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Happy Belated ChristMHas Gift: Top Albums of 2018

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Another chapter has been written and filed away into the ever growing library of visual kei history, so we resume our customary annual review of all of the great albums that saw the light of day in 2018. Unlike previous years, we elected to wait until the middle of January so the stragglers of the year had their fair chance to weigh in. This list is also not in any specific order, although DIMLIM's CHEDOARA deserves a mention for getting the most votes internally and therefore kicks the list off with a bang. Even in our most challenging years, there's always something fresh and new around the corner waiting to be discovered. Like always, this isn't an exhaustive list and plenty of the hidden gems slip through the cracks, so if you have anything to add to the list tack it on at the end so the entire community can find something new to enjoy. 


Without further ado, here are some great J-Rock albums of 2018.

DIMLIM -- CHEDOARA

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Who would have thought that in a year when Dir en grey, The Gazette, Dezert and lynch. all released new albums, I would easily say that my favorite heavy VK record of the year was CHEDOARA by the still relatively new-to-the-scene DIMLIM?

 

I said in my review of their first single that 2017 was the year that Visual Kei finally figured out how to do deathcore. DIMLIM took it a step further this year by releasing an album that slaps and shrieks with the best of 'em (see the ridiculous but fun "Mad [K]"); but is really defined by its smart guitar work, expert pacing, and the nasally warble in between the banshee wails that create a dark and despair that feels tangible but not overwrought or overbearing.

 

@The Reverend

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I second my colleague @The Reverend in my surprise at the album of the year beating out other, far more established acts by a band who is barely two years old. DIMLIM made the best decision of their career ousting key composer and drummer Issei, responsible for their initial hype but who I found unable to back up the hype with dull, formulaic compositions. In his place is ex-D.I.D. roadie Retsu as the main composer, and he literally flabbergasted me with his dazzling direction for the band, blending industrial ambience, grinding deathcore, progressive tendencies, alt-metal and a sharp ear for melody. The band improve in every single way possible, giving us classics like "vanitas", "Aizou ni tsuki" and "GROTESQUE", bouncing from early 2000's Dir en grey worship to a better D.I.D. outtake to something that doesn't sound too far out of place on a KEEL record. The mood is stark and emotionally affecting, bouncing between sorrow, fury, disgust and mania. Special shoutout to the dazzling closer "Hito to katachi", a shockingly paired down acoustic ballad until its last moments, recalling DEG's best ballads. The album isn't perfect by any means, its too damn short and two or so tracks should have been better fleshed out. The ideas presented here are worth the AOTY spot, and if this is DIMLIM's early career debut, god knows what they'll accomplish in a few years if they keep up the quality. My sole fear is that DIMLIM are so far ahead of the curve that they wont garner the fanbase they deserve, but my faith is with these brilliant newbies.

@emmny

 

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The band has gone through an unbelievable transformation in the past year and their rate of improvement has indeed been astounding. There is so much intensity and emotion packed into the 41-minutes of CHEDOARA, you get a sense that whatever they were going for, they were going at it hard. Flagship song "Vanitas" is still on regular rotation, and the other two promotional tracks - "シガラミ" and "愛憎につき…" are just as strong. However as @emmny said, the amount of DIR EN GREY/sukekiyo worship was a lot more than they had divulged during promotion, an observation attributed by these young musicians growing up in the height of DEG's fame. Shoutout to Katsuya (ex.CodeRebirth, Misanthropist), the sole engineer who's been onboard with rec/mix/mastering DIMLIM's works since THE SILENT SONG. He may not be a household name, but his home studio hack skills are very in-demand in the Japanese metalcore scene right now and deserves a lot of love.

@helcchi


 

 

 

Sigh - Heir to Despair
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Sigh vocalist/songwriter/etc. Mirai said in a 2012 interview that "Whenever I see cherry blossoms, I can’t help thinking about setting fire to them and going, 'This is going to be an epic landscape!'" and I can't help thinking that sounds like the mindset of the mastermind behind the epic progressive metal landscape that is Heir to Despair.

 

Heir to Despair is in some ways the most 'natural' Sigh record; both in the folk-metal sense in some songs, but more importantly in the 'back-to-basics' riffs or guitar solos that anchor tracks like "Homo Homini Lupus" or "In Memories Delusion". Of course this being Sigh, those natural elements still sound like they've been stapled to a canvas, splattered with blood, then chopped and spliced and played back in reverse at 120 frames per second.

 

@The Reverend

 

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For all the trouble Mirai Kawashima went through to prevent fans from 'liking' this album, it has created this unintended reverse psychology that just adds to the mystique that is Sigh. This is a monstrosity of a masterpiece (don't ever let Mirai tell you otherwise) because 30 years after their formation, they've not even come close to plateauing and on the contrary, keep pushing the limits; churning out groundbreaking release after groundbreaking release. Heir to Despair is rife with oddities, a confluence of genres with exotic instruments and ethnic sounds, and mad as the madman Mirai himself, making for an auditory experience akin to a maniac's version of a spiritual awakening.

@helcchi



Dir en grey - The Insulated World
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DIR EN GREY are never really out of surprises, and I look forward to the album cycle to hear what these guys cook up in the years between past and future releases. In the four years between the seminal ARCHE and now The Insulated World , the band have channeled their concept of "pain" into an oddly miserable 'double LP' of sorts, simultaneous more direct and hard-hitting than the obscurities of ARCHE while also bringing a new sense of opacity and atmosphere to their more progressive leaning sounds. Side one is all bark all bite, featuring short three-minute rockers and most of the singles, recalling VULGAR and MARROW OF A BONE. "Keibetsu to hajimari" is a whole "...Maggots" redo, and "Rubbish Heap" is the heaviest track they've done in a while, with doomy riffage and a pounding climax. It's closed off by "Aka", a fitting successor to "Rinkaku"'s airy ambience, which sets the stage for side two. In one fell swoop, DEG pull out their best compositions in years, with the seven-minute dirge "Zetsuenai", the shiny afterglow of "Followers" and the tense, start-stop assault of "Keigaku no yoku". The album ends on a lull, suggesting the depressing and incessantly dark atmosphere of the record has to cease at some point, making such a happy closer all the more eerie. Will the disillusioned, heartbroken protagonist Kyo drafted at the centre of The Insulated World 's narrative find peace? Maybe, maybe not, but the 50-minute ride through the heart of DIR EN GREY is worth the cliffhanger of a story, though some might disagree with the positive review I'm giving the album. That's how I like my music, especially from the boys behind DIR EN GREY; ambivalence is useless, so please vomit forth your hate or love, but nothing less.

@emmny

 

 
emmurée - lightless

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Emmuree formed in the 1990s! Look it up; they'll have been (sometimes sporadically) pumping out emotional nu-goth dirges for 20 years as of this coming spring. It's impressive that they've been making music for two decades now in relative obscurity; most visual kei bands break up after about two years of toiling for not much recognition. It's also impressive that 19 years in,  Emmuree just released their album that *rocks* the most. Which is not to say it's their best; this band shines when walls of noise are slashed in half by Sou's longing, emotive vocals. But the riffs on their new album Lightless are a fun small change to the formula... I can't wait to see what kind of mosh pit forms at an Emmuree show as a result.

 

@The Reverend

 

 

キズ - 「傷痕」

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Whoever was skeptical before, got blown away once "Kizuato" was released. The title track packs more punch than most visual kei releases in 2018 put together. Sure, there are still those who aren't fans of Lime's grating vocals, but those people are still sticking around to see what the band are up to. This single brought some stand out tracks which aren't as fast paced as the first one, such as 怨ミ節, a slow anguished ballad. A little later on, kizu dropped footage of this song which established the band's performance power. Be it good or bad, eyes will be on kizu in 2019.

 

@platy

 

 

 


Mass of the Fermenting Dregs - No New World
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The newest (and first in eight years) album from Mass of the Fermenting Dregs doesn't have quite the same frenetic, spastic punk rock vibe as the first incarnation of the band did. Maybe twenty-year-old Rev wouldn't be as into this version of the band, but thirty-plus-year-old Rev appreciates the smarts and maturity on display on lots of the tracks from No New World.

 

The title track is a pretty, ethereal wisp of a song perfect for winding down after a night out. "New Order" is a powerful, jangly post-pop by way of shoegaze masterpiece. And for those of you that still want the old, weird MotFD check out "If only" which transitions from doom to laser beam punk at the drop of a hat and all within its first minute. My biggest complaint is that it's been nearly a decade and we only got seven songs.

 

@The Reverend

 

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I thought the world had closed the door on Mass of the Fermenting Dregs back in 2010, after member departures and a disappointing first album in ゼロコンマ、色とりどりの世界  (Zero Comma, Iro Toridori No Sekai) left the unit in ruins. It was a bad sequence of events and I thought that was all she wrote, but founding member Natsuko Miyamoto felt otherwise. She took a few years off before reforming with two new members, starting the band up again, and from there slowly picking up steam. Emphasis on the world slowly, because it took three years to go from re-inception to realized album. "No New World" is only the band's second album in eight years, and it is sounding much more like a return to form a la ワールド イズ ユアーズ (World is Yours) than a continuation of Zero Comma.  This is a really good thing, considering eight years ago I believed the band lost the plot and what made them unique. This is what I wanted Zero Comma to be. I hope this is the beginning to one of the most successful come back stories in Japanese music history. I am so glad MotFD is back, and I look forward to future activities and releases!

@Zeus
 

 


陰陽座 (Onmyo-Za) - 覇道明王 (Hadou Myouou)

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With a career that spans twenty years, fifteen successful albums, one marriage (don't quote me on this one), only one member change, and aesthetics that sandwich them nicely into the nexus that is Monochrome Heaven's collective taste, it's a wonder that this band isn't discussed more often. 陰陽座 is a band that most fans know about but don't actively listen to, because they are a pretty one-dimensional band and it's pretty easy to determine if you are buying what they are selling. I personally believe that they have found a second wind since 2012's 鬼子母神 (Kishibojin) redefined what the band was capable of. Every album since has been improvement upon improvement, and 2018's 覇道明王 (Hadou Myouou) is their strongest, most focused, heaviest, and most compact effort yet. I guarantee you that the rabbit hole trap doors into an almost endless amount of Iron Maiden worship if you let it - and I do implore you to succumb to the temptation if you are feeling it - to the point where even I'm noticing people in exogenous musical circles noticing this band. If you like metal in any of its various forms, check this out. If you like aesthetics and Japanese culture, check this out. If you got this far into the year and you haven't read my long form review on why you should be listening to this album, you should be listening to it.

@Zeus
 

 


The GazettE - NINTH

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Is it too soon to consider this a redemption story? Is this even a redemption story? Depends on who you ask. If you asked me - and of course you did - the GazettE lost the plot several years ago and NINTH is the signal of a successful course correction.  The factors which skyrocketed them to the top of the scene were also the same factors that compelled them to chase trends instead of refining a winning formula, which exchanged short-term gains for long-term customer satisfaction. The last few albums felt like the band did not know what directions to push in, so they tried everything to see what worked. DOGMA was a promising excursion, but NINTH is the album that woke the juggernaut I haven't heard or seen since DIM. This is what TOXIC and DIVISION should have been. It restored my faith and energy in a band I was close to writing off for good! I'd even say that the last few releases were more than just treading water; it was the band revisiting old sounds and mental spaces, taking notes on what went right and wrong, and figuring out how to bring it all together. Pleasing everyone is impossible, but the boys did a damn good job with this one, and I'm certain it's something they will derive satisfaction and inspiration from for years to come. It's easily the best thing they've released since they signed with SONY, and proof that even recurring disappointments can still surprise if given the chance to.

 

@Zeus

 

 

 

 

 

グリモア - プシュコマキア

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Grimoire hasn't disappointed me so far and this mini album strengthened the faith I had in them. The band is solid and has been solid from their debut, but the most impressive part is following vocalist Rynk's steady development from release to release. They're one of the few bands in the scene which doesn't justify its heavy sound with br00tal screams and growls for the sake of it. The album sticks mostly to a dark atmosphere, but grimoire aren't afraid to experiment with slower, more melodic songs like ベルフェとゆううつ for example. Even the closing track, which I'm going to label as toy-box kei, a more cutesy song than any of its counterparts in Psychomachia, doesn't disappoint and manages to find its role amongst the other angsty songs. As a more polished (and mature, sorry) version of yumeleep, I recommend that any fans of man-child-kei give Psychomachia a try!

 

 

 

@platy

 

 


DADAROMA - dadaism#4

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It's a short 7-song album but filled with trappings of familiar DADAROMA pre "the kinky", "android" etc. as they take a dark turn back to form. They retain their popular formula - the obligatory piano ballad, the creepy carnival music, "oboreru sakana 2.0", minus their recent irritating singles. There are no real standout tracks, instead the band focuses on producing a solid album that's (mostly) enjoyable to listen to from start to finish as new drummer 諒平 (Ryohei) pumps vitality into their songs, reminding us of their wonder years. A strong restart, and a great end to the year for DADAROMA.

 

@helcchi

 

 

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I had lost interest in DADAROMA's party trick singles and approached dadaism#4 with little hope. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. Don't expect DADAROMA's best work and you'll be okay. "トゥルリラ" is great and reminds me of what they sound like at their best when they're not singing about masturbation and kinks. "カリスマロックスター は売れないぜ!" fills the role of playful track and does it really well, I find myself fantasizing about the day I can hear it live and jump up and down the venue. There is something in dadaism#4 for every fan of DADAROMA, if you're into their ballads or their spooky side, even the more mediocre visual kei sound with the piercing synths. It's definitely worth a listen, if anything it barely reaches the forty minutes mark and it does not outstay its welcome. Lastly,even though I'll miss Yusuke, the new drummer does not disappoint. I look forward to their future with a little more interest in mind.

@platy

 

 



lynch. - XIII

 

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lynch. had a glorious return to form this year with the return of bassist Akinori, and with multiple tours and an album release, no one can say that lynch. has taken 2018 lightly. Their newest album, XIII, garnered equal amounts of hype and caution from fans who did not want the band to take another misstep. The band delivers, and while first impressions are positive, the album requires a couple of weeks of listening in order to truly impress. My uneasiness towards the album has all but disappeared, as tracks like "RENATUS", "AMBLE", and "FAITH" are ones to check out. XIII  is able to express its confidence here with an abundance of melodies and guitar solos, like a tribute to 13 years of lynch.'s past work with a glint of 90’s visual kei thrown into the mix.  Whether this combination will work is up to you, but XIII has become a release that I can stand behind. 

@YuyoDrift



:angel:Thanks for reading!:angel:

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Great writeup everyone. Of the stuff I didn't give a try out to last year, the emmurée track convinced me I've been sleeping way too hard on them. Beautiful vocals and seductive guitars I'm in love.

I enjoyed a lot of the stuff listed here. I may have a bit of a skewed perspective because I was out of the loop for years, but looking back on the last year of vk/j-w/e has made it clear that there's still plenty of talented artists making interesting music in the scene. 2019 looks like it'll be just as fun to watch!

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Quite dissapointed how Haru to Shura wasn't pick in this list. It was one of the most refreshing and overall great releases of 2018.But also overall, a good list.

By the way, kizu shouldn't be here as that release is a single, not an album.

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On 1/22/2019 at 7:31 PM, chipathy said:

eh who cares if its a single, theres mini albums on here that only have like 2 songs more than all the kizuato tracks so i think its fair, especially if the release is that solid 

Then tell me exactly which ones, because I've heard all of the releases published here (well, except for Grimoire's, but I already checked and it has 7 songs) and none has less than 6 songs,

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