With the first half of the year (almost) over, I thought it would be fitting to look at 6 albums and 6 singles that I have enjoyed so far. I'm going to include mini-albums in the former category. If you discover something new here, that would be cool. If you have a different opinion and would like to leave that in the comments, that would be cool too.
To make it simple, I'm just going to cover them in release order.
03.07 DADAROMA - 「This is “LIVE”」
It's surely no surprise that possibly my favourite active band in the VK scene steals a spot with their latest mini-album. I'll be honest, this one didn't quite hit me on the first listen like a lot of their other releases, but after several listens it quickly became one of my favourites. The energetic and fast-paced dark pop opening of ファントムペイン (phantom pain) serves as an excellent opener to an EP that is overall quite dark in overall tone but with a ray of light in the surprisingly raw ある日、世界は美しいと思った。 (aruhi, sekai wa utsukushii to omotta.). The divisive 「THE KINKY」 nevertheless remains in your head longer than you might like, and of course we finally got a studio recording of live favourite KIDS' WAR. My personal top pick this time though is イノセント・ホリック (innocent-holic) for its energetic and ridiculously memorable chorus.
03.28 MY FIRST STORY - THE PREMIUM SYMPHONY
This one might seem like a surprising choice considering there are no new songs here, but the concept of bringing an orchestra to a rock concert has always been one that is very attractive to me (Bring Me The Horizon were also very successful with this recently in my opinion). MFS have done a great job of picking some of their best recent tracks and giving them a more epic makeover. I honestly don't really have a lot more to say since we know these tracks already, but for anyone with a similar disposition to yours truly, I think this is well worth a listen.
04.25 21g - GENORATION 2
This second album from 21g outdoes their first in both variety and maturity and comes off as a far more memorable release for it. 21g always had a certain element of whimsy to their writing and song topics, from songs about cats and chocolate to the common use of the soul (supposedly weighing 21 grams) and even the bands' own name in their lyrics, but toning that down a little and focusing more on memorable composition and trying some new things makes this album far superior to its predecessor. Other than outstanding singles 魂ノ歌 (tamashii no uta; one of my favourite songs ever) and 1st FINGER capping off each end of the album, HEAVY RAIN also gets a beautiful acoustic treatment highlighting Geno's gorgeous husky vocals and Miyako's guitar. Standout new tracks for me were catchy サイコパス (psychopath), kooky but powerful 頭文字G (kashira-moji G) and surprisingly raw engagement. If you haven't checked out 21g before, this is a great place to start.
05.02 零[Hz] (zero hertz) - 零聖戦 (zero seisen)
I can't find the comment right now, but someone here said that this is the best 'generic kei' album in recent memory. However, I think that doesn't do it justice. This is a rare case of a release that wasn't really on my radar impressing me so much that I went out and bought it (99% of the new music I buy these days I am aware of well in advance). The vocals are great, the instrumentals are tight and often surprisingly heavy, and the album is just a blast all the way through, if a little on the long side. ZIHARD opens with a sense of urgency and immediately ramps up the energy, lead track AZUL is incredibly catchy, and it's just a parade of energetic synth-happy visual kei from there on out. It's not just really listenable, but at times genuinely great and one of the biggest surprises this year for me.
06.06 LOVEBITES - BATTLE AGAINST DAMNATION
From the bottom of my heart (and maybe also somewhere a little lower *ahem*) I truly believe these girls are the new vanguard for old-school power metal in Japan. Some might knock them for their lustrous costuming and all-girl lineup, but give any single song from LOVEBITES a listen and you will understand immediately that they know how to rock. Inspired by the best of 80s metal from Iron Maiden to Helloween, lyrics all in good but sometimes slightly incoherent English, and lengthy duelling guitar solos, and you have all the basics for a good time. The members are all talented, the performances are tight, and the composition is rock solid. The girls even won the Best Newcomer Award at the Golden Gods Award Show this month for this very release. If you're not put off by female vocals in your power metal, LOVEBITES are absolutely one to watch. (Also props to my bae Miyako for being in not one but two bands with top six releases this year).
06.13 the GazettE - NINTH
Well, here we are again. The GazettE have put out a new album, which means the fandom has been split once again; I for one am on the side that very much enjoyed this one. As others have said before me, I think the bar is set so high for this band after their lengthy career that it's less a matter of sub-standard music and more a case of unreasonable expectations. Had any of a number of less well-known indies visual bands sent this album out into the world, we would be singing their praises. But it's the GazettE, so again those wanting more of the same are disappointed, while on the other side who encourage trying new things are criticizing the band for doing just that. Following their metalcore-inspired DARK AGE project, the GazettE have refined a more gritty sound that retains those heavy elements like chugging riffs and breakdowns but incorporates more alternative songwriting and a more diverse composition than their last album. It's a difficult one to rate for me because at first there were not a lot of standout tracks; instead the album as a whole is very pleasant to listen to with a shorter runtime than usual and less filler too. Of course lead track Falling is a strong, memorable opener, and UNFINISHED cleverly fades out the album with a much more old-school GazettE vibe and a riff reminiscent of a more mature 春雪の頃 (shunsetsu no koro, which is also one of my favourite older tracks). I also really enjoyed TWO OF A KIND with that looped ending vocal sample over the heavy instrumental as well as the more experimental composition in THE MORTAL. The two softer tracks in the middle were both solid and NINTH ODD SMELL grew on me surprisingly quickly considering how bland it is composition-wise. It's a testament to how difficult it is to talk about the GazettE these days that this is already the longest comment on this list so let's leave it at that for now.
03.01 abstracts - Nocturne
After starting out without a vocalist and still pulling off one of the best djent EPs I've ever heard (with some guest help of course), skip forward three-and-a-half years and abstracts have recruited a vocalist who brings something a little different to their brand of technical metalcore. Their 'street' EP MODE, once I was able to get my hands on it, proved to be a great showcase of the style they have settled into, with even a little urban influence in some of their tracks like Monologue. I'm convinced though that Nocturne might be their best song to date, or at least in their current lineup. From the brutal technical riffs to the way the chorus slowly builds up to a kind of release, this is a headbanger for sure. Do yourself a favor and hit it up on YouTube.
03.07 NOCTURNAL BLOODLUST - WHITEOUT
I know they call this one an EP, but it just isn't. Three songs and an instrumental is just a maxi single. With that out of the way, I love all three of the widely different tracks presented here. The lead track seemed at first like a hot mess when the PV came out, but it grew on me after multiple listens and I respect the band trying something a little unusual with the sax. LIVE TO DIE is one of my favourite NCBL songs in recent memory; it just hits so hard but with such a memorable chorus that this was my jam for a long time. To wrap things up, 無義道 (mugidou) is a beautifully melancholic track that slows things down again. A really solid single in my opinion.
03.13 キズ (kizu) - 傷痕 (kizuato)
For me, Kizu is a band that has just been going from strength to strength. It bothers me slightly that to collect all of their songs, you have to buy both types of every single, but at least that's a sensible way to divide types, unlike what many other bands are doing. The djent-inspired composition is just my jam, and the instrumentals are tight. For me, Lime's vocals are not just tolerable but impressive - even more so on this release, which showcases his range a lot better (in terms of style, not just pitch). 怨ミ節 (uramibako) suprised me with almost operatic, enka-like notes in a very powerful and memorable performance. EMIL also has that same energy Kizu always displays, but in a more melancholic style. Another really good single.
04.15 SARIGIA - DECAYED
Thanks to some kind soul on YouTube we are able to hear this live-limited release from promising new band SARIGIA. (Still looking for a copy to buy, anyone...) After their solid first release RUIN, this continues to build up the hype. Beginning with a surprisingly solid instrumental track, both of the full songs on this single are excellent, with the band starting to really form an image for themselves and a certain atmosphere in their composition. Until such a time as it is widely leaked or I can get hold of a copy, I urge you to hit this one up on YT while you still can.
05.08 BABYMETAL - Distortion
I feel like I've never really had an opportunity to explain my relationship with BABYMETAL. Like so many others, when this group was first announced, I wrote it off as a bizarre excuse to stick underaged idol schoolgirls on another genre of music. However, after the release of their second album, I happened to get a lift one day from a friend who I know is a massive fan, who was playing it in his car. I was so impressed with the composition and surprisingly catchy mix of metal and pop elements that I asked who it was, and found a new respect for BABYMETAL. In addition to arguably one of the best touring bands in metal, featuring none other than Leda of my ex-top band DELUHI, I started to take this group seriously. Distortion is, if repetitive, another good showcase of intense but catchy songwriting, and the other new song they have been playing live is solid too. I'm really looking forward to another album announcement.
05.23 breakin' holiday - LILITH
This one makes it onto the list over a couple of others due to the sheer number of times I've rocked out to the title track. After the confusing mess that was ZERO MIND INFINITY, Juri and co. seem to have found a solid formula with their current lineup and LILITH took me completely by surprise when it was first released on YouTube. It has that old DELUHI sound that I forgot I missed so much (in part because of Juri's vocals, for obvious reasons), but LILITH is just so damn intense and gets my blood pumping every time. It has a pace to it that makes even loop listens satisfying. Let's not talk about the second track though...
Edit: Might have jumped the gun slightly by not waiting until the end of the month because new DEXCORE is sounding tight.