Posts Tagged ‘ Power Metal ’

Album of the Week 43-2017: Lovebites – Awakening From Abyss


After their excellent ‘The Lovebites EP’, I was expecting Lovebites’ debut album to be goot, but not this ridiculously good. In short, ‘Awakening From Abyss’ is the only album that can rival Firewind’s ‘Immortals’ as the best metal album from 2017. The record is chock-full of energetic riffs, blazing lead guitar work, pounding drums and passionate vocals. What more can you desire from a heavy metal album? Very little in deed. This Japanese quintet combines traditional heavy metal and contemporary power metal in an incredible manner and they seem hellbent on world domination. Song material this good certainly deserves to be heard worldwide.

On their EP, Lovebites excelled in dynamic and catchy, yet surprisingly inricate power metal with a powerful, rather unpolished production. The guitars are thick and raw and the incredible voice of relative newcomer Asami is one of the main attractions of this band. For ‘Awakening From Abyss’, the band has continued and enhanced this approach. At times, they end up sounding surprisingly aggressive. Songs like ‘Warning Shot’ and ‘Burden Of Time’ have a distinct Motörhead-ish vibe in the riff department, while several tracks combine recognizable choruses with riffs that angrily pound through the speakers.

No track combines those two extremes quite as deliciously as opening track ‘The Hammer Of Wrath’. After a brooding, vaguely Middle-Eastern sounding guitar melody, the song is an ongoing assault of vicious riffs and memorable melodies, which is exactly what one could wish from a heavy metal track. It is hardly the only highlight of the record though. ‘Shadowmaker’ has everything it takes to be a modern day power metal classic – that dramatic chorus is incredible – and ‘Don’t Bite The Dust’ is everything that classic metal bands aspire to be these days. On the lighter side – only slightly though – there are the epic semi-ballad ‘Edge Of The World’ and the gripping, haunting melodies of ‘Liar’.

It is impressive how the members of Lovebites combine their impressive skills and end up sounding significantly better than even the sum of their parts. Guitarists Midori and Mi-Ya are all over the album with high octane riffs and impressive solos, even throwing in a few awesome trade-offs like the one near the end of ‘Scream For Me’. Haruna tackles simple beats with the same conviction as busy parts and fills and though bassist Miho is not on the foreground, her aggressive right hand attack gives the music the balls it needs.

Then there is Asami’s golden throat. Her range is lower and more powerful – and as a result, more pleasant to listen to – than that of most Japanese singers, though she occasionally proves to be just as forceful in the higher regions. Honestly, ‘Awakening From Abyss’ is one of those albums that leaves absolutely nothing to be desired. It’s a boiling, dynamic and incredibly overwhelming stew of several eras of heavy and power metal. I haven’t heard many contemporary metal albums this good in a while. And due to their deals with JPU Records in Europe and Sliptrick Records in North-America, the whole world has the chance to get acquainted with the music of these ladies. I suggest that you’ll do so.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just go and pick up my jaw from the floor.

Recommended tracks: ‘Awakening From Abyss’, ‘Shadowmaker’, ‘Burden Of Time’

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Interview: Yoshiki’s new ways to express himself


Picture courtesy of YSK Entertainment

Call him dedicated or call him reckless. You would probably be correct either way. X Japan drummer, pianist and band leader Yoshiki severely damaged his neck due to his intense drumming style to the point that he needed neck surgery. In fact, since the last time I sat down with Yoshiki, he had surgery again, this time to replace a disc in his neck with an artificial alternative. While he appears to be more conscious of the health risks of his playing style than ever, he is also driven to pick up drumming again. If only to promote the new X Japan album, that he has been working on for years now.

It feels weird. I had neck surgery several years ago, but then they carved a bone to make a little space between the bones“, Yoshiki explains his most recent surgery. “This time, a disc in my neck was completely worn out, so they had to put plastic and metal into my neck. It was a big operation. Last time, they went through the back of my neck. This time, they went through the front. They had to pull the vocal cords aside and place the artificial disc. It’s a pretty intense surgery.
Is it a definitive thing or did the doctor give you an estimation of when you can play again?
The way I play drums is not good for my health. Period. That’s what my doctor said. So I just have to find a way to play drums the healthy way. There are some things I have to focus on. First off: headbanging is bad. At some point, people have to stop doing that. I guess I have reached the epitome. It brought me to this position: I had two neck surgeries. So we have to find a different way to express ourselves. Not only the artists, also the audience. Otherwise, we’re all going to have neck surgery in the end.
What’s your physical therapy like these days?
It is focused on building muscles in my neck. My nervous system is already damaged though. Luckily, my motor skills are still fine, so I can move my hands. But because of the nerve damage, I can’t really feel anything properly anymore. There’s always a burning sensation in my hand. It’s very uncomfortable. A terrible feeling. So I just have to find a different way to express myself. Without headbanging.
Does your situation impact your compositions at all, in the sense that you adapt what you write to what you can play?
Fortunately, I finished every single drum track for the upcoming album before surgery. But as of now, I can’t play drums. That’s what the doctor said: no more drums. The way I play drums is just too much, but I’m trying to find a way to go back to the stage as a drummer. Then I’ll play as hard as I can, as soon as I can. But believe it or not: the day after the surgery, I was already in the studio. There are things I can still do. Some editing, for instance.
Ever since we started working on the album, I haven’t really stopped. Even when we were doing the Wembley show back in March; I was in London doing some interviews and preparing for the concert, but I also booked a recording studio and I was also working on the new album. And I thought about it, since I’m in Europe now, to see if I had some extra time. I would like to keep recording. But my schedule is really tight, so I couldn’t do it this time.

Picky

Yoshiki already addressed the elephant in the room himself: the new X Japan album, their first studio album since the 1996 release ‘Dahlia’. “Pretty much all tracking is done. There is one more song I need to play piano to and I’m just adding a last touch, by means of sound effects or guitar effects or something like that. Vocal tracking is done, even the strings – we have recorded an orchestra – are done. So now I just have to find the time to go back to the studio and finish it. I’m trying to have it done by the end of this year.
Is the oldest material still up to your own quality standards after so much time?
Good question… I think so. I mean, I like it. It’s really hard for me to say I like the songs, because I’m super picky, but I think this album is going to be amazing.
Have you found the right label for the release of this album yet?
Most likely it will be Sony Records. Worldwide. I think the whole world will get it at the same time.
Is Extasy Records (Yoshiki’s own label, originally founded to release X Japan’s albums) still active at all?
Yes and no. As of now, I’m planning on producing artists, but I just have to concentrate on finishing X Japan’s album before I do any other things. Also, I have so much promotion and so many interviews to do for the ‘We Are X’ film, so I’m trying to find the time. I always have people looking for artists. Actually, I get a demo pretty much every day. Sometimes I’m really overwhelmed by what I hear. But it’s so hard for me to find the time to even produce now. So unless it is someone extremely good… Well, even then I would probably introduce them to some label or something.

Interest

If the documentary ‘We Are X’, which is in theaters now, shows anything, it is that the Japanese music industry is something that is almost impossible to imagine for westerners. There are superstars in Japan that hardly anyone in the west has ever heard of. Yoshiki does note an increase in interest in X Japan now that the movie is out: “The added interest is great, but we dit not make this film for that kind of purpose.
A lot of Japanese bands make a very clear distinction between their indie days and their major days. You have been in both situations. Are the differences really that big?
I don’t know. Of course, during our indies era, we had no director, no producers, no label telling us what to do. It was all about us. When we signed to a label, suddenly there were a lot of people telling us what to do. And sometimes that was great advice, sometimes it was not. But basically it is still you. You are making this music, so in essence, I don’t think it’s not that different.
Are there any projects you are working on at the moment?
I’ve been working with Marilyn Manson on a project of the two of us, but first I need the finish the new X Japan album. Also I’m working on a new classical album. Piano and a symphony orchestra, something like that.
Would you ever consider making a follow-up to ‘We Are X’?
I don’t know. We’re always filming, so there’s always enough material and there’s always a chance that there will be something else. But as of now, we are trying finish recording our new album. If anything comes out, it will definitely be after our new album. I’m pretty sure it will be released next spring.
Can I hold you to that?
Yes.

Dutch readers can watch ‘We Are X’ on Picl.

Album of the Week 41-2017: Saber Tiger – Timystery


Before Saber Tiger was fronted by the passionate howls of Takenori Shimoyama, they made a couple of excellent albums with Yoko Kubota, an impressive singer in her own right, at the helm. This was the time when the Japanese quintet started incorporating progressive elements into their music, slowly morphing from an above average heavy metal band to the amazing band they are today. ‘Timystery’ is one of those albums that does everything just right. The compositions are better and the musical interaction is more cohesive than ever before. And though it would turn out to be Kubota’s last album with the band, she really comes into her own here.

‘Timystery’ finds Saber Tiger streamlining the progressive touches that were on the foreground on its direct predecessor ‘Agitation’. As a result, ‘Timystery’ feels a little more like ‘Invasion’, Kubota’s 1992 debut with the band, but there is some more musical class hidden beneath the surface. In essence, the album is exactly what you would have expected from Saber Tiger at this point in their career: energetic songs, huge beefy riffs and recognizable choruses, but the songs take a few surprising twists. Also, it is Saber Tiger’s first album that features English lyrics exclusively.

Fortunately, these lyrics go beyond the usual English catchphrases surrounded by poor grammar that Japanese bands revelled in at the time. I don’t know if Kubota had any help, but her English is decent enough and the songs actually have topics. There is a lot of relational material and lyrics about trust issues, but they work. Sometimes even surprisingly well: every aspect of ‘Bad Devotion’ is flawless. The start-stop riffs and dynamics of the song really enhance the story of a woman trying to get back on her feet, while every section of the song is a new climax, culminating in the solo section, which is both virtuosic and goosebumps-inducing.

Of course, no one needed to worry about the qualities of the musicians; Akihito Kinoshita and Yasuharu Tanaka are likely the best guitar duo in the business, Takashi Yamazumi is a bassist who makes the most of his moments, but also has no problem holding down the bottom end and Yoshio Isoda is solid as a rock. That musicianship is what lifts songs like the highly rhythmic ‘Living On In The Crisis’, the relatively heavy opener ‘No Fault / No Wrong’, the pleasantly melodic ‘Distressed Soul’, the pounding ‘Revenged On You’ and the highly dynamic ‘Easy Road To Life’ above their obvious compositional quality.

Saber Tiger truly struck gold on ‘Timystery’. They found the perfect balance between progressive metal – the unconventional rhythms of the lengthy closer ‘Spiral Life’ are easily the most “proggy” moment of the record – and traditional heavy metal, creating something that may appeal to fans of both genres. The album contains several of the best songs the band has ever made and it would take more than fifteen years before the band would top it. Albums this consistent are a rarity, especially in the mid-nineties metal scene, but ‘Timystery’ is simply an album that will not let you go until long after it is over.

Recommended tracks: ‘Bad Devotion’, ‘Living On In The Crisis’, ‘Easy Road To Life’

Album of the Week 40-2017: Anthem – Bound To Break


Back in 1987, heavy metal did not get much better than ‘Bound To Break’. It meant the beginning of Anthem’s long-standing relationship with British producer Chris Tsangarides and whether it was his influence or not, the band ended up sounding more focused and streamlined than ever, finally fulfilling the potential displayed on their first two albums without sacrificing any of the hungry energy of those records. Though ‘Bound To Break’ was the finale for Eizo Sakamoto’s first tenure with Anthem, he sings much better here than on the two predecessors. All of these elements result in what can be considered the definitive Anthem album.

While Loudness was the most successful of the classic heavy metal bands from Japan, Anthem had the most ballsy sound. Their uncomplicated, but not too simple brand of heavy metal was built upon the strong rhythmic foundation of drummer Takamasa ‘Mad’ Ohuchi and bassist and main songwriter Naoto Shibata, upon which Hiroya Fukuda built his riffs, that vary from pumping chords to classic beefed-up hard rock riffs. As stated before, Sakomoto improved considerably before the recordings of ‘Bound To Break’. His performance is still raw-edged and passionate, but he gained a range that he would further expand when he returned to Anthem around the turn of the century.

Many bands could learn a lesson from how Anthem streamlined its sound and somehow ended up sounding heavier instead of watered down here. The opening title track, for instance, is not that different from what the band did prior to this album, but there is a sheen to the song that lifts the track to its classic masterpiece status. The rest of the record varies from powerful midtempo stompers (‘Machine Made Dog’, Headstrong’, ‘Show Must Go On!’) to speedy adrenalin rushes (‘Empty Eyes’, ‘No More Night’, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Survivor’). No ballads or crossover hit attempts; ‘Bound To Break’ is Anthem’s mission statement.

Almost every track on this record is a winner, but none more so than the classy melodic heavy metal of ‘Soldiers’. Due to the somewhat more melodic nature of Fukuda’s minor key main riff, the song is reminiscent of their early classic ‘Shed’, only even better. Through the melodies and the calmer middle section, Shibata really succeeded at creating a dramatic feeling of defeat on the battlefield here. Truly one of Anthem’s crowning achievements. Closing track ‘Fire ‘n’ The Sword’ adapts a similar approach, albeit it in a somewhat more aggressive and straightforward fashion.

Since ‘Bound To Break’ even created some minor interest in the west – the live album ‘The Show Carries On!’ from the same year was recorded in Los Angeles – so it is safe to say that Anthem is not one of those “only in Japan” bands. This is timeless, solid, honest and simply excellent heavy metal in the best Judas Priest and Accept tradition. Heavy metal that makes sure the bottom end is secure before adding showy frills on top. Though Anthem is quite likely the most consistent band in the Japanese heavy metal scene, ‘Bound To Break’ is one of the absolute peaks in their career.

Recommended tracks: ‘Soldiers’, ‘Bound To Break’, ‘Empty Eyes’

Album of the Week 39-2017: Galneryus – Ultimate Sacrifice


A new Galneryus album is always something to look forward to, even though it seemed highly unlikely that they would exceed the quality of ‘Under The Force Of Courage’. Unlikely, but not impossible, as ‘Ultimate Sacrifice’ proves. The record is a continuation of the concept on its predecessor, but it updates the formula of that album in a way that makes ‘Ultimate Sacrifice’ feel like a fresh, new experience, even though it’s the same euphoric, warp speed power metal that we have come to expect from the Japanese quintet. It has just been offset with some darker and more progressive elements.

Initially, the latter half of the album appealed to me significantly more than the former, something which is still true about ‘Under The Force Of Courage’ for me. In this case, it is mainly the presence of ‘Rising Infuriation’ and ‘Brutal Spiral Of Emotions’. While the former is a showcase for keyboard player Yuhki’s love for progressive metal – Symphony X most notably – and quite likely the darkest moment of the record, the latter is structured in a way that is rather atypical for Galneryus: a crazy, virtuosic beginning, some of the band’s heaviest riffing in the middle and a passionate ballad in the end.

There are a few real gems among the first few tracks though. First of all, Galneryus has once again created an intro track that counts as one of the highlights of the album (‘Enter The New Age’) and it evolves into ‘Heavenly Punishment’, which after a few spins turned into one of my favorite Galneryus openers. In many ways, it is typical for them, but it is just a tad more aggressive and melancholic than their usual openers. ‘Wings Of Justice’ has a vicious intro and verse that bring to mind Rhapsody’s ‘Holy Thunderforce’ and the middle section of ‘The Shadow Within’ is simply to die for.

Galneryus usually shines when they combine their trademark sound with a fresh approach. ‘Wherever You Are’ turns out to be a great melodic hardrock tune in the vein of ‘Shining Moments’ with one of Syu’s most incredible guitar solos near the end and not the typical Galneryus ballad. That one is still here, but it’s hidden in the final six minutes of ‘Brutal Spiral Of Emotions’. Anyone looking for the “Galneryus sound” will be pleased by the twelve minute title track that closes the album. It works its way through a number of climaxes – including one where a raw-throated Syu takes over the microphone from soaring siren Masatoshi Ono – before leaving you wanting to turn the album on again.

The fact that Galneryus is one of the most beloved Japanese power metal bands, even outside of Japan, where their albums are not even available on cd, should not be much of a surprise anymore. The band is simply a tad better than its international competition in every way: their choruses are slightly more powerful, Syu has just a little more emotion in his shredding, Ono soars just a bit more powerfully… All of this results in a type of power metal that is not lacking any power, but neither does it leave anything to be desired in terms of melody, energy and slight progressive touches. One of the metal highlights of the year.

Recommended tracks: ‘Rising Infuriation’, ‘Heavenly Punishment’, ‘Brutal Spiral Of Emotions’

Album of the Week 34-2017: Cloven Hoof – Who Mourns For The Morning Star


Ever since resuming activities early this century, Cloven Hoof went through so many lineup changes, that I was not very hopeful about the recent ones. Sure, bassist and band leader Lee Payne is very enthusiastic about George Call’s voice, but anyone would say that about their new singer, right? This time, it is justified. Call is one of the reasons why ‘Who Mourns For The Morning Star’ is such a great album. He comes very close to Russ North as Cloven Hoof’s best singer. In addition, the record features some of the most spirited, enthusiastic heavy metal performances I have heard in a while.

Compositionally, the songs on ‘Who Mourns For The Morning Star’ are a mixture between the NWOBHM approach that Cloven Hoof had in the early eighties and the USPM-leanings they had a couple of years later with North at the helm. If you are looking for a close reference in style, the recent Accept albums are not too far removed from this record in overall feel. Cloven Hoof just employs a greater deal of variation in the tempos. There are a few more than passing nods to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, the latter enforced by the fact that Call strongly resembles Bruce Dickinson in his higher registers.

Some people may complain about a few somewhat chaotic middle sections, but those are a staple of Cloven Hoof’s sound as much as the ballsy riffs – which, due to the spectacular production, grind more ferociously than ever – and anthemic choruses. While opening track ‘Star Rider’ may resemble ‘Astral Rider’, which opened the amazing ‘A Sultan’s Ransom’, in title, it is much more of a traditional heavy metal track with spectacular guitar work and Call showing off his clean, but rough vocal approach. It is the perfect way to introduce the album to unsuspecting listeners.

The rest of the album varies from straightforward heavy metal with a slight hardrock edge, such as ‘Neon Angels’, ‘Song Of Orpheus’ and the Motörhead-ish scorcher ‘Time To Burn’, and songs with a somewhat more progressive approach, such as ‘Song Of Orpheus’, ‘Morning Star’ and closing track ‘Bannockburn’. The latter is the least successful track here: while the main section – including the Maiden-est chorus on the record – is good enough, the rest of the composition sounds more like ideas pasted together rather than an actual song. ‘Mindmaster’ borrows a fragment from Halford’s ‘Locked And Loaded’ somewhat obviously, but since the – surprisingly modern – song is kind of cool, I will let that slide.

While I was somewhat reserved about Payne’s enthusiasm, ‘Who Mourns For The Morning Star’ proves that it was justified. Call is simply a revelation, young newcomer Luke Hatton really goes wild on some of the lead guitar parts and Danny White – Call’s bandmate in Aska – is easily the tightest drummer the band has had in the 21st century. But this album really shines because of how effortless and natural it sounds. It simply sounds like a band having fun playing the music they love rather than trying to adapt to any trend or forcing the magic of their heyday. And that is all I want from Cloven Hoof at this point in their career.

Recommended tracks: ‘Star Rider’, ‘Time To Burn’, ‘I Talk To The Dead’

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’