adult novels are marketed as dark and brooding, but have the same romance tropes as a Disney movie. I suppose what I’m saying is that BABYMETAL is the YA novel of music.

“Well, hang on a second,” you argue once more, “you’re saying that the problem with BABYMETAL is that their songs are catchy, which is typical of most mainstream artists. But isn’t that, you know, THE POINT?!” You cross your arms in defiance. “If BABYMETAL tried to do stuff like- say- prog rock, then they wouldn’t be BABYMETAL. The POINT of BABYMETAL is to BE catchy, because that’s how idol music IS. Are you claiming that a rock or metal band cannot be a rock or metal band without taking some kind of creative risk?! You know, Rob Zombie- an ACTUAL rock artist- loves this band, and I’m willing to bet that he knows more about music than you, bub!” You’re probably correct for the most part. If BABYMETAL has succeeded at anything for me, it’s challenging the very definition of a “rock band”. Like you (or rather, my personification of you) mentioned earlier, they honestly are a challenge to the stuff I liked when I first got into music, such as Rush and Queen, with their continuously changing musical styles and experimental ideas. Despite how “open-minded” I claim to be when it comes to some of the weird music I like (including Queensryche and Genesis to boot), I ended up becoming alienated from mainstream music. It’s funny how the human mind works. However, at this juncture, I have no authority to objectively define “rock”, and honestly, with how much it’s changed since Presley, I doubt ANYONE has that authority. It’s pretty much a matter of subjective perspective at this point; it all depends on how me, you, or Zombie have come to understand “rock” based on our own different experiences.

In the end, though, I do like a guilty pleasure. I’ll admit that some of their songs are pretty darn succulent. Maybe, once in a while, I’ll put on a BABYMETAL song and rock out. But even then, I have to immediately follow-up with a REAL group, like BAND-MAID or Crossfaith. Maybe if they had the same manager as, say, Dempagumi.inc, they’re music would’ve been more varied and better. Heck, some Dempagumi songs, like Precious Summer, are already kawaii metal as it is.

But because I listen to too much music, I’m inevitably going to have to axe BABYMETAL from my life. They aren’t the worst thing ever, but to me, they are severely overrated. I honestly can’t recommend this group to anyone, especially dedicated metal fans. If you want a better version of the same general idea, try Passcode. Or, if you want a different unusual combination of styles that organically mesh together as if it was the most natural thing in the world, try Wagakki Band.