Archive for March, 2018

Album of the Week 12-2018: Bittencourt Project – Brainworms I


With Angra’s music being as varied as it is, what more could guitarist and chief songwriter Rafael Bittencourt want to express? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Debut album ‘Brainworms I’ of his own Bittencourt Project is full of music that, while not completely sounding out of place amongst Angra’s oeuvre, would not fit on the albums of his main band. There certainly is more room to experiment with genres outside of power metal and progressive metal. Each and every one of these deeply personal compositions is performed with a passion that is rare among contemporary rock and metal albums. Very impressive.

Bittencourt is the lead singer on this album and although he has taken on some of the lead vocals on recent Angra albums, his heartfelt voice has a completely different range than the higher pitched singers he usually works with. Obviously, that requires a somewhat different approach in songwriting. And though ‘Brainworms I’ is still progressive metal to an extent, the hard rock, folk and even South American pop music influences make this a unique piece of work. Bittencourt is an amazing songwriter, but it also sounds like he gave the musicians he works with some space to be spontaneous, accounting for a very lively album.

Sequencing-wise, ‘Brainworms I’ is set up very cleverly, as opening track ‘Dedicate My Soul’ could have been an Angra track if it had a different arrangement. Due to its propulsive riffs and amazing chorus, it sort of eases its listener into the more “different” stuff. ‘The Underworld’ is another relatively heavy track, but quite dark compared to Angra’s quite upbeat take on metal. The interaction between Bittencourt and violinist Amon Lima in those tracks is incredible. The cover of Madredeus’ ‘O Pastor’ is surprisingly heavy as well. Definitely one of the most exciting moments on the album.

However, the softer moments are what make this album so interesting. ‘Holding Back The Fire’ is a stripped-down, Brazilian take on AOR, ‘Faded’ is a gorgeous dark ballad with a hopeful climax, while the twelve string guitar on ‘Santa Teresa’ gives the song an almost Led Zeppelin-like folk edge. ‘Nightfly’ is one of the highlights of the album, moving back and forth between tranquil passages, funky rock riffs and parts with a strong Brazilian influence. If anyone does not want to choose between folky and heavy; the amazing ‘Torment Of Fate’ has a tango intro, quiet verses and thick prog riffs. And a spine-chilling chorus.

Those expecting a shred album from the guitarist in a fairly virtuoso band will probably be shocked, as the only thing that comes (somewhat) close to that is the spirited instrumental ‘Comendo Melancia’. Yours truly has always had tremendous respect for Bittencourt as a songwriter and whoever else does, will likely be impressed by this spontaneous, lively album full of amazing songs. In addition, Bittencourt’s passionate vocals really lift these songs to a magnificent level. This is an honest, personal work of art that has the potential to appeal to a much wider group of listeners than Angra’s progressive power metal audience.

Recommended tracks: ‘Nightfly’, ‘Torment Of Fate’, ‘Dedicate My Soul’

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Album of the Week 11-2018: Buck-Tick – No. 0


With Buck-Tick on a surprisingly high second career peak from their 2005 masterpiece ‘Jusankai Wa Gekkou’ onward, a new album is always something to look forward to. Especially considering how good 2016’s ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ was. And while ‘No. 0’ isn’t quite as good as its predecessor was, there are a couple of new winners in Buck-Tick’s oeuvre to be heard here. The gothic-tinged first single ‘Babel’ is one of them, but ‘No. 0’ is anything but a return to the dark goth sound of ‘Jusankai Wa Gekkou’. Instead, it feels either like a logical continuation or an update of ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’.

Compared to ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’, the electronics and samples are a little more pronounced on ‘No. 0’. They are nowhere near as prominent as they were on Buck-Tick’s nineties albums, on which they tend to dominate the productions, but those looking for more of the live sound that could be heard on albums like ‘Tenshi No Revolver’ or ‘Memento Mori’ may scratch their heads in bewilderment. These days, the electronics are a part of the songwriting process rather than the production process and as a result, they hardly ever become overbearing. The electronic rocker ‘Gustave’ and the ballad ‘Moon Sayonara Wo Oshiete’ are borderline though.

‘No. 0’ has a couple of notable peaks. First of all, there is the triptych of the exciting electrorocker ‘Salome -femme fatale-‘, the beautifully dramatic ‘Ophelia’ and the driving “live Buck-Tick meets electronic Buck-Tick” of ‘Hikari No Teikoku’. The latter has a wonderful chorus opening up the climax of the track, while ‘Ophelia’ really profits from its supreme dynamics and Atsushi Sakurai’s unique emotional vocals. The album ends on a high note as well: the aforementioned ‘Babel’ is a sublime catchy gothic rock song, ‘Guernica No Yoru’ a gorgeous minimalistic ballad that leaves Sakurai plenty of space to excel and ‘Tainai Kaiki’ rounds off the album in an upbeat atmosphere.

Before, after and between those songs, Buck-Tick explores the possibilities of their sound. Guitarist and electronic enthusiast Hisashi Imai first and foremost. The aggressive cyberpunk sound of ‘Igniter’ is an obvious Imai contribution, while ‘Nostalgia -Vita Mechanicalis-‘ and opener ‘Reishiki 13 Gata Ai’ have a menacing vibe that is the trademark of the guitarist. ‘Bisshu Love’ features the type of defiant eroticism that Buck-Tick has become known for through the years. By contrast, the songs that guitarist Hidehiko Hoshino wrote are generally more traditional rock songs, though the synth-driven electronic rocker ‘Barairo Jujidan -Rosen Kreuzer-‘ is atypical for him.

Though Imai’s fascination with noise and electronics gives ‘No. 0’ a slightly more electronic edge than its predecessors, it is another typical Buck-Tick album compositionally. The songs may come across a little more chaotic than usual initially, but they feature some tight writing and some excellent hooks for Sakurai to work with. I will be the first to admit that his deep, heartfelt voice is one of the main reasons why Buck-Tick appeals to me, but they have been releasing great albums for quite some time now and ‘No. 0’ certainly fits that pattern. Highly recommended to open-minded fans of visual kei, J-rock, gothic rock and nineties U2.

Recommended tracks: ‘Babel’, ‘Ophelia’, ‘Salome -femme fatale-‘

Album of the Week 10-2018: Seikima-II – The End Of The Century


Classic heavy metal with a distinct theatrical edge, heavy kabuki-styled make-up on the band members, a downright hideous album cover… We must be dealing with an excellent Seikima-II album. Back in the mid-eighties, when original guitarist Damian Hamada had already left the band, but was still writing most of the material, they were really the only Japanese band that could hold a candle against Anthem if traditional, British-styled heavy metal was what you were looking for. When the band delved into more varied territory shortly afterward, they still delivered quality material, but there is a certain charm to these early songs.

Despite all the borderline ridiculous touches in terms of atmosphere and thematic approach – which I suspect were at least partly parodic in nature – part of why ‘The End Of The Century’ is so good is just because it makes sense. Sure, if you just want to listen to the excellent songs, the little interludes disrupt the flow of the album a little and it does not help that Demon Kogure’s narrations make little sense if you aren’t familiar with the Japanese language, but the songs are actually really good. The guitars sound surprisingly punchy for a 1986 production as well.

If you look at Seikima-II’s setlists throughout the years, you will find that almost every song on ‘The End Of The Century’ became a live staple for the band, with the possible exception of the doomy ‘Kaiki Shokobutsu’ and ‘Akuma No Sanbika’, the latter of which is a beautifully arranged masterpiece of guitar and vocal harmonies and one of the best Seikima-II songs. Even the instrumental opening track ‘Seikima-II Misakyoku Dainiban -Soseki-‘ ended up opening most of the band’s concerts. Sure, only half of it frequently made it to the stage, but the other half is full of exciting riffs and themes.

The remaining tracks are all classics, the best of which being the fantastic title track. It’s nothing too complicated, but its riffs are just classy and effective. ‘Roningyo No Yakata’ is another one that is textbook Seikima-II with its powerful main riff and horror-themed lyrics, while closing track ‘Fire After Fire’ combines the power of a speed metal-styled opening riff and a chorus that refuses to leave your head. ‘Jack The Ripper’ completes the fascination with British metal by employing a British theme in its lyrics. Sure, the actual English lines could have used some work, but the song is energetic and catchy as hell.

While it would be easy to dismiss Seikima-II as a Japanese Kiss ripoff – which, I’m not ashamed to admit, is what I initially did – but they have much more to offer in terms of consistent songwriting. And if it’s consistent heavy metal you want, you can hardly go wrong with ‘The End Of The Century’. ‘Demon’s Night’ is fairly average, but everything else is among the best traditional heavy metal released in the eighties. Don’t let the kabuki appearance and the poor album cover discourage you: ‘The End Of The Century’ is an incredible album.

Recommended tracks: ‘The End Of The Century’, ‘Akuma No Sanbika’, ‘Roningyo No Yakata’

Read about Zakk Wylde’s guitars in Gitarist


Recently, I have sat down with Zakk Wylde to talk about the new Black Label Society album ‘Grimmest Hits’, but more importantly, the equipment of Wylde Audio. A couple of years ago, Wylde surprisingly said farewell to his trusted Gibsons and Marshalls and started manufacturing his own gear. Gitarist was of course very curious about his ongoing guitar projects and much to my surprise, the interview was chosen to be this month’s cover story. If you are curious about the guitars that Wylde has been working on and you live in Holland or Belgium, I can only recommend you to pick up the issue of Gitarist, which is in stores now.

That is not all there is, of course. As usual, I took a majority of the music reviews upon me, but there are also lots and lots of gear reviews in the magazine as well. In addition, there are some very insightful interviews with master luthier Makoto Terasaki from acoustic guitar giant Takamine and Adrian Emsley of amplifier brand Orange, the latter of which I actually use equipment of myself.

In the last few weeks, I have been working on a few other interesting interviews and features, so please stay tuned!

Album of the Week 09-2018: Buck-Tick – Atom Miraiha No. 9


With the release of the new Buck-Tick album ‘No. 0’ less than two weeks away, let us focus on why there is a reason to get excited about that. Unlike most other visual kei pioneers, Buck-Tick is still relevant today. In fact, they have been experiencing a second youth of sorts, which I personally prefer to their original youth. Their last album ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ even feels like an anthology of the band’s career, despite containing new material exclusively. How they achieved that is quite simple: they focused on their biggest strengths rather than aiming for a certain sound or aesthetic.

Prior to ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’, Buck-Tick has been pursuing a more live sound after a decade of being strongly influenced by industrial rock and electronic music. Understandable, because while they did release a couple of great songs in those years, the electronics and samples were often too prominent and distracting. They have obviously learned from that experience, as ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ incorporates those influences into Buck-Tick’s music in a manner that is much more pleasant to listen to. No longer do the electronics bury the songs, they are a much more sutble and integral part of the compositions this time around.

The songs themselves are excellent. They retain the rocking energy of albums like ‘Memento Mori’ and ‘Tenshi No Revolver’, but the use of samples and synths gives the material a slightly more atmospheric edge. This is especially apparent in the more subdued songs, such as ‘Manjusaka’, which starts out sounding like an electro track, but quickly develops into a passionate J-rock ballad with superior dynamics and – as usual – a breathtaking vocal performance by Atsushi Sakurai. ‘Ai No Soretsu’ is even more beautiful, with Sakurai getting all the room to shine and the emotional chorus being the perfect apotheosis.

However, when ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ rocks, it is just as good. ‘Pinoa Icchio -Odoru Atom-‘ is driven and aggressive, ‘Bi Neo Universe’ is remarkable in the way the synths and the guitars interact and ‘Future Song -Mirai Ga Toru-‘ is a propulsive duet between Sakurai and guitarist Hisashi Imai. The album’s best song is neither of the extremes though. Despite starting out with the line “aishiteru” (“I love you”), opening track ‘cum uh sol nu -Fresco No Besshu-‘ is dark and menacing, possessing an almost tribal feel. It never quite explodes as it seems to suggest, but that is its charm.

Just about every song on ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ is excellent. That alone should be worth getting the album. The only minor downside is that the deep basses of the synths and electronics occasionally push Yutaka Higuchi’s bass lines to the background, but he makes sure his expert work is heard when it needs to be. Also, at a little under an hour, ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ has the advantage that it is one of the few Buck-Tick albums that does not outstay its welcome. Even the incredible ‘Jusankai Wa Gekko’ – my favorite Buck-Tick album – did not manage to do that. All of this makes me very hopeful about ‘No. o’.

Recommended tracks: ‘cum uh sol nu -Fresco No Besshu-‘, ‘Ai No Soretsu’, ‘Manjusaka’

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