Posts Tagged ‘ Akio Shimizu ’

Album of the Week 12-2019: Anthem – Nucleus


Some European label – Nuclear Blast, no less – finally has the balls to release Anthem’s music outside of Japan. Sure, the band needed a set of songs with English lyrics to accomplish an international record deal, but apart from the lyrics, Anthem was always easily one of the more European sounding of all Japanese metal bands. Their first international release ‘Nucleus’ is a collection of re-recorded songs from the last ten albums of the band. As a compilation and an introduction to the band, ‘Nucleus’ works remarkably well and even the transition to English feels suprisingly natural.

For those who don’t know: Anthem is one of the oldest heavy metal bands in Japan and still one of the best. Unlike many contemporary Japanese bands, Anthem does not dazzle you with displays of virtuosity, instead opting for ballsy, riffy metal that is actually heavy and uptempo, but not too fast. This band truly belongs alongside the likes of Accept and Judas Priest in any serious heavy metal collection. The spirited performances and excellent songwriting of the band make Anthem more than just a nostalgia act though. The fact that almost all of these songs have originally been recorded in the 21st century says enough.

Apart from the English lyrics and having Yukio Morikawa on lead vocals instead of original lead singer Eizo Sakamoto on some of these tracks, they really are not that much different from their original versions. I am quite happy that the keyboards have been pushed a little more to the background on tracks like ‘Black Empire’ and the goosebumps-inducing closer ‘Unbroken Sign’, allowing Akio Shimizu’s rhythm guitar to give the songs just a little more force. Producer and engineer Jens Bogren also makes the best out of Isamu Tamaru’s drums, which end up sounding modern, but not triggered to hell and back.

The song selection on ‘Nucleus’ is commendable as well. Sure, with a collection like this one, everyone misses a favorite, but Anthem really did a good job picking the songs that fit Morikawa’s voice best. There’s a few instances where I think Sakamoto did it better, but ‘Ghost In The Flame’, ‘Echoes In The Dark’, ‘Eternal Warrior’ and the aforementioned ‘Unbroken Sign’ almost appear to be written for Morikawa, while he wasn’t even in the band when they were originally released. The sequencing is done really well, as the album flows like a new studio record rather than a loose collection of songs.

It is good to see Anthem try their hand at conquering the European market almost four decades after bassist and main songwriter Naoto Shibata started the band. Everyone who enjoyed Accept’s post-reunion material will undoubtedly like ‘Nucleus’ as well, but in fact, every fan of traditional heavy metal should give the band a chance. High import prices are no excuse anymore. Anthem has more good riffs and memorable choruses than the average young power metal band and the rhythms are never less than extremely powerful. Hopefully this will not be their last European release.

Recommended tracks: ‘Immortal Bind’, ‘Unbroken Sign’, ‘Echoes In The Dark’

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Album of the Week 32-2017: Anthem – Domestic Booty


Some of Anthem’s best records have something awkward to them that has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual music. ‘Immortal’ has its album cover, ‘Domestic Booty’ its title. And maybe the fact that the band broke up for about a decade in the aftermath of this album’s release. Changes in the musical trend department are often cited as the reason for that hiatus and anyone who has heard ‘Domestic Booty’ can safely conclude that the quartet was certainly not running out of inspiration. The record is full of blazing heavy metal songs, some of which are among the best of Anthem’s catalogue.

While ‘Domestic Booty’ isn’t the most consistent record of Anthem’s original run – that would probably be ‘Bound To Break’ – they do sound like a band rejuvenated on the album. Frontman Yukio Morikawa truly shines with his most aggressive and energetic vocal performance thus far, while newcomer Akio Shimizu, who is still the band’s guitarist these days, lends a subtle contemporary edge to the record without altering the powerful, not too complicated heavy metal compositions of bassist and band leader Naoto Shibata too much. It is truly difficult to believe that the band creating this music would split up less than a year later.

These days, opening track ‘Venom Strike’ is still on most Anthem live sets and its classic status is easy to understand. This borderline thrash metal song with rolling bass drums by Takamasa ‘Mad’ Ouchi is probably the most aggressive Anthem song to date and therefore begs to be played live. Even better, but not quite as popular, is the intense, moving heavy metal of ‘Renegade’, which has probably the best chorus the band recorded with Morikawa on vocals and really showcases the guitar talents of Shimizu. Sure, there is some awkward English going on, but that should not ruin the listening experience.

Since these two tracks open the record, it may seem a tad frontloaded, but there is plenty more to enjoy. ‘The Dice Of No Mercy’ is one of the darker Anthem tracks yet and as such, a very pleasant surprise. The euphoric ‘Cry In The Night’ and the brooding ‘Gold & Diamonds’ greatly profit from the subtle synth flourishes courtesy of current Deep Purple keyboard player Don Airey and the uptempo triplet frenzy of ‘Devil Inside’ is exactly what the album needs at that point. But even the less notable tracks, such as mid-tempo stomper ‘Mr. Genius’ and the semi-epic closing track ‘Silent Cross’, are very much worth hearing.

If Anthem would have definitively called it a day after the release of ‘Domestic Booty’, it would have been a great closing chapter to a strong career in heavy metal. Nowadays, it sort of gets lost in the shuffle, because Anthem has released seventeen albums to date and the record spawned only one live staple. If it was up to me, ‘Renegade’ would at least have been one as well. Farwell albums, even if the farewell eventually turns out to be temporary, often feel like a bit of an afterthough. ‘Domestic Booty’, however, is another excellent Anthem record. Not one of their best, but it’s pretty damn close.

Recommended tracks: ‘Renegade’, ‘Venom Strike’, ‘The Dice Of No Mercy’

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’

Album of the Week 45-2014: Anthem – Absolute World


While many old school Heavy Metal bands had an enormous identity crisis in the nineties due to the rise of Alt-Rock and – in this case – Visual Kei, Naoto Shibata did the right thing; he put his band Anthem to rest until new artistic and business opportunities presented themselves. The result: Anthem exclusively released solid, quality Heavy Metal records throughout their career. ‘Absolute World’ is one more piece of evidence proving that the band can still make fantastic records over three decades into their carreer. In fact, it is on par with ‘Immortal’ and ‘Black Empire’ as the band’s best post-reunion albums.

Iconic singer Eizo Sakamoto left the band after the album’s predecessor ‘Burning Oath’. His replacement – for the second time in Anthem history – is Yukio Morikawa, who has obviously aged since he last worked with the band on ‘Domestic Booty’, but still has a set of pipes many young singers can be jealous of. Admittedly, I sometimes miss Sakamoto’s primal energy, but Morikawa’s performance on the album is stellar. In addition, Isamu Tamaru became the band’s full time drummer, after replacing Hiro Homma during his injury.

However, what counts in the end are the songs and Shibata has once again written a collection of fantastic Heavy Metal and Power Metal tracks. Throughout recent years, many keyboards carrying the main melodies crept through Anthem’s songs, but ‘Absolute World’ is very much a guitar riff driven album. Opening track ‘Shine On’ misleads you for a second, but turns into a fantastic Power Metal track – as well as the most logical first single – with a couple of fantastic melodies courtesy of Morikawa.  Furthermore, there’s an awesome 2 minute Speed Metal track in the shape of ‘Destroy The Boredom’, as well as the blazing ‘Stranger’ with its fantastic chorus and the driving ‘Pain’.

From the moment he joined, guitarist Akio Shimizu quickly became an important part of the band. His contributions here include his usual instrumental track (‘Absolute Figure’) and the more traditional Power Metal tracks ‘Edge Of Time’ and ‘In The Chaos’, which both build upon strong riff work and fantastic choruses with spirited performances by Morikawa. Shimizu also throws around some of the sickest guitar solos in contemporary Metal, most notably on the brooding midtempo masterpiece of a track ‘Sailing’ and the closing triplet riff monster ‘Run With The Flash’. Shibata himself, meanwhile, has an incredible bass sound.

In the end, the only bad thing about ‘Absolute World’ is that no European or American label has the balls to release an album that has mostly Japanese lyrics and therefore, the album is quite expensive. That and the fact that ‘Love Of Hell’ is about a minute and a half longer than it should be. But those are just minor complaints that in no way ruin the enjoyment of one of the best old fashioned Heavy Metal records in recent times. Not even the financial aspect. It helps that Shibata isn’t only a great riff writer, he’s a great songwriter with a bunch of fantastic musicians around him. If that doesn’t make a fantastic Metal album, I don’t know what does.

Recommended tracks: ‘In The Chaos’, ‘Sailing’, ‘Destroy The Boredom’

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