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. 

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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?

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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?

A Bittersweet Return: Evanescence — The Bitter Truth Album Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Final Verdict: 8/10

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

Top Five Song Covers

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


5) Ad Infinitum — This Is Halloween

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

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


4) ILLUMISHADE — Into the Unknown

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

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


3) In This Moment — Fly Like an Eagle

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

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


2) Disturbed — The Sound of Silence

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

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


1) Epica — Dedicate Your Heart!

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

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

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


Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

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