“THE MORTAL” by the GazettE, from the album “NINTH”
☆ BEST SINGLE (A-side & B-sides)
“His/Story / Roll the Dice” by Nishikawa Takanori (OP & ED for Thunderbolt Fantasy: Sword Seekers, composed by Sawano Hiroyuki) (Available on iTunes Canada)
Honourable mention: “Heading to Over” by OLDCODEX – I loved all the B-sides (Bang, Another Point, and also Clean Out) but never warmed up to the title track, which served as the Free! -Dive to the Future- OP.
☆ BEST FULL-LENGTH ALBUM
“XIII” by lynch.
Favourite tracks: SENSE OF EMPTINESS, AMBLE (Available on iTunes Canada)
Runner up: “NINTH” by the GazettE
Favourite tracks: THE MORTAL, Falling, Sonokoe wa Moroku (Available on iTunes Canada)
I’m not inclined to do any kind of proper ranking for the past year’s music, so I’ll just recall some of the works that captured my attention and also a piece of my music budget in 2017. Presented in alphabetical order by artist.
I haven’t really been keeping up with Angelo, despite the fact that one of my favourite guitarists – Karyu (ex-D’espairsRay) – plays in the band, because KIRITO’s voice and hypo-melodic singing style are usually not to my taste. I don’t know, something must have changed, because “HETERODOX” is a pretty good listen all the way through! Even though it’s not quite as heavy as the music I typically listen to, it’s great in the car; and my CD is still spinning there now, as it has been since I received it back in October.
Actually, evil is my favourite song of 2017. Angelo uploaded the clip below, featuring the full PV for evil a patience-testing 3 months before the album (and any of its music) went on sale. I heard Karyu’s touch in this beautiful track immediately. By that, I suppose I what I mean is that the way I felt when I listened to it was similar to how I felt when I used to listen to some D’espairsRay songs. Karyu is indeed the song’s composer, as I later confirmed. KIRITO nails his delivery too; the slightly raspy vocals he uses really suit the song, and I don’t think he has ever sounded better.
“FATELESS” was another solid release from coldrain. Seriously, these guys never let me down. The only song I got tired of was the one they didn’t write, UNINVITED (although it was kind of cool that they covered Alanis Morissette).
Favourite tracks: A DECADE IN THE RAIN, FEED THE FIRE
(FATELESS-album is available on iTunes Canada)
The best news is that defspiral’s music is now on iTunes. Previously, I had to wait until I was in Japan to buy their CDs because they were not attainable from my usual online sites and also not available digitally. But no longer! Even the instrumental tracks are up, which is important; not only do defspiral instrumentals sound perfectly great on their own, but I always enjoy the full songs more after hearing them!
(AFTERGLOW-single, PHANTOM-single, TO THE GALAXY-album are all available on iTunes Canada)
At the start of 2017, lynch. were in a dark place. Akinori, their bassist, resigned from the band in the fall of 2016 following his arrest for marijuana possession. The remaining members were so unhappy with the situation, they were reluctant to continue without him. But they had to. Refusing to hire someone new, lynch. instead enlisted the services of several well-known bassists to help in the recording of their 2017 releases.
Things are looking up for 2018, as Akinori is coming back!
Typically, when a Japanese musician has to quit in order to not bring shame upon his band, it is a life sentence, regardless of the nature of his crime. It is pretty unheard of for such a person to ever be reinstated. But this is lynch.. The way I see it, they never needed an official bass player. They were a 4-piece for many years before Akinori came along. It has to be him. And it warms my heart that lynch. are about to be reunited at last.
Favourite tracks off “SINNERS”: KALEIDO, SORROW
(SINNERS-EP and BLOOD THIRSTY CREATURE-single are both available on iTunes Canada)
“they go, WHERE?” had a couple of songs that I couldn’t listen to (smiling, Julio), but overall, it was a balanced effort by OLDCODEX. Their previously released SERVAMP and Kuroko’s Basketball songs were included. And A Black Toy aptly demonstrated that they can put together a very competent techno-dance song, and at the very same time, still prove that rock is best!
Favourite tracks (not including Deal with, which was released in 2016): Million from Codex, Outsomnia
ONE OK ROCK
ONE OK ROCK released 2 versions of “AMBITIONS” early in 2017, one for their domestic audience in Japan, and the other, with all English lyrics and a slightly different track list, for international listeners. Not every song clicked with me, which is how it goes for me and ONE OK ROCK, but there were definitely a number of gems, including Bedroom Warfare, Bombs Away, Lost in Tonight…
And favourite track (not including Taking Off, which was released in 2016): Bon Voyage. At face value, the lyrics are about a depressing break up; but I can’t help but sense some hopefulness too, as if someone who was caught in a toxic or abusive relationship finally has found the strength and resolve to move on. The way the light keyboard melody rises above the dark-sounding guitar and bass, sounds almost giddy to me and reinforces this hopeful feeling.
(AMBITIONS-album, international version is available on iTunes Canada)
“Good Morning Dreamer” was the solo EP release of SHIN (ex-ViViD). I was pleasantly surprised to discover that his new music is more in line with the side of ViViD that I had liked most, the rock side that is. SHIN really is an amazing singer, and it’s great to hear from him again.
Favourite tracks: Weakend, 4444
Like ONE OK ROCK, VAMPS aimed to widen their international fan base in 2017 with the release of a full-length, all-English album. My previous experience with VAMPS music was kind of ambivalent – some of their songs I really loved, but many I didn’t. “UNDERWORLD,” which included previous singles CALLING, INSIDE OF ME, Rise Or Die, and Sin In Justice, turned out to be impressively good, and really consistent too. Unfortunately, this might be the last we hear from VAMPS for a while, as HYDE and K.A.Z. put their project on hiatus in December in order to recharge.
Favourite track: RISE UP, because I love the dark melody and heavy instrumentation. The theme of saying goodbye to the past and starting anew (as if, but not limited to, giving up your mortal life to become a vampire), which recurs throughout the album, is perfectly captured in RISE UP.
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)
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:
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.
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)
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.)
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, 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.
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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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:
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)
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)
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.
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.
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!
01. QUIET, by the GazettE (B-side of FADELESS) – Early in the track, AOI’s pretty guitar riff and RUKI’s calm vocal melody are tempered by a few discordant, almost off-key notes from URURA’s guitar, signifying that all is not well. One can understand and come to accept that life and love cannot last forever. But no matter how prepared you are, that doesn’t make it hurt any less when the time comes to actually say goodbye. QUIET is a sad, sensitive song that could have easily been a ballad. But instead, the tempo is dynamic; and in the chorus, the percussion is just a little faster than you might expect, or want, as if to emphasize the merciless, inevitable passage of time. The result is visceral: so painful, but so incredibly beautiful too.
02. Out of Control, by Nothing’s Carved In Stone – Very catchy second OP of the PSYCHO-PASS anime. Nothing’s Carved In Stone’s music tends to be more raw-sounding than is my usual preference, and I think the connection with the anime probably helped me to open up to this song. I definitely warmed up to it. The awesome bass performance throughout is a stand-out feature.
03. REPLAY, by VAMPS – This progressive rocker was released as a tie-in for the “Dark Labyrinth” game, and I loved it from the first time I watched the fantastical game-themed PV.
04. TO DAZZLING DARKNESS, by the GazettE (from BEAUTIFUL DEFORMITY) – Though stunningly good, it’s hard to compare this track with the other songs I’ve listened to throughout the year, since to me it’s so strongly connected to the album. In fact, the song doesn’t really seem complete anymore if it isn’t immediately followed by the outro CODA.
05. Nocturne, by Tomohisa Yamashita (B-side of SUMMER NUDE ’13) – My first, and I expect only ever, time to really like a Yamapi song!
06. Scarlet, by Alice Nine (B-side of SHADOWPLAY)
07. THE SWAN, by 12012 (from THE SWAN – EP)
08. BALLAD, by lynch. – Perhaps it was not very original-sounding in that lynch. have used this kind of melody and chords before. However, the result here was better than their usual.
09. THEATER, by ViViD
BEST SINGLES (A-sides & B-sides):
01. Rage on, by OLDCODEX (Rage on, Now I am, Swamp) – Rage on is angrier and harder than what might normally be expected from an OP of a cute Kyoto Animation series like Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club. This single would have sold well simply from the association with the highly anticipated swimming anime. They could have half-assed the coupling songs, but they didn’t. Instead, Now I am and Swamp are great songs in their own right, and even heavier than Rage on! As a result, I feel OLDCODEX disseminated rock music to a potentially new, unsuspecting audience; and that’s consistent with my personal agenda.
02. Soukoku no Tsuya, by Sadie (Madara, Setsugekka, face to face) – Arguably, Sadie might have sounded a bit derivative on these tracks, channeling DIR EN GREY and the GazettE more than usual. Nevertheless, or maybe because of it, they succeeded in assembling a powerful single record with these 3 songs.
03. FADELESS, by the GazettE (FADELESS, QUIET, FORBIDDEN BEAVER) – While they’ve been considerably prolific with their full-length album releases, this was GazettE’s only release of a single in the past 2 years. FADELESS made for a sexy, compelling A-side, and QUIET was, of course, outstanding. Ah, but it wouldn’t be GazettE without some contrariness, so leave it to them to follow up with the unremarkable-sounding and rather vulgar FORBIDDEN BEAVER. Well, it’s a strong single nonetheless.
04. AHEAD / REPLAY, by VAMPS – There are only two songs on this double A-side offering, but they are the best VAMPS songs I’ve heard, probably ever.
05. Deeper Deeper / Nothing Helps, by ONE OK ROCK (Deeper Deeper, Nothing Helps, Kasabuta) – ONE OK ROCK’s music tends to be hit or miss for me. This double A-side single, from early in the year, was hit on all 3 counts.
06. BALLAD, by lynch. (BALLAD, CRYSTALIZE) – While BALLAD had a typical lynch. sound, CRYSTALIZE represented more of a departure, with the inclusion of dance-y, electronic sounds. All the while, it still managed to retain a heavy rock sensibility.
07. GREED, by CATFIST (GREED, Smile, REGRET) – This was my introduction to CATFIST. It inspired me to check out their previous work and to buy their subsequent releases. Good stuff.
BEAUTIFUL DEFORMITY, by the GazettE
No doubt about it, the GazettE have done it again with this release which celebrates the twisted, miraculous beauty that is spawned when these five musicians combine their talents. Year after year, they’ve been very reliable with their releases, always expanding their sound, but never losing their identity; this was no exception.
Some of my favourite tracks: IN BLOSSOM, DEVOURING ONE ANOTHER, LAST HEAVEN, and TO DAZZLING DARKNESS, which blends seamlessly into CODA to close the record.
the GazettE have done an amazing job with both the intros and outros this time; and the way album opener MALFORMED BOX segues into INSIDE BEAST is also perfect.
(Honourable mention in this category goes to the Attack on Titan OST by Hiroyuki Sawano, which I’ve written about previously. Much impressed with this soundtrack. I spent many hours listening to it in the car during the summer and fall, even though it’s not exactly my usual J-rock music.)