Greetings, fellow Monochromians! Yall doing, alright? I certainly hope so!
As we close out the year 2019, some of the Official Reviewers and Staff members thought we'd take a look back at some remarkable (and one or two remarkably bad) J-rock albums that turned 10 this year! So whether you were around 10 years ago or not, let's discuss! What do you think of the entries on our list? What are your favorite J-rock albums that turned 10 this year? Did they age well for you? Let's talk about it!
9GOATS BLACK OUT
The sophomore release that followed their iconic debut album Devils in Bedside, Black Rain gave the fans exactly what they were waiting for, more of that hypnotic, bluesy nagoya kei abyssal void to lose ourselves in. While the album never seems to get the fanfare of the releases before and after it, it stands on its own all these years later just fine. Ryo's guttural roars in "SALOME" still pierce the soul just as deeply, Hati's walking, rhythmic bass "in the rain" still stirs all of the vivid imagery it ever did, and Uta's echoing guitar strumming for "ROMEO" still haunts the dark corners of the mind. When you go back to revisit all the amazing albums of the last decade, don't you dare forget this one!
Devils in Bedside was shrouded in mystery. This melancholic band had literally no space in a scene that was filled with pop rock vibes and colourful looks. Nevertheless, 9GBO continued down their own path and released Black Rain. It’s a blessing that they never followed the trends surrounding the scene, or we might have never gotten one of the most dramatic creations in vk. The band is still a mystery at this point as no PV graced our eyes with this album, all we know now is that these guys are *not* a one hit wonder. I believe that because of the lack of visuals and their mature sound (way ahead of their time) 9GBO never reached the success they deserved. Listening to Black Rain is like opening a fantasy book and losing yourself in a beautiful rainy landscape. The topic of rain has been explored a million times in visual kei, but Black Rain captures the feelings and nuances of its title very effectively. ‘Romeo’ and ‘In the Rain’ are still some of my favourite tracks ever and I remember playing them over and over back in the day (I still do, but I try to limit myself). Whereas Devil in Bedside was drier and raw, Black Rain is simply dripping with emotion. It's escapism at its best.
While most fans of 9GBO fell in love with their debut album Devils in Bedside, it was Black Rain that made me a fan, as this was also my first time listening to them. I was convinced 9GBO were going to be remembered for years to come as this album to me has depths of artistic expression not relative to other acts of this time; they reminded me so much of deadman, they were in a league of their own. It did indeed feel like each track told a story, some clinging on to life, with others full of warmth and energy. “In the Rain” would be my favorite song from them to this day, as the harmony of light and dark, simple chords and the complexity of how they’re interpreted, left a respectable mark on my listening experience of them so many years ago.
Give SUICIDE ALI a plaque next to the likes of √eight and Werkmare and Deluhi in the Visual Kei Hall of 'We Captured Lightning in a Bottle Exactly Once and the Rest of Our Releases Really Kind of Suck'.
Nothing should be taken away from 第4のwaltz because SUICIDE ALI weren't able to recreate its magic however. 第4のwaltz is all over the place in the best possible ways. Songs with goth midi-satyr-flute, acoustic guitar strumming, nu-metal tinged bass guitars and gang shouts behind rushed lead vocals shouldn't work at all but oh my God "笛吹童子" is one of my absolute favorite songs from 2009.
第4のwaltz would get my vote as the best album released by Starwave Records/ Darkest Labyrinth. Often when Kiwamu gets involved I find releases simultaneously over- and under-produced but the combination of studio effects and just letting a band be who they are collided in a magnificent way for this album.
There isn't another album in all of Visual Kei that sounds exactly like 第4のwaltz. Let it stand as a monument to glory for both a band and record label that often disappointed otherwise.
- @The Reverend
Ah, the posterchild for our website lol. For those of us around then, it was REDEEMER that divided the D'espa fanbase. If you were just getting into the scene during this time, you’d marvel at how great the album was in the wake of Visual Kei’s exposure internationally. It had pop, rock, and melodies that made it very easy to embrace by western newcomers who weren’t familiar with the history of D’espairsRay and the current trend in Visual Kei. For fans that were around since the band’s formation, however, this album felt like a far cry from their dark and gothic VK days. I never realized how creative the approach for this album was, as you don't see this level of dedication to the music, to which D'espairsRay were no strangers to.
They were always known to place their music as that symbol of expressive emotions that suited their name and I felt that REDEEMER upheld their ideal while keeping the VK aesthetic close by. While I understand the album underwhelms to some, it still retains that creativity that none can deny was what really mattered during this age, and with Hizumi’s way of singing being otherworldly, their arrangements were an art form itself. “Heaven’s Color”, one of my favorite songs of the album and the last decade, has lyrics portrayed beautifully in Hizumi’s singing along with the instrumental chords that kindle an ethereal feel, eternally associating the colors of heaven to a song that continues to give me an ephemeral rush of emotions today.
just A moment
Back in the day, long before TK ever whispered on any anime songs or produced for any Jpop artists, when people were still spelling their name "rin toshite shigure", ling tosite sigure were to J-indie fans what DIR EN GREY or the GazettE are to visual kei. The band's musical acumen and trend-setting innovation pretty much guaranteed that each new release would be a spectacle met with critical acclaim.
Naturally, that was the case with just A moment too. ling had just struck a deal with Sony Music Japan, so this was their first major label album. There may have been concern that they'd be plagued with the dreaded major-label curse and fall off like their contemporaries 9mm Parabellum Bullet, but this album quickly put all those worries to rest.
just A moment definitely reigned in ling's sound a bit and established more structure in their songwriting, but the quality of their music did not suffer at all. In fact, ling remained just as intense, emotional, and creative as ever. Plus, this was the first time that we got to hear ling's music with actual state-of-the-art production!...and DAT BASS!!! W000!!!! But I digress.
Including this album was a no-brainer for me. It was bangin' then, and it's bangin' now. ling has always been in their own lane, and in my book, they wouldn't go on to release anything sub-par until after 2013.
VERSUS turns ten this year and it does not feel like the album is that old. It feels five to six years old, tops. I still spin this album regularly, more than I can say for subsequent -OZ- albums. This is the definition of an album aging well and a lot of credit must be given to how cohesive VERSUS sounds and how well it flows. It's an effortless listen that is also very rewarding, two compliments I rarely give out at the same time. -OZ- had one sound with a few minor variations, but that doesn't matter because this album hit on all of the things that made this band an unstoppable juggernaut of a metalcore ensemble. Album opener "LAST SHELL" is worth admission price alone, and album singles "FILMY", "VENOM", and "DETOX" are all fun bangers that work surprisingly well in the studio knowing they were composed for lives. This is the distillation of -OZ-'s essence into a bite sized package that's great for recommending when their complete collection album proves too daunting to tackle all at once.
Before this album released, I had very little exposure to lynch. as I found that their growls/yells were a tad too off-putting and raw for my tastes and other bands in the Nagoya Kei scene caught my attention. Once I heard about SHADOWS and the shift in musical direction that included vocal tweaks, I gave it a listen. The distinct guitar chords that I remember liking had more lead roles this time, all while overhauling their method of growls/yells with a new form of aggression that could better suit the new atmosphere that was apparent as you listened. Truly, there were a lot of new ideas thrown into making the album a prolific release, one that even I could admire. SHADOWS, from what I hear, was one of those in-between albums for the band, and this could be true because musical concepts from this album are still existent with their current work.
The Artificial Theory For The Dramatic Beauty
Arguably, TATFTDB is Crossfaith's most electrifying album. It got the attention of the global metalcore scene almost instantly. Even if the band has drifted away from their experimental roots, TATFTDB is one of those staples that refuses to be forgotten. Crossfaith blended electronic elements and hardcore in such a way that the former never lost its ability to slice through the utter brutality of the latter, effectively contrasting and spotlighting all of the band's strengths at the time. Times change but this album still kicks ass.
Psysalia psysalis psyche
Back in the day, when actual J-indie communities still existed online, casual hate/distaste for VK was a common sight. Meanwhile, on VK boards, the fans were generally oblivious to the J-indie world and mostly just tended to their own interests. But every once and a while, you'd get a band like Psysalia psysalis psyche that existed on the fringes. A band that would simultaneously capture the interest of members from both communities. (ppl on last.fm were jokingly calling them "normal kei" back in the day lol)
By 2009, two EPs and a single had placed PPP on the radar of a decent amount of J-rock fans. Up until this point, they'd released a few standout tracks like "SUBWAY KILLER" and "Butch & The Sundance Kid", but the rest of their output was just solid and nothing more. Basically, they were the kind of band that were cool enough to check out, but not one that you'd set your expectations too high for.
So when they dropped Matin Brun, their debut full-length, I don't think anyone was ready! This album just completely eclipsed their previous output. It's like they entered into the Hyperbolic Time Chamber from DBZ because their sound matured by leaps and bounds in the one year since their previous EP. Their dark and edgy brand of alt.rock was still in tact, but it was far more refined here. In fact, everything was better - the songwriting, the musicianship, and even the production. Hell, they even threw in some shoegaze for good measure!
Sadly, the band's flame flickered out just a few years later and they disbanded in 2012. Their 2nd and final album felt more like a rushed and shoddily put together parting gift in comparison. However, Matin Brun remains standing tall in its own splendor. It's a testament to a band that was, perhaps, not done exploring their potential.
I remember clearly when Plastic Tree's Dona Dona album came out. It was right around Christmas and I must have listened to the album during my entire winter break. It holds many memories for me and the title track was one of the biggest standouts. Ryutarou sings as if he's about to break apart, which brings me almost to tears, but it's very beautiful at the same time with the sweet swaying guitars. From the album cover, one can sense that Dona Dona gives a darker mood, but not necessarily heavier. Although if you're looking for something a bit heavy, "sunset bloody sunset" and "Gagaji" does take the spot well. But overall, with the forlorn and bitter "Dona Dona", the remorseful lyrics of "1999", the tender and playful "Etcetera", and the cold and lonely "Sanatorium", the album conveys a dreary and soothing sadness. Dona Dona is also the first album to feature an instrumental track that shows more of their post-rock influences. And as a little plus, the album ends with the silly track "Yasashisa Kurabu", that easily brings a smile to anyone.
Yes vistlip released a different, full album this same year, but in addition to thinking PATRIOT is simply a better distillation of what makes the band great I also have to give the nod to PPATRIOT's amazing cover art (especially compared to Theater's complete lack of cover art.)
The members of vistlip said in an interview with JAME just before the release of PATRIOT that they don't have a band concept because, in part, "we might be trapped in it, so we do whatever we think is good... we are quite flexible." It's exactly this kind of attitude that makes PATRIOT a VK classic. There's a diversity in the eight songs of PATRIOT even though they all would fall under the wide umbrella of 'bright Visual Kei'. The vocalist Tomo takes some chances and screams a bit, but mostly understands what his range is and maxes what he *can* do (which is write some incredibly catchy refrains) rather than try to make his voice do things it wasn't designed to. The band isn't afraid of a crunchy riff but also want to write songs that are accessible and fun.
PATRIOT deserves a spot in your collection a decade after its release because it's a crowd-pleaser that isn't pandering. Love fun Oshare Kei but want something a little less squeaky and cute? This mini-album fits the bill. You're into heavier music but want something you could play for your mom to introduce her to VK that isn't scary but also isn't milquetoast? vistlip have been doing that for more than a decade now.
- @The Reverend
VANGUARD -of the muses-
You guys remember the hype for this EP? For those that weren't around, exist†trace had already claimed a spot in the top-tier list of bands in such a short amount of time and their PV for “VANGUARD” was a real teaser, being praised all over the web while providing even more exposure for the band. It was fitting because exist†trace had filled in the gap of gothic and darker rock fans yearned for, as this sound was already being left behind by bands like D’espairsRay and even Girugamesh. The shift from screaming and growling from their previous work was a surprise because it was how they gained recognition by old fans and somehow, they managed to keep that intensity going with more involved instrumentation and Jyou’s vocals being the new driving force. I’m a sucker for melodies in sync with the drum’s pacing and they did not disappoint. My favorite tracks on repeat were “花の咲かない街” and of course “VANGUARD”, possibly being the first song that will ever come to mind when someone asks for a song by them, so I highly recommend you give this release a spin.
Ambivalent Symphony was big step for exist†trace mixing their early raw sound with updated production elements to smooth out their rough edges and it makes for an excellent album. Certainly one of theirs I find myself returning to more than any of the others. From "RESONANCE" to "VANGUARD" you can see the band put every drop of their blood, sweat, and tears into making this album a top tier visual kei offering that would stand the test of time and get some much needed visibility for women in a music scene over-saturated with their male counterparts.
You thought they were done for this year with just one EP? Try a second one! exist†trace continued to blow the doors off the male-dominated scene by releasing Ambivalent Symphony only a few months later. Just as in the previous EP, Jyou decided to tone down the screams and growls, as I recall that at the time she was straining her throat at a very fast rate, but what we discovered was that she was an even more amazing singer once she focused her longer notes, bringing more life and contrast to their arrangements. I still herald Jyou as one of the best female singers of the vk scene and this album is a benchmark of what she contributed to the archives of old. Tracks I still play to this day are “Wrath” and “「終わりのない世界」”, and they are so synonymous to my memories of them. exist†trace may have also been the only band that still retained a gothic appearance in the visual kei scene, carrying over the heavy and dark basslines one last time in an era for them that would be short-lived, as the sound of exist†trace would soon change.
MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS
I'd argue that MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS are one of the most iconic indie bands to come out of Japan post 00's. Despite their original line-up consisting of all females, they somehow managed to avoid being typecast as just another "girl band", and I think that speaks volumes about their music. Frontwoman Natsuko Miyamoto (affectionately called 'Natsukon' by fans) has been a fierce & bold presence from the start. She's an absolute beast on the bass (known to always perform barefoot), and her signature croon is striking, yet pure. Of course, the other members are competent in their own right, but I think MassDre's appeal lies not in their technical ability, but in the raw sincerity and authenticity of their sound. WORLD IS YOURS perfectly exemplifies this and, in my opinion, is their best album to date!
Prophetic Faction - the Universe -
All of my favorite songs and recollections of Megaromania are from 2009’s Prophetic Faction - the Universe -. There is a lot of effort put into this album, from the tonal length and coordination of the guitar chords, to the timing of the riffs that enter and exit throughout the length of each song, and of course the intensity of the solos. Many fans from back then would say that they were one of the best bands to ever exist within the UNDERCODE label. Megaromania's musical arrangements were worthy of that Kote Kei distinction, as there was a youth and involvement from the band to create music full of harmony and expression that suited their visual aesthetic. That said, I’m definitely not going to forget to mention their amazing looks and outfits that you can still see in the PVs of “APOCOLYPSE” and “God of Megaromania-純血ノ刻印-“ as they are pretty iconic.
kamomekamome / DEEPSLAUTER / FUCK YOU HEROES
This split was bad-ass. The end.
ahaha, in general, I think split releases are a cool idea, but it's often the case that one band out-shines the other(s) and the split just isn't enjoyable as a whole. Thankfully, that's not the case here. All three bands brought their a-game, although they all represent different shades of hardcore. kamomekamome offered two tracks that are more on the post-hardcore side of things, with killer riffs and frantic, spoken word-ish vocals. DEEPSLAUTER is pegged as "power-violence" with a much more chaotic and progressive sound, and FUCK YOU HEROES is more or less your traditional hardcore punk. Splits are an especially common thing in the punk world, but this one is essential for Japanese H/C fans!
Once more we had the pleasure of enjoying yet another masterpiece from Nagoya Kei’s veterans with alansmithee. I feel this album best represented Aie’s talents, as his composing style heard today was born in this album, and being able to collaborate with Daisuke must have been a big factor as well. Beautifully paced tempos and lively guitar chords, the themes throughout the album were throwbacks to their earlier careers, as well as their progress up to this point. Gosh, nothing sounded more amazing than hearing Daisuke's voice resonate through your ears during long notes. As memorable as Nagoya Kei alansmithee was, it was nothing but a bittersweet moment for fans of the studs, as we found out that this was their last album. Not even a week after the release, the studs announced an indefinite hiatus due to the future direction of the band and creative differences that led to the departure of 2 of their core members. Even more crushing was Daisuke, who I consider one of the greatest singers in VK history, passed away the following year, and with him any hope we had for a comeback.
If I had to pick an album for 2009 that I still cherish as much as I did when it was first released, it has to be this one. It single-handedly launched me to expand my musical horizons deeply into the Japanese punk and indie scene outside of what I was finding in the vk realm. FACT was THAT band that found the perfect mix of punk aggression with extremely catchy melodies that lived seamlessly in both the pop-punk and hardcore ends of the spectrum. Even though most of them still have strong projects going since they split, I'll always find their music together as FACT what sticks with me the most. If you have never listened to the original album version or remix of "A Fact of Life" you absolutely have to go do that right now!
Hyacca was one of many bands that I came across in my J-indie exploration heydays via their 2006 album. It was good, but failed to leave a lasting impression. Fast-forward to 2009. I was reintroduced to them by Steven Tanaka (Founder of Next Music From Tokyo), who was raving about this album (which was new at the time), and long story short - Hyacca left a lasting impression this time!
I think the band had finally found their sound on this album - noisey and spastic post-punk with angular riffs and warped distortion. If I remember correctly, I think Steve once described the guitar tone in one of their songs as 'sounding like broken glass'. This album is a blast from start to finish!
Fans of melt-banana and limited express (has gone ) would love this!
THE CONTINUATION did exactly what the title implied: carrying over what worked for their last album which were clean and strong growls, versatile yet heavy guitar play speed, and melodic choruses. Several of the songs are re-recorded tracks from their early-era material , this time with different guitar structures and Ai behind the mic. This album was the perfect little metal package for fans new and old. The popular consensus online at the time was that THE CONTINUATION was on par with lynch.’s album SHADOWS, that I’m sure gave birth to the running joke/confusion on which album was who’s, making each band one and the same. Take a listen and let the others and I know from 10 years ago if we’re just crazy haha. Personally, I think that between the two of them, DEATHGAZE took the crown for 2009.
BOY NEXT DOOR
Although Arukara has been around since 2004, this was the album that really put them on the map for most western J-rock fans. The PV for "夢見る少女でいたい。", featured below, made the rounds online and quickly garnered comparisons to 9mm Parabellum Bullet, who were on a sharp decline at the time. In fact, I'd say it was 9mm's downfall that really made way for bands like Arukara and cinema staff to step in and fill that void.
BOY NEXT DOOR definitely showcased some of the indie-rock explosiveness that 9mm was known for, but it also proved that Arukara were very much their own band. Much like cinema staff's Mizuki Iida, vocalist Taisuke Inamura also has a strong singing voice which stands out in the J-indie world (where high-pitched and effeminate male voices are common and there really are no singing standards ). Taisuke's voice, the band's technical ability, memorable melodies, and compelling songwriting all make BOY NEXT DOOR a fantastic record. One of the best of 2009, with some of my all-time favorite Arukara songs!
ClearVeil’s RE:BORN is one of the many staples to this era of VK and even ten years later, still has many songs from this album in my music playlists. What made the band noticeable to many of us back then were the full-bodied basslines, clean and harmonized vocals, and if anything, the extra effort made to retain the visual sound from back then - I think was the most impressive to me. If I were to compare them, roughly, they were a combination of Rentrer En Soi, early-era D’espairsRay, and a dash of early-era Kagerou. Due to musical differences the band’s career was short lived, just shy of 3 years, but man did they tour a lot, so there’s plenty of video of them online. Since then, I believe that some of the members have moved on to more current projects like ORCALADE (they still around? Lol), so if you already listen to that band, check out where their sound came from with ClearVeil.
^ This promo pic actually does a fantastic job of summing up Far France's sound: wild, crazy, and tons of fun! They're fuckin' bananas! In fact, vocalist/guitarist Shinya actually garnered quite the reputation in Tokyo's live scene for being both a raucous performer and audience member. But beyond the band's silly demeanor, these guys actually boasted some serious musical chops, as clearly illustrated here on AHYARANKE. The entire album is one non-stop ride of spastic, psychedelic outbursts and proggy twists & turns. Even the seemingly unassuming tracks end up in a sprawling jam-fest, yet the band balances their chaos with groove and accessibility. Unfortunately, the band went on what seems to have been an indefinite hiatus after this, but they left us with a record well-deserving of praise even a decade later.
It’s odd to look back on this timeline because HYDE was already an established solo artist, back with L’arc en ciel and their return to music, composer for a ton of popular songs, even doing some acting gigs, and so just when you realize that he’s at a very high point in his career, he goes and unveils his new musical project. VAMPS is seen as a duo project with Guitarist K.A.Z, who had worked with HYDE for years on his previous solo releases, and so the music itself was already recognizable, yet their self-titled album went even further to bring in fresh ideas that have aged very damn well for what they are. The album combines previous singles that hyped the release (my personal favorite is the song “Time Goes By” in the Love Addict single) giving the album more variety to what I already thought was an impressive collection. If you’re a fan of his previous solo releases like 666 or Faith, then VAMPS will remind you of those throwbacks and some new delights for keeps, so check it out.
Z is....Z is something else.
They formed from the remains of legendary hardcore punk band There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (whose members also formed bands like As Meias and Hununhum)
I've seen them described as "Pharoah Sanders meets late-period Black Flag" and "post-avant-jazzcore" - WHATEVER THAT MEANS. They're definitely experimental, and they definitely have elements of jazz and hardcore. Their sound is also sinister and unsettling, often striving between free-form chaos and menacing grooves.
I definitely wouldn't call this album accessible, but Z incorporates all of these different traits in the most sprawling and immersive, yet captivating fashion. Almost all of their tracks take time to really build up, but the payoff is always worth it and the journey is a fulfilling one, especially with frontman Jun Nemoto's frantically animated vocals in tow.
A truly noteworthy effort from vets of the Japanese underground.
Anything related to the members of Baroque/Kannivalism, I was always excited about, so Kei's solo album silk tree. was one of the things I was looking forward to the most. Compared to Baroque and Kannivalism, Kei's solo work brought more of an ambient and electronic sound, which I was fairly new to and was not often the kind of music heard in VK, but I've grown to love the album with every visit. I even had a newfound love for the track "barred door." a few years ago, which for whatever reason didn't move me as strongly as it does now. There are many great tracks here, some featuring lovely strings and pianos, and some giving an energetic color. silk tree. is both whimsical and sorrowful, and is an album worth visiting over and over again.
Tales of Almanac
The origins of how I discovered FUKI were birthed right here with Tales of Almanac, coincidentally being their first full-length album. I came from a long history of listening to female JPop artists, so when I discovered that there was a metal band with a tiny and bright-colored woman as their vocalist who sung EXACTLY like acts such as Every Little Thing and Day After Tomorrow, I was hooked. Their PVs for “Upstream Children” and “Diamond” show a combination of hardcore guitar riffs and upbeat synths that provide the same satisfaction as deep growls and screams, something I didn’t think would sound great together but it did! FUKI’s highest voice tones were around this time, so if you’re a fan of hers, you need to see what she sounded like before to appreciate how dedicated she’s been to master her vocal range. LIGHT BRINGER’s existence might be before any other successful attempts to bring a lighter and cute tone with idols to metal like BABYMETAL and the whole wave of Kawaii-Metal throughout the next decade.
Technically speaking, cinema staff debuted in 2008 with their EP titled document, but personally, their follow-up Symmetoronica has always felt like their first real outing for me. Don't get me wrong, their debut was decent, but there wasn't much propelling them beyond your run-of-the-mill indie-rock band with pop leanings. And trust me, Japan is over-saturated with those types. However, this EP saw the band strengthen their song-writing with an emotional heft that had been missing previously. Although cinema staff has gone on to refine and even out-do what they've done here, this was an outstanding release in '09, and some of Mizuki's vocal lines are still memorable to this day.
When you listen to Unlucky Morpheus now, you would never imagine that they would sound any different than they do, but they’ve come a long way during their indie/touhou days from 10 years ago. It was Jealousy that introduced me to them, with none other than the tiny woman that could belt like no other as their frontwoman, FUKI. This album contained songs that paid a sort of tribute to metal legends like X Japan (the album cover is a nod to them too) and Onmyouza. Similar to her other band LIGHT BRINGER, FUKI provides a lively and energetic contrast to the various forms of metal like Speed, Neoclassical, and Power. So, while I can spend hours telling you how much I like Unlucky Morpheus and how insanely remarkable FUKI is as a singer, I’d rather you give this album a listen. Funnily enough, if FUKI’s current vocals are more your cup-of-tea than the vocals in this specific release, Unlucky Morpheus actually rerecorded the entire album for 2018, so you can sample that one as an alternative.
MASTER OF ROMANCE
10 years is long enough to quit comparing Sadie to DEG, right? As difficult as it was for the album, MASTER OF ROMANCE eventually ended the nonstop comparisons to DEG’s music, as there really weren’t many to be made in the first place. It was easy to forget back then but DEG no longer sounded the same, leaving a void that Sadie had perfectly filled in its place. MASTER OF ROMANCE was something familiar yet so fresh, an easy-listening experience for those fans that couldn’t stomach current era DEG and instead could listen to “what could have been”. A great blend of hardcore riffs, bridges, and lively tempos, you couldn’t mistake Sadie for anyone else. Mao’s vocals were amazingly as versatile as Kyo’s, which I feel most comparisons were made from, yet more dynamics in his singing is what brought more originality to Sadie, as it gave more life than their monotonous counterpart in my opinion.
As an early fan of SCREW, it was nice to still see their early-era aesthetic was still around even during the turn of the decade as most bands had dropped them. SCREW still retained that hardcore rock and punk music style in X-RAYS, along with the melodies and solos that only upped their flair. Also retained was Byou’s vocal experimentation with growls and crooning and so their music direction by this time had become synonymous to the band’s image. If you were a fan of or listened to Sadie, 12012, or even The GazettE during their mid 00’ eras and never listened to SCREW, then you should definitely give them a listen. This release represents a throwback for me as I was madly into these guys 10 years ago, and was easily a top album for me in 2009 as SCREW’s early years are definitely when they were their most creative.
Hailing sometime from the awkward era where the instrumentals were good but vocalist Byou still couldn't sing, X-RAYS is one of the black sheep of visual kei albums for sure. I never thought that I'd catch myself recommending anything from this era ten years from now, but things change. Dodge anything that sounds like a bad attempt at metal - which includes songs like "DRASTIC SLAVER", "VII CARDINAL SINS", and "void box" - and you'll find a more than competent rock band yearning to be set free. Go back any further than this and I find the vocals unbearable. Go any further than this and I find the instrumentals dull. "FIREFLY" is my jam and "RUIN AND DREAD" is a surprise carrying a tone completely unfitting for the name, and "answer" has one hell of a kick ass riff that almost makes you forget people liked to clown on SCREW ten years ago. As with most of the things I review, this would have been better off as a mini-album.
Ohhh man, I love this album. If any band was able to successfully make that musical transition without getting crap for it, it was alice nine. (This name sounds better than A9 honestly, and it was around this year that they changed to it from their previous name). I think the band members had a clear image of what they wanted to do musically, with high rankings on the music boards being proof of the good reception the band was getting from their musical change. VANDALIZE continued the bands’ success, as the album was very energetic and so musically rich that it could make you sing along even if you weren’t a fan. It seemed natural that you’d enjoy it. How they were doing it, I couldn’t tell you, but did it matter? It was the golden years for them and VANDALIZE was the most accurate representation of it. This album is easily one of my top 3 albums from alice nine. to date, and if you are new to them I’d check this release out because it’s a must-listen.
The ViViD Color
ViViD was a band that perfectly bridged the colorful, lighter side of VK with enough edge to be palatable for me, especially back in 2009 when I was stepping farther away from the typical VK pop-friendly bands. But The ViViD color had the right energy and hype to stand out that year among a very strong era for VK. They were a new face that PS Company desperately needed to carry the torch from their previous generation settling from rookie to veteran status. The guitar riffs from Ryouga and Reno on this album are just as flashy as the fashion choices, Shin's voice is bright and clear (and I was already a big fan from his work with 秋葉原少年団☆電脳ロメオ), and the tag team rhythm section and dj of IV and Ko-Ki topped the whole album off to give a grounded but exciting backbone.
Every once and a while, the stars align and the Gods see fit to bless us with a band that simply seems too good to be true.
Haisuinonasa falls into that category.
I remember hearing a demo version of "happy end" (the song featured below), and thinking that these guys would be something special. A few months later, they debuted with this EP (through the formerly esteemed Zankyo Records), and my premonitions proved correct. You could say they played a form of dreamy, math-rock with female vocals, but that would be denigrating at best. I've even seen some describe them as "piano-driven breakbeat" with elements of post rock, prog, minimal, and electronica, but whatever you wanna call it, machi nitsuite offered an entirely new sound that is just as singular now as it was then. I can honestly say that this was a flawless debut.
For Long Tomorrow
toe's first album from 2005 was (and still is) regarded as an instrumental/math-rock classic in Japan and all over the globe. So naturally, there was a ton of anticipation for their sophomore effort, For Long Tomorrow.
I dare say, they exceeded expectations.
This album is not only an evolution of toe's sound, but it's an evolution of math-rock in general. Unlike most bands of this genre, they're not content to just aimlessly noodle your face off with meandering riffs. Not at all. toe actually plays with intent, and their songwriting is full of character. Mino and Yamazaki aren't simply playing guitar - no, they're waltzing together on the fret board. Seamlessly. Gracefully. Kashikura isn't just an excellent drummer. nah, dude is narrating percussive epics in dis bih!!! 🤣
Basically, the band's chemistry is so stellar that anything they do is guaranteed to be high quality. And with their soundscape expanded to include keyboards, kalimbas, horns, and guest vocalists, this album truly put toe in a league of their own. They pretty much set the bar for math-rock.
(btw, the song featured below has been my ringtone FOR YEARS!!! )
view for voices
Don't even ask me how to pronounce their name!
I can honestly say that this is one of the most unique records I've ever heard out of the vast world of J-indie. miscorner themselves were a pretty unique band, though. Essentially, they were two drummers playing to pre-recorded loops, and while their usual output was instrumental, they took a different approach on this EP by featuring a host of guest vocalists.
To my knowledge, miscorner were a pretty obscure band, both in Japan and abroad. (I can actually count on one hand the amount of J-music fans I knew who actually knew this band as well.) Yet somehow, the vocalists featured on this EP are all J-indie O.G.'s like Takahisa Gomi from LOSTAGE, and Seiki from NAHT. Hell, they even managed to feature a J-pop vet like Misako Odani!
Easily one of the best things about 2009, and one of J-indie's hidden gems.
By far my least favorite release by 12012, and quite possibly one of my least favorite albums ever, mar maroon did not improve with time. mar maroon marks the beginning of the end for many of 12012's earliest fans. It's one of the prime examples of heavy and hard rock bands going soft and losing sense of what defined their sound in the first place. There's very little appealing or even convincing musically, as if the band was almost forced into playing this kind of music. The direction they took afterwards isn't giving them any excuses either, pretty much emulating Dir en grey until their indefinite hiatus. The album folds quicker than a house of cards, revealing a surprising lack of inspiration and variety. It's almost impossible to get through in one sitting. In this case, even though the change in sound correlates with them going major, I do not think that it was the cause. Rather, I think the cause of them abandoning their roots is due to vocalist Wataru's scandal. It would not look good for 12012 to continue their old theme while still under the scrutiny of the public eye, and mar maroon even sounds like a musical apology that no one asked for. When considering 12012's entire discography, both before and after this album, this one easily comes in last place. "GOSSAMER" from their album SEVEN puts this entire album to shame. This can easily be skipped and forgotten.
Where do I even begin? 2009’s the GazettE brought Visual Kei to hype levels that were so ludicrous, I remember music from this album spent YEARS circulating on music boards online. Who could blame them? The basslines bared so much weight and gloom, the melodies so melancholic and desolate, the lyrics were so wonderfully complex and dark, the entire atmosphere of DIM was so thick and compositionally sound that many who were around back then would agree that this was the album of our lives. *Breathes* The tracks could be cut & pasted into anyone’s mood and I feel that was due in part to the ideas and inspiration they took from other bands we adored throughout the past decade. “泣ヶ原 (Nakigahara)” for example was no more than a few simple chords and a Koto yet spoke volumes relating to current events, more so than one could put into words. The album’s last track “DIM SCENE” must be one of the heaviest message-driven compositions I have ever heard, flawlessly correlating the entire playthrough once more in the form of a message, maybe even an anthem, to other bands and fans of the VK scene alike. I can’t deny that the DIM era represented the GazettE at their prime, setting a bar so unattainable for the next decade that many would contest today has yet to be broken, even by them. I don’t think there’s a single VK fan alive today that has not listened to a song from this album. It doesn’t even feel like 10 years have gone by since its release, perhaps because I’ve grown far past a simple admiration and relive the nostalgia of “what was” every time I play DIM.
DIM is an album defined more by what it isn't than what it is. When examining the release of all the GazettE albums in chronological order, DIM rises head and shoulders above album neighbors Toxic and the eponymous Stacked Rubbish. It's almost impossible not to do this comparison. This is viewed by many as one of the GazettE's best albums, but time has not been kind to this album. With the initial wow factor out of the way, one can clearly see how the progressive leanings of Dir en grey's 2008 masterpiece Uroboros heavily influenced DIM. The album is very disjointed and features a lot of SE's to try and fix that - which it doesn't. When it's good, it's good. When it's not good, it's blase. Some tracks like "Shiroki Yuuutsu" and "IN THE MIDDLE OF CHAOS" are very forgettable experiences. One of the best songs "HEADACHE MAN" is a recycled B-side. "OGRE" is a bad Slipknot cover. "A MOTH UNDER THE SKIN" feels unfinished. Some pruning is required to bring the best out of this period, but it's there waiting to be found. This is an ambitious attempt by the band to outdo themselves and they really nailed this darkness concept the first time around. The lead singles are catchy without resorting to pop hooks and banal visual kei tropes. Good album, bit overrated, better than most of their full lengths, but I think that DOGMA and NINTH are better, more enriching overall experiences.
Also known as “the first time I noticed the GazettE had a drummer”. DIM has arguably left the biggest mark on the band’s career, not only had Ruki improved as a vocalist, Kai also seemed to level up enough to finally bring life to their music. Before, sure, he kept the rhythm in check and played his role in the band, but from DIM onwards Kai’s own style started to shine. This album was the draft for what would later culminate in DOGMA, that is to say, Gazette’s style took a turn into darker corners with a heavy, tangible concept that was not only musical but visual. "13stairs[-]1" is a slow burner that I still find myself going back to and it pairs perfectly with "HEADACHE MAN" and "OGRE" — great songs to headbang to in a live setting. And yet, despite the heaviness of DIM, we were given one of the GazettE’s best ballads, “nakigahara”. It'd been several years since they had released a long, emotional trip like this (old fans will know) and they did not disappoint, despite its simplicity and instrumental minimalism, the heartache of "nakigahara" leaves you hanging to every note. Although DIM does feel like a slog to get through despite these great gems, its legacy is undeniable.
Wait...DIM is on this list????
ahaha. I'm sure absolutely no one is surprised to see this album here. But there is good reason for it!
Most people here know that I'm a casual VK fan, but a lover of J-rock and Japanese music in general. During my beginning phases of exploring J-rock, I dabbled in a bit of VK from like late 2004 - 2006, and then started getting into J-indie in 2007 and focusing my attention there. Basically, i'd heard and enjoyed NIL, but skipped STACKED RUBBISH. By the time 2009 rolled around, I was neck-deep in J-indie and only getting deeper, but DIM and all of the singles leading up to it were the only things that made me stop and pay attention to the VK world again.
People can say what they want now, but almost everything about DIM was magical, during and prior to its release. The videos, the music, the general aesthetics...clearly, the GazettE had tapped into something special!
Now in retrospect, DIM has definitely started to show some rust in areas. Certain tracks like "THE INVISIBLE WALL" and "A MOTH UNDER THE SKIN" just don't hit like they used to, and I think their whole 'dark/heavy' sound was later refined and employed waaaay better on DOGMA and NINTH. But with that said, I think all of the single/PV tracks are still particularly strong to this day. But I think what sets this album apart more than anything is the vision they had for it. It feels more like a complete experience than a cohesive collection of songs. DIM actually has character to it.