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layzee Oct 5, 2017

Howdy ho, pardner.

After a long painful wait, a copy of "N.A.V.E." had finally reached my eager hands. After about a week of listening, here are my thoughts and opinions. Any interesting/relevant information from S.S.H.'s song-by-song liner notes will also be translated/paraphrased.

My ratings logic:
0/5 (Little to no musical value)
1/5 (I understand the artist's intentions with this song but it's not for me)
2/5 (Might give it a chance every once in a while/bit of an acquired taste)
3/5 (Average/not amazing, but not bad/mainly just background music/non-active listening)
4/5 (Pretty special, will revisit often)
5/5 (Can't stop listening)

Note: The above ratings are relative to other S.S.H.'s works. They are not being compared with other metal music or other video game music in general.

01. Abyss
My rating: 3/5

My thoughts: As previously stated, it's a Devil May Cry-style song with choirs and a guttural Demon-sounding vocals. I imagine Satan and his army of Hell slowly marching to the Human world. It's more of an intro song with not too much happening and mainly serves to build up to the next track.

S.S.H.'s liner notes: An introduction-style song with both the heavy guitar and incomprehensible low vocals contributing to the solemn atmosphere. That is totally my thing. I imagine this song as being used for the Game Opening or the Trailer. It might be a bit hard to tell from the demo, but as the song progresses, the intruments increase and the volume becomes louder. Also, try increasing the volume at the beginning of the song - you may be a bit surprised.

02. No Meaning
My rating: 5/5

My thoughts: And this track doesn't put the previous build-up to waste. It's in your face in the first second and doesn't let up until the 3:00 minute mark where it takes a break... but only a short one. No Meaning is a combination of male death metal vocals and female scat vocals that seems to enter yodeling territory. The female part sounds quite similar to "voice performer" Kyoko Kishikawa (Shadow Hearts, Romancing Saga: Minstrel Song, etc) - definitely not a bad thing. Both vocals complement each other well instead of detract, and overall doesn't sound overly busy (in terms of keeping track of the instruments as well as both vocals). The important question: who owns the voices? They sound too real to be Vocaloid (though I'm sure Vocaloid technology has improved a lot).

S.S.H.'s liner notes: Slash Metal that I like + mysterious ethnic female vocals. I already published the full version of this song on SoundCloud but I re-recorded it. The Arrange itself is the same as the old version but I completely recreated the sound of the instruments.

03. Cradle Song
My rating: 3/5

My thoughts: Another death metal track similar to the above. I like the backing guitars but overall I'm not really feeling much in this one. The song doesn't seem to be going anywhere, just heading straight ahead, figuratively-speaking.

S.S.H.'s liner notes: Death Pop and Death Catch. It didn't occur to me to write it in particular, but out of this album, this is the one I'm most pleased with, probably. (layzee's note: translation clarification needed)

04. Hellbics 112
My rating: 3/5

My thoughts: A slower-paced song using synth/keyboard and does not have the "hardness" or "darkness" of the previous tracks, pretty laid back actually.

S.S.H.'s liner notes: I originally made this song for when you are "rowing" on an "Aerobike" (layzee's note: I think he is referring to the exercise bikes you find in the gym). Or the Mountain Stage of a game.

(layzee's note: The origins of this song, based on what I understand from this track's liner notes is that, when S.S.H. goes to the gym to work out on the exercise bikes, he would have a playlist of songs from his favourite artists. The problem is that many of the songs raise the "tension" (musical terminology) and does not match the pace at which he exercises. Therefore, the creation of a song that is suitable for exercising to. So he set about finding a suitable tempo: 112 BPM hence the "112" in the track title.)

(layzee's note: and that probably explains the "Hellbics" in the track title - it's probably a combination of "Hell" and "Aerobics".)

(layzee's note: my comprehension and understanding of this track's liner notes might be completely wrong.)

05. Disco -Snow Eyes-
My rating: 2~3/5

My thoughts: It appears to have English language female vocals but I can't really decipher the words. More of a Pop-ish song rather than Death Metal (far from it) and incorporates the saxophone.

S.S.H.'s liner notes: 80’s Respect. I love Rock and Dance music with 80s style synth. If it has some added melancholiness, then it's perfect. The saxophone phrasing took an incredibly long time. And I have never been to a disco.

06. Jac-A-Jan
My rating: 3/5

My thoughts: A mainly synth/keyboard song that uses a similar/the same female vocals from the previous song as well as I believe, acoustic guitar. Also an interesting short chiptune section halfway.

S.S.H.'s liner notes: The track title is read "Jakka Jan" and comes from the acoustic guitar's "Jakka Jan Jakka Jan" sounds. This song is for Stage 1 (or similar) of a Famicom-era Action Game or Shooting Game.

07. Moonlit Showdown
My rating: 5/5

My thoughts: Japanese-style song but straight metal without the traditional Japanese instruments like Shamisen that you might find in other Traditional Japanese/Metal e.g. Momentary Life (Baiken's Theme) from Guilty Gear. Reminds me of the track 荒神 (also by S.S.H.) from the Utatemeguri Original Soundtrack. Anyway, I like. Probably my favourite song of the album, along with No Meaning.

S.S.H.'s liner notes: I thought about naming this song something like "O-CHI-MU-SHA", "WAZAMAE!!", or "Jissai Yasui" but it didn't look right so I stopped. In the beginning, I also thought about inserting a fast solo involving a shamisen but it didn't turn out well at all. In spite of that, I used a Japanese-style fast solo using electric guitar.

08. I Wish
My rating: 4~5/5

My thoughts: In the first few seconds it already has an 80s synth feel (reminds me of the "The Thing" movie, the original one or other movies that try to recreate that aesthetic e.g. "It Follows").

S.S.H.'s liner notes: What I was aiming for was "Gothic Metal with an 80s Melancholy American Hard Rock approach".

09. Disco -C.A.P-
My rating: UNRATED (or 2~3/5)

My thoughts: A bit hard to rate this one because it's different from the rest of the songs (minimal guitars). As implied from the track title, it is groovy, if you're into that style.

S.S.H.'s liner notes: The longest song in this album, many instruments are used, and the style is very different from the rest of the songs. I created this song last year (2016) and uploaded this track to SoundCloud. It remains intact. "-C.A.P-" means Cut (or Copy) And Paste. (layzee's note: in the song creation process, S.S.H. did a lot of C and P, which "took a very long time"). And I have never been to a disco.

10. Go Back Home
My rating: 5/5

My thoughts: A good old S.S.H.-style metal song to finish the album here. No complaints here.

S.S.H.'s liner notes: For this album, I have packed it with everything I wanted to do and so, I am completely satisfied.

Final thoughts: In this album, S.S.H. sets out to head in some new directions (and old ones, for that matter) and that is something that should always be encouraged. Otherwise you end with up Yngwie-syndrome who persists with his 80s musical ways and fashion (though some might see that as a strength). However, inevitably, that means the album might be considered a bit uneven by some so a bit of expectation recalibration might be warranted in this particular case. Having said that, the new stuff here isn't completely new and unheard of. The female vocals we've already heard in S.S.H.'s 2008 "Faraway" (albeit in Vocaloid form), and the electronical music of "Disco -C.A.P-", we've already sort of heard in his 2008 味噌煮込みコンビナート (Miso Nikomi Kombinat), or more recently 官渡 in 2014's Koihime Musou.

As far as vanilla metal goes (e.g. Go Back Home), S.S.H. remains on top of his game and doesn't look like he'll be worn out anytime soon, creatively-speaking. For me however, his previous two albums "Forgotten Ruins" and "Click and Metal" are S.S.H. perfection/near-perfection and would be hard to top. And this album unfortunately doesn't. Nevertheless, N.A.V.E. is worth a purchase, even if a few tracks might be skipped (or listened to less). Also should mention the production values sound pretty damn good, considering it's doujin/fan-made and all. Everything sounds clean and crisp.

Final note: there exists "N.A.V.E. SoundCloud Bonus Tracks" which are Karaoke and minus-main melody versions of 5 of the songs.

Are you an S.S.H. fan? Then buy N.A.V.E.
Are you a video game music fan? Then N.A.V.E. is worth sampling before making a purchase.
Are you a metal fan? Then buy "Forgotten Ruins" and/or "Click and Metal" first. If they are to your liking, then buy N.A.V.E.
Are you none of the above? I'm not sure how you ended up here but thanks for reading.

layzee Dec 29, 2017

A post-Christmas present: a new original S.S.H. album titled "This And That". Wasn't expecting another one so soon. Judging from the demos, the overall album is more chill than metal or in S.S.H.'s words "a bit calm". This time there's no vocals (real or artificial) - there wasn't any on the demo songs anyway.

Like N.A.V.E. before it, my full thoughts will come after I get my hands on a copy and give it a proper listen. Track by track analysis as well as a translation/overview of S.S.H.'s liner notes will also be done.

Interesting side note: one of my "useless" facts from my "S.S.H. Biography" turned out to be relevant. Track 6 is called "Highball" and in S.S.H.'s opinion, is the "best tasting drink in the world". The song even sounds like a bar theme - you know, the place where you drink stuff. See also: Front Mission 1st Bar Theme song; Bare Knuckle 2/Streets of Rage 2: Bar Theme; any other Bar Theme songs that I'm forgetting that have "Bar Theme Song Musical Tropes".

The reference for this fun fact comes from the "About" section of S.S.H.'s website. Well, came from. Recently, his website has been going under maintenance/redesign so much stuff has been scrubbed, including the fun fact. But that's why I wrote the biography, right? So information doesn't get lost?

layzee Apr 24, 2018

A bit late but here is my review of S.S.H.'s second latest album This And That. But before I do, and as implied by my previous sentence, a new S.S.H. album called YABLE was announced yesterday on his website and a previous announcement the week before via Twitter and Soundcloud.

Here are my thoughts and opinions on This And That. Any interesting/relevant information from S.S.H.'s song-by-song liner notes will also be translated/paraphrased.

My ratings logic:
0/5 (Little to no musical value)
1/5 (I understand the artist's intentions with this song but it's not for me)
2/5 (Might give it a chance every once in a while/bit of an acquired taste)
3/5 (Average/not amazing, but not bad/mainly just background music/non-active listening)
4/5 (Pretty special, will revisit often)
5/5 (Can't stop listening)

Note: The above ratings are relative to other S.S.H.'s works. They are not being compared with other metal music or other video game music in general.

01. Smog And Searchlight
My rating: 3/5
My thoughts: Similar to "Abyss", the first song from the N.A.V.E. album, it's more of an intro song.
S.S.H.'s liner notes: The first song. It has a unsettling and eerie feel to it, like the first song from the previous album.

02. Last Resort '94
My rating: 4/5
My thoughts: A chiptune song. Feels a bit Sega Mega Drive or something from that era. Maybe that's what the 1994 is implying? Actually the instrumentals remind me of Yuzo Koshiro's chiptune music from the Sekaijuu no Meikyuu (AKA Etrian Odyssey) series. Reasonably catchy.
S.S.H.'s liner notes:  It is the same as the full song called "Last Resort" that was already released on my SoundCloud. It uses the FM and PCM sound source at the same time and I imagine as being an Arcade shooting game BGM. I think I captured the '94 era spirit somewhat.

03. Speedster
My rating: 4/5
My thoughts: Now we're talking! I like the dark-sounding bass coming at 0:10 and throughout and the guitar solo.
S.S.H.'s liner notes: The loud guitar finally makes its appearance. A song I created from nothing/an empty head, part 1. (layzee's note: I think that's what he meant - he composed a song without using anything as a base/foundation or as inspiration).

04. Washing
My rating: 3/5
My thoughts: Overall a pretty groovy tune with nice bass.
S.S.H.'s liner notes: Shredding the guitar, funky version. The wah wah effects are good, but difficult to handle...

05. Take It Easy
My rating: 2/5
My thoughts: Accurate track title. Hard to explain but it sounds a bit ethnic/folkish to me.
S.S.H.'s liner notes: The unique song in this album. It sounds clear/fresh and might conjure an image of some kind of winter town. I wanted to make a "typical" or "archetypal" BGM so I did. Anyway, when composing the song, I was conscious about not making it flashy. It is difficult to not be flashy... and to not fill the solo with 16th notes... (layzee's note: hah)

06. Highball
My rating: 2/5
My thoughts: Highball is a type of drink (and S.S.H.'s favourite). Naturally, this is a relaxing bar-sounding tune.
S.S.H.'s liner notes: I am wonder if this song is the most different one out of all them? The image is of the Showa era (layzee's note: Showa is a specific period of time in Japan. See wikipedia for more details). "Show-Wa" was a candidate for title of this song. Somehow, I imagined Showa drinking establishment in the city (I have never been to one). The drink's name is Highball. I just like Highballs.

07. Bullseye
My rating: 4/5
My thoughts: The second of the pure metal songs. Not bad but I think it repeats itself a bit and the guitar solo isn't very long.
S.S.H.'s liner notes: A song I created from nothing/an empty head, part 2. Apparently when I compose songs out of nothing, they generally become shooting game BGMs (layzee's note: is Cave hiring?).

08. Chasing
My rating: 2/5
My thoughts: An electronica/techno-ish song.
S.S.H.'s liner notes: Although you can't hear it in the demo, I like the "cracked xylophone" sounds at the beginning of the song so I made a phrase using it and spread it round. In the demo, the arpeggio continues goes from left to right. It was very hard to decide on the title.

09. Hazy Moon
My rating: 3/5
My thoughts: A song that leans toward the sadder side. Decent shredding.
S.S.H.'s liner notes: Shredding the guitar, slightly crying guitar version. I wanted to made the lead guitar sound more "dry" but as I proceeded to do so, the guitar suddenly [layzee's note: dunno] so I abandoned it.

10. 3x4
My rating: 4/5
My thoughts: This is the first song that gives me Yngwie feels (probably the trills).
S.S.H.'s liner notes: Shredding the guitar, shuffle version. I like high-speed shuffling so included one song as such. I think I have done particularly well with the strong neoclassical style guitar and sound creation.

11. Rainy Afternoon
My rating: 3/5
My thoughts: Pretty chill.
S.S.H.'s liner notes: I intended the next song as a bonus track so this song rounds it all off.

12. Last Resort '17
My rating: 4/5
My thoughts: Metal version of Last Resort '94 and a bit more shreddy in parts where there was no shred in the original chiptune. Nice.
S.S.H.'s liner notes: The concept of this song was to arrange "Last Resort '94" using my most recently used sound sources. I thought about extra tracks but it took a terribly long time...

Final thoughts: Out of all his albums so far and possibly his entire career, this is probably the most diverse one yet (in terms of style and instruments) and one most suitable for use as an RPG soundtrack, for example. If you follow S.S.H.'s soundcloud, you would know that he is always experimenting with new things so this album is a result of that.

Of course, we as S.S.H. fans would naturally gravitate towards the guitar tracks and in this regard, it does not disappoint. Note that I have not rated any tracks 5/5. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a standout track to me so far (Moonlit Showdown from the previous album was my standout track). The guitar tracks are nice and consistent but just doesn't seem to have that secret ingredient I feel. My favourite moment is the beginning of the solo in "Speedster". There's nothing wrong with the other tracks and they do their job.

I think I mentioned this before but, like his previous works, the sound quality is quite high considering this is technically a doujin album that does not have the backing, knowledge or equipment of music companies/publishers. It doesn't even have disc label art (like previous albums). It is simply burnt CD and he admits as such.

Overall, I give this album a 3/5.

Finally, turning our attention back to the upcoming release of the mini-album "YABLE", expect the return of vocals (both female and male death metal vocals as heard in N.A.V.E.). As usual, thoughts and opinions will provided when available.

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