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.
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.
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.