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.

The Me and Music Tag!

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

Rules

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

Well, let’s begin.


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Conclusion

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

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

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

Five Great Women in Metal in No Particular Order

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

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

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


Brittney Slayes

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


Maria Brink

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

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


Elize Ryd

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

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


Simone Simons

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

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


Sharon Osbourne

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

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


Conclusion

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

Ten Japanese Music Artists I Wish I Liked More

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


BURNOUT SYNDROMES

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


Passcode

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

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

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


Memai Siren

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

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


Queen Bee

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

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


UVERworld

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

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


Ironbunny

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

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


King Gnu

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

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


Flow

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


ORESAMA

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


ONE OK ROCK

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

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


Conclusion

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

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).