If you’re as much of an Exemia fan as me you’ll already know that he was signed up by NGDEV to work on Gunvein’s OST. I was definitely planning to give the soundtrack a mention anyway, but for full disclosure I was kindly gifted a promo copy by Exemia around the time of release. It seems the ‘freeform loving shmup fan’ demographic is marginally bigger than I expected, and for us especially this was one of the most interesting releases of 2022.

Like Gunvein itself, the OST has plenty of late-era Cave atmosphere to it, but (unsurprisingly) a much more authentic hardcore feel to most of the tracks. One of the drawbacks from a freefrom DJ’s perspective is the short running time – you’d need some nimble mixing to get many of these into a set. That’s obviously not the main goal here though, and the variety is what makes this a fine listen even unmixed.

There’s more drum and bass here than I was expecting, but if anything less guitar – this is a very DoDonPachi inspired game, after all. No surprise that Exemia absolutely nails the stage 1 theme, with enough of a shmup feel to start things off followed by full freeform in the second half. Another favourite for me is Exhaled Haven, both a superb boss theme and a track that would easily fit into an Exemia freeform set. An extra mention too for the chilled ending track with its lovely drums and chirpy main lead.

Lately I’ve been back to trying to 1cc Guwange among others (I’ll take talk of that to Mastodon, not here) so I haven’t yet given Gunvein the time it deserves. With the reception it’s had so far and the best OST since Blue Revolver (or GG Aleste 3 if we’re including non-freeform) it’ll likely be worth the wait.

Let’s start the year off with a few things that I should have mentioned at the end of last one. The first is thanks to Shimo again, and an older set that some will have heard already. I somehow totally missed it at the time though, and it’s a very pleasant surprise to see the level of back catalogue that Risa/Rinergy has been building up over the past year or so.

If you’ve been paying attention recently then you’re already familiar with the excellent Ordeal, released late last year on Khaosnet Civilization 3, but it doesn’t even find a place in this promo set. Impressively there are a fair few tracks here that match its Nomic-esque emotional melodies, and a couple that get as close to Nomic’s style as anyone has managed for a long time. There’s also a pleasing preference for filtery leads – I’ve long thought they can improve even the most unispired freeform melody, so when they’re used with Ri-energy level of composition we’re really talking.

Overall it’s a nice combination, as those filtered melodies have something of a Substanced/Hyphen feel while the piano and swelling strings steer things in more of a Nomic direction. This is also a brilliantly constructed set with (a couple of exceptions aside) some quality transitions that are as good as you’ll hear in an artist set/live PA affair. While the final Substanced remixes aren’t my thing at all they’re a good example of how Ri-energy’s production range stretches a lot further than the excellent but pretty consistent style we’ve heard for the previous 50 minutes.

Obviously a recommended set then, and if ever CODEX is to make a reappearance Ri-energy gets my vote for a Live PA slot on the lineup – I’d love to hear a set like this in a club setting.

The fresh take on the classics that we’re getting from the newer DJs has definitely been one of the highlights of the last year or so, chiefly from Asukarai Matsuri. This Alek tribute is as good as you’d expect and if (like me) it’s been a while since you heard a full set of his tracks it’ll be just the dose of inspiration you need to finish off the year.

Asukarai Matsuri does a fine job here of deciding when to keep things in key and when to work out another way through a transition, with the first three or four tracks being a good example. Dryad Machine is the (slightly abrupt?) cue for things to head in more melodic direction, with some excellent selection choices. The Lagash – Mohicans transition is superb, but the later Superstition – Man Eaten is even better and probably one of the best Alek combinations I’ve ever heard. Although I would have moved Caballo to earlier in the set to keep things as dark as possible, that’s really nitpicking what’s a high quality tracklist. The finale of Firecloud into Xochitlan is such a good combination of ferocity and depth, plus a last airing of the all-important sample, of course.

I’d rank this as the best Alek-only set I’ve heard so far (his own live PAs are in a different category, for me) and the thoughtful mixing makes it a must listen for veterans as much as newcomers.

Gopher alert! Anyone old enough to have caught my last twitch stream will remember Sherkel’s Concealed being the big surprise in the NRG section of the set, and it’s happily included in this excellent four track bandcamp release. The long, atmospheric breakdown means it should be used with care in a tracklist, but if I was still doing the ‘top 3 tracks’ roundups at the end of the year, it would most definitely make my list (even if I happened to ‘do a GULD’ and put Cyhyraeth in there too).

Although Concealed is my favourite track of the release, you’ll also find some of Sherkel’s finest hybrid freeform-NRG to date. Vampire Hunter is a superb mashup of filtered riffs that absolutely captures the ‘strangeness’ I’ve talked about before in some Finnish and Japanese tracks. If anything Lunar Typhoon is even more driving, upping the rapid melodies alongside some (slightly) less heavy filtering.

Hamehorinezumi no Yoru is fairly sedate by comparison, but another fine Einhander-influenced NRG track. There are some lovely, unusual touches in both the melodies and percussion here, though the hugely atmospheric outro is possibly my favourite section.

Kontraption of Death very highly recommended, and is a free release on Sherkel’s bandcamp.

 

It’s looking like the scene has woken up a bit again, led by this recent, big release from Artificial World. A first glance had me thinking this was very much on the melodic side and I wouldn’t find much that suited TYFTH, but I’m glad I paid more attention as there’s all sorts happening here, from the expected UK-influences to more ferocious high bpm sounds, via a couple of impressive deeper sounding tracks that have a Nomic feel to them.

It’s the latter that really caught my ear, chief among them Ikura’s Breathe Out. It’s such a fine line for me these days between a Nomic-style emotional track and the moment when the melodies go that bit too UK-happy, but this track keeps the balance about right, with the melancholy breakdowns a highlight. Ri-energy’s Ordeal is in a similar vein, with repetitive melodies and a great atmosphere, even stepping things up a couple of levels for the final, beautiful breakdown. My first couple of listens have me a concerned for the lack of weight in the kick and bass, but I’ll be keeping this one in mind for sure.

The rest of the ‘slower’ freeform has some very well produced material, my favourites of which would definitely be Hypersonic and Lamia, while polaritia’s track is the high bpm highlight for me. A mention for the chirpy A Little Bit Adventure, I quite enjoy this sort of electro-y freeform now and then. Believe or not I can imagine GULD really liking the breakdown – it hits the sweet spot now and then between uplifting and melancholy that he would occasionally fit into a set.

There’s lots more going on obviously, so check this release out for yourself and show it some support. I probably should have mentioned earlier how great it is to see some new/unfamilar names on the tracklist, as well as the pleasing combo of old and new styles. Very recommended.

Thanks to Shimo (again) I’ve learned of another quality older track that surely would have appeared in my sets if I’d known about it earlier. Thanatos’ Flashback is a real oldie, released on the Hardcore from S. Iemitsu compilation in 2006.

It’s got that melancholy-but-uplifting feel of some older Japanese freeform, and I could definitely see it fitting into one of my modern sets, maybe linking nicely with some darker Twisted Freq or Re-form.

What’s this, another recent set to check out? Hedonistik Ritual is now settling into a schedule with his Hard Tranceformers podcast, a hugely impressive two-hour session of trance up to freeform. I’m biased this time, but even as someone who doesn’t care much for (non Goa) trance or hard trance these sets are excellent. Enough variety to keep anyone interested, and some quality track introductions and other info from Hedonistik while he plays.

This time it’s Cyhyraeth that made an appearance in a set – superbly mixed in after Powers Beyond(!) and followed by Drug Abuse, something I never would have imagined. Aside from being played at an in-person event I can’t imagine there are many better feelings than hearing another DJ do something creative with one of your tracks, so this was a real treat. Special thanks to Hedonistik for the kind words while introing the tune, and extra kudos for nailing the cyhyraeth pronunciation.

Early impressions are that these podcasts are (unsurprisingly) getting a wider listening audience than the usual freeform veterans, making them a fine entry into our reawakening scene for trance/hard trance fans.

Time for a belated look at another Asukarai Matsuri set, again a pretty fascinating look at how a talented newcomer to the scene approaches the NRG and freeform back catalogues. This is a great hour of freeform, and very recommended even if you’ve heard most of the tracks a million times before.

The track selection definitely reminds me of my own early days, with some of the all-time classic melodic tracks alongside more aggressive sections. Global Killer – Tuonela is a fine start, but it’s probably the next section where things step up a level. A darker atmosphere moves smoothly into Voices of Babylon, followed by a very impressive stretch of filtery melodic tracks. It obviously made my day to hear Hell’s Gate, especially as the transition into Morokai is one of the very best of the set. The finale is a classic dancefloor-friendly bpm increase, nicely done here with some Lost Soul and Nirotiy, before Hydra deepens things at the finish.

Overall another excellent set, and what it lacks in unified atmosphere from start to finish it makes up for in quality track selection. With literally a few hundred classic tracks yet to appear in his sets, I’m looking forward to AM’s next tribute to the golden age.

I was listening to Proteus’ Hard NRG V recently, and Lou Cypher Project’s Plague jumped out me as one of those nice early-era NRG tracks. It turns out that Lou Cypher Project’s are all available on their SoundCloud, with 7 or 8 in the Weirdo-esque style of Plague. My favourite is The Next Level, as its harder kick and low-end heavy synths could still do the job in a Hardcore for Life style set. Old news for many I’m sure, but check these out if you’re in the market for some retro NRG.

Belated shout out for a rare Asahi mix that’s worth checking out for lots of reasons. He’s got such good taste in NRG that it’s always nice to hear one of his sets, and while this one sounds a bit rusty in places there are some top class track combinations that I enjoyed a lot.

I somehow completely forgot about Mask Man, and here it shows what a strong track it is by combining excellently with Lush. I must admit that I zoned out a little once the UK freeform kicked in, but saying that Krater is a quality transition track that could come in handy for a lot of DJs.

The big showstopper for this set has to be the inclusion of an unreleased Booty promo, a superb track with an odd, experimental atmosphere. I wish I could hear more of these, as they make you realise how much influence might have had on the other Romancer artists. Close to zero chance of any of his material seeing a release, so we should all be extra grateful to Asahi for giving them an airing.