Credit: ERA official cover album; regular CD version
by Angelina Hu
ERA is the first album by Raise a Suilen, a Japanese electronic-rock band that is a part of the BanG Dream! multimedia project. They are often called “RAS” by fans and the members. Released on August 19th, 2020, this album contains 12 songs, and the full track list runs for about 53 minutes.
Considering the lack of popularity of a foreign band among non-BanG Dream! fans, an introduction to RAS’s background is much needed for this review to make sense. BanG Dream! is a project run by the company Bushiroad, which oversees many entertainment-based media projects such as bands, games, and anime. BanG Dream! consists of four live bands and three voice-acted, ingame bands. All seven of the bands’ members portray characters in the mobile game BanG Dream! Girls Band Party!, as well as three seasons of the affiliated anime.
Raise a Suilen is one of the live bands, consisting of five members with the following fictitious counterparts: Raychell (“Layer”) on vocals and bass, Tsumugi Risa (“Chu2”) on DJ and secondary vocals, Riko Kohara (“Lock”) on guitar, Reo Kurachi (“Pareo”) on keyboard, and Natsume (“Masking”) on drums. Some of their characters’ fictional development is tied into their songs, which will become apparent as we run through the album’s more notable entries.
RAS started off as “The Third,” a backing band to provide instrumentals for the three ingame bands whose voice actresses could not play their instruments. However, as time went on, they became their own band with their own songs and characters, debuting in Season 2 of the BanG Dream! anime. RAS’s characters are the only ones that go by stage names thus far in the franchise.
ERA is Raise a Suilen’s first album since their formation in 2018. The genre is electronic rock, with both hard and soft rock pieces making their feature. They’re not rough enough to be considered metal, but they certainly produce the least “delicate” sound for this idol band series, even more so than fellow rock band Roselia. All of the songs in ERA feature lyrics written by producer Oda Asuka, while arrangers and composers vary for each song.
Despite their powerful, uniquely electronic sound, quite a handful of the songs don’t carry any story nor deep meaning in their lyrics, which becomes blatantly obvious when reading the lyrics of the songs (courtesy of fan-translations compiled on the Fandom site). Songs with genuine storylines intersect these ear-candy tunes, but if you can’t understand Japanese, whether or not any of the lyrics bear any meaning to you is another matter of its own. We will be touching on the top songs of the album only, for time’s sake.
group image of RAS; Natsume (top left), Reo Kurachi (bottom left), Raychell (center), Tsumugi Risa (top right), Riko Kohara (bottom right).
The fourth track, “UNSTOPPABLE,” depicts a performer who has a dream and desperately wants to reach it, but they don’t not know how. Instead, they must settle for what others ask of them, perform what they’re asked to rather than what they want to. In the end, they finally start stepping up and taking the lead in their own life. This storyline is perfectly depicted in the two varying versions of the chorus lines; the first instance of the refrain ends with, “Doubt and worry stick their tongues out, / pointing at and ridiculing me. / Are you satisfied? Are you excited? Do you get it? / Then it’s fine.” On the other hand, the final refrain of the song is more confident; “Doubt and worry look up and beckon me, ‘Let’s head there!’ / Are you satisfied? Are you excited? Do you get it? / Hey, that’s great!”
Following track four, we head straight into RAS’s specialty: hard rock craziness and true sound experiences. “HELL! or HELL?” is a true head-banger of a fifth track; it takes a heavy reliance on drums and the electronic DJ mix, as well as Chu2’s passionate rap lines. Truly, her voice manages to strike one right in the soul… The lyrics generally revolve around the idea of victory and putting one’s opponents into the ground, much like several of the other songs in the album; however, what sets “HELL! or HELL?” apart is the way RAS truly put everything they had into this arrangement. Of course, among the fans, the rap lines remain the best of all at the end of the day. “A weak little doggy barks real well, ‘wan-wan-wan!’” is Chu2 comparing her enemy’s cries of defeat to the barks of a dog bowing to her; as obscure as it is, it’s very fun to listen to, and the obscurity of the analogy is loved by the fandom. “But I won’t die or give up; / If I don’t live on, then who will? Ha!” also displays her almost cocky confidence. Such translations fail to properly convey her rough-and-tumble tone of voice, which sounds as if she were passionately throwing every word at you, nor do they express the incredibly satisfying rhythm of the lines in Japanese. “HELL! or HELL?” truly is candy for the ears, one to be experienced rather than told about. Despite not having any particularly meaningful narration, the energy of the song is more than enough to draw most listeners in and motivate them, which is, in a way, the whole point.
A sudden change of pace hits on track six, which is apparent from the moment “Beautiful Birthday” begins, with its lovely, repeating keyboard arpeggios. This is a love song; however, it’s not cheesy nor cheap in any way. The song is from the BanG Dream! anime, written in the fictional universe by Pareo (VA Kurachi) for Chu2 (VA Risa). Pareo, whose real name is Reona, was a girl who loved the keyboard and wished for nothing more than to perform on stage and wear a cute and outgoing persona, just like the idols from her favorite band. However, she was restricted to living the life of an honor student by the desires of her parents and teachers; she had to maintain a quiet, serious image. But everything changed when Chu2 found her and scouted her to join RAS. She offered Reona, for the first time in her life, a place to express herself and to do the things she actually enjoyed while still being accepted for who she really was. In her gratitude for the new life Chu2 had given her, the serious Reona eagerly donned the happy-go-lucky persona of “Pareo” and dedicated herself to the producer, vowing to never leave her side. “Beautiful Birthday” was the song Pareo wrote for Chu2 as a birthday present, one filled with her love and admiration for her beloved. The entire song is a culmination of her feelings, everything from the gentle, river-like harmony of the keyboard to the lyrics, pieced together by phrases and notes overflowing with pure love, as radiant as snowfall, as diamond roses catching sunlight, as golden lamplight upon a winter’s evening; to single out just one line is impossible, but the one section that can make any RAS fan cry on command is “I want you to be by my side, / I quietly swore that day. / I love you… / now and forever.” Chu2 replies to Pareo’s confession within the song in the next line, saying, “I love you, too.” Also, note that the way Pareo writes “I love you” in Japanese is “Aishiteru,” which has a very heavy connotation and always indicates romantic love. It’s the type of phrase one would say in wedding vows. “Beautiful Birthday” is a true work of art, of dedication, of admiration and adoration. It’s something that fills your heart right up, even if you can’t understand the words.
Credit: Official BanG Dream! Girls Band Party! card art: 4* PAREO “Because You Were Here.”
Left: Chu2, Right: Pareo
Image download: https://bandori.party/card/1526/PAREO-Power/ (fan-run site)
Track six transitions nicely into yet another emotional, soft rock piece for the seventh piece. “Takin’ my Heart” tells the story of someone who is lonely and wants someone to come and help them, to understand them and give them comfort by “taking their heart” and filling the hole of solitude in it. The song has two prominent fan-theories on the meaning, either as a song from Layer to Masking or from Chu2 to Pareo. Layer had a very isolated adolescence, being a loner who worked as a substitute musician, filling roles that other bands asked of her. She was generally losing her way in life until she met Masking, who reignited her love for music and pushed her to chase after her own passions. They became fast friends. Meanwhile, Chu2 was also alone with just herself, her music, and her desire to pursue it even if she didn’t have the talent to play any instrument. She was isolated, all the way until she met Pareo and Pareo devoted herself to her. The chorus refrain, “Oh, come here, please, / Takin’ my heart; Does my voice / reach you now…? / I don’t want to vanish pathetically / into a sea of loneliness / so I’ll just keep crying out to you,” bears a kind of desperation that is sure to strike the listener right in the heart.
Track eight, “DRIVE US CRAZY,” tells less of a story and more of a moral. The lyrics urge you to get out there and do what you want, to make your mark on the world, because you’ve only got one life to live. Lines such as, “I say one day I’ll do it, but when’s that? / An excuse, nonsense! / Stop being lazy, doing anything you like; / don’t be shy! / There’s a time limit, hurry up and decide,” solidify this idea. Of the songs that don’t bear any story significance, “DRIVE US CRAZY” certainly has the most meaningful and unique message when compared to the others.
Skipping right to the end, “R • I • O • T” is the twelfth and final track of the album. It’s RAS’s first recorded, original song; as such, it’s their true entry into the world of music, both for the real band and the fictional version. They hit the scene with a bang; “R • I • O • T” screams the message of “we’ll dominate the world with our music.” The repeated line of “Come into the world” was the calling card of the newly formed RAS, inviting their audience into the new world they’ll be creating with their sound. “If all of you let our music wash over you, / we won’t let you go; you’ll drown in it to the very end,” embodies the confident power in this piece, the opening to the greatest show one could have the pleasure of witnessing; RAS’s show.
ERA as a whole is an incredible showcase of RAS’s skill, putting the talent and power of every member of the band in the limelight in turn, from the rap in “HELL! or HELL?” to the guitar solo in “R • I • O • T”, plus the incredible prevalence of drums in “Takin’ my Heart” and the beautiful keyboard melody in none other than “Beautiful Birthday”. The songs all bear a certain power behind them, with incredibly satisfying vocals and a solid beat.
However, despite RAS’s solid sound, there’s no doubt that improvement can emerge from ERA. There are many bases yet to be seen from RAS that they are certainly capable of, considering the talent of all five members and the special DJ-lead tracks. Their takes on soft rock have all been successful thus far; it wouldn’t hurt to see more of it. It would also be interesting to see more pieces with unique messages and storylines; most of the songs not covered in this review bear the same general gist of winning and getting to the top, paired with a lot of battle cries and the likes. It would do some good to step away from that moral in their second album for variety.
However, Raise a Suilen displays a wide arsenal of talent in their debut ERA, talent that can only grow and blossom in the years to come. At the end of the day, one thing’s for sure; this is a band you want to keep your eyes on.