Jacquie’s 2016 Year in Review – Music

BEST FULL-LENGTH ALBUM:

lynch. AVANTGARDEA-PHOTO-RED-FIX
AVANTGARDE, by lynch. – When it comes to lynch. albums of the past few years, it seems like it’s every other release that meets with my approval. Sure enough, after my disappointment at 2015’s D.A.R.K. -In the name of evil-, AVANTGARDE continued the pattern and earned a wholehearted thumbs up from me.

Let me first go back to D.A.R.K. -In the name of evil- and try to explain what I thought was lacking about that album. Some of the songs were just not to my taste, which happens. But even the ones I tended to like didn’t go in the direction that I wanted them to. For example, several of them started off well and sounded good, but at some point I felt the music needed to evolve, and instead, the melodies just repeated.

Happily, I can report that I had no such issues with the tracks on AVANTGARDE. While it still might not be up to the standard set by GALLOWS (2014), I enjoy listening to AVANTGARDE all the way through without wanting to skip anything. PLEDGE and UNELMA are standout tracks.

My favourite, though, is PHANTOM, which is gorgeously melodic and comes complete with some beautiful guitar solos. Heavy metal ballad-style songs such as this are one of the reasons I’m so glad I have Japanese hard rock bands like lynch. to listen to.
(Available on iTunes internationally)

BEST MINI-ALBUM:

UROBOROS - ZODIAC
ZODIAC, by UROBOROS – This sophomore release from Kamiki Aya and Kurose Keisuke’s band further showcased their gothic-flavoured hard rock sound.

Favourite tracks: Infection and Lunar Eclipse
(Available on iTunes internationally)

BEST SINGLES (A-sides & B-sides) in order of release date:

GALAXY STANDARD - BE MY STEADY
Be My Steady, by GALAXY STANDARD (Be My Steady, RUSH, You’re My Courage)
GALAXY STANDARD is the idol-group incarnation of the Saisei Stride Club from the PRINCE OF STRIDE: ALTERNATIVE anime. The singing is performed by the members’ voice actors, namely: Miyano Mamoru, Toyonaga Toshiyuki, Hirakawa Daisuke, Eguchi Takuya, Suzuki Tatsuhisa, and Ono Yuuki.

All 3 of these tracks, composed by R・O・N, made my Top 20 Anime Songs list for 2016.

GazettE - UNDYING
UNDYING, by the GazettE (UNDYING, MALUM, VACANT)
The third and final audio release of the GazettE’s PROJECT: DARK AGE, which also included a world tour that brought them to 4 continents across the globe. As an avid concertgoer and a fan of Japanese music, I end up doing a lot of travelling in order to see my favourite artists perform live. Excitingly, the GazettE came right to my neck of the woods and I got to experience them live in Toronto on the day of this single’s release, definitely one of the highlights of my 2016.

The title track seems to make some lyrical references back to the first single, OMINOUS, from DOGMA, which makes sense. I really love the part where RUKI sings “God, entomb my hate.”

Favourite track: VACANT.
(Available on iTunes internationally)

coldrain VENA II
VENA CHAPTER : II, by coldrain (Born to Bleed, Undertow, Gone (Acoustic), The Story (Acoustic))
The new recording of Gone is now, to me, the definitive version of the song. The vocals, instrumentation, and slower tempo are absolutely perfect. Now when I hear the original version, it actually seems too fast.

Favourite tracks: Undertow and Gone (Acoustic).
(Available on iTunes internationally as part of VENA II, a re-release of VENA (2015) which includes these 4 new tracks.)

VAMPS - INSIDE-OF-ME
INSIDE OF ME, by VAMPS (INSIDE OF ME (feat. Chris Motionless), RISE OR DIE (feat. Richard Z. Kruspe))
I was really excited for this single after seeing the advance PV for INSIDE OF ME. The month-long delay between the Japanese release and the international release date felt like forever.

The tracks, which are both excellent, are the result of VAMPS’s collaboration with western talent, including American producer Howard Benson.
(Available on iTunes internationally)

scribble and beyond cover
Scribble, and Beyond, by OLDCODEX (Scribble, and Beyond, Calling, The Experience)
This single collects the main themes from the two Kuroko’s Basketball compilation movies, along with a coupling song, Calling.

Favourite track: Calling. This is another one of those OLDCODEX songs that I think might sound complete and amazing as just an instrumental. Ta_2’s sexy low range vocals are the icing on the cake. Yum.

Other Notable Tracks:


TAKING OFF, by ONE OK ROCK – One of my favourite recordings by ONE OK ROCK in recent memory. Some fans complained that it was too much of a departure from their usual sound. I would argue that ONE OK ROCK actually have a pretty wide range stylistically, to the point that I only consider myself a casual fan of their work. They have certainly made darker-sounding rock songs before.

Even though I don’t necessarily relate to the message of the song (addiction), I do appreciate that the lyrics are really well-written. But can you imagine us boarding our overseas flight last fall with this song playing in our heads? “We’re taking off together / even though we always crash and burn / tonight you and I will fall from the sky” is kind of inappropriate and unsettling, to say the least! I wonder how many other ONE OK ROCK fans have had this very same experience? Great song, though.
(Available on iTunes internationally)


Deal with, by OLDCODEX – It’s the second year in a row that I have chosen a super-heavy theme song created by OLDCODEX, one that was used in a relatively obscure anime that got no other mention in my review post, as my number one anime song of the year. (For 2015, it was physical from Q-Transformers.) Deal with, which served as the rather jaw-droppingly heavy OP of SERVAMP, features an excellent balance of screamy death vocals and a catchy melodic chorus; the accompanying music is dark and intense but it is also offset by a couple of quieter guitar interludes. I love complicated songs like this!

For the complete list of my Top 20 Anime Songs of 2016, please see the “Year in Review – Anime” post.

Jacquie’s 2015 Year in Review – Music

BEST SINGLES (A-sides & B-sides):

X.U. scaPEGoat
01. X.U. | scaPEGoat, by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk] (X.U., scaPEGoat, INSANITY LOVE) – I have already gushed about this single before. The double A-sides, sung by Gemie and Yosh respectively, represent the OP1 and ED1 of the Seraph of the End anime series. As I said back in the spring, these Sawano songs are head and shoulders above the majority of music that’s commonly heard as anime themes and in pop charts. The B-side INSANITY LOVE is a quieter, melancholy tune sung by vocalist mica, and it’s no slouch either. As if that wasn’t enough, the TV size versions of X.U. and scaPEGoat are included, as well as the full instrumentals of both songs, making it evident that both of them shine even without their vocal tracks.
(Available on iTunes internationally – title tracks only)

Aching Horns
02. Aching Horns, by OLDCODEX (Aching Horns, Reminder, Get Up To Go) – It seems to me that there were very few new releases in the early part of 2015; I remember having only about 3 new songs to listen to during the first quarter-year. OLDCODEX saved my ears from boredom when they came out with the excellent “pledge” EP in April. They continued releasing anime tie-in singles through the summer and finally snuck in at the end of the year with this gem, the main theme single for the “High Speed! -Free! Starting Days-“ film. The title track seems like it might be a ballad at first, but soon makes clear that it is definitely not. It’s angsty and melodic and really good. And the B-sides, they’re killer.

As with their first “Free!” tie-in single, “Rage on,” these coupling songs are harder and heavier than their A-side. Reminder doesn’t feature much actual singing, but it doesn’t need it. Its melody is all in the instrumentation and there’s an attractive urgency to the song. Anyway, it sounds amazing.

Get Up To Go is the best. It is heavy, rhythmic, melodic, and complicated and everything I love about OLDCODEX and music in general.

GazettE UGLY
03. UGLY, by the GazettE (UGLY, DEPRAVITY, GODDESS) – It took me a while to warm up to UGLY. True to its name, it is kind of ugly, as advertised. But warm up to it I did. (“Death to traitors!”)

DEPRAVITY took less convincing, as it has a familiar GazettE sound; I’m probably thinking along the lines of BEFORE I DECAY (2009). The third track, GODDESS, is simply divine (once again, truth in advertising). It is heavy, dark, and just a little twisted and it actually reminds me a bit of QUIET (2013), one of my favourite the GazettE songs. If I had bothered to make a Best Song ranking for 2015, GODDESS would likely have taken the top spot.
(Available on iTunes internationally)

EVOKE cover
04. EVOKE, by lynch. (EVOKE, DOZE, GUILTY) – A huge wave of new releases from my go-to artists started at the end of the summer and continued into fall: multiple releases by the GazettE and a full-length album from coldrain, among others. lynch. unleashed 2 maxi singles and a full-length album at just one month intervals between each. “EVOKE,” the first single, turned out to be my favourite of the three, based mainly on the strength of the two B-sides. Incidentally, their album, “D.A.R.K. –In the name of evil-“, had its highlights, but I felt it to be a letdown after last year’s far superior “GALLOWS” album.
(Available on iTunes internationally)

BEST MINI-ALBUMS:

OLDCODEX pledge_350_350
01. pledge, by OLDCODEX – It may seem like I’m just an OLDCODEX fan girl, but that’s not entirely true. I’d say that lately, I tend to like their works more often than not. However, their music covers a range of genres and I’m not into everything they put out. The single that came after this, “Lantana,” for instance, with its more pop-punk B-sides, was not really my thing.

The selection of songs on “pledge,” though, represents the style of OLDCODEX that I love the most – their darker, more metal side. It’s almost like they made it just for me!

Favourite tracks: Lost before and physical (the “Q Transformers” OP)

ANOTHER ARK
02. ANOTHER ARK, by UROBOROS – I had first heard of vocalist Kamiki Aya several years ago. My sister used to listen to a lot of pop-rock guitar girls and Kamiki Aya was one of them. I remember she had more of a rocker chick image than some of the others and I thought it a shame that her songs were so tame. What a nice surprise it was to find her fronting this new prog-rock outfit! And UROBOROS kindly scored a tie-in for their first single, Black Swallowtail, as the OP for an anime I was watching (“Rokka –Braves of the Six Flowers-“), so I didn’t have any trouble finding them either.

Favourite tracks: Jyuuni ya and Red Moon
(Available on iTunes internationally)

BEST FULL-LENGTH ALBUMS:

coldrain VENA
01. VENA, by coldrain – How do they just keep churning them out? “VENA” is another remarkably strong record by coldrain, chock-full of hooky, appealing, modern rock songs. Vocalist Masato is really quite the lyricist. Listening to Japanese music all the time, I sometimes forget how much meaningful words can add to an already good song. It is obvious that English is Masato’s first language, but still it’s kind of ironic to find some of the most thoughtful, exceptionally well-written English lyrics I’ve heard coming from a Japanese band.

Favourite tracks: WHOLE and HEART OF THE YOUNG
(Available on iTunes internationally)

DOGMA
02. DOGMA, by the GazettE – In my opinion, this material is not as easily accessible or immediately engaging as the GazettE’s previous two full-length albums. “DOGMA” does sound very cohesive; and there are actually plenty of good songs in the track list. Unfortunately (and this might be an unreasonably high standard), I don’t consider any of them to be up there with the best work the GazettE have ever done.

RUKI’s English pronunciation has come a long way in the past few years. And his English lyrics make perfect sense too; just check out BLEMISH!

Favourite tracks: WASTELAND, BLEMISH, OMINOUS, DERACINE
(Available on iTunes internationally)

Dark before dawn cover
03. DARK BEFORE DAWN, by Breaking Benjamin – I never said I only listen to Japanese artists! Pennsylvania-based Breaking Benjamin received praise as well as criticism for sounding like themselves on their first release of new material in 6 years and after significant personnel changes. Personally, I thought it was the right decision to not stray too far from the tried and true for their comeback album. “DARK BEFORE DAWN” is a worthy collection of solid rock songs.

Favourite tracks: Hollow and Angels Fall
(Available on iTunes internationally)

For a list of my Top 15 Anime Songs of 2015, please see the “Year in Review – Anime” post.

Jacquie’s 2014 Year in Review – Music

2014 was unusual for me in that I didn’t listen to many singles during the year, to the extent that I will not be choosing a best single this time around, due to the lack of genuine contenders. There were, however, 3 albums that I really paid attention to. Here they are in order of release date:

A Silent, within The Roar, OLDCODEX

OLDCODEX released the strongest album of their career with “A Silent, within The Roar”, a very pleasant surprise as I found their previous albums to be disappointing, especially the last one, “CONTRAST SILVER” from 2012.

“A Silent, within The Roar” includes all their recently preceding anime themes, “Rage on” from Free!, “The Misfit Go” from Arata Kangatari, “WALK” from Kuroko’s Basketball S2, plus great new tracks which incorporate varied styles of music, such as metal, techno, and punk. Of course “CONTRAST SILVER” was creative and experimental too, but the songs from that record were much less accessible than these ones are.

My favourite song from all of 2014 is one of those album tracks: “wire choir”. I love the guitars and bass. And I love how the second set of verse and pre-chorus is different from the first set, and it’s so organic that you notice the change in feeling before you register the change in melody. It’s complex and heavy and melodic in the best way.

GALLOWS, lynch.

Compared to the OLDCODEX CD, “GALLOWS” by Nagoya-based lynch. is more heavy, more metal, but equally melodic. The individual songs don’t stand out as much from one another, but that also means there’s more consistency throughout the album. Like with OLDCODEX, I wasn’t expecting a lot going in, since I wasn’t that impressed with lynch.’s previous release either. Their “EXODUS” EP from 2013 had its moments, but I can’t say there was any track I really enjoyed all the way through. “GALLOWS” surprised me with how consistently good it is.

The best track, and my 2nd favourite song of 2014: “OBLIVION”. During the year, a few people might have gotten exposed to “GALLOWS” as a result of proximity to me or my car. To my surprise, just about everyone in that situation voluntarily expressed a favourable impression of “OBLIVION”. It’s that compelling.

The Revelation, coldrain

Early in 2014, coldrain, also hailing from Nagoya, signed on with an American music label, Hopeless Records. “The Revelation” is the resulting international debut release for the band.

This international edition, available on iTunes, has all the best songs from the 2013 Japanese album of the same name plus 5 additional tracks which were issued separately in their home country as part of the “UNTIL THE END” mini-album.

As with “GALLOWS”, there’s plenty of heaviness, screaming, and melody on display; and both records have a nice range of songs with varying tempo. But whereas lynch. tend more toward a visual j-rock sound, coldrain have a more western-style alt-metal sensibility.

“The Revelation” is a very well-rounded album, full of powerful, hooky melodies. Masato’s lyrics, which are all in English, are well-written, often featuring dark and angry themes, but at times reflecting hopefulness too.

It is actually difficult to select favourite tracks, since they are all so strong. It’s simply a great listen from start to finish!