My thoughts on “ADMIRATION”, the first Best Of album from BLACKNAZARENE.
Release Date: February 18th 2020
2. BLACK SUPERNOVA
3. New World
7. Ibara no kanmuri
8. first light
11. Hangyaku starmine
As we’ve established, and will continue to establish over the coming weeks and months, I do a pretty terrible job at keeping up and covering the digital side of the Idol release slate. As such, I not only miss out on a bunch of cool music but there’s also some groups who I just never get a chance to feature because all of their stuff is digital. I’m going to have to get better at it though as it seems Japan is starting to catch up with the rest of the world as far as streaming is concerned.
BLACKNAZARENE were a group who had quite a bit of hype behind them from the Westerns fandom when they first arrived on the scene. They have a pretty cool look which certainly didn’t hurt either. Well, I guess their billing of being “THUG×kawaii”, and in a more general sense how the music ended up sounding, didn’t meet the expectations of many as interest seems to have waned over the past year or so. A bit unfair in my view but then my opinions aren’t all that popular at the best of times.
Well, if you’ve been looking to check BLACKNAZARENE out but haven’t done so then their “Best Of mini-album” “ADMIRATION” seems like it’s probably a pretty good place to start. Not sure I’d call an 11 track (in total, split over 6 different versions) release that features pretty much all of the group’s songs from their debut up to their 1st anniversary a “mini-album” but a good starting point it is sure to be. I’m familiar with a few of the tracks but I haven’t been keeping tabs on the group too much of late so there’s going to be plenty for me to get my teeth into here too. Won’t you join me in giving this group a first/second chance?
“StrayStraight” gets things rolling on the mini-album, setting a mildly Gothic tone with its opening guitar driven instrumental. Some pretty catchy riffs and a pleasing drumbeat catch the ear very effectively and make you curious to see how things are going to develop further. The vocals featured in the song’s opening verses are perhaps a little more on the raw side than one might expect, but I personally kinda like the mild Punk edge they give to things. Sure if you’re looking for super tight, melodic delivery then this probably isn’t going to be your thing but I think there’s a good balance between melody and intensity. The lyrics are also pretty catchy too which certainly doesn’t hurt either. The chorus isn’t quite as strong as I would like it to be personally, the more melodic vocal tone struggles to compete with the more assertive instrumental in my view but not to the point where I’m going to start calling it not enjoyable or anything that strongly worded. The instrumental transitions into and out of said choruses are also worth mentioning as the guitar work during these parts is pretty darn cool. This one could sound a little rough around the edges for some people but if you’re into that Gothic Rock sound with a bit of a Punk edge to things then you should give this one a try.
Up next is “BLACK SUPERNOVA” which after a bit of a grainy sounding start opens up into a rather interesting mix of distortion heavy guitars and much more melodic piano. Quite the contrast in both tone and style and while the guitars are a little bit too blown out for me personally I still think it’s a pretty cool style that works rather well with the way that it’s being applied here. Things do calm down a bit when the song’s first verse comes in, with the guitars being toned down significantly which allows the piano to come through a bit more clearly. This change in tone pairs a lot better with the melodic vocal style that’s being employed here, which is quite pleasant and probably more palatable to anyone who thought that the vocals on “StrayStraight” were playing things a bit too fast and loose for their liking. Things do get a bit more texture in the song’s choruses however, with the vocals getting what I think was a needed, rawer edge to them as the emotion gets turned up some and the instrumental gets a bit more grainy to match as well. They don’t go overboard with it though and the overall levels of distortion are probably a bit less than the rest of the track honestly. Another very enjoyable song, with great vocal melodies and guitar work on show throughout. A bit blown out in places for me but it’s easy to look past that in the wider context of the track.
There appears to be many contrasts on this release, like how bright and melodic its third track “New World” opens in comparison to the one that came before it. Crisp, clean vocals paired with bright, warm guitar tones make for an almost serene atmosphere to get things started but it doesn’t stay that way for all that long. A very cool sounding guitar solo rips through the calm, accompanied by a fairly cymbal heavy drumbeat, and the song is properly off to the races. If you were enjoying the tone and style of the vocals at the beginning of the song then you’ll be pleased to know that they remain pretty much the same even after the guitars get brought a bit further to the front and the beat picks up. It’s kind of a Ballad sort of style I suppose but they dress it up pretty nicely with some bells and whistles (not literally) to keep things fresh and interesting. It also helps that the lyrics are super catchy, at least to me anyway. The chorus showcases some impressive range and power from the vocals, something I don’t think BLACKNAZARENE get enough credit for personally and the hooks are good if not a little understated. I suppose the song on the whole is a little bit by the numbers but that does give it a slightly broader appeal I think which is never a bad thing if you’re trying to build a fanbase. If you’re looking for a song to ease people into BLACKNAZARENE then this is a pretty good place to start.
Things take on a bit of a Progressive Rock feel on the mini-album’s fourth track “Lasthymn”. That’s certainly the impression that the song’s opening instrumental is giving me anyway, and the fact that it’s over 5 minutes in length sort of lends itself to that overall idea as well. I really enjoyed the somewhat slow build that the song has as it starts out, making the instrumental and all of the parts they layer into it the main focus for a while before the vocals are eventually brought in. They’re sung in a lower tone than much of what we’ve heard so far and pair very well with the track’s steady, deep drumbeat but are also bringing a much needed melodic component to what could otherwise potentially be considered a somewhat stodgy composition. The introduction of some piano as things progress also helps add to this and was a nice but not particularly necessary touch in my personal opinion. It makes sense once the chorus hits however and things take on a much brighter and even more melodic tone. It’s a very effective tonal change and does breathe some fresh air into the track so I can definitely appreciate why the chose to do something like that here. The vocals are also really pleasant too, though not changing their style too greatly. The song holds onto a bit more of that initial chorus melody for the remainder of its duration so if the dense Prog style wasn’t your thing then stick with it as it isn’t a feature for the entire track. Even if I might have preferred it to be personally.
I dunno why, but I got a kick out of the faint crackling that preceded the actual start of “OfficialFake”. I guess I’m just kinda weird for liking that sort of stuff. Anyway, after we’re informed of the song’s title the instrumental gets right down to business. It does so by way of yet another really cool sounding guitar solo that’s accompanied by a high-ish tempo Rock drumbeat. This is a style that BLACKNAZARENE do pretty well so if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, as the saying goes. I’m slightly less a fan of the instrumental when the vocals come in as the bass is very forward in the mix, particularly in the left channel at times, and it sort of threw me off with how disorientating it felt at first. The vocals are still great though, featuring some rather catchy lines along with more bright harmonies that are also a pretty heavy feature on this release. This remains the case in the song’s chorus also, which is pretty much just a more amped up version of the verse style, along with some catchy guitar riffs to add another layer of hooks into the mix. This is another song that I could see appealing to a fairly wide audience, providing they don’t have the same issue with the bass that I did. Apart from that though I really don’t have anything bad to say about this track.
So yeah, “GAME” gets off to a fairly odd start as it sounds like we’re picking up a very scrambled radio transmission or something before the actual song comes in. A little bit gimmicky in my opinion but eh, it’s a short snippet at the start of a track so whatever I guess. The song itself has a pretty abrasive, Industrial inspired theme to it which is something a bit different so that’s certainly something I can appreciate this far into the mini-album. Very distorted guitar and bass make for a pretty intense atmosphere overall and that’s further accentuated by the very low, gloomy tone in which the vocals are being delivered. They have a pretty nice flow to them though so there’s still something of a melodic undertone going on. The chorus looks to lighten things up a bit but it’s kinda hard to do that when you’re so invested in distortion and fuzz as it does kinda muddy up your brighter vocal and instrumental melodies like you can observe here. The vocals do their best to cut through it all though and they’re very pleasant if you can separate them from the harsher elements of the instrumental. To be fair, they do figure it out down the back half of the song where things take on a much more melodic tone and balance out the rougher edges more evenly. I kinda get what they did by slowly building in the more melodic stuff so it did work out in the end but it was a bit of a struggle in the beginning. Great end result though so make sure you stick with this one and don’t tap out early.
If you’re in the mood for something with a bit more of a Hard Rock vibe then BLACKNAZARENE try to have you covered with “Ibara no kanmuri”. The song’s opening guitar riff and drumbeat combination is fairly straightforward stuff but that doesn’t make it any less catchy to the ear and there’s a reason why (unless you’re trying to get a bit more experimental) composers keep coming back to these tried and tested formulas time and time again. Who doesn’t love a bit of crunchy guitar, right? Well, things do mellow out considerably once vocals are added to the mix, with the song temporarily getting flipped on its head and shifting seamlessly into a very melodic piano/synth composition. It pairs well with the higher pitched vocals and creates a brief moment of calm before things pick back up again and we’re treated to something of a blend of both styles as we’re swept along into the track’s very epic sounding chorus. It’s definitely a statement piece, with a ton of emotion pouring out from the vocals all while being backed by a Symphonic Rock style instrumental that just sounds immense. It’s only just beaten out by the bridge and closing minute or so where the song just leaves it all out there and climaxes with one of the more impressive closing segments you’re likely to hear for a while. Great stuff, for sure check this one out even if it didn’t quite realize it’s full Hard Rock potential.
That (to me anyway) rather ear pleasing, warm crackle is back at the start of eighth track “first light”. It’s accompanying, or ruining depending on your personal preferences, a rather pleasant Dub inspired beat which is quickly brushed aside for more piano melodies. I wouldn’t have minded seeing where things were going with that but oh well. What we do get is some fairly pleasant sounding stuff, before it too is brushed aside by the introduction of some moderately distorted guitar and a fairly uptempo drumbeat. The vocals keep a similar, somewhat understated but very melodic style throughout all of this, upping the tempo ever so slightly just so they don’t fall too out of sync with the instrumental. It all makes for a track that’s fairly bright in tone but still having a bit of bite to it. I’m not an overly huge fan of what they do with the chorus on this one though. The instrumental sounds a bit busy to my ear, mainly due to the combined effects of the mildly distorted guitars and the piano that are both vying for the your attention. The vocals sound pretty good though and there’s a few nice lyrical hooks as well, so it ain’t all bad that’s for sure. Outside of that though, I really like the instrumentals on this track. Some really great guitar riffs along with pleasing rhythms from the drums. It honestly sounds like this song could be from a group/soloist with a much bigger name. That’s pretty high praise coming from me I think.
You know what’s been missing from this release? A sentimental sounding Rock number, that’s what. Well, “Obsidian” is here to provide that for us, despite its somewhat contrary title. Saying a song is fairly “by the numbers” is something of a critique I suppose but that’s pretty much what this track is doing. You have the bright, somewhat ethereal tones coming from the guitars and a soft drumbeat that isn’t trying to get in the way too much but still doing an effective job of driving the song forward. Vocally things are also very bright tone, with a heavy focus on the melodic component as well as that feeling of sentimentality blended with hopefulness. It’s all very easy to listen to and by the nature of a track like this there’s a built-in sense of familiarity that makes the song sit very comfortably with anyone who has heard something in a similar style in the past. The chorus is a little bit out of control in my personal opinion, with the vocals pushing a pitch that they probably don’t need to but then again the instrumental is crowding them out quite a bit so maybe that was their way of countering that. The lyrical content and structuring is still really good though, it’s just not the most enjoyable of executions for me. I’m not really sure what else to say here honestly, it’s a solid enough interpretation of a heavily explored style with a few things I would have done differently. Very enjoyable in the moment but not going to be the most memorable thing you hear this week.
We reach the penultimate track of the release and with it comes the somewhat oddly titled “7/7”. Nothing too odd with how the song gets started though, opening on a fairly typical Ballad style with a nice piano melody playing the supporting role to a very pleasant sounding solo vocal. That’s not really enough to be carrying a whole song on though so after a short while there’s transition of sorts which brings in various other elements like guitar, drums and synths to put a bit more meat on the bones of this song. Things remain very melodic instrumentally, thanks to some very bright and somewhat squealy guitar riffs with the drums providing a nice, enjoyable tempo to keep everything flowing along smoothly. The vocals stick quite closely to the tone and style that opened the song, which works rather well in the initial verses where the instrumental takes a slight step back and incorporates a bit more piano back into the mix to compliment them. The chorus is interesting, in that BLACKNAZARENE opt for a much more lowkey and light Symphonic style instead of the more emotionally charged, uptempo direction I was expecting them to go in. Maybe not the most obviously catchy lyrics either but they do grow on you some after a while. That Symphonic element sticks around in a fairly prominent role for the rest of the track as well so hopefully you like it because there’s a lot more where that came from. This one is a bit of a Ballad but you know what, they made it pretty interesting with a few creative artistic choices along the way.
The honor of rounding out this mini-album that’s actually more like an album (if you went with the digital option at least) goes to “Hangyaku starmine”. It wastes no time getting down to business, with some anthemic “Woah, Woah, Woahs” ringing out upon hitting play on the track. From there it’s straight into another flashy Rock instrumental with a cool sounding guitar solo teaming up with an energetic drumbeat to get things off on a very upbeat note. Unsurprisingly, this is eased off considerably when we reach the opening verses, with the guitars taking on an almost acoustic tone and the drums mellowing out to match. The vocal performance here is a bit more on the “raw” side than much of the rest of the release but still a perfectly fine listen due to its structure, flow and a couple of well placed hooks. The chorus doesn’t hit quite as hard as I would have liked it to though, especially given what we heard in the song’s opening sequence. There’s nothing particularly bad about it but it doesn’t have the most memorable vocal hooks and the instrumental seems to have opted to place its more memorable guitar riffs and such in the lead-ins and transitions out which is fine but the chorus still needs something to make it pop. As usual I’m just picking holes in what is otherwise a perfectly enjoyable song but you’re here for my opinion so I’m giving you just that.
“ADMIRATION” is a very strong release on the whole and I found most of the songs featured on it to be very enjoyable. If you’re someone who is interested in checking out BLACKNAZARENE for the first time then I can think of no better place to start than right here with this release. It has pretty much all of their songs released to date, barring one or two exceptions, so if anything I wrote here sounded interesting to you then I can wholeheartedly recommend you check out this release. Grab the digital version if you don’t want to spend a fortune though.
I’m still somewhat surprised that BLACKNAZARENE don’t seem to have much of a international following by this point. Given their domestic popularity and the quality and fairly wide appeal their music stylings of choice have, I would have thought more people would have been singing their praises. I guess initial misconceptions about what the group was going to be die hard, which is a shame. Well, I know I’m definitely looking forward to them putting out more music in the future. I just hope I don’t have to wait as long for their next CD release as I did for this one.