Greetings, Monochromians! I hope everyone is doing well!
After publishing our list for albums that turned 10 years old in 2017, we thought it would be fun to keep it going and do one for 2018 as well! I actually intended to publish this before 2018 came to a close, but it's all good! It's been a busy season for us all, and we ain't gonna let that stop our flow!!! So let's take a trip back to 2008 and see what J-rock was poppin' a decade ago!!! LET'S GET IT!
You're a few songs deep into -ilya- before you realize you're listening to something truly unique. 夢中夢 were nice enough to ease you into having your mind blown.
At first the album sounds like it could be Mouse on the Keys with an operatic female vocalist. Full of catchy, lilting piano leads and swirling drums. Before too long, however, 夢中夢 are spicing things up with demonic snarls and sharp metal riffs. Now the fast, underproduced drums and organs are working with the dual vocalists and guitars to create an enchanting melange of viciousness and baroque post-jazz that's just downright hard to describe.
Sure, unabashedly pretty, ethereal black metal is all the rage now; but 夢中夢 had a softer take that has yet to be replicated. It's the only album I own that I can imagine portions acting as the soundtrack to a knock-off Disneyland kiddie adventure ride, and other portions being played between sets at the Roadburn Festival.
by @The Reverend
DIR EN GREY
10 years and a month ago, DIR EN GREY released their seventh studio album UROBOROS amidst much fanfare. The album was instrumental in bringing JRock to its height of popularity in the west, during an the era that saw them tour extensively and receive airwaves in Europe and North America. Released off the back of their 2007 album Marrow of a Bone, UROBOROS delivered a theme that represented the cycle of birth and death, marking a shift from the old Dir en grey to the newly incarnated DIR EN GREY. With it, they carried their sound to new experimental heights, melding western metal with oriental influences resulting in classics like “Vinushka,” “Dozing Green,” “Inconvenient Ideal,” “我、闇とて…” to life; even inspiring former Deg roadie Wataru's band 12012 to pay homage in their very out-of-character 2012 self-titled album.
9GOATS BLACK OUT
devils in bedside
A singer everyone thought was long retired appears from the ether. He announces a new band, two new musicians, and new music, but no samples or even a frame of reference was provided to set expectations. All we get is a name and the imagery of a goat. This sounds like the opening to a really corny joke, but this is how 9GOATS BLACK OUT erupted onto the scene in 2008; with neither a bang nor a whimper but a six track mini that commanded everyone's attention. In a time where metalcore was the most common style of music played and costumes were vibrant and gaudy, 9GOATS BLACK OUT is responsible for injecting both post rock influences and a new sense of fashion into visual kei. In the process, they birthed a sub style unlike anything anyone had heard or seen before. devils in bedside is a timeless affair that sounds fresh even in 2018. In fact, this album was a little too good; no matter the quality of the music that came after, 9GOATS could never escape the shadow of devils in bedside. This is visual kei for people burned out on visual kei, and still functions well as a springboard into various different projects and labels in the scene.
The scene back in 2008 was littered with shiny brand new things for us to look at. When a murky and dark 9GBO emerged, it sure did stand out. People seemed very excited to have "ryo" back. Who the hell that guy was - I had no idea and the pictures and promo released prior to the album revealed little of the member's faces, that is, there was no eye candy to keep young me interested. Regardless, something about the melancholy of 9GBO caught my attention. Even your more mediocre metal vk band would be donned in extravagant hair or clothes, because of this, 9GBO's simplicity was hard to digest, they offered little to look at but also their melodies were unlike anything we'd heard before. It took practice to appreciate devils in bedside. It wasn't long before I was deeply hooked, replaying raw over and over gain because I simply couldn't get enough of how it felt. Without a doubt, this album has shaped my music taste into what it is today. If I need to get away into a mysterious and sultry fantasy world, I always come back here.
ONE OK ROCK
It's rare my memory of listening to a band for the first time is remotely clear, especially 10 years later, which is a huge credit to ONE OK ROCK being as I have the memory of a goldfish. A friend played the music video "恋ノアイボウ心ノクピド(Koi no aibou kokoro no Cupid)" for me way back when and it was love at first listen.
感情エフェクト (Kanjou Effect) was a landmark album in a chain of releases that skyrocketed OOR to international popularity. Unfortunately, its legacy became slightly marred with the arrest of the band's lead guitarist, Alex, that caused much of the album's promotions to be halted and deleted from the internet, including the previously mentioned music video. Kanjou Effect still stands strong in OOR's discography, despite the bad press surrounding it. It has all the melodic staples of their later work, but the vigor of youth added a rawness to this album that they were never quite able to capture again.
school food punishment
school food punishment made their official debut just a year prior to 2008 and they'd quickly established themselves as one of the most promising new indie bands around with the two EPs they released. So when "Riff-rain" came out, I thought it would be pretty good, but I did not expect it to be THIS DAMN GOOD! True to the EP's name, "Riff-rain" is like a non-stop downpour musical goodness, as the band is playing is tighter than they've ever played before, and there's a noticeable intensity and drive to their songwriting that was only hinted at in their previous EPs. The band had finally came into their own. Unfortunately, this was their final EP as an indie band before going major and embracing more of an overly poppy, anison sound. But for many fans, this is regarded as their best work - an EP that captures SFP in perhaps their most promising era.
(this EP gets bonus points because if you put it on repeat, it plays in a perfect loop! )
It blows my mind to reflect on how far girugamesh have come. MUSIC was a very polarizing release at launch because girugamesh courted a particular type of visual kei fan with their affinity for all black clothes and depressing metal core music. These same fans didn't appreciate girugamesh going full Linkin Park and electronic, which was the CliffNotes consensus at the time, but a lot of the apprehension was also rooted in a fear that they would leave their old looks and sound for brighter pastures. That fear was very real; had we known what the next album would be at the time, we would have prized MUSIC a little more. MUSIC is a transitional period in girugamesh's history because it fits snugly at the intersection of the dark and heavy tone of earlier releases and the fun and lightheartedness of later releases. This was an album they clearly designed to have fun playing live, and this is an album that I throw on whenever I need a burst of energy. I also believe this is one of the earliest - and probably most influential - albums that used a heavy dose of electronic elements, which would go on to influence not just this band, but also inspire countless other acts such as MUCC, D'espairsRay, REALies, and 2nd Dyz.
My fondest memories from the last decade would not be complete without Girugamesh. Truly a definition of the times, it was their album Music that cemented recognition to a young fanboy like myself. Sure, some might say that music was a far-cry to the hardcore rock they were known for at the time, but I like to think that this small experimentation worked. Seamlessly mixing in beats and melodies into their already amazing rock style, as an alternative to having Satoshi keep wrecking his vocal chords, you could say Ryo was a genius and believe it lol. It’s an experiment gone right, and I can definitely tell you this was my most played album in 2008.
The official full-length debut of the band of ultimate beauty took place in July, 2008, about one full year after they released their debut single, The Revenant Choir. This album marked something new in my own VK fandom as well as a very large amount of fans around the globe. These five individuals had presented themselves as pure art, something other than human. Most importantly, everything sounded new and fresh. An album like this had seemingly not been done, even by previous projects. The album proper was over an hour long and never lost momentum. The associated music video, "Aristocrat's Symphony", perfectly pictured what this project was going to be about. Now, 10 years later, it is still one of the defining albums of my youth. In hindsight of the overall project, however, they absolutely should have let Teru compose more!
When I think of Plastic Tree's album Utsusemi, I think of the mellow guitars, peaceful synths, and calm tambourines. Being released a year after their album ネガとポジ (Nega to Poji), Utsusemi gave a much softer sound in comparison with only a few upbeat songs like "テトリス" and "GEKKO OVERHEAD". But even those songs were still considered soft when comparing them to songs like "不純物" or "無人駅" from Nega to Poji. Utsusemi, in a sense, was less edgy and more poppy, which might have drawn away some fans, but to me listening to a Plastic Tree album was like reading a book with its own story. Utsusemi made me feel like I was floating in a clear body of water on a breezy summer day. I can say the same for the album art as well. Everything felt light and airy, and Ryutaro's soothing vocals kept my heartbeat to a calm. In fact, Ryutaro rarely strained or raised his voice during the entire album, which made it all the more calming to listen to. Despite saying that, there are several interludes of human background noises slipped in between tracks that break my small reverie and remind me of the real world I live in. Utsusemi may not hold up as well as other Plastic Tree albums, but it carries a consistent blissful and tender tone making it a unique album of its own.
SuG have a certain reputation in the scene, some say their music is bad. But regardless of how you feel about them, their first album is proof of how far they've come as musicians. It's a mixed bag with poor production and insufferable vocal work. But the worst sin of it all, are the visuals that came with n0iZ stAr. The pv for Vi-Vi-Vi is a fun yet ugly affair full of sparkly silver fabric, leopard prints and ruffles. Believe it or not, fangirls around the world were going crazy for Takeru's star spangled bald patch and insane murderer smile. The tracks vary from sugary happiness to some pretty heavy tunes considering SuG's repertoire at the time. Looking back, Chiyu's bass was the backbone to most of the album, which is probably why I still kind of enjoy it to this day. On one hand you have decent tracks like the lovely ballad "RomantiC" and the fast paced "ヤミツキディレイ" (disregard the use of autotune) and on the other hand you have "うえすとふぁいとすと～り～" and "pikaLIFE". The former should be used as a form of torture, the latter would have been better off if time had erased it from its bland, meaningless existence. Not much later in the same year, SuG released the mini Punkitsch which blew n0iZ stAr out of the water with it's clear direction and heavier and more polished sound, and once again, outstanding work from bassist Chiyu. n0iZ stAr laid out what fans should expect from SuG in the future, always wandering between light and darkness, treading the line between shitty pop and decent punk rock. (don't @ me, I still love them)
midori were at the top of their game in 2008. They had just made their major debut with their shimizu EP towards the end of 2007, and were already amassing a cult following of international J-rock fans. This album was their first major full-length, and for the time being, it seemed like the band had successfully avoided the dreaded 'indie-to-major curse'. In fact, the transition was seamless. The band's cacophonous Jazz-Punk sound that had brought them this far merely flourished on this album. Hell, it's a wonder that a major label even signed off on an album like this with practically no commercial appeal. Sadly, this was midori's last great work before they released their DISMAL final album and disbanded in 2010.
You may not know it, but exist†trace were among the top acts in 2008, becoming the most recognized all-female Visual Kei band of this era. Providing a satisfying sampling to the band’s usage of melodic death metal, the band’s first full album Recreation eve contained distorted guitar play and riffs that were very appealing during this time, with the girls aggressively providing the dark undertones necessary to promote their Visual Kei aesthetic, as well as shock factor. Lead Vocalist Jyou could growl and scream like you wouldn’t believe back then and it was tracks like “Water”, “Judea”, and "Venom" that showcased her versatility as well as the entire band's potential. It was with Recreation eve that the band gained wide stream recognition both in Japan and the West, leading to a European tour that same year. If you wanna feel this era of VK to its fullest then you'll give this album a listen.
exist†trace has had an amazing run for the last ten years, much better than anyone would have expected back in 2008. Women then and now are still uncommon in visual kei, and the acts that did exist were small and had infrequent releases, and maybe only one female member. There was a niche waiting to be explored here, and exist†trace graced the scene in 2003 with an unexpected heavy goth sound inspired heavily by D'espairsRay. The inspiration was so obvious, they had the nickname of "budget D'espa" among fans for a few years. Recreation eve is a collection album that captures exist†trace at the end of this five year period, shortly before they underwent the visual and sonic transformation that turned them into the band we know them as today. The name of the compilation even hints at it (although no one thought much of it then)! The production feels a bit thin compared to what we can expect from them now, but the song writing and some riffs still hit hard. exist†trace made the right call in switching up their sound when they did because I don't think they had enough ideas or flexing room to continue in their original sound, and reinventing themselves gave them the breathing room they needed to make music more quickly. I miss this version of them, but sometimes we have to let a good thing go.
By 2008, the Japanese post-rock scene was booming and there were plenty of bands to go around with new ones surfacing every day it seemed. kacica was one of the more interesting fringe acts to emerge from the scene...Like 101A and downy - they had a definite post-rock element to their music, but they weren't necessarily easy to classify as such. The band claimed influences from post-rock progenitors Sigur Rós and Mogwai, and while their impact is palpable, kacica has an extensive musical palette that draws from psychedelia, progressive rock, and the avant-garde as well. All of these different elements coalesce brilliantly on the band's sophomore album "MOSAIC" which is downright otherworldly! This album is such a strange and wonderfully immersive listen that it'll make you feel as if you're on a massive intergalactic tour visiting different planets and experiencing bizarre new worlds. I love it! Definitely one of the coolest albums released in 2008 and a personal all-time favorite for me!
(also one of the few bands who sing entirely in "Engrish" that I actually don't mind )
2008 marked a great turnaround for the Nagoya Kei scene as Daisuke of Kagerou and Aie of deadman had recently formed the studs in an effort to bring the genre back to its roots, as well as continue the already existing Visual Kei influence internationally. Along with Yukino from GULLET and Hibiki from Blast, it was during this year that their first full album and hate was released. This album successfully represents what each of the very experienced members in the Nagoya Kei scene had to offer as Aie had carried over the raw alternative sound that existed in deadman, and Daisuke with his heartfelt and emotional vocals that were once heard in Kagerou. Even greater than this was the musical arrangement and rich execution of instruments from all the members that allowed naturally beautiful melodies to be the very definition of their musical genius. Even after 10 years, this album's release still holds its acclaim as a must-listen, and truly grasps how great being a VK fan back then was.
DELUHI had an incredibly explosive beginning to their activities in 2008, spearheaded by vigorous touring and practice and supported with the release of their first album Surveillance, which was a seminal moment for visual kei and was recorded in less than two months. Before Surveillance, power metal and visual kei didn't really mix. DELUHI - and guitarist Leda in particular - crafted the blueprint for what I'll affectionately dub "power metalcore dipped in the dressings of visual kei". Perhaps the greatest success of this album is neither how good it is, nor how an indie band's first release shamed other acts - indie and major - into serious action, but how effortlessly the band was able to market power metal to a crowd that these sounds never appealed to. Take one part power metal, add some distortion to the guitars and a few harsh vocals, staple a saccharine chorus on top, do that four or five times with minor variations, and you have a formula for success. It's borderline genius in retrospect. Leda is a renowned and prolific guitarist today in his own right, but ten years ago was best known as the ex-bassist of Galneryus with a penchant for writing sick riffs. This is the album that put Leda on the radar, broke him out of those definitions, and blazed the trail that later acts like GALEYD would follow.
SUPER GLITTER LOUD BOX
LM.C was easily accessible for those who were too afraid to go deep into the world of vk. Their music was harmless fun and super catchy, they used to wear a lot of stuff that people going through their emo/scene phase could relate to. Stripy half gloves, anyone? For those reasons, in '08 LM.C was nearing the peak of their popularity in the west. SGLB is the perfect album to go crazy to and when compared to more recent releases from the duo, it's bursting full of life. Headbangers like "METALLY" and "@FUNNY [email protected]
" and classics like "OH MY JULIET". Come on, we all belted along to that song at least once. This is the LM.C formula at its best.
THE BACK HORN
One of the prevailing criticisms that I've heard about THE BACK HORN over the past decade or so is that the band started off strong with their first few albums, but quickly lost their spark afterwards. It's true to an extent: they originally hit the scene with a raw, fresh rock sound, and they DID eventually mellow out into a kind of mainstream mediocrity - HOWEVER, the band got a much needed second wind on Pulse. As their 7th major album, it was clear at this point that the band's songwriting had been tempered to suit the industry, but somehow, they managed to resurrect the passion of their early days and perfectly assimilate it into the refined and polished sound that they'd developed since. Fans were definitely pleased with the band's revitalized energy and this album marked the start of a new leg of inspired music from THE BACK HORN. Unfortunately, that energy only lasted for a few years before the band fell back into a mediocre slump, but THE BACK HORN has still had an incredibly solid career for a band that just celebrated their 20th anniversary this year. Pulse is one of their best.
I have an intense sentimental connection to UNDEAD13+2, despite the fact that I'll only listen to select cuts from it whenever the urge grips me to give it a spin. UNDEAD13+2 is a relic of its time, an age in visual kei where being a good indies clone of Dir en grey was acceptable and even encouraged, and it's what everyone and their mother flocked to Sadie to hear. Believe it or not, there was a time when I considered Mao to have better gutturals than Kyo! Sadie knew their market well, and part of their rise into prominence is because they played off fan expectations to deliver something familiar but new every time, and UNDEAD13+2 hits that sweet spot. For all of the material that Sadie would release after this point - and that's eight to nine years of singles, minis, and albums - nothing defines Sadie for me as well as UNDEAD13+2. Unlike all of their other albums, UNDEAD13+2 represents an entire era of the band's activities distilled into its best parts, and feels more complete and realized than any other album of theirs bar Master of Romance.
Visual Kei bands have always dabbled around with jazz influences, but more often than not the results were a mess. Sugar was one of the few exceptions to that rule, forming their entire sound around this dark jazzy rock sound and actually pulling it off. The result of this melding of genres felt natural as opposed to forced. Loki's deep and nasally vocal tone oozes "VK", but seemly with a greater grasp of the control needed in order to provide a dynamic delivery than a lot of his peers in the scene at the time. SWEETEST was the first and only full length album the band would ever release - the band did not survive long past this album's release (disbanding in 2009) - which is a damn shame as their sound still feels fresh and unique today.
Yoooooo, big shout out to ghostorgan from livejournal (you know this is from back in the day if i'm mentioning LJ ). I'm not sure if that user is still around, but I'm like 99.9% sure I have that person to thank for putting me on to this band! Either way, lloy were a peculiar bunch. We all know that Goth is a prevalent element in Visual Kei, but bands that identify solely as Goth or that play strictly Goth music seem to be a rare commodity in the modern J-rock world (whether vk or not). So lloy being a female-fronted J-goth act automatiically made them stand out. It also helped that their music was actually good, too haha. 遮断 was a great album full of bass-driven goth-rock tunes, often with a dark, jazzy flair to them. Songs like "消えたサブリナ" and "吸血鬼" even reminded me a bit of British rockers QueenAdreena. This seems to be the only release of theirs that's widely available, but it's well worth checking out. lloy has a timeless sound, and one that's unique within the world of J-rock.
AWAKE-evoke the urge-
Marking a pivotal change in direction for the band in 2008, AWAKE -evoke the urge- was the first album where Ai, who had recently left his position as bassist, now stood as the vocalist and leader of band. What was amazing about this album was that Ai managed to retain the same deep vocal sound from before (trust me this was mind-blowing at the time lol) but in a cleaner, and much more defined manner. The heavy and fast execution that was iconic to DEATHGAZE was also retained, while introducing slower melodies and softer arrangements for the first time to their repertoire, adding more weight and melancholy to the band's usage of the term "heavy". AWAKE -evoke the urge- was a magnificent release that 10 years ago allowed DEATHGAZE to come back from the brink of what we all thought was going to be a disbandment, while being able to go toe to toe with their long time rival band lynch for the next few years that followed.
Lillies and Remains
Ten years ago, despite Japanese indie becoming increasingly less accessible to overseas fans at the time (many major forums were dying off, streaming wasn't really a thing yet, and music wasn't as widely available to purchase) - I was in a rather fortunate and unique position to have access to new J-indie on a weekly basis. As a result, I spent A LOT of time listening to new and obscure J-rock bands that year - many of which were average, forgettable, and never saw the light of day (both in Japan and in the overseas fandom). So when Lillies and Remains appeared amidst the mire of humdrum bands I was coming across - they stood out like a sore thumb. Their debut EP Moralist S.S. sounded like nothing else in the Japanese Indie scene at the time, and the only comparable band (their friends PLASTICZOOMS) wouldn't debut until a year later. Here you had a new, young band playing raw, energetic, and technically sound 80's new-wave/post-punk that could easily pass for material from a "Western" band (especially if you weren't listening close enough to discern Kent's rampant 'Engrish' ). But not only that - the quality, maturity, and polish of their songwriting far exceeded what you might expect from a band that just debuted - and it certainly stood meters above the stuff I was constantly running into. Needless to say, this EP instantly turned heads and made fans, as it was a big hit with the J-rock heads on communities like J-salad and Tainted World (which later became our beloved Monochrome Heaven). Lillies and Remains came is strong and they've been a consistent force to reckon with ever since!
There was a time long ago when the band now known as simply NoGoD was a unicorn of a different shade. Unlike many visual kei bands that start activities first and band activities second, 新興宗教楽団NoGoD practiced in secret for half a year before officially beginning activities. With such a strong start, powerful aesthetics and sound, and controversial anti-religion band concept, 新興宗教楽団NoGoD went from relatively unknown to indie powerhouses in only three years. I find their period from 2006 to 2009 to be their most creative, with 夢幻教 (Mugenkyou) acting as a powerful anchor for this era. It debuted at #6 on the Oricon indies chart upon release, cementing NoGoD as a rising force among their contemporaries. With its powerful melodies, varied compositions, air of mysticism, and undeniable inspiration, this album holds up even today. 夢幻教 is my favorite NoGoD album and always has been. Examining the NoGoD of today with the band as it was then leaves me dispirited, because there's an undeniable element and aura to this album that has been missing from their music since they went major. None of their other albums grab me like this one does.
As far as oshare kei goes, cindykate had a certain authenticity which was unique. Uwasa no Outsider starts with a chaotic bang in the form of "bubbly kakumei" and ends with the surprisingly endearing "[ALICE]". People's first reaction to this album would usually go something like "woah, they suck. But they're actually good". Yuui's almost tone deaf vocals are charming and essential to cindykate's signature playful style. In a scene full of strawberries, bunnies and fairylands the group avoided cliches and kitsche, overdone ideas, instead focusing on more urban concepts such as tokyo night life and pop culture, always with a tongue in cheek, somewhat more adult approach. This album showcases some of the viral positivity and humor which they were known for. It may leave you confused, but it won't leave you bored. To those who may not know, this is your chance to hear the president of GOEMON RECORDS in action.
RENTRER EN SOI
Ten years ago, RENTRER EN SOI was the golden child of the visual kei scene that had everything going for them until their untimely disbandment. Their slow and unpromising start sporting an ethereal take on a 90's sound in the 00's gave way to a promising career in the indies circuit after a few years, but the band ended up pulling a Dir en grey and taking their music in a heavier direction after the release of Sphire-Croid. This was a rough transformation that birthed an abomination of a second album we shall not speak about, but things would stabilize in a more promising direction by their third album THE BOTTOM OF CHAOS. Then, internal struggles tore this band apart and they released MEGIDDO as a parting gift. I remember that at the time this mini was considered perfect and many proclaimed that RENTRER EN SOI is a band that people would discuss even in 2018. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Time has not been kind to this band. Satsuki managed to stain his solo career and the reputation of this band with his many embarrassing scandals, Mika and Takumi took forever to resurface in a notable band (sukekiyo), and the others dropped out of music altogether. No fan after 2010 really listens to this band - and if they do they sure as hell aren't listening to Sphire-Croid - and with time the cracks in MEGIDDO show themselves. It's a solid listen if you can forgive Satsuki's weak ass growls and skip tracks 3 and 4. It's a perfect representation of this band's identity struggles, because half of it sounds like their old period and half of it sounds like the metal core sound they could never convincingly pull off, and its apparent which half I prefer. Given time, I'm sure they could have worked all the flaws out, but we will never see that happen.
Along with toe, LITE had already been recognized as one of Japan's premier instrumental bands with the release of their 2006 album filmlets. But it was with their 2nd album Phantasia that the band truly solidified them as standard bearers for the scene. Up until this time, they'd been playing very tight, intricate, and engaging math-rock that was well above par, but on this album, the band took a bold leap forward by amping up the intensity with distorted chugs, ferocious drumming, and commanding, yet groovy bass-lines - while still incorporating those smooth, post-rockish elements that were prevalent in their previous releases. This album is a BEAST and ten years later, it remains, perhaps, LITE's best outing - if not their most raw, and unrelenting. A highlight in both the year 2008 and in the history of instrumental J-rock as well!
It's been 10 years since vistlip formed as a band and although I haven't been keeping up with anything they've done since 2010 or so, their debut mini-album Revolver remains as one of my favorites. Back then when VK was still fresh and appealing to me, I was always on the lookout for new bands to try. Then I came across the PV for "EDY" and was instantly hooked. Looking back at it now, the PV looked pretty cheap with chains hanging everywhere in one small dark room. But hell, that was what made me love VK and I was so hooked that I practically made gifs of the whole video. (If you remember all those icon gifs from LJ that was me....). But enough of the PV. Revolver was a solid first release by the young vistlip and not a single track fell short. You've got the robust and aggressive track "EDY", the slower track about longing "BLACK-TAIL", the energetic and zealous track "the surface", the wintery ballad "Moon Light Snow Rabbits", and the band's sentimental theme song "July VIIIth" of which I prefer this version more than the rebirth version. Revolver gave me such a strong impression that no matter what other album I listen to by vistlip, I seem to want to go back to it instantly.
狂葬録 (Kyousouroku) is a badass album that took quite a few years for me to unpack. I didn't get it at first because I had no proper appreciation for punk, and I have this band to thank for really opening my eyes. ∀NTI FEMINISM is absolutely mental and one of the few bands deserving of the legendary moniker. There's only one official member, that being vocalist Kenzi of THE DEAD POP STARS, but since 1991 over 100 musicians have played as support members. That's a lot of punk, and that's exactly why 狂葬録 is such a dense experience. Sitting at 27 tracks with a run time of almost one hour, it has almost all of the cuts ∀NTI FEMINISM put out since 2001, featuring a few re-recordings, a few rare tracks, and two new tracks. Considering how ∀NTI FEMINISM do releases - which is infrequently at best, featuring anywhere between two and six tracks that were probably no longer than 140 seconds a piece - this is the closest to a proper album that we are ever going to get. This also marks a turning point in this band's trajectory, because after this release Kenzi would take this band into a heavier direction. After so many years, the best way for me to enjoy this album is to start just about anywhere and ride the punk wave to the end, because even ten years later this album still bangs hard. I still recommend this album to anyone looking for hardcore punk, an injection of musical adrenaline, or an idea of what the fringes of visual kei sound like.
Before 88Kasyo Junrei, there was Usotsuki Barbie....is what I want to say, but that wouldn't be technically correct. 88Kasyo were actually active in 2008, but their music didn't reach overseas ears until around 2010. So for us international J-rock fans, Usotsuki Barbie served as a bit of a spiritual precursor to them. They'd released 2 mini albums prior, but most of us got our first introduction to the band via their first full album Mondai no Second. These guys instantly won us over with their zany rock&roll fraught with weird, angular psychedelic riffs, spazztastic instrumentation, and quirky vocals. Their sound touted the perfect mix of crazy and catchy, but it was undoubtedly polarizing. To this day, Mondai no Second is an album you'll either love or hate.
Sel’m were well within their early indie years in 2008 with vocalist Tora still within their lineup of members. The band’s music style was well known to be more hardcore and aggressive during this time, and their first full album Brilliant Force allowed them to finally gain an identity within the Visual Kei scene. Due in part to the zest that existed during this time, the band could experiment with smoother and more melodic songwriting, while retaining that vigor and intensity that vocalist Tora had been known to convey when singing. As an early fan I think they were still in the zone when they released this album, and whether you know about their years together as a band that followed, Brilliant Force was well received by fans and helped change the musical direction for them.
A common theme among a lot of visual kei bands that last long enough is that they have distinct eras that do not resemble each other in many ways, and that the first transition is usually a painful one. 志恩 (Shion) does not chronicle MUCC's redemption arc - that would be the previous album 極彩 (Gokusai) - but the pressures of what comes after. 志恩 sees MUCC experimenting with Indian and tribal themes, an uncommon but not unfamiliar trope at the time, and it resulted in some good tunes like "志恩" (Shion) and "梟の揺り篭" (Fukurou no Yurikago). This is also where I first heard of MUCC and worked my way backwards. I also happen to not find it very accessible, and it's not the best place to begin exploring MUCC, but it's not the worst either. It's tribal motif is betrayed by its inconsistent application and a few tracks could have been cut to slim the package. As later albums have eclipsed it and MUCC has moved their sound into a new dimension, 志恩 has become a touch point of its own in MUCC's discography: a familiar album that people speak fondly of, but don't speak of often.
Consisting of Gendo Takebayashi from COWPERS on vocals/guitar, HERA from 200MPH on drums, and Kentaro Nakao from NUMBER GIRL on bass, SPIRAL CHORD were somewhat of a J-Indie supergroup. They only released 2 albums, playing a raucous hybrid of garage-rock, punk, and post-hardcore. SAYANARA SEKAI was the second of those two albums, and while the first was altogether rough and characterless - on here, the band seemed to be settling into their groove. Their songwriting had GREATLY improved, as they added more melody and soul - actually crafting songs that stuck with you. It's unfortunate that these guys did not go on to further hone their sound - as Gendo is now in a band called zArAme, and Nakao went on to form Crypt City - but they left behind a kick-ass memorial. Not to mention, the PV for "Disitance to Substance" is one of the most iconic J-rock PVs ever! Check it out below!
With an impressive self-titled EP the year prior, it was no surprise that a band with a name like THE NOVEMBERS could follow up with an even more impressive album. Practically timeless, picnic held an atmosphere in every track that grew wider and deeper as you listened, almost as if you became a part of it. My opinion on the album has not changed from years ago, and if anything picnic has aged VERY well for what it was.
This Iz The Japanese Kabuki Rock
Forever the black sheep of Miyavi's discography, This Iz The Japanese Kabuki Rock marks an interesting turning point in Miyavi's career. Based on his activities since this was both a very influential and personal point in his career. I sense faint hints of this style in his more recent works, and I remember reading a translator note about how disappointed he was in the sales of this album. He expected a much bigger, more positive response. Takamasa, if you are reading this, I want you to know that ten years ago I was an idiot and I wasn't riding the same wave you were. Nobody was. At that time, I wanted more of what he was doing between 2003 and 2005 without realizing that what he was making was infinitely more creative. International fans didn't know what the Neo Visualizm theme really was and probably still don't. A small but vocal minority was getting tired of the Kavki Boiz in general, and that sentiment buzzing around didn't help any. When I examine this album ten years later without any of that associated baggage, I hear some of the most creative music penned under the visual kei flag ever. Nothing like this came before it and nothing has come after. The album is deceptively deep and varied, effortlessly bouncing between rock, pop, electronic, hip hop, and visual kei. I find that now I like this more than some of his recent work because the creativity feels authentic and unrestrained. And, in an ultimately cruel bit of irony, I wouldn't mind if he returned to this style for a song or two.
FOX LOCO PHANTOM
I actually can't recall if I heard FOX LOCO PHANTOM's first album before or after CHAOTIC MONSTER (their second album). Whatever the case, I do know that I heard this one around the time it was released, and it left a distinct impression on me. Particularly because this band seemed to fit in a grey area within the J-rock fandom. They were like Psysalia psysalis psyche, and Lillies and Remains in that they seemed to appeal equally to both VK and J-indie fans alike (who at the time were diametrically opposed for the most part ). The vocalist even has a shaky, vibrato-ridden voice that somewhat reminds me of Gara from MERRY lol (tho his overall cadence is different). But besides their multi-fandom appeal, FOX LOCO PHANTOM just has this highly energetic and danceable rock style that's insanely infectious. CHAOTIC MONSTER does a fantastic job of encapsulating all of that youthful vigor, and it still rocks to this very day!
Their names may have faded into dust with time, but I'm one of the few who still remember Viored was a thing in 2008. Definitely deserving of the underrated moniker, their strong guitar sound, melodies, and frequent release schedule put them on the radar for the two years that they were active. Unfortunately, they were checked by fate just as they began their ascent because the vocalist was convinced by his girlfriend to leave the band and run away. Releasing a compilation album and disbanding was all the remaining members of the band could do. 最終音源集 is still good in 2018, but their sparse discography meant some lesser tracks had to be included to fill up the disc, so some tracks are in a league of their own and others are merely serviceable. Viored is a solid band to sample if you are into visual kei anthropology, but looking back I'm not surprised that no one is talking about this band.
I was blessed to discover this duo about a year after 2008 via THE J-INDIE KING HIMSELF - Steven Tanaka (organizer of the NEXT MUSIC FROM TOKYO Tour). As someone who flew to Japan six to seven times a year simply to indulge in the scene, Steve was consistently discovering fresh and new acts that we international fans had no idea existed. I give him all credit for truly opening up and deepening my perspective of the J-indie scene. Masodayomasa were one of the many bands he put me on to, AND MAN!!!! Do NOT let their looks fool you! These two unassuming women were an absolute POWERHOUSE! Their self-titled album took me by complete surprise. It's literally just one girl on guitar and the other on drums with both sharing vocal duties, yet their sound is compelling and full. I mean, simply calling these two "girl rock" - wouldn't do them justice, as they play as loud and ferociously as the best of them. This album is a relatively short collection of noisy garage-rock, but their songwriting is varied and creative enough that they cover a enough ground to make it a truly satisfying experience.
8-eit is one of my favorite visual kei bands of all time, and I wish things turned out better for them. 8-eit was (and I guess still is) a jazz fusion visual kei band unlike any other, but a lengthy hiatus at the apex of their career killed any steam this band had. They exist but they don't have the presence they did before, and several members of the band have been replaced. The scene has also forgotten them, and their sound has also changed to a more guitar oriented one, so I'm not sure if 8-eit still consider themselves visual kei or not. 8-eit as it is today is not the same band as it was on GLAMOROUS, as the album captures an image of 8-eit recently after they acquired keyboardist Hiroshi Matsubara, who I will credit for adding much texture and melody to their jazz with his piano skills. Those piano melodies, along with the pumping bass, are the vital components that transport the listener into a smoky lounge in a different time. This album is often overlooked in favor of their second album swingy swindle, which I will admit is literal perfection, but GLAMOROUS is what jump started their band activities and is worth checking out too.
Oh man... here's one TRAGICALLY overlooked album by a TRAGICALLY overlooked duo! I'm not entirely sure why - but this one managed to slip through the cracks. LOTUS GUITAR consisted of solo artist Ash, and clammbon's drummer Daisuke Ito - but even being linked to such a prominent band, this release still managed to fly under many a radar. It's all good, though - despite the obscure nature of the release, this is an absolute gem! The scope of this record is actually pretty expansive - spanning a variety of sounds and genres from straightforward rock, indie, jazz, post-rock, folk, and even to psychedelia - but it's all done very organically. Nothing here seems forced and the diversity simply comes off as second nature to these guys. As a result, this album has a sort of humble grandeur to it. I also love that these guys did not restrain themselves or try to adhere to strict song structures because they spend plenty of time jamming the hell out on this album, and it's awesome! second tide is a fantastic collection of straightforward, non-gimmicky J-rock songs from two seasoned musicians playing straight from the heart!
Back in 2008, UNLIMITS' female fronted vaguely skate punk influenced rock felt fresh to me. Coming back to Mugen Syndrome a decade later and the music feels a little more stale than I remembered. This album is a little rough around the edges, and while the mediocre production helps some with a punk image, it just ends up feeling a bit unpolished. That isn't to say that this album is bad but instead speaks more to how inflated my memory of this album is. While the energy of the vocals call feel a little dull at time, overall this album has a lot of energy and is packed with memorable tunes. Part of why this album stands out so much in my memory is that Mugen Sydrome marks the last full album before the band slowly devolved in to mediocrity as the band felt like they were aiming more of mass appeal. Compared to their later offerings, Mugen Syndrome is a clear highlight in my mind
2008 was around the time that I started exploring music outside of visual kei, and @CAT5 was responsible for introducing me to me-al art, a post-rock band with a powerful female vocalist and some banging melodies. I was immediately hooked and felt that this indie band had all the tools they need to become bigger, but I was disappointed to find out that they didn't have a huge following and didn't release music frequently. me-al art disbanded in 2016 after the release of their fourth album NEW WORLD, but that never got the claim or attention that Exist did. I don't even think I've listened to it in full yet. Many fans consider Exist to be the band's most solid effort and containing some of their most memorable songs, such as "term", "exist", and "target". This band actually contains a lot of the trappings of 2008, but in a good way, and Exist is a great way to experience new vestiges of the late-00's rock sound.
Machine always felt like a band that never managed to get any attention. For a band consisting of visual kei legend Hakuei of Penicillin and Kiyoshi of hide with Spread Beaver, you would have thought that band would be on more people's radar. Yet even though BEAUTIFUL OUTSIDER was their fifth album, the band didn't receive a ton of attention. Their specific flavor of VK with its strong industrial and electronic elements with upbeat vibe created this interesting sci-fi feeling rock which was truly unique in the scene. That said, BEAUTIFUL OUTSIDER perhaps was where the band took the lightest approach to these elements, with the vocals feeling a little cleaner and less robotic and metallic than they had in previous releases, and the electronic elements pulled back a bit. That isn't to say that they were removed, as the album still has a distinct sci-fi sound. To this day the sound Machine put out was very much their own and I haven't really heard it replicated, at least not in the visual kei scene. While their music is hardly for everyone (hell, I think Hakuei's voice takes some time to get use to by itself), BEAUTIFUL OUTSIDERS is certainly worth going back to and listening...though personally I might pick a different Machine album to listen to first.
闡提宗祀 ～ Offering to The Sukhavati
For as much as we lament "the death of visual kei", it was the doujin scene that withered up and died. For those not in the know, doujin music is a moniker for any band (called circles, don't ask) who covers video game themes in their own style. The themes could be from any game, but the most popular one was Project Shrine Maiden, an isometric bullet hell shooter known for it's cute anime characters and devilishly hard game play. The doujin scene died off because of several reasons; the low cost to investment meant there was a lot of uninteresting music to wade through at each convention (and there are several a year), most circles focused only on Project Shrine Maiden and had no inspirations beyond that, some circles just disappeared, and many of the more successful circles left the scene to make original music and no new acts could fill the void. One of the only constants in the last ten years has been Demetori, who have never strayed from covering Project Shrine Maiden themes and constantly find a new way to iterate on the same themes by making these jingles into their own. 2008's 闡提宗祀 ～ offering to the sukhavati was the next step on their transformation from a classic rock band into an extreme metal band, and they have only grown more complex and ambitious with time. Demetori's melodic power metal sound is so defined and clean, it sounds good even today. Offering to the sukhavati does not sound ten years old, but yet it is.
Yet another band introduced to me via the great Steven Tanaka! Praha Depart, despite their unique sound and having toured both Europe and North America, is a band that has gone largely overlooked by the overseas J-rock fandom. Granted, their music isn't for everyone, and this EP makes that fact abundantly clear. On Check!, Praha Depart plays an intriguing style of avant-garde kraut-rock, which some have described as "gypsy-punk". Whatever you want to call it, they're definitely in a lane of their own. Their vocalist/bassist is absolutely schizophrenic, and equally prone to girly squeaks and squeals, weird mumbles and grumbles, manic screaming, and powerful wails. Something like a cross between Jun Togawa and Kyo from DIR EN GREY, ahaha (minus the pig squeals and gutturals) Musically, Praha's songs are fraught with intoxicating riffs and rhythmical drumming that subtly escalate into explosions of raw intensity, and it's just wonderful. Check! only consists of 5 songs, but it's worth every minute!
What did you think of our list? What are your favorite J-rock releases from 2008!?!? What was 2008 like for you musically? Comment and let's discuss!