Album of the Week 14-2015: Anthem – Immortal

Album covers are supposed to seduce people into buying the sound carrier they contain. Though not quite as hideous as…let’s say ‘In The Court Of The Crimson King’, the cover of ‘Immortal’ doesn’t suggest that we’re dealing with one of the best Heavy Metal records of the 21st century here. Yet that is the case. ‘Immortal’ has the Japanese quartet running the extra mile and therefore, it is the band’s best studio album thus far. Their perfect blend of traditional Heavy Metal and early Power Metal may be relatively simple in composition, but intense and unbelievably effective in execution.

When the nineties destroyed just about anything good about every Heavy Metal band that was active in the eighties, bassist and band leader Naoto Shibata did the right thing and Anthem laid low for a little while. As a result, ever since the band reformed around the turn of the century, they have been churning out albums that were decent at the very worst. ‘Immortal’ is one of those albums where the blend of aggressive energy, recognizable melodies and expert musicianship is just inexplicably perfect. It also seems to be just a tad faster than the average Anthem record, which contributes to the exuberant, powerful nature of the album.

The increase in tempo can be heard right from the start; opening track ‘Immortal Bind’ – still one of the best Anthem tracks thus far – is borderline Thrash with Hiro Homma’s rolling bass drums and Akio Shimizu’s fast palm-muted riffing. Eizo Sakamoto’s brooding double-layered vocals in the verses and triumphant approach in the chorus are the cherry on the cake. The slightly Motörhead-ish Speed Metal monster ‘Soul Motor’, the delightfully chaotic ‘Betrayer’, the more traditional ‘Road To Nowhere’ and the highly melodic ‘The Beginning’ are all uptempo scorchers that make my blood boil with old school Metal euphoria.

However, when the band slows down a little, their class and versatility really shines through. ‘Mob Groove’ is a groovy little stomper with an irresistible chorus, but Shimizu’s masterpiece ‘Echoes In The Dark’ really takes the cake. The midtempo song has a dangerous sounding groove that, combined with Sakamoto’s clean but raw vocal assault, is somewhat reminiscent of Dio’s darker work. Elsewhere, Shibata’s compositions allow both Sakamoto and Shimizu to shine. The former with his passionate, enthusiastic vocal performance and the latter with his melodically strong and enviably fluent fretboard magic.

Not judging an album by its cover once again proves useful when it comes to ‘Immortal’. If you like good old Heavy Metal, it’s simply impossible to dislike anything on this record, apart from maybe its poor to non-existent distribution outside of Japan. After this album, Anthem would continue to make more really good Heavy Metal records with Sakamoto and later – on last year’s pleasantly surprising ‘Absolute World’ – Yukio Morikawa on lead vocals. Every good band just has that one record where they rise above themselves. While many traditionalists may point to ‘Bound To Break’, ‘Immortal’ is that record for Anthem.

Recommended tracks: ‘Immortal Bind’, ‘Echoes In The Dark’, ‘Soul Motor’

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