Archive for March, 2019

Album of the Week 13-2019: NoGoD – Proof


With the visual kei scene being as full of rather faceless soundalikes as it is, it’s good to have bands like NoGoD pop up every once in a while. While the band does not use any elements that are all that different from what most bands in the scene are using – modern hardrock, melodic heavy metal, subtle hints of pop punk and J-rock aesthetics – they were always just a bit better than their peers. And with ‘Proof’ being probably the most consistent release NoGoD has released thus far, it rivals ‘V’ as the perfect album to get acquainted with them.

Stylistically, NoGoD is always at risk of being too little of multiple genres to appeal to fans of the respective genres. Approach them with an open mind, however, and you will find a lot to enjoy on ‘Proof’. Dancho is without a doubt one of the best and most unique singers in Japanese rock. Some people are apparently put off by the fact that he is always belting passionately, but I think that is one of his biggest assets. In addition, the rhythm section is rock solid and Kyrie is one of the more creative lead guitarists in the country.

‘Proof’ was preceded by two excellent singles. Selecting single was not always NoGoD’s forte, but they hit the nail on the head this time around. ‘Missing’ is very melodic and elegiac in atmosphere, but at the same time, the riffs are undeniably heavy, which pushes the song out of the power ballad territory it would have been in otherwise. Certainly one of the best songs in the band’s discography. ‘Arlequin’ is a little more uptempo and aggressive. It’s not quite heavy enough to be metal, but there’s a lot of metallic chugging on the lowest strings of the guitar, which is contrasted nicely with the open and catchy chorus.

That is hardly the only catchy moment on ‘Proof’. Opening track ‘Break Out!’ feels like a Japanese spin on the heaviest side of the Foo Fighters, ‘Dreamer’ is a little more aggressive in vocal approach, but just as memorable and ‘Tonight!’ will get stuck in your head no matter what. ‘Proof’ may sound even better when the band adopts a darker approach. The title track inverts NoGoD’s formula by making the verses more positive than its great chorus, ‘Shinkiro’ works its way through multiple climaxes and a wonderfully brooding middle section, while ‘Henrietta’ is surprisingly heavy with some inventive lead guitar work in its chorus. ‘Sendo’ is even the fastest, heaviest moment in the band’s history, bordering on thrash metal.

If you want to know what NoGoD is all about, ‘Proof’ may actually be the best place to start. It is generally slightly darker in tone than most of their other works, but every aspect that makes them the great band they are is here, right down to the fantastic instrumental ‘Kyoji to Tomoni’ and the awesome intro ‘In The Cage…’. Once, in the late seventies and early eighties, there was a time when hardrock and heavy metal weren’t two separate things yet. What NoGoD shows here is there is no need for that to be the case in the 21st century either.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sendo’, ‘Missing’, ‘Proof’

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Album of the Week 12-2019: Anthem – Nucleus


Some European label – Nuclear Blast, no less – finally has the balls to release Anthem’s music outside of Japan. Sure, the band needed a set of songs with English lyrics to accomplish an international record deal, but apart from the lyrics, Anthem was always easily one of the more European sounding of all Japanese metal bands. Their first international release ‘Nucleus’ is a collection of re-recorded songs from the last ten albums of the band. As a compilation and an introduction to the band, ‘Nucleus’ works remarkably well and even the transition to English feels suprisingly natural.

For those who don’t know: Anthem is one of the oldest heavy metal bands in Japan and still one of the best. Unlike many contemporary Japanese bands, Anthem does not dazzle you with displays of virtuosity, instead opting for ballsy, riffy metal that is actually heavy and uptempo, but not too fast. This band truly belongs alongside the likes of Accept and Judas Priest in any serious heavy metal collection. The spirited performances and excellent songwriting of the band make Anthem more than just a nostalgia act though. The fact that almost all of these songs have originally been recorded in the 21st century says enough.

Apart from the English lyrics and having Yukio Morikawa on lead vocals instead of original lead singer Eizo Sakamoto on some of these tracks, they really are not that much different from their original versions. I am quite happy that the keyboards have been pushed a little more to the background on tracks like ‘Black Empire’ and the goosebumps-inducing closer ‘Unbroken Sign’, allowing Akio Shimizu’s rhythm guitar to give the songs just a little more force. Producer and engineer Jens Bogren also makes the best out of Isamu Tamaru’s drums, which end up sounding modern, but not triggered to hell and back.

The song selection on ‘Nucleus’ is commendable as well. Sure, with a collection like this one, everyone misses a favorite, but Anthem really did a good job picking the songs that fit Morikawa’s voice best. There’s a few instances where I think Sakamoto did it better, but ‘Ghost In The Flame’, ‘Echoes In The Dark’, ‘Eternal Warrior’ and the aforementioned ‘Unbroken Sign’ almost appear to be written for Morikawa, while he wasn’t even in the band when they were originally released. The sequencing is done really well, as the album flows like a new studio record rather than a loose collection of songs.

It is good to see Anthem try their hand at conquering the European market almost four decades after bassist and main songwriter Naoto Shibata started the band. Everyone who enjoyed Accept’s post-reunion material will undoubtedly like ‘Nucleus’ as well, but in fact, every fan of traditional heavy metal should give the band a chance. High import prices are no excuse anymore. Anthem has more good riffs and memorable choruses than the average young power metal band and the rhythms are never less than extremely powerful. Hopefully this will not be their last European release.

Recommended tracks: ‘Immortal Bind’, ‘Unbroken Sign’, ‘Echoes In The Dark’

Album of the Week 11-2019: Kinniku Shojo Tai – Shinjin


Making a worthy comeback is one thing. Releasing a comeback album that is as good as your classic material is rare though. And yet, that is exactly what Kinniku Shojo Tai does on ‘Shinjin’. The band had broken up somewhat unceremoniously in the late nineties after a string of enjoyable, but highly inconsistent albums. A reunion was announced in late 2006 – without drummer Akira Ota but with original keyboard player Satoshi Mishiba helping out significantly as a session musician – and less than a year later, ‘Shinjin’ was released. Easily their best set of songs since their early nineties heyday, this is how comebacks should be.

With Kinniku Shojo Tai’s trademark bizarre mix of punk, metal, funk rock, prog and Queen-like theatricality being firmly in place, it would be tempting to say that nothing has changed since the split. There is a small, but notable change of direction to be found, however, as post-reunion Kinniku Shojo Tai has a notably stronger orientation towards melodic hard rock and power metal than before. And while some may argue that wild genre-hopping was an important part of the band’s sound, it does cause the overall sound of ‘Shinjin’ to be a little more consistent than before.

Of course, the band has not suddenly ditched all of its weirdness. There is some rather unique piano work underneath even the thickest guitar riffs and only very few western hard rock bands would dare to attempt a nervous, jangly sixties rocker like ‘Nukenin’. The fact that the first vocals on the album are some of the most aggressive “la-la-la” chants in music history (‘Nakanaori No Theme’) is quite telling as well. The campfire atmosphere of closer ‘Shinjin Band No Theme’ is one of the many moments evidencing the band’s sense of humor, but it’s surprisingly listenable as well.

Still, if you primarily want to hear Kinniku Shojo Tai rock out, ‘Shinjin’ is one of the best places to start. The blunt force of the band’s punk roots shines through on ‘Mishiyo Hikikaiken’, but there’s a surprising amount of class in their hardrockers too. Fumihiko Kitsutaka’s compositions, such as ‘Torifido No Hi Ga Kitemo Futaridake Ha Iki Nuku’ and the particularly neoclassical ‘Headbang Hatsudensho’, are renowned for that, but the powerful ‘Ai Wo Uchikorose!’ appears to be from the same mold, despite being written by his fellow guitarist Toshiaki Honjo. Also, letting a singer as shouty and unsubtle as Kenji Otsuki sing no less than three ballads seems like a bad idea, but they are fortunately quite good, the remarkably dynamic ‘Koshonin To Rosalia’ in particular.

Eclectic bands like Kinniku Shojo Tai usually have a couple of flaws on their albums, but they are quite limited in number on ‘Shinjin’. The sequencing could have been a little more effective and I am unsure about the necessity of the re-recordings of ‘Moretsu Ataro’ and the speed metal monster ‘Iwan No Baka’. Especially the latter does sound significantly better than the original version though. Having them on there does contribute to the album’s introductory value to the weird world of Kinniku Shojo Tai. ‘Shinjin’ is an album that plays to the band’s strengths, after all, and therefore worth a shot if you like any of the genres mentioned in this review.

Recommended tracks: ‘Headbang Hatsudensho’, ‘Ai Wo Uchikorose!’, ‘Iwan No Baka ’07’

Album of the Week 10-2019: Kipelov – Zhit Vopreki


Valery Kipelov’s name will forever be inextricably linked to the legendary Russian heavy metal band Aria, which he fronted until 2002. His current band, simply named Kipelov, is more than just a continuation of the Aria sound, however. In fact, Kipelov is much more in line with contemporary power metal, adding to the relevance of the band. Of the three studio albums the band has released so far, sophomore album ‘Zhit Vopreki’ is their best. There are many powerful riffs to be heard here and several German power metal bands could learn a songwriting lesson or two from the Russian quintet.

On ‘Zhit Vopreki’, Kipelov profits from having a well-oiled band. Predecessor ‘Reki Vremën’ was released six years earlier, but the band played a lot of live shows in the meantime and it is obvious that all the band members are on the same wavelength musically. Guitarists Andrey Golovanov and Vyacheslav Molchanov in particular are tight, sounding like a massive wall of guitars despite not being tuned too low or having an unusual amount of bass in their sound. Vocally, Valery Kipelov does not give the impression of being in his mid-fifties here, sounding as passionate and powerful as he ever has.

After a slightly theatrical intro, the title track shows the album’s mission statement and does it well. The song has a defiant, almost heroic atmosphere that should be synonymous with heavy metal. Uptempo, but not too fast is a common pace for Kipelov and really contributes to the power of the song, maximizing the impact of its incredible chorus. That tempo accounts for some of the album’s highlights, as evidenced by the following two tracks: the powerfully stomping ‘Blast Ognya’ and the catchy ‘Glamurnaya Ptitsa’. The lone truly fast track, ‘Etsë Povoyuyem’, almost pushes the band into speed metal territory surprisingly effectively.

However, what truly makes ‘Zhit Vopreki’ the best Kipelov album is the quality of its slower tracks. When the band slows down to an almost doomy, midtempo groove, the results are simply stunning here. ‘Bezumiye’ has a brooding, almost evil feel, but ‘Chërnaya Zvezda’ is a true highlight here. The riff work is relatively straightforward, but that is exactly what allows the song to be so atmospheric. In addition, the vocal arrangements are incredible; the dual harmonies are vaguely reminiscent of Alice In Chains, while the extra layer in the chorus is really powerful.  ‘Na Grani’ and especially the largely acoustic, profoundly dark ‘Dikhaniye Posledney Lyubvi’ are surprisingly excellent ballads as well.

Kipelov’s departure from Aria may have been a shock to the fan base when it happened, but in the long run, it all turned out for the best. Aria is still making great records with the fantastic Mikhail Zhitnyakov and Valery Kipelov is recording great albums in a style he, if ‘Zhit Vopreki’ is any proof, apparently feels more comfortable with. In addition, ‘Zhit Vopreki’ has aged very well. Nothing sounds dated, which can in part be accredited to the ballsy production, but in the end, it’s the songs that make it one of the best post-2010 power metal albums worldwide. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys the likes of Morgana Lefay.

Recommended tracks: ‘Chërnaya Zvezda’, ‘Zhit Vopreki’, ‘Etsë Povoyuyem’

Massive thanks to Ruslania for helping me purchase the album.

Album of the Week 09-2019: Sisters Of Suffocation – Humans Are Broken


Death metal that is both clever and varied without losing any of the aggression that is essential to the genre is hard enough to come by these days. That is exactly why it is good to have albums like Sisters Of Suffocation’s sophomore album ‘Humans Are Broken’ every once in a while. The music is complex, but not showy or hard to follow and while there are plenty of melodic touches and unexpected twists to surprise the listener, Sisters Of Suffocation never forgets the importance of brutality. ‘Humans Are Broken’ sets the bar pretty high for death metal in 2019.

Prior to the recordings of the album, Sisters Of Suffocation went through a couple of line-up changes. These changes have certainly had their effect on the outcome. New drummer and lone brother Kevin van den Heiligenberg makes his presence known through his powerful and varied drumming – you will never hear him play the same type of groove for too long – as well as his explosive and surprisingly natural drum sound. In addition, Emmelie Herwegh joined as a second guitarist, causing fellow axewoman and main composer Simone van Straten to really run with the idea of having two guitars. There are significantly more solos and harmonies here than on ‘Anthology Of Curiosities’ two years ago.

Another big plus about ‘Humans Are Broken’ is the amount of variety in material. Sisters Of Suffocation really explores all corners of death metal here, from the almost Bay Area thrash metal nature of the riffs in ‘What We Create’ right down to the subtle nods to black metal in more atmospheric tracks like ‘Liar’ and ‘The Next Big Thing’. Vocalist Els Prins has a few melodic outbursts here and there, but the music never veers into full-on melodic death metal or wimpy metalcore territory. Check out ‘The Objective’ for an example; the song is full of melodic guitar and vocal work, but the intensity does not let up for even a second.

Of course, anyone looking for a punch in the gut is served well by ‘Humans Are Broken’ as well. The absolutely annihilating main riff to ‘Blood On Blood’ will do just that and despite its progressive nature, there is plenty of pummeling riff work in the ‘Souls To Deny’-era Suffocation-esque ‘The Machine’, as well as what is probably the strongest guitar solo on the album. ‘Wolves’ packs so many ideas that it’s almost impossible to believe that the track is only three minutes long. And yet, the song never becomes disjointed, instead opting for a dark, immersive atmosphere.

While many younger death metal bands are trying to adhere to a certain trend or style, the main concern of Sisters Of Suffocation seems to be to write a good song and perform the hell out of it. And that is exactly how it is supposed to be. For some fans of certain subgenres within death metal, ‘Humans Are Broken’ may be too little of “their” thing, but really, everyone who likes their death metal interesting, slightly technical and somewhat melodic, the album is a must. If this line-up manages to stay together, I cannot see anything standing in the way of a bright future for Sisters Of Suffocation.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Objective’, ‘Wolves’, ‘What We Create’

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