Modern J-Rock: An Introductory Package
Statement of Purpose: Let's Rock
I believe myself to be slowly building up a reputation as a writer on the subjects of anime and video games. Occasionally, I proffer my thoughts on broader topics related to Asian culture or history. What I have never done, is take the time to write my feelings on music. I've always been concerned that if I tried, I would lack the proper phraseology to express my feelings towards the music I was discussing.
I mean, music is complicated. Think about it. A sound wave is a mechanical oscillation of pressure. The fact that you can somehow produce a pattern of such waves and have that pattern make up a song is a miracle of science. I've wondered how I might form the words to describe such an abstract phenomena in a way that makes sense, but that transmits a bit more information than "Wow, that album was sick."
So far, I've declined to undertake this challenge, and have instead engaged myself with writing about my other interests and hobbies. However, it recently came to my attention that here on HubPages, there is a distinct lack of information relating to my favorite variety of music: J-Rock; and I don't care for such gaps in the information that is available.
So, while I may not be the best person for the task, I was the person willing to complete the task -- the task of writing an article that introduces the populace of HubPages to a new genre of music. I wish it were possible to construct an all-encompassing, broad, sweeping cover of the genre, but that would be quite a feat. Instead this article serves as an introduction to a number of modern Japanese rock bands that I think are worth listening to. Think of it as a smorgasbord of music.
Relax, put your headphones on, and have fun reading and listening. I certainly had a lot fun writing and listening.
Years Active: 2002 - Present
Let's start by introducing one of my favorite bands, The GazettE. The GazettE have been around for a while, and have become extremely famous by J-Rock standards. They have released six studio albums so far, with a seventh slated for release this Fall. Along the way, they have experimented with lots of musical elements, but the crux of their music could be described as metal -- melodic, or otherwise, depending on the song.
The GazettE is one of those bands that frequently attempts to utilize English lyrics in their songs, to mixed effect. I say mixed because while it doesn't necessarily make lyrical sense, or even particularly sound like English, nearly every song The GazetE churns out ends up being really good.
Common themes of The GazetE's music include dissidence, be it sexual, romantic, or otherwise. At times, the vulgarity seems less geared towards raising discussion, and more towards being offensive and seeing which lines can be pushed. In regards to this, your author would like to note a parallel between The Gazette and Rammstein, with the note that he is a huge Rammstein fan as well.
Before I Decay
The Invisible Wall
Filth in the Beauty
Years Active: 2003 - Present
Girugamesh is another prolific band that's been around for a while, and they are, I feel, a band that is readily accessible to a number of people. Girugamesh is a band that's slightly more grounded than a lot of other J-Rock bands. There's less of a focus on the visual flair that is often associated with the genre, and more of a focus on the music. If you're new to the J-Rock genre, but your a fan of western rock and metal, there are a lot of Girugamesh songs that you'll be able to appreciate because certain aspects of style seem inspired by western music. This is not to say they aren't still distinctively J-Rock; and if you're already a fan of the genre, then there's definitely a lot here for you as well.
I think, for the most part, Girugamesh is a slightly lighter, slightly more mild variant of metal. Songs are typically methodical and cohesive, with a great deal of care distributed evenly to each instrumental arrangement. Vocals are typically powerful and strong, but only infrequently aggressive or overbearing. Electronic distortion and other effects are utilized for unique sound.
Also of note: Girugamesh is capable of a mean rock ballad.
Kowarete Iku Sekai
Omae Ni Sasageru Minikui Koe
Years Active: 1997 - Present
Formed in 1997, Yousei Teikoku is a band that has been around the block a few times. The fact that their lead singer, the beautiful Queen Yui, never seems to age is amazing. About that title, Yousei Teikoku is a concept band. That concept, quoted from their wikipedia article is as follows:
"Through music, Yousei Teikoku is attempting to revive the Fairy Empire that exists between the human world and the spiritual realm known as Spiritual. The purpose of their music is "to make humans remember the pure heart inside them that believes in fairies, forgotten before we knew it". "Gothic" and "empire" are key words in their musical ideas."
They're clearly having a lot of fun with it, and that's great. The lengthy duration of their career likely speaks high of the actual quality of their music. If you've watched Mirai Nikki then you've heard some of their music already, perhaps without ever knowing it. Yousei Teikoku does a lot of interesting things with their sound.
At its core the music is an extremely ambiant form of gothic rock. Individual songs employ aspects of electronica, metal, and other genres, but certain trademark elements remain. Use of German, English, and Latin lyrics is one. The distinct vocals of Yui herself are another.
Mischievous of Alice
Gothic Lolita Doctrine
Years Active: 2003 - Present
An all-female rock band is rare. One that's this good is unheard of. I'm not going to beat around the bush with this one, so let's just throw it out there. I consider Exist†Trace to be the best female band of all time, and I consider Exist†Trace to be one of the best bands in the world today regardless of gender. Lead singer, Jyou, has an unimaginably wide vocal range. She's capable of dropping low, for some frightening guttural howls, but to then rise for a distinctly feminine chorus. She excels at both, and to me, that's crazy. The kicking drums, and guitars would kind of just be icing on the cake at this point, but then that's some damn good icing, too.
Exist†Trace's musical style has evolved significantly over the years. Their earlier stuff can be described as "melodic death metal." Their more recent stuff is something different entirely. They still have the heart of metal, but they've become open to including bits and pieces of other genres. Their Virgin album is notable for being heavily jazz-inspired. Color me impressed, its better than any actual jazz this writer has heard.
My theory is this: If Exist†Trace continues to improve at the rate they've been doing so, they will go down as the greatest J-Rock band ever. And if they don't, they'll still have nothing to be ashamed of.
Daybreak ~13 Tsuki no shikisai~
Lost in Helix
Years Active: 2007 - Present
Here's a band that's a little newer, but one that's doing a lot of interesting things. They're a band that has embraced their status as a visual kei band. Grandiose dress, bright colors, playing with genre roles in a way that will make you question your own sexuality -- that stuff's all here; and Kiryu's image is made up as much by how they look as how they sound. However, while their dress isn't anything new for their genre, their sound is.
Kiryu's music is influenced heavily my Japanese folklore and mythology. This influence is audible, but it's really driven home in their music videos. I've pondered whether the name Shinto-rock might be applicable here, but it has yet to catch on.
In any case, the music is catchy. At times, they get a little too carried away with being silly in their videos, but for the most part I am a big fan of these guys.
Betsu Re Biyori Ha Kani Some Maru
Years Active: 2005 - 2010
When GaGaalinG disbanded, it broke my heart, because they were one of my favorite J-Rock bands. Their sound was an impressive hybrid of J-Rock and J-Pop. The heavier drums and guitars of the former, but the slightly softer female vocals of the latter. Tracks were also modified electronically to very good effect, and it still bothers me that there won't be any new ones coming.
What GaGaalinG didn't have was any recurring theme in their music (aside from the names of the albums: Royal Punx, Royal Blood, and Royal Stranger.) As a rule of thumb, each successive album inched a bit closer towards rock, and a bit more away from pop, but they each featured a wide array of different sounds,with songs differing wildly in terms of instruments used, vocal styles, and mood. Because of this differing style, it is somewhat difficult to find words that adequately summarize GaGaaalinG as a band. All I can suggest is that you give some of their songs a listen, and formulate your own opinion.
Take Me Heaven
Piasu ~ Pierced Pleasures ~
Years Active: 2003 - 2010 , 2012 - Present
If you're a fan of hard hitting metal, and brutal heavy rock, then An Cafe is not the band for you; unless you happen to like more than one sound, of course. An Cafe self-labels as "Harajuku dance rock," a label which doesn't carry a whole lot of weight, because they may be the only band using it. In any case, their sound is extremely light, and extremely fluffy. They are about as far as one can push the "rock" banner before one must concede that it has become pop. In fact their general image and behavior may be best describes as "girly."
Your reaction when you learn: Bou, shown third from the right in the image above, is not female?
All joking aside though, An Cafe is a band capable of producing some really catchy tunes when they want to. They deviate towards straight-pop more often than I would like, and I can't say I much align with their visual image. However, they have more than enough enjoyable songs to be worth exploring.
Bushido To Iu Wa Shinukoto To Mitsuketari
Cherry Saku Yuuki
Years Active: 2006 - Present
MoNoLith is a really interesting band largely due to it having two vocalists that play off of one another. In softer songs -- and MoNoLith has a number of those -- the tandem vocals are something of a novelty, but in the heavier songs they are utilized very effectively. To put it simply: there's a singer who sings, and a singer who does all of those other wonderful things that a metal singer should be able to do. It's team work!
Like An Cafe, it can be difficult to place MoNoLith into a single genre. However, I can't help but feel that MoNoLith has a wider ranger than An Cafe does.Their sound is most comfortable when they're performing heavier songs, but it's only the puffiest, silkiest, of their songs that I have to press the skip button for. Another way to look at it would be to say that MoNoLith is an amazing metal band, but a mediocre soft rock band.
They are absolutely worth checking out though, particularly by beginning with the list of songs shown below.
In The Hurt