Selected Singles – December 2023

Saturday, 23rd December 2023

With the way that people consume music changing, alongside the way that groups release music in smaller packages (EPs, singles), it seemed like the right idea to start looking at ways to cover those releases as well. Particularly when some of those singles are particularly strong and end up being stand alone, never reaching an album. So with that in mind, this is the inaugural edition of what hopefully will be a regular addition to the usual coverage here at DR. This month we take a look at Axelight, Beyond the Black, Dragonforce, I Legion, Isiliel, Ketulo, Killt Melt Land (pictured above), Kuroguro, Ladybaby, LuciDreaM, Mana Diagram, Mellows, REIRIE, Togenashi Togeari and Yosugala.

Axelight “AIMAI”
Having one of my favorite releases of 2023 already in Hydrogen, Axelight recently debuted a new single in “AIMAI,” which jumps directly into the fray with intense electronics running at a blazing tempo. It’s a visceral start that maintains the tempo through the track, firing off a throttling chorus that’s as energetic as it is catchy. The pounding EDM backdrop is sure to incite a thrill, as are the swirl of soaring vocals that surround it. Axelight continue to show that they have one of the most addictive sounds out there. The single’s B-side, “Kingdom,” is just as strong of a groover. (Axelight official website/Axelight on X)

Beyond the Black “Wide Awake” Piano Version
Not unusual for Beyond the Black to offer up a stripped down version of a studio song, given their track record with acoustic recordings, but it doesn’t take away from the elegance of “Wide Awake” reimagined as a piano song with Jennifer Haben’s vocals completely at the forefront. The original eventually picked up more heaviness and momentum over it’s runtime – this piano version maintains it’s serene beauty, giving Haben a chance to really showcase why she’s one of the most talented vocalists in the symphonic scene today. (Beyond the Black official website/Beyond the Black on Facebook)

Dragonforce “Power of the Saber Blade”
Made for the VR rhythm game Beat Saber, “Power of the Saber Blade” is a ripping Dragonforce track that takes all the usual guitar shredding fury and speed along with the powerful vocals and provides a genuinely fun experience. Raise your fists at the chorus and sing along (or at least thrash those VR controllers) as this song feels very ‘classic’ Dragonforce in its over-the-top theatrics, yet grounded with a sense of melody to make it feel incredibly balanced. The music video is quite an amusing treat too! (Dragonforce official website/Dragonforce on Facebook)

I Legion “Broken Mirrors Pt. II” (featuring Chris Clancy)
Such a treat to be able to say that there’s a new I Legion track! A second part to the song that was released on 2020’s Overcome the Tides, this has all the right bits of melody and emotion that the modern metal act always brings to the table – alongside just the right amount of shred to compliment it. Having Chris Clancy on board for vocals again is yet another win, as his voice has always been an exceptional meshing with Fred Riverin’s guitarwork. Hopefully this is just the beginning of new material for this perpetually underrated act. Fingers crossed! (I Legion on Bandcamp/I Legion on Facebook)

Isiliel “Lilith”
Continuing to blend more textures into the Isiliel front, “Lilith” features an almost metalcore-esque riffing and groove to it that separates it from the more death/blackened approach to much of her debut Moonbow Genesis, yet still keeping the same level of polish and dark mystique. Himari Tsukishiro’s vocals fit the track like a glove and it’s a real rousing song (particularly having witnessed it in the live setting last month). Isiliel seems to be setting up for an even stronger 2024 if we continue to get gems like this one. (Isiliel official website/Isiliel on X)

Ketulo “RIOT/Ringside”
Continuing strong after this fall’s excellent self-titled 3-song release, Ketulo quickly return with two new songs that hit an idol rock/metal sweet spot. “RIOT” brings some catchy grooves and modern trimmings alongside some arena rock energy and snippets of hip hop attitude. It’s a fun track that the vocal quintet handles with plenty of charisma and charm. “Ringride” plays more straight rock/metal with some electronic touches, but seems to increase the hook-factor even higher. Despite their newness, between these two new releases it seems Ketulo are bound to really spike in popularity soon. (Ketulo official website/Ketulo on X)

Killt Melt Land “Be I Am/Rewrite”
Debuting in October and releasing two singles to kick things off, this metalcore-esque act features dual vocals from Rie (who was in the anime series Aikatsu!) and P-Sama (aka Shiina Hikari – a Japanese pioneer in her extreme vocals). Showcased below is “Rewrite,” the more frantic of the two tracks, showcasing just how heavy the act can get – yet retain a remarkable amount of melody through it all. There’s a really great dynamic to be had with the two frontwomen, and the rounding out of some scorching instrumention makes Killt Melt Land a promising upstart for the scene. (Killt Melt Land official website/Kilt Melt Land on Instagram)

Kuroguro “Black Burst”
An alt idol group with instrumentation landing them firmly in metallic territory, “Black Burst” is their first original song to be released. It goes heavy with the riffing to open up the track, holding nothing back with the guitar crunch to accompany some swirling electronics and the group’s strong vocal performance (which briefly lands in more extreme territory). The more aggressive approach to idol music is much appreciated here with this track, and it sets an impressive tone as the first piece of original music. Kuroguro is off to a fabulous start! (Kuroguro on X)

Ladybaby “Gotcha NIPPON”
An exciting prospect as the debut track from the latest iteration of the renown Ladybaby, this time as a co-project of idol agency Heroines. A fun, heavy track that pays some attention to the group’s origins while paving the way for their future, it opens with some drum battery and downtuned riffing atop a barrage of “Gacha” weaves into unpredictable directions, dabbling into some Indian, hip hop, and pop soundscapes as it progresses. No screams yet, but former member Emily Arima (PassCode) is working with Sakura so we can expect some in the future. All in all, a thrilling track from an act that’s bound to make some large waves in 2024. (Ladybaby official website/Ladybaby on Instagram)

LuciDreaM “Ego”
A two song single from LuciDreaM pulls together such a wide breadth of influences considering the short length. “Unhappiness Soul” weaves together metalcore riffing, electronic and dance elements, some hip hop dabblings, and even a monster breakdown over the course of its 3.5 minute timeslot. “Utopia” twists things further into EDM territory in the bounciest way possible while still holding up that heavy layer of scathing riffs and snarls to make it into a visceral yet danceable good time. As their fourth single, hopefully a full-length is approaching soon. (LuciDream on X/LuciDreaM on Instagram)

Mana Diagram “Glitter Wind”
Featuring some ex-members of shredders Hagane (vocalist Uyu and guitarist Mayto), expect plenty of soaring musicianship in Mana Diagram as well. The energetic riff-work of Mayto and Mint allow for plenty of fireworks in this song, with Uyu’s vocals frequently taking flight to masterful heights. There’s a lot to enjoy here, to the point of dissecting out each individual’s parts – not to mention the fun of the overall intensity and fun factor of the shredding. Yet another exciting debut in this particular column! (Mana Diagram official website/Mana Diagram on Instagram)

Mellows “Mikansei”
One of those tracks that just hits the gas right at the onset, “Mikansei” is Mellows’ newest single and it’s a shredder to say the least. Frantic riffing, catchy bits of groove, and a galloping chorus all come together for a pretty wild modern metal ride (complete with a thrilling solo later on). They define themselves as ‘cute metal’ band, but the music behind them is definitely full of fury. This is bound to impress people if they give it a shot! (Mellows official website/Mellows on X)

REIRIE “Under My Heaven”
A direct link back to the origins of Ladybaby with this group, as Rei and Rie were both members of the original Ladybaby act. REIRIE formed at the start of 2023, and have been launching singles ever since. “Under My Heaven” is the latest, focusing on a nice combination of punk-y riffing and urgency with an equal helping of melodic groove. An effective swinging slowdown comes out halfway through to change up the dynamic and it works wonders. With the collection of tracks they’ve accumulated this year, hopefully a more substantial release is in the works. (REIRIE official website/REIRIE on Instagram)

Togenashi Togeari “Hurtful & Painful”
I continue to be nothing short of wowed by TogeToge. Their eighth single this year maintains the same high bar they’ve set since “Nameless Name” in May. The sound is crisp as always, and you can hear all of the instrumentation beautifully. For a 16 year old, Rina has some incredible vocals – the chorus in this song is some of the best work she’s done. It’s catchy, has some standout and playful musicianship, and just heavy enough. Can’t remember the last time I was so quickly invested in a group. Expect big things as we move into 2024, this band is firing on all cylinders. (Togenashi Togeari official website/Togenashi Togeari on X)

Yosugala “Aspiration”
Melodic and catchy is the name of the game for Yosugala, and “Aspiration” is going to be stuck in your head for the next week if you get to the chorus. Backed by a driving tempo and some rousing guitars, the idol act absolutely deserves all the accolades for the way that they weave together some impressively potent vocal work at the forefront. Yomosugara was an excellent full-length (just missing my top list by a thread), and the string of singles since bode very well for the act moving forward. (Yosugala official website/Yosugala on X)

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