Album of the Week 13-2016: Saber Tiger – Bystander Effect


Saber Tiger was founded in 1981, the same year as Loudness and Anthem, but for whatever reason never quite got the same recognition as those bands. Their relatively remote location – the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan – and the fact that they didn’t really have a stable lineup until the nineties are probably important factors. It’s really a shame, because they’re every bit as good as the aforementioned bands. Especially since current singer Takenori Shimoyama joined the fold in the late nineties, beginning an era of strong traditional Power Metal with distinct contemporary progressive tendencies.

Many Heavy Metal bands that have been around as long as Saber Tiger has mainly build on nostalgia, but ‘Bystander Effect’ is really a record of its time. The guitars courtesy of Yasuharu Tanaka and founding member Akihito Kinoshita sound nice, tight and heavy, while the production feels fresh and vibrant. Calling the band a progressive Metal band would go too far, but the songwriting is relatively complex despite its accessibility and therefore, the songs are still surprising after listening to them a couple of times. Saber Tiger is definitely not your average Japanese Power Metal band!

The icing on the cake is Shimoyama; his raw, passionate performance makes him sound like a Japanese Mats Levén. Having this guitar duo works too; the riff work is strong enough to carry the album, but in the solo department, Tanaka’s technical style complements Kinoshita’s more intuitive melodic playing perfectly. That’s how the long solo sections like the one in the delightfully melodic album highlight ‘Sin Eater’ stay interesting all the way through. Also, Yasuhiro Mizuno is easily the band’s best drummer yet, constantly switching between a straightforward Heavy Metal beat and more modern, complex rhythms with enviable ease.

As a whole, the level of quality on ‘Bystander Effect’ is remarkably constant. There isn’t one song that will weaken your attention and the balance between more melodic midtempo tracks and faster, more aggressive material is as perfect as it gets. Sure, the long power ballad ‘An Endless End’ stands out stylistically – and has two downright mindblowing guitar solos – while closing track ‘Shameless’ gets my blood pumping due to its amazing blend of melody and aggression, but that doesn’t mean that the highly melodic ‘RinNe’, the opening riff monster ‘Dying Breed’, the heartfelt groove of ‘Shono Hate O Shira Zu’ or the highly dynamic ‘What I Used To Be’ are any less.

With ‘Bystander Effect’, Saber Tiger proves once again that it’s definitely possible to make a record that’s deeply rooted in traditional Heavy Metal, but still has a contemporary vibe to make it relevant in the 21st century. Without sounding too modern. Rhythmically, the band is definitely ahead of many more nostalgic bands, but their melodic sensibilities also are light years ahead of even Loudness. Whoever loves Heavy Metal should definitely check this out. You won’t regret it. ‘Decisive’ used to be my undisputed Saber Tiger favorite, but ‘Bystander Effect’ has everything to at least equal it.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sin Eater’, ‘What I Used To Be’, ‘Shameless’

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    • Elliott
    • June 23rd, 2016

    Personally, I feel that this album wasnt as strong as their previous releases. Not a bad album but Messiah Complex was better – I felt the songs were better written. Somethings definitely different about this album but i cant quite put my finger on it. The musicianship is great as always. It could be that Messiah Complex always had a good thumping beat that was always rolling through it providing a solid backbone for hard and heavy tracks whereas this album seems a little slower and less ‘in your face’. I dont know. Ive been listening to this band for years and i have their entire back catalogue but this album just seems to lack that spark or that energy to make it a really great album.

    It just feels to me almost like another Paragraph IV, Its like they went back to listen to that album and wrote their new songs off the back of that.

    I dont know, Thats just my opinion.

    • Hello Elliott,

      Thanks for your comment and especially for taking the time to read my review. I disagree with you on ‘Messiah Complex’, but that probably means you prefer the heavy, progressive side of the band whereas I’m more a fan of the melodic approach. Don’t get me wrong, one of the reasons why I love Saber Tiger so much is the fact that they combine more traditional, melodic songwriting with a heavier, more contemporary progressive approach, but I have a strong preference for their songs with strong choruses and instantly recognizable melodies.

      Not that I disliked ‘Messiah Complex’. In fact, there were some songs on their that I really, really loved (‘Hate Crime’, ‘Casualties’ and ‘The Activist’s Creed’ above all, though the title track comes really close), but to me personally, that was more a good record with a few amazing songs. ‘Bystander Effect’ and ‘Decisive’ have a better flow for me. Also, ‘Sin Eater’ comes frighteningly close to my favorite song ‘At The Front’.

      Still, your interest and taste in music deserves all the praise it can get, because you know and like this amazing band. And I really appreciate your visit to my weblog and leaving your two cents.

      Cheers,

      Kevin

        • Elliott
        • June 24th, 2016

        Dont get me wrong, I love the melodic approach also. I think a good example would be Saber Tiger’s 1995 album ‘Timystery’ with Yoko Kubota on vocals if you havent heard it already. Immensely powerful album and Yoko’s vocals had a lot to do with how great it was and not just the progressive nature of the music itself, If you havent listened to the album before then there are a few tracks floating around on youtube.

        Like i said before. Im not sure what it is that i dont like so much about it. maybe the more melodic singing style didnt suit Takenori’s vocals very much but again, if you listen to ‘Misery’ from Paragraph IV he’s got good enough range and ’emotion’ in his voice to pull off melodic vocals.

        Maybe if i listen to the Bystander Effect enough i’ll be able to pinpoint whats so different about it that i dont quite like,

      • Hey Elliott,

        ‘Timystery’ is definitely my favorite Saber Tiger album that Takenori Shimoyama doesn’t sing on, because of its progressive nature. Also, Yoko Kubota’s lyrics are quite interesting, but I do miss a certain power in her voice that Takenori Shimoyama does have. His vocals are a big plus for me, as European bands in a similar style probably would have worked with a high-pitched, hypermelodic singer that doesn’t augment the power of the music as much. At least, that’s how I experience his vocals.

        Your opinion about the ‘Misery’ re-recording seems to be the most popular one, but I really like the ‘Paragraph IV’ version. Not only because I think Shimoyama has the right emotional gravitas – I know I’m probably alone on that, but I really feel that way – but also because I really like the symphonic arrangement. And Takenobu Kimoto’s bass solo is amazing too. The same goes for ‘Bad Devotion’; Yoko Kubota’s vocals are good and her lyrics are just amazing, but especially in the verses, I prefer Shimoyama’s rawer approach.

        I still feel Saber Tiger has gotten better with every lineup change they had. Except for the one on ‘Indignation’ maybe…

        Cheers,

        Kevin

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