As someone who is so disconnected from society, it makes sense that I would have been out of the loop for the new, borderline-mainstream Canadian outfit, Spiritbox. They have established a massive following with only two EPs and a couple of singles, and their first proper album, Eternal Blue, has been hyped up as the best metal debut of the year. I listened to their earlier stuff out of curiosity, but this is the real test. For the sake of keeping up with the metal market, I had to listen to this highly anticipated album.
Spiritbox was originally composed of vocalist Courtney LaPlante and guitarist Mike Stringer. They released the original Spiritbox debut EP by themselves, but since then have recruited bassist Bill Crook and drummer Zev Rose. Apparently, their 2020 single ‘Holy Roller’ was what put them on the map. Will Eternal Blue slap, or will they be a one-hit wonder?
I normally talk about album cover art first, but what is there to say? It’s blue, and… eternal. They’re new, so I’ll give them slack. Also, I gotta stop having OCD for good album covers, because some artists just don’t have those.
As far as Spiritbox’s musical style is concerned, I have—surprise, surprise—failed to see their novelty. The reason is, similar to VEXED, I went into their music knowing what subgenres they were labeled under. And to be blunt, I think only one of them actually applies. From what I’ve read, Spiritbox is considered “post-metal” and “djent” in addition to metalcore and prog-metal. It sounds like a lot, but that happens when you make up subgenres that aren’t real (Oooooooooh snap!).
To use Layman’s terms, Spiritbox is prog-metal, albeit very moody prog-metal. For how crunchy the guitars sound, most songs are very melancholic, and have a very echo-y vibe to them. That’s it. If this is supposed to be post-metal, then I don’t think post-metal is “post” enough. Also, how can a music genre be “post-something” if the original genre still exists?
Musically, Eternal Blue is very solid, and very heavy. There are a lot of unexpected tone shifts, often in the space of the same track, and there is an impressive amount of variety when it comes to different atmospheres. The lyrics, however, didn’t really resonate with me. It felt like a more progressive spin on early 2000s Evanescence stuff, a band whom I wasn’t entirely sold on. The only song I really felt something toward was the final track, ‘Constance’, a song dedicated to LaPlante’s late grandmother, and people who have dealt with dementia.
Need more hot takes? I’m not particularly impressed by LaPlante’s performance. I’m sure she’s a good person, but when reviewing music, I must evaluate how vocalists sound. And here’s my evaluation: LaPlante’s got solid clean vocals, but has pretty meh growls. To use another 2021 debut by way of comparison, I enjoyed Megan Targett from VEXED marginally better, at least in the growling department.
Final Verdict: 8.75/10
Despite my complaints, Eternal Blue is a solid enough record for me to at least keep my eyes trained on Spiritbox in the years to come. You could chalk it up to me as “not being cerebral enough”, but the real struggle with Eternal Blue is understanding what makes it cerebral in the first place. Sure, there’s whacky, out-of-left-field hooks, but that’s just a metal thing, because metal musicians can do whatever the ding-dang-crap they want. Eternal Blue feels like nothing more than a great album, as opposed to “a game changer”, according to Metal Injection, who also say “the metal scene may never be the same after this”. I’d recommend it, but I wouldn’t consider it the debut of 2021. Even if you could exclude Wizardthrone—the band I had named debut of the year—because of the controversy, I have been listening to another contender who’s been under the radar, and you’ll see my review of that record fourteen days from today!
Part of being neck-deep in the metal hole is an obligation to look into new artists as they appear. Well, in this particular case, I wouldn’t call Esa Holopainen a new artist, but this solo project of his, Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen, is new. Plus, it’s my first time ever hearing of Holopainen himself, so he’s new from my perspective. Anyway, I think I’ve said a number of times that most dedicated metal bloggers only cover the extreme, underground stuff (and the rare time I’ve delved into those subgenres, it’s with bands that they DON’T cover). So yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if the amount of reviews of Silver Lake’s self-titled debut album can be counted on one hand.
According to the Internets, Esa Holopainen is the guitarist of Finnish prog-metal band Amorphis… which have been around about as long as Dream Theater. Cool. Well, I only JUST caught up with Dream Theater, so… Sorry, I’m sure Amorphis is great, but my hands are tied by the march of time. Anyway, I don’t know much about this Silver Lake project other than that Holopainen, well, decided to do it. An interview with him I read on Nuclear Blast Records’ website said that this side project of his might be a one-and-done deal, although he has also considered following it up. Well, if it is a standalone album, then that saves me time in the long run!
The artwork doesn’t look too impressive at first; after all, it’s just a posterized photo of—surprise, surprise—a silver lake, with the project’s name smack dab in the middle like a perfect Pokémon Snap picture. But for some reason, I dunno… something spoke to me about it. It’s very much in the spirit of old-school prog, and that choice of font style for the name is beautiful. Props to whoever designed that.
Silver Lake starts with a three-minute acoustic intro track. Yep, that’s prog alright! It’s melancholy, and weirdly beautiful, a perfect lead-in to an equally melancholy song called ‘Sentiment’. Well… that’s more-or-less how the whole album goes. Overall, it’s a very strange record.
I know it sounds like hyperbole to say that “every song on an album is different”; even I’m willing to admit that a lot of my favorite bands merely expand on an established formula as opposed to breaking it completely. Silver Lake, however, really makes every song stand out. There’s the aforementioned acoustic track, along with whimsical yet epic ballads (such as the MV embedded below), a track that’s just powerful riffs playing over some guy narrating, and even a track with death growling.
What helps is the wealth of vocalists who perform in this album. I have no idea who any of them are, but they all end up being more than talented enough for Silver Lake. The lyrics, however, I cannot decipher to save my life. In fact, I don’t even know if this is actually a concept album or not.
Final Verdict: 8.85/10
The only real flaw with Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen is the possibility that this really is a one-off project. While not album of the year to me, this is a hidden gem that gives classic prog that modern pizzaz. I recommend it if you’re someone with super eclectic taste.
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.
(1) Link back to the original (Sophie @ Me and Ink) so she can see your answers and listen to the tunes.
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) For every prompt you choose to do, name 1-5 songs (you can use Sophie’s graphics).
(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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ofall 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.
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).
I have made it clear before, but in case you’re new to this blog, I’ll make it clear again: I grew up with classic rock. Nothing else was necessary, and there were some legitimate reasons. First off, the first ever music I heard was from Journey, which kind of feeds into the whole “you’ll pretty much be biased towards media similar to the first ever media you consume” mindset (but in my defense, I’m actually not a particularly big Journey fan these days). The second and third reasons boil down to the same source: the student body of my middle and high schools. I hated them all, which is a typical thing for teens to go through. But I was also socially awkward, so I never joined their brooding circles or whatever. As a result, I missed a lot of the bands that came up at the time (plus, I would have a fear of metal music until I heard Black Sabbath’s Iron Man on a classic rock radio station and had my life changed forever). I was SO edgy, hip, and against the status quo, that I reveled in being an outcast by listening to something that probably doesn’t get many new, young fans these days: the aforementioned classic rock. I continued to reject 2000s music until Japanese music further changed my life by showing me that current music can be good. As a result, I steeled my resolve and used the power of Apple Music to take a trip back to the 1990s and early 2000s, and see what bands I would’ve listened to if it weren’t for my sheltered childhood. Results… varied. Just so it’s not about “me-me-me”, this post will serve as a basic rundown of five bands, in case you never heard of them or were considering giving them a try.
Attempt #1: Slipknot
“Wait, what are you hashtagging the number one for?” you ask. Well, you young’un, the hashtag symbol used to be a symbol that meant “number”, hence “#1” in the example. ANYWAY, the first band I tried was Slipknot. They’re incredibly popular, but being the degenerate I am, I only knew of them thanks to a line in Hotel Transylvania that actually made me scared of them for years. From what I’ve heard so far, it seems obvious that this band helped pioneer the new “edgelord” culture. According to the Apple Music bio, they invented a new metal genre, creatively named “nu metal” (SUCH EDGY MISSPELLING), which seems to be just regular metal but with angstier, on-the-nose lyrics about all the tortured thoughts and experiences teens go through.
If you’re new to this blog, I’ll make it clear that I always have a problem with teen angst, at least in the way it’s portrayed here in the U.S. I get that metal was formed out of anger, but that was… well… a more mature anger I guess? But in the case of Slipknot, it felt like they were a bunch of frat boys instead of grown men. I wasn’t really into them until their third album, which I’ll admit had some very good and varied music composition in it.
But the key words are “music composition”. The lyrics grow angstier and angstier. I get that a lot of teens can relate to the lyrics, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t written in “angst-enese” in such a way that makes me cringe. If you wrote out the lyrics of any Slipknot song, 99/100 times it’d look like a passage in a YA novel, and in case you’re new to this blog… I don’t exactly like YA novels!
To top it off, lead vocalist Corey Taylor has an extremely one-dimensional personality in his singing. He’s not bad… he’s just not good. When it comes to vocalists, little nuances in their delivery make all the difference. From iconic things like David Lee Roth’s weird banshee screams, to minute things like Dee Snider’s evil snicker before the first chorus of Burn in Hell, the devil is in the details, and Taylor seems to disregard that. His vocal range is either “brooding teen” or “screaming brooding teen”. Taylor does try stuff, such as ragged breathing and practically making out with his mic at times, but it hasn’t really gotten to me. It took me until very recently to discover why I don’t like his singing: he feels too human. When it comes to my favorite singers, there’s a distinct feeling of “This is an actual person singing this?” Instead, Taylor comes off as “This is an actual person singing this.” (notice the lack of a question mark?). Maybe that’s what he was going for? Anyway, I’m currently halfway through Slipknot’s discography, and in the process of going back through those albums to see if the band grows on me. If you can convince me that Corey Taylor is a really good singer, then I could probably give the band less flack.
Attempt #2: Disturbed
I don’t even remember how I know they exist. But thank goodness I do, because I’m finding Disturbed to be a huge improvement over Slipknot. They have the same angst in their lyrics, but everything else feels… better for some reason. One big factor is lead vocalist David Draiman. While he’s not top-dollar, he at least has some form of identity with what I can only describe as “his impression of Link from Legend of Zelda” that he frequently does in between lines of lyrics.
The thing that got me most interested in Disturbed was their covers. They do some pretty thoughtful remixes of some stuff well outside their genre, such as Tears for Fears’ Shout. These covers are great, and they help Disturbed to stand out from other metal bands.
Unfortunately, Disturbed seems to have trouble standing out from themselves. I get that not every song can be perfect, but a lot of them have kind of been samey thus far. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but the way Draiman sings verses specifically sounds similar across a lot of their songs. But hey, if that’s the biggest issue I have, then that’s not too bad, especially compared to Slipknot! At the current rate, I’m bound to become a dedicated Disturbed fan.
Attempt #3: Dream Theater
I considered not counting them for this post, because they started in the late 1980s. However, they didn’t gain traction until the 1990s, which I judged would’ve put them just within range of my being exposed to them while I was in high school. Also, if I didn’t count them I’d only have four bands on this post and it had to be three or a multiple of five because I have OCD.
I only know of this band thanks to one of my favorite YouTubers, NintendoCaprisun. In one video (an episode of Secret of Evermore I think?), he discussed listening to this band, Dream Theater, and he said “it sounded like Rush”. When I was a teen, Rush was the first band I consciously decided to get into, and they were one of my favorites. And yeah… they do sound like Rush.
If you want fantastic prog-metal, Dream Theater’s got you covered. Their songs vary wildly in melody, tone, and lyrics and incorporate synth as well. However, my one concern is that while they are a prog band, they aren’t exactly a prog band. I get that there’s only so much a human mind can create, but prog rock- by definition- has to keep pushing the envelope, and that technically applies to the genre itself. Of course, I’m only at Dream Theater’s earliest albums, so that could change. But for the time being, even “faux-prog” is better than most of the crap that’s popular these days, and as such, I fully intend to become a Dream Theater fan… once I catch up to their umpteenth album.
Attempt #4: DragonForce
This was the first band I had never actually heard of until they came up on my Apple Music feed. Yes, the rock I live under is so heavy that I didn’t even know about the “Through the Fire and Flames Band”, nor Through the Fire and Flames itself. I only came across the song during TheRunawayguys Colosseum events, where The8BitDrummer would drum the song… just for the VOD to get muted. Because his other favorite songs were very… memey, I thought Through the Fire and Flames was the same case. But ‘lo and behold, as if it were destiny, I discovered DragonForce.
And boy, what a discovery! In a nutshell, DragonForce has an inspirational, heart-pumping, get-your-ass-out-of-bed mood reminiscent of Survivor, but with a touch of metal. Very fast metal. Part of me even thought that they sped this stuff up in post, but I’ve heard enough talent to know that humans are more than capable of playing like that (also, you know, the fact that The8BitDrummer did just that on a livestream). I can’t help but thump the floor with my feet (since I mainly listen to music sitting down these days) to their psychotically fast rhythms. Plus, their whimsical, positive lyrics, coupled with the members’ choir-like harmonies make any song from them feel like perfect background music for an epic, large-scale fantasy battle.
Of course, such a specific style is going to get repetitive; there’s only so many combinations of chords for this (and tbh the final chorus of every other song is done in a capella). While I’m definitely not complaining about hearing such ridiculous metal, I highly advise against binging their albums. With that in mind, I am finding DragonForce to be my favorite of the bands covered in this post. While some of the others might be more creative, this band has such a fresh identity that they earn a lot of points from me (also the fact that my favorite is the least popular of these five is consistent with my reputation).
Attempt #5: Evanescence
Okay, here’s a confession. I only picked this band for two reasons: one, to make sure this post had a clean five subjects, and two, to share the story of how I discovered Evanescence. Why should you care about how I found this band? Well, because it will likely make you cringe at me. Yes, it’s actually a worse discovery story than learning of Slipknot through Hotel Transylvania.
Earlier this year, around the time that the coronavirus was just starting to spread- before people went crazy over it- there was some sort of collaborative effort with Evanescence and one of my favorite Japanese bands, Wagakki Band (which, for some reason, hasn’t gotten that much publicity despite this event. Good job Japan; you REALLY commit to not promoting your musicians!). I don’t know what happened to that whole thing, but yeah, I learned of one of the most popular metal bands of the 21st Century via a significantly less popular band, when it would’ve been the other way around for literally anyone else in the world.
Assuming you didn’t click off this post, I’ll actually get to my reaction to Evanescence itself. I’m gonna come off as a hypocrite right here, because Evanescence is similar to Slipknot in a way. In YA terms, Slipknot is the brash, loud, and reckless male protagonist, while Evanescence is the snotty, depressed-yet-entitled female protagonist. In fact, Evanescence is so teenager-y, that I initially mistook them as the band that was hired to do the RWBY openings (cringing yet?).
But for some reason, I don’t want to have a cow over this band. The music is angsty, sure, but they kinda have a thing going with their combination of metal, synth, and a sad, sad, ebony piano (all you need now is the world’s smallest violin). Also, their lyrics are a bit more eloquent. To use YA terms, Slipknot lyrics feel like they were written by John Green, and Evanescence lyrics feel like they were written by Maggie Stiefvater. I don’t particularly like either authors, but I definitely prefer the latter (are you REALLY cringing yet?).
The biggest surprise is the proficiency of lead vocalist Amy Lee. While she’s no Ann Wilson, Lee is substantially better than most female singers of this generation. Sure, she might sound whiny, but I think it’s been established that Evanescence is a very whiny band in general. But as much praise I’m singing for them, I only see them in 21st or 22nd in my favorite music artists of all time; barely missing a spot on the big Top Twenty post I’ve been working on. But at this point, I only just started their second album, giving them plenty of time to grow on me like a YA novel that’s so bad it’s good!
For years, I’ve thought that the U.S. and U.K.- the pioneers of rock and metal respectively- have lost their touch. But to quote Genesis’ Land of Confusion (which is on topic because it’s one of the Disturbed cover songs), I can see the fire still alight, burning into the night (now I got the song stuck in your head). Slipknot wasn’t a great first impression, but I definitely found some solid bands, even if I come off as blinded by nostalgia for liking the most eighties-ish of the five, DragonForce, the best.
You’ve probably heard all of these thoughts before, when you were a kid and MySpace was a thing. But regardless, I’d like some feedback. What do you think of these bands, and do you agree with my thoughts? Also, what are other great rock and metal bands of this generation?