Posts Tagged ‘ Saber Tiger ’

Saber Tiger lyricist about ‘Obscure Diversity’


One thing that makes Saber Tiger stand out is the fact that their English lyrics are better than those of most Japanese bands. Starting with their 2011 release ‘Decisive’, the band has been extensively collaborating with lyricist Fubito Endo, who also wrote of all the lyrics for their new album ‘Obscure Diversity’.

Back in 2007, I came across a blog post from (founding guitarist) Akihito Kinoshita”, Endo explains. “Saber Tiger was at a low point in their career at the time. They had no record deal, no management, not even a singer. I had been a fan of Saber Tiger since junior high, when they hadn’t even released their major label debut yet. So when I saw on AK’s blog that he needed a lyricist, I decided to contact him. I was already a professional musician and producer at the time, so I hoped I could help him out.

I watch a lot of American and British movies and tv series. When I hear some cool words or phrases, I always write them down in my Saber Tiger memos. I have a long list of these phrases. When I receive demo tracks from the guys, I always check the memo and see if I can get a vision of what I want to talk about.

The basic concept of ‘Obscure Diversity’

For the previous trilogy of ‘Decisive’, ‘Messiah Complex’ and ‘Bystander Effect’, my lyrics were mostly about war, conflict, crime, life and death. I think I have written enough about these concepts, so I decided to write from a more personal perspective for this particular album. I never went to a war zone and I never pulled the trigger. I’ve never even seen someone die in front of me except for the natural deaths of my relatives. So these stories were all fictional for me. The basic concept of ‘Obscure Diversity’ was to write more about personal tragedies in our lives.

Daguerreotype Of Phineas Gage

This was the final song written for this album. ‘The Crowbar Case’ already existed and Takenori (Shimoyama, singer) came up with the idea to kick off the album with a kind of gothic choir. The vocal recording is actually a demo. We originally planned to hire professional opera singers to emulate the parts on the demo, but my demo recording went so well that we decided to keep the recording for the final product.

The title refers to one of the two silver prints that were left of Phineas Gage after his eye and part of his brain were taken out as part of a tragic accident. An iron rod pierced through his head. The fragmented Latin words don’t mean anything by themselves, but they are supposed to depict a fragmental image of what his life and death are all about.

The Crowbar Case

The story of Phineas Gage was really interesting for me. Before his accident, he was known as a very decent, hard-working man and a trustworthy boss. Then he had a tragic accident that made him lose part of his brain. Miraculously, he managed to survive, but when he recovered, he came back with a completely different personality. He was told to have become extremely violent and selfish. When I read this story, I began to think: which part of him made him the person he was? And who was the real Phineas Gage in the first place?

The Worst Enemy

“’The Worst Enemy’ was the very first song we wrote for this album. These lyrics set the basic concept for the whole album. Jealousy is our worst enemy. But if you’re human, you can’t live without it. No matter how decent you are, everybody suffers from jealousy. If you are faced with it, maybe you can control it or at least learn how to deal with it. But if you try to deny it, you will eventually be controlled by it.

Stain

Sometimes, people do things that never really go away. Even if you try to hide it or even erase them, these things will always leave a stain inside you. It is possible that everybody else forgets about it, but since you are the one who did it, you are never going to forget. You simply have to deal with it and learn to live with it. That is the basic concept of ‘Stain’.”

Beat Of The War Drums

When we went to Germany to mix ‘Decisive’ with Tommy Newton, Akihito had a stroke. He nearly died there. He had to be brought back to Japan on a stretcher in first class with a doctor present. Though he was super lucky to have survived, he has been suffering from pretty severe depression ever since. I wrote the lyrics to ‘Beat Of The War Drums’ to kind of cheer him up.

If people work too hard, it will eventually break their physical condition, after which it will break their minds. That’s when the war drums start beating in your head. That is the state of mind of hard-working people. I can relate to the feeling myself. When I was producing the vocals for ‘Paragraph IV’, I didn’t sleep anywhere near enough for two or three weeks. After that, I was sick for two months.

Distant Signals

“’Distant Signals’ is very different from the usual Saber Tiger style. It was a challenge to write these lyrics, because the music is so complicated, but I enjoyed it very much. This particular demo was the first song hibiki (bassist) wrote for Saber Tiger. It sounded so spacey! I felt like I was flying through space, from planet to planet. Therefore, the lyrics were inspired by the idea of quantum mechanics: we always take a shower in an immense amount of possibilities. Your actions will define the truth of the next moment.

For the previous albums, I always wrote about perfect despair. If you look deep into the abyss of despair, you will eventually find one small fragment of hope. I never wrote purely positive lyrics, but I wanted to write something really positive for this hibiki song, because I felt this positive energy from him. So I think the concept of believing in yourself and trusting your own actions really fits the song.

The Shade Of Holy Light

This is the very first ballad Machine (guitarist Yasuharu Tanaka) wrote for Saber Tiger. This is another story of a decent guy in an unfortunate situation. The guy in this song worked too hard covering for his colleagues and working overtime. One night, he works late and when he drives back home in the dark, during heavy rainfall, over the speed limit, he runs over somebody. He ends up in jail, where he reminisces his life. Nobody forced him to be nice; he decided by himself to help somebody out. That resulted in him killing someone. The idea is that the strongest light always creates the darkest shadows. Even if you are a good man. This happens all the time in our lives. The world is an unfair place.

Permanent Rage

Saber Tiger has had a long career and because they are such kind guys, they have often been hunted by predators. A lot of people show up to them, act all nice and end up ripping them off. They have lost a lot of money over the years simply because they are not businessmen, because they trust these people. They always tend to show up again though, because they think they will still be an easy prey. When that happens, you have to face them and say: I know what you are trying to do. Say that again and look me in the eye.

I have always loved the phrase ‘M.O.’. I’m a big fan of American legal dramas and often hear this phrase ‘same M.O.’ used by detectives or lawyers. I have always wanted to use it. When I heard the demo, there was a part where it just fit perfectly. That was the first idea for the song.

Seize Your Moment

Literally, ‘Seize Your Moment’ is very positive. This is your chance, your opportunity, so you have to grab it. Everything has two sides though. If somebody shows up and says: you have no problem, I will take care of everything for you, they might be trying to set you up.  If somebody really cares about you, they don’t always say nice things. Sometimes they say something that is difficult for you to hear. Seize Your Moment is about seeing both sides of everything.

Divide To Deny

Simply put, this one is about people who fear people with a different point of view. The reason why people attack others is fear. They fear something they don’t understand, so they try to attack it. But it’s impossible to understand everything. It’s only natural if there are things that you don’t understand. Being different is not a crime. You don’t have to understand it, but there is no need to attack anyone. You can just leave the people you don’t understand alone.

This idea is also reflected in the title ‘Obscure Diversity’. Diversity is kind of a trendy word these days. Everyone is talking about it, but a lot of people are simply talking about diversity because they are afraid to get attacked for being politically incorrect. The other extreme is trying to hide your actual incorrectness behind a screen or an anonymous handle. Living with something you don’t necessarily understand is true diversity.

Paradigm And Parody

As professional creators, we always suffer to create something original. On the other hand, it’s impossible to create something new, as most possibilities have already been done by someone at some point. All that we can do is change the combination or the color. That’s how you can leave your signature. We dedicate our whole life to these kinds of small changes, but some people have no problem being a copycat.

I don’t say that everything I create is completely original. Of course I have been influenced by my favorite artists and artists that I admire. But when I see people who just copy and paste, I always think: how can you sleep at night doing this as your profession?

My favorite lines from these lyrics are: you know there are ten thousand ways to be right / you know it’s so easy, a matter of pride / and what you want to be known for when you die. I don’t believe in life after death, so after I die, I only live in someone else’s memory. I don’t want to be remembered as someone who just stole or copied from other artists. At least I tried to create something to make people happy.

The Forever Throne

“’The Forever Throne’ was inspired by a real life incident. A few years ago, Tetsuya Komuro, a very famous Japanese music producer, was caught trying to sell the rights to songs he didn’t own. He was never prosecuted for fraud, because his label owner paid a lot of money to prevent that. However, he was already all over the news, so he had to talk about it. He said that the reason he did it was to make his wife happy until the day his fraud was discovered. He knew he was going to lose everything he created, but he took the risk to make his wife feel like a queen.

When I heard this story, the image of an empty throne came to mind. Spending a crazy amount of money on something meaningless. I feel in this story, Komuro kind of was the emperor in the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. It is impossible to own everything. Not even a millionaire can buy the sky or the sun. And happiness is not defined by how much you own. I really believe that everyone who experiences great happiness also has to face big sadness. At the end of the day, it’s all in balance.

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Best of 2018: The Albums

In terms of music releases, 2018 was one of the strangest years in recent history. Save for a few notable peaks – in June and September most notably – there have not really been extended periods with lots of great releases. In fact, some of the trusted names have released quite disappointing albums. Record companies seem to slowly shift their focus towards reissues and live releases, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I would have been happy if there was some more previously unheard material that blew me away during the year.

Nevertheless, there were two amazing albums this year that make an equal claim to the number one spot, both of them Japanese. In the end, I literally flipped a coin to decide the order of the first two records. Not unlike other recent years, many of the western artists in the lists are either relatively new bands that took me by considerable surprise or long-running bands that suddenly released a career highlight. That should be enough to still remain hopeful about the future of international heavy metal.

1. Onmyo-za – Hado Myoo

Despite all of Onmyo-za’s albums being of excellent quality, nothing could have prepared me for ‘Hado Myoo’. The album was darker and heavier than anyone could have expected – especially after the relatively lightweight single ‘Oka Ninpocho’ – but it still features the trademark melodic elegance that Onmyo-za is known for. During the album’s best moments, the contrast between Matatabi’s forceful sections and Kuroneko’s melancholic introspection really brings out the best of all sides of the band. Onmyo-za is one of the very few contemporary metal bands that scores 10/10 on riffs, melodies, structure, memorability and vocals simultaneously and ‘Hado Myoo’ is one of the brightest examples of that.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shimobe’, ‘Hao’, ‘Haja No Fuin’

2. Saber Tiger – Obscure Diversity

Since around 2011, Saber Tiger has truly been on a roll. Their current line-up is probably the strongest they have ever had and their song material is nothing short of excellence, combining the powerful melodies and overall feel of eighties heavy metal with the impressive intricacy of contemporary progressive metal. With these elements, Saber Tiger has crafted a sound that is completely unique and ‘Obscure Diversity’ expands on that by being more complex and more accessible at the same time. There’s a perfect balance between aggression, musical craftsmanship and memorability on the album. While many modern metal albums sound clinical and soulless, Saber Tiger retains the passion that is so important to the genre.

Recommended tracks: ‘Distant Signals’, ‘Beat Of The War Drums’, ‘The Worst Enemy’

3. Witherfall – A Prelude To Sorrow

Despite being familiar with Jake Dreyer through Iced Earth and White Wizzard, his own band Witherfall really blew me away from out of nowhere. ‘A Prelude To Sorrow’ was the most pleasant surprise of the year. Dark, but not self-pitying. Complex, but not impenetrable. Melodic, but not powerless. Witherfall does just about everything right here. Joseph Michael’s vocal performance is the cherry on the cake. He has the subtle rasp of a young Halford, the drama of Bruce Dickinson and a higher register eerily similar to Crimson Glory’s Midnight. There’s so much to this album that I can see myself listening to it for many years to come. In a way, Witherfall fills the void left after the definitive end of Nevermore with their expertly composed, dark progressive metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘We Are Nothing’, ‘Moment Of Silence’, ‘Vintage’

4. The Magpie Salute – High Water I

Although The Black Crowes have always impressed me with their engaging combination of typically American music styles, the country influences got a little too prominent on their last few albums for my taste. Apparently guitarist and main songwriter Rich Robinson also thought so, because while the rootsy sounds are still there on ‘High Water I’, the debut studio album of his new band The Magpie Salute, the songs are mainly rooted in bluesy hardrock, while the acoustic songs are more folky in nature. Singer John Hogg is a revelation. His passionate voice is what really lifts the album above the level of its already impressive songwriting. The melodies and atmospheres are captivating. At this point, I honestly hope the rise of The Magpie Salute will not be stopped by a Crowes reunion.

Recommended tracks: ‘High Water’, ‘Open Up’, ‘For The Wind’

5. Warrel Dane – Shadow Work

Sure, Warrel Dane was in my top three favorite metal singers of all time, so it should not be too surprising that ‘Shadow Work’ is so good. But given the fact that he died during the recordings, it is remarkable how accomplished and well-arranged it sounds. It is essentially an unfinished record, but hardly does it ever sound like one. There’s a few moments where Warrel’s vocal lines are a little rough around the edges, but they give the album character rather than being distracting. The songs sound really good; they mainly display an even darker take on Nevermore’s formula. And one can hear that this has become a true labor of love for Dane’s Brazilian backing band. They play their hearts out below what is unfortunately Dane’s final farewell. It is a powerful one though!

Recommended tracks: ‘Madame Satan’, ‘Shadow Work’, ‘Mother Is The Word For God’

6. Voivod – The Wake

For years, the late Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour was deemed irreplacable. Martyr’s Daniel ‘Chewy’ Mongrain proved that nothing is impossible on the fantastic ‘Target Earth’ (2013) and now, ‘The Wake’ proves that was not just a fluke. The album steers slightly away from the technical thrash of ‘Killing Technology’ (1987) and more towards the futuristic, surprisingly relaxed progressive metal of ‘Nothingface’ (1989). ‘The Wake’ is an adventurous record that is likely to please any fan of mid-period Voivod, but is not simply copying the formula of those years. The songwriting on the album is simply too inventive and spontaneous for that. Many sections on the album even sound like improvised jams, which is highly unusual for a metal band. Then again, highly unusual is Voivod’s bread and butter!

Recommended tracks: ‘Always Moving’, ‘Sonic Mycelium’, ‘Spherical Perspective’

7. Asagi – Madara

While D is easily one of the better bands in the visual kei scene, I was not too sure if a solo album of their frontman Asagi was what I was waiting for. It turns out that he took the elements from what I consider D’s best songs – the ones that are more Asian folk-oriented – and turned that into the style for his full album. On a majority of the album, traditional instruments like the shamisen, the koto and several percussion instruments are enhanced by the distorted guitars rather than the overused other way around, resulting in an album that may be even better than D’s already consistently great discography. In addition, it is admirable how Asagi managed to make ‘Madara’ sound like a uniformous album despite the numerous contributions of high profile guest musicians.

Recommended tracks: ‘Hakumenkonmo Kyubi No Kitsune Hidama’, ‘Komo Sakura’, ‘Ooyama Inudake ~Tsukuyo Ni Hoeyu~’

8. Aria – Proklyatiye Morey

‘Gonka Za Slavoy’ is the single greatest song released last year. The rest of ‘Proklyatiye Morey’ is really good as well. In fact, ever since current (and best) singer Mikhail Zhitnyakov joined the band, Aria has been experiencing a bit of a rebirth. ‘Proklyatiye Morey’ is the third installment in a series of studio albums that is easily their best since their late eighties and early nineties heyday. In fact, ‘Proklyatiye Morey’ even finds the band branching out by treading their most progressive waters yet. Unlike some of the recent albums of their prime influence Iron Maiden, Aria manages to sound fresh and energetic throughout the album, however. The short, punchy songs are as good as the longer, proggy ones. If highly melodic old school heavy metal is your thing, ‘Proklyatiye Morey’ is an album you cannot afford to miss.

Recommended tracks: ‘Gonka Za Slavoy’, ‘Ot Zakata Do Rassveta’, ‘Zhivoy’, ‘Era Lucifera’

9. Angra – Ømni

Angra continues to release amazing records. And in true Angra fashion, ‘Ømni’ is different than anything they have ever done before. It is probably the album with the most pronounced Afro-Brazilian influences since their classic ‘Holy Land’ album. The best aspect about ‘Ømni’ is its versatility though. It is a progressive metal album with many different shades and faces. In fact, this is one of the few albums where I think “world metal” is a pretty good genre tag for it. Power metal is slightly less prominent than on ‘Secret Garden’ (2015), but that is hardly an issue here. Also, it is admirable how little of a difference the loss of long-time guitarist Kiko Loureiro makes. Marcelo Barbosa is an excellent replacement. I am fairly confident about Angra’s future at this point.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ømni – Silence Inside’, ‘Bottom Of My Soul’, ‘War Horns’

10. Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog

‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ (2013) made me fear that Alice In Chains had gotten too comfortable with its own sound, but fortunately, ‘Rainier Fog’ proved me wrong. Sure, the twisted anguish of ‘Dirt’ (1992) has gone, although traces of it can still be heard occasionally. Naturally, the elements that make Alice In Chains the band people know and love are featured prominently on ‘Rainier Fog’. The dual lead vocal harmonies, the crushingly heavy riffs, the haunting minor key melodies and the melancholic ballads are all there. There is just a more spontaneous “let’s throw this against the wall and see if it sticks” vibe than before. Ultimately, what makes ‘Rainier Fog’ an above average Alice In Chains album is that the album contains some of the most memorable songs the Seattleites have written in a long time.

Recommended tracks: ‘All I Am’, ‘Rainier Fog’, ‘Deaf Ears Blind Eyes’, ‘Red Giant’

11. Myles Kennedy – Year Of The Tiger

Easily the greatest rock singer of his generation, the sound of Myles Kennedy’s solo album was surprising, to say the least. ‘Year Of The Tiger’ is an album rooted in acoustic guitars, but not in the pretentious singer-songwriter way of most rock singers. Instead, a large portion of the album has been written on resonator guitars, adding a sort of a country blues flavor to many of the songs. Of course, there is still the folky stuff such an acoustic approach tends to result in, but there is even some more powerful stuff here that would have been hardrock if the instrumentation had been different. The interaction between acoustic and electric instruments accounts for an album that is much more dynamic than one would expect. One of the surprise winners of 2018.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Great Beyond’, ‘Nothing But A Name’, ‘Blind Faith’

12. Amorphis – Queen Of Time

Without wanting to sound too petty in my clean vocal fundamentalism, ‘Queen Of Time’ may have been higher on my list if it didn’t feature so much grunting from Tomi Joutsen. Musically, ‘Queen Of Time’ is probably the most interesting, layered album Amorphis has released so far. The songs aren’t radically different from what they did before, but the songs are significantly enhanced by the use of several traditional instruments, which gives the songs a depth beyond the quality we have come to expect from the Finns. Some of the choruses just beg for Joutsen’s excellent clean vocals and get his – admittedly good – grunts instead. If that does not bother you, you could do a lot worse than the equally progressive and melodic as heavy and brutal stuff on ‘Queen Of Time’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Daughter Of Hate’, ‘Heart Of The Giant’, ‘The Golden Elk’

13. Lovebites – Clockwork Immortality

‘Awakening From Abyss’ was one of the two albums in last year’s coin toss. ‘Clockwork Immortality’ did not impress me quite as much upon first spin. After some time, the album sunk in though. I still think it lacks something the debut did have, but there are too many good songs on the album to dismiss it easily. Overall, ‘Clockwork Immortality’ is slightly more streamlined than the previous Lovebites releases, but there is still an abundance of excellent guitar work by Midori and Miyako and singer Asami is still one of the best female rock singers in Japan. After some spins, my idea is that better sequencing could have improved ‘Clockwork Immortality’, but that doesn’t take away the fact that there are some excellent power metal and hardrock songs on the record.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Final Collision’, ‘Addicted’, ‘M.D.O.’, ‘Pledge Of The Savior’

14. Navarone – Salvo

After the carefully arranged ‘Oscillation’, ‘Salvo’ finds Navarone aiming for the live energy that made them so good in the first place again. Stylistically, ‘Salvo’ combines some of the best rock music from the seventies and nineties, ending up sounding not too dissimilar to what Slash does with Myles Kennedy. Fresh, punchy songs with catchy choruses that don’t overstay their respective welcomes are all over ‘Salvo’. As always, the album proves that Navarone excels in writing smartly arranged rock songs that don’t sound like they have been labored over and the fantastic voice of Merijn van Haren ties it all together. Anyone who has once said that rock music is not what it used to be should certainly give ‘Salvo’ a spin. Unless you don’t like to be proven wrong of course.

Recommended tracks: ‘Mind’s Eye’, ‘Søreal’, ‘The Strong Survive’, ‘Another Way’

15. White Wizzard – Infernal Overdrive

Another one of those albums I was not expecting to like so much. To me, White Wizzard was always one of those retro bands that rightfully had to settle for opening act status. Occasionally fun, but ultimately lacking in the songwriting department. ‘Infernal Overdrive’ prove me wrong. Gone are the days of blindly aping influences – though closing track ‘The Illusion’s Tears’ has its moments – and in its place, we have a bunch of excellent contemporary heavy metal songs with some delicious guitar work. Even singer Wyatt Anderson has improved significantly. Most of the longer songs feature a ton of engaging stuff as well. I had hoped for this to be the start of a bright future, but unfortunately, White Wizzard called it quits a few months after the album’s release.

Recommended tracks: ‘Metamorphosis’, ‘Pretty May’, ‘Chasing Dragons’

Album of the Week 40-2018: Saber Tiger – Obscure Diversity


It is difficult for me to be objective about the new Saber Tiger album, having made a minor contribution to its production, but the fact is that ‘Obscure Diversity’ would have excited me regardless. Saber Tiger won me over with their intense combination of traditional heavy metal and contemporary progressive touches a long time ago. ‘Obscure Diversity’ miraculously manages to explore the possibilities of that trademark style more extensively than anything the band released since ‘Timystery’ whilst simultaneously sounding more streamlined than their previous efforts. This makes ‘Obscure Diversity’ an extremely pleasant listen that reveals several secrets over multiple spins.

Once the surprisingly theatrical intro ‘Daguerrotype Of Phineas Gage’ is over, ‘The Crowbar Case’ seems to suggest we are getting a more aggressive take on Saber Tiger’s sound here. The opening riff is thrashy, almost Bay Area-styled in character. When this type of riffing mixes with the band’s tried and tested sense of melody and drama later on, a winning combination is found. This type of high velocity meets supreme sense of melody metal can also be found in the pulsating ‘Permanent Rage’, the dense, stomping and climactic ‘Beat Of The War Drums’ and to a lesser extent the album’s first video ‘The Worst Enemy’.

Uptempo aggression is hardly the only thing the band goes for on ‘Obscure Diversity’, however. After all, its title delivers a promise to live up to. In that respect, the first contribution bassist hibiki made to the Saber Tiger canon is a real winner. ‘Distant Signals’ takes all the melodic and especially progressive influences people may expect from his history with Light Bringer and combines them with all of Saber Tiger’s trademark aspects to create a gorgeous dynamic metal track that truly allows singer Takenori Shimoyama to shine. ‘Distant Signals’ is a unique track, but it makes complete sense within the context of ‘Obscure Diversity’.

Dynamics are also key in ‘The Shade Of Holy Light’ and ‘The Forever Throne’. Technically, both of these tracks would qualify as semi-ballads, but they are much darker and more atmospheric than one would usually predict from that description. This approach provides all the room that guitarists Akihito Kinoshita and Yasuharu Tanaka need to play at their most passionate. Their spectacular guitar work is a main attraction of Saber Tiger anyway. ‘Stain’, for instance, is full of incredible lead guitar work even outside of the solos. Their trade-offs are incredible. The solo spots for hibiki are relatively limited in number, but when he does get them, it does not take long to realize he is one of the best bass players in Japan.

More than 35 years in the music business does not appear to be slowing down Saber Tiger. In fact, this decade has arguably been the most consistent of their career. Relative youngsters hibiki and Yasuhiro Mizuno form an incredible rhythm section that is both intense and complex, upon which Tanaka and Kinoshita can build their timeless riffs. Shimoyama is also as passionate as ever. But how can he not be with such an incredible set of songs to work with? ‘Obscure Diversity’ is a no-brainer for anyone who enjoyed Saber Tiger’s last few releases, but the more adventurous fans of the likes of Nevermore and Iced Earth  should certainly give this a chance as well.

Recommended tracks: ‘Distant Signals’, ‘Beat Of The War Drums’, ‘Permanent Rage’

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 drummer 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’

Best of 2016: The Albums

No album of the week this week, because new year’s day is coincidentally on a Sunday. Also, I suspect you might be tired of my ramblings after reading all of this. When talking about 2016 in music, people tend to focus too much on the popular musicians that have died and as a result, call it a bad year. And sure, I have been a big fan of Prince for ages, but let’s keep in mind that most of the great musicians from the sixties, seventies and eighties aren’t getting any younger, so there’s a chance worse years are ahead in that matter.

When focusing on the actual music that has been released, I would say 2016 has been the year of heavily overrated western releases. Metallica released a record with a couple of good songs and one great one (‘Spit Out The Bone’, while two minutes too long, is amazing), Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ is definitely not better than ‘I Am… Sasha Fierce’ and I feel that a lot of records by deceased musicians have done better simply because of their deaths. There will be one of those in the list though. With all this in mind, you probably won’t be surprised that my number one is not from Europe or North America and still very much alive.

1. Myrath – Legacy

With ‘Legacy’, the English translation of their band name, Myrath is finally showing its full potential, which in all honesty I thought they were already showing on ‘Tales Of The Sands’ five years earlier. The basic progressive power metal sound of their previous albums is still there, as are the beautiful string arrangements that are heavily inspired by the mal’uf music of ther native Tunisia, but the songs are more streamlined and melodic Zaher Zorgati’s voice -which was already amazing – has made tremendous progress. Every song has a strong identity of its own and yet, the record has a very nice flow. That sounds like everything about the album is very close to perfect and honestly, that describes my feelingsa bout this one perfectly; ‘Legacy’ is a masterpiece of fine songwriting and excellent musicianship and therefore, my album of the year.

Recommended tracks: ‘Nobody’s Lives’, ‘Through Your Eyes’, ‘Get Your Freedom Back’

2. The Answer – Solas

After their amazing ‘Revival’ album in 2011, I sort of lost track of The Answer. The following albums were good, but missing the magic of ‘Revival’. The Northern Irish band must have realized that as well, because they have radically changed direction on this monumental record. The bigger emphasis on the band’s Celtic roots is often highlighted in reviews and while that is true, the albums as a whole is an exciting, atmospheric rock record with very diverse influences. Interestingly, it takes until the eighth track ‘Left Me Standing’ until you get something resmbling a “typical” The Answer song. The Led Zeppelin influence is still there, but think ‘Houses Of The Holy’ and ‘Physical Graffiti’ instead of the first two records this time around. The band has seriously outdone itself on this record and every fan of good rock music should have this one in his collection.

Recommended tracks: ‘Beautiful World’, ‘Solas’, ‘Untrue Colour’

3. Gargoyle – Taburakashi

Vicious as ever? No. More vicious than ever! Honestly, I don’t know where the members of Gargoyle – the youngest of which is in his mid-forties – get this unbridled, hungry energy from, but it has resulted in yet another mindblowing record – their third in this decade alone. It does seem like they’re exploring the extremes of their sound more and more; the hyper-aggressive thrash metal riffing starts this album with what is probably the most intense succession of five tracks ever on a Gargoyle record, but Kentaro’s classy guitar melodies – often dual harmonies – give the band a classic heavy metal or even power metal edge. Of course, with this being Gargoyle, there’s some crazy experimentation going on during the second half of the record, but it all stays pretty heavy. Gargoyle is about to hit their 30th anniversary this year and it sounds like there’s no slowing them down.

Recommended tracks: ‘Crumbling Roar’, ‘Ichi’, ‘Yaban Kairo’

4. Saber Tiger – Bystander Effect

Though released as a Tower Records exclusive in late 2015, Saber Tiger’s new record was released publicly this year and it’s almost as good as their recent masterpiece ‘Decisive’. Their perfect blend of classic heavy metal melodicism and contemporary progressive influences makes them more relevant than ever and that in itself is an impressive feat for a band that’s been around since the early eighties. The direction on ‘Bystander Effect’ is slightly more melodic than on the previous record and that makes the songs highly memorable. But fear not: all the rhythmic intensity and guitar solo euphoria is still there and Takenori Shimoyama’s raw, passionate vocal work is the icing on the cake. ‘Bystander Effect’ is proof that dwelling on nostalgia isn’t necessary as an eighties metal band; if your songwriting and musicianship is as good as it is here, there’s no need to do so.

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

5. Yossi Sassi Band – Roots And Roads

Since Yossi Sassi left Orphaned Land, he suddenly could use his heavy material alongside his more world fusion oriented stuff in his own solo band. As a result, ‘Roots And Roads’ is heavier and contains more lead vocals than the two albums that preceded it. That doesn’t mean Sassi has gone full oriental metal on this album though. In fact, it just means that his brand of world fusion – the term he has chosen himself is oriental rock – has gotten broader. And that’s really what Sassi’s music is about: exploring different styles from different regions and simply denying the fact that boundaries exist. In the hands of more pretentious musicians, the result could have become an incoherent mess, but as good as Sassi is on any of the struing instruments he plays here, he is a songwriter first and foremost. This makes ‘Roots And Roads’ both musically interesting and highly listenable.

Recommended tracks: ‘Palm Dance’, ‘Winter’, ‘Root Out’

6. Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution

Esperanza Spalding is a musician I had been following for a while, because she is a brilliant bassist and she always seemed to have interesting ideas on how to fuse jazz with somewhat more contemporary music. However, nothing could have prepared me for ‘Emily’s D+Evolution’. A fusion masterpiece if there ever was one. But if that gives you the impression that this record is full of self-indulgent soling, think again. The album is full of unconventional, but also concise and memorable songs. Spalding’s vocal performance is her best yet and Matthew Stevens’ “what if Hendrix played in a jazz band” approach gives the album something irresistible for me. The strong and rhythmically dense, but swinging interplay between the surprisingly limited number of musicians is simply excellent. Also, the part jazz concert, part performance art performance of this album at North Sea Jazz is probably the best concert I’ve seen this year.

Recommended tracks: ‘Funk The Fear’, ‘Good Lava’, ‘Judas’

7. Epica – The Holographic Principle

From a surprisingly limited number of musicians to a huge amount of them. Epica was never devoid of bombastic arrangements, but ‘The Holographic Principle’ sounds simply huge and somehow, that hasn’t occurred at the cost of the band’s heaviness. In fact, I don’t think my attention was ever drawn towards Epica’s riffing as much as I was here. I would almost say that the riffs are even more memorable than the choruses. And that’s why the album is a bigger masterpiece than I expected it to be. I love symphonic metal, but often, it’s too much of either to be very interesting. ‘The Holographic Principle’ manages to be Epica’s most symphonic and most metal record thus far and it just works. It doesn’t fight each other, it complements each other. And for that, they deserve all the praise they can get. Due to a couple of big interviews, this is one of the albums I’ve had to listen to most all year, but I can’t say it’s been an ordeal in any way.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ascension -Dream State Armaggeddon-‘, ‘Tear Down Your Walls’, ‘Edge Of The Blade’

8. King Of The World – Cincinatti

Just when I thought that it’s been a while since the last King Of The World album, the press release of ‘Cincinatti’ reached me. What makes this band stand out from the rest of the blues scene is that they’re not just excellent musicians, they’re amazing songwriters as well. And that’s why their records have a deal of variation and memorability that’s quite uncommon in the scene. ‘Cincinatti’ is no exception. In fact, adding horns to the mix makes the album the next step in the evolution of King Of The World. I’d like to give a special mention to the amazing ‘World On Fire’, which doesn’t really sound like anything the band has ever done before, but still feels trusted. Still labelled a supergroup due to the band members’ previous involvement in some prestigious acts, King Of The World has proven these last few years that they are much, much more than just the sum of their parts.

Recommended tracks: ‘World On Fire’, ‘Voodoo’, ‘No Way Out’

9. Gackt – Last Moon

Gackt is probably the biggest rock star in Japan and although I’ve always appreciated him as a singer and songwriter, ‘Last Moon’ is probably the first of his records that I can listen to start to finish. Most importantly because he’s largely let go of his bombastic intro-soft verse-big chorus approach, which really got on my nerves after a while. Ironically, his diminished focus on those dynamics has made ‘Last Moon’ his most dynamic set of songs thus far. In addition, ‘Last Moon’ is still a highly polished product, as we’ve come to expect from Gackt, but it feels more organic and that’s largely due to his interaction with his fantastic backing band. One could wonder if it was a good decision to close the album with two ballads, but since they’re both excellent, I’ll give Gackt the benefit of the doubt. Possibly the best J-rock album released since Luna Sea’s last album.

Recommended tracks: ‘Zan’, ‘One More Kiss’, ‘Returner ~Yami No Shuen~’

10. Insomnium – Winter’s Gate

Insomnium’s typically Finnish blend of melodic death metal and doom metal was something I always sort of liked, but lost track of due to my fading lack of interest in extreme metal. The idea of a one-track forty minute album did sort of attract my interest and I don’t regret checking it out. The lyrics tell the story of a group of vikings’ travel to an Irish island in a particularly severe winter and like any good concept album, the atmosphere of the music changes along what happens in the story. This makes ‘Winter’s Gate’ quite an immersive experience and also the most dynamic thing that Insomnium has recorded thus far. What makes this record so good is that no single element within the music overpowers the overall picture, though I do think that the lead guitars and the subtle keyboards work wonders for the atmosphere. ‘Winter’s Gate’ was a surprising highlight of 2016 for me.

Recommended tracks: ‘Winter’s Gate’ (there aren’t any others, after all)

11. Beth Hart – Fire On The Floor

‘Better Than Home’ was a good record, but a little too subdued for my taste. ‘Fire On The Floor’ luckily shows Beth Hart exploring all of her registers again, both musically and vocally. Honestly, Beth Hart is the best female rock singer alive today, so it would be a waste of her talent not to hear her rock out a little. She also puts many a blues man to shame with her slow blues performances and started experimenting with some show jazz-like tendencies remarkably successfully in recent years. All of this and much more can be heard on ‘Fire On The Floor’. In addition, Hart’s backing band for the sessions consists of giants like Michael Landau, Rick Marotta, Waddy Wachtel, Dean Parks and Ivan Neville. Again, I’m not sure if closing the record with three ballads was the right decision, which is also why I think it falls just a tiny bit short of the incredible ‘Bang Bang Boom Boom’, but it’s a great album nonetheless.

Recommended tracks: ‘Love Is A Lie’, ‘Baby Shot Me Down’, ‘Fire On The Floor’

12. Ningen Isu – Kaidan Shoshite Shi To Eros

Although Ningen Isu has been recording some fine material on the intersection where doom metal, psychedelic rock and progressive hardrock come together for the last thirty years, they just keep on getting better. For me, the increasing heaviness – quite clearly influenced by Black Sabbath and Budgie – has given their recent material a consistency that earlier material lacked and therefore, their brand new ‘Kaidan Shoshite Shi To Eros’ turned out to be their best album yet. The heavy, Sabbath-ish riffing is front and center here, but there’s sparse folky elements, strange chants and other stylistic detours that still make the material unmistakably Ningen Isu. And despite this weird combination of styles, the album has a very pleasant flow. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Exploring Ningen Isu’s discography may be a bit intimidating because of all the Japanese titles, but it’s a very rewarding quest as well.

Recommended tracks: ‘Chounouryoku Ga Attanara’, ‘Madame Edwarda’, ‘Ookami No Tasogare’

13. Marillion – F.E.A.R.

The acronym in the title is a little more crude than their subtle and intelligent music warrants, but luckily that’s the only problem I have with Marillion’s new album. Musically, it’s easily their best record since ‘Marbles’ twelve years prior. It shows the band all over the place: from folky to abstract and from highly accessible to almost impenetrably progressive. Because, in deed, after a decade of getting closer and closer to alternative rock – almost dangerously so at times – Marillion is first and foremost a progressive rock band on ‘F.E.A.R.’. It’s a 21st century take on the genre, but it’s highly progressive nonetheless. The band’s greatest assets – Steve Hogarth’s expressive vocals and Steve Rothery’s sparse, highly tasteful lead guitar work – are in full effect here and with three long, dynamic suites, there’s a lot to immerse yourself in here.

Recommended tracks: ‘Russia’s Locked Doors’, ‘Why Is Nothing Ever True?’, ‘Wake Up In Music’

14. DeWolff – Roux-Ga-Roux

Despite still not being particularly old, the three members of DeWolff have overcome the stigma of being “those three very young kids” in their early career remarkable well. Continuing to reinvent themselves musically has contributed to that as well. Where they sounded like British bands on their debut – Deep Purple and Pink Floyd quite prominently – their sound has gradually become more American, whilst still always sounding like DeWolff. On ‘Roux-Ga-Roux’, there is a strong New Orleans influence, if the title didn’t make that clear yet. The bigger emphasis on groove has considerably improved the band’s sound and while there are still a few inspired, semi-psychedelic jams, the more concise songwriting gives the record a somewhat more timeless edge, in addition to making it a very pleasant for those who aren’t as familiar with exercises in psychedelia. I’m very curious to see what they’ll do next.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sugar Moon’, ‘Stick It To The Man’, ‘Tired Of Loving You’

15. Vektor – Terminal Redux

Out of the whole retro thrash scene, Vektor was always one of the very few bands that could offer more than just nostalgia. They’ve always been labelled Voivod clones because of their sci-fi themes and use of dissonant chords, but that’s really where the comparison stops. Vektor plays hyperspeed progressive thrash metal that often borders on extreme metal, not in the last place due to David DiSanto’s screeching vocals. ‘Terminal Redux’ ups the ante in terms of the progressive side of the band, because almost all of the songs are very long, but because a lot happens within them, you’ll hardly notice. But no matter how intricate or complex it gets, Vektor seems to prioritize proper headbanging over a display of their dazzling capabilities. ‘Collapse’ isn’t just the Pink Floyd-ish highlight of the record, but also what happened to their line-up last week. DiSanto promised there’ll be more of this though.

Recommended tracks: ‘Collapse’, ‘Ultimate Artificer’, ‘Psychotropia’

16. Prince – Hit n Run Phase Two

Believe it or not, but this release was already planned before the completely unexpected death of Prince. In fact, members of his fan club already had this release for a while. The first “phase” was released about half a year earlier and a little too electronic for me, but this is Prince as I like him best. It may not be very remarkable in terms of songwriting – despite the baroque ‘Baltimore’ being the best pop song of the year – but these are highly organic jams where Prince and his band audibly feed off each other and basically just let the music be what it wants to be. That results in a handful of jazzy pop tracks and light, shimmering funk grooves. Sometimes surprisingly bare bones, at other times lushly arranged. It probably wouldn’t have sold as much as it did if Prince hadn’t died about two weeks prior, but this is one of the cases where it definitely should have.

Recommended tracks: ‘Baltimore’, ‘2 Y. 2 D.’, ‘Stare’

17. Textures – Phenotype

Textures has a great reputation worldwide because of their contribution to the genre that is apparently now known as djent. They have always been able to write a good song or two (or nine, in this case) though and having a downright amazing vocalist may have made that particular job a little easier. Seriously, I thought Daniël de Jongh got the job down admirably on ‘Dualism’, but hearing him on a track like ‘New Horizons’ really shows how good he is in many different registers. The balance between heavy, choppy riffs and beautiful, atmospheric sections is better than ever on ‘Phenotype’ and the production of former guitarist Jochem Jacobs is remarkably organic for a contemporary heavy band. It’s surprising how a band can make such a refreshing album by simply improving upon what they have always done, but ‘Phenotype’ is one of such cases. I’m very curious to hear ‘Genotype’, the second part of this diptych.

Recommended tracks: ‘New Horizons’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Illuminate The Trail’

18. Santana – IV

Working for a guitar mag, you can probably imagine that the news of Carlos Santana reuiniting with Neal Schon and most of the other musicians that played on his untitled third album creates quite a stir. Luckily, the music backed up the hype. Most of ‘IV’ displays the almost reckless blend of psychedelic rock, blues and latin that the original Santana band was known for and seems to have evolved from jam sessions. Especially the instrumental tracks have spontaneity to them that isn’t very common on mainstream rock albums anymore. The only complaint I have about the album is that the clean, modern production is a little too glossy for some of the material, but luckily, not so much that it ruins your listening pleasure. With Schon and Santana jamming together, there’s enough spectacular guitar work for the magazine, but if you’re more of a rhythm junky, there’s more than enough to enjoy for you here as well.

Recommended tracks: ‘Yambu’, ‘Echizo’, ‘Filmore East’

19. Mary’s Blood – Fate

Highly anticipated for me, because I consider its predecessor ‘Bloody Palace’ a near-masterpiece. It doesn’t quite reach that level, but ‘Fate’ is once again a strong heavy metal, bordeline power metal record. Saki’s stellar guitar work will always be a point of interest for people who are into Mary’s Blood, but what really set this collective apart from all the other all-female bands that are currently conquering Japan – apart from their music having more power than many of their contemporaries, male or female – is the powerful, slightly raw voice of Eye. She is once again in excellent shape here. Some of the more experimental moments on the album are a subject of debate, but the record is full of driving rhythms, energetic riff work, catchy melodies and of course amazing vocals. There’s only so much hype a band can create; I strongly believe Mary’s Blood has a bright future due to having the musical value to back it up.

Recommended tracks: ‘Change The Fate’, ‘Queen Of The Night’, ‘Counter Strike’

20. Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust

Another one-track album. This time a 33 minute one with lyrics about the rise and the ultimate destruction of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. Gorguts has taken that story and accompanied it with their trade-mark avant-garde death metal sound. While that style normally isn’t for me, Luc Lemay’s compositions full of guitar and bass lines that crawl and circle around each other have always intrigued me. This time, it’s no different. Even in the very subdued, tranquil and abstract middle section, there’s this tension that keeps me hanging on to the song. Very skillfully crafted and very powerfully performed. The production is surprisingly good as well; Patrice Hamelin’s drums actually sound like drums instead of computerized signals and it isn’t quite as “all loud all the time” as many modern death metal albums are. A very interesting piece of art with an interesting narrative to boot.

Recommended tracks: ‘Pleiades’ Dust’ (again, there aren’t any others)

Saber Tiger signs European record deal


Not only am I extremely excited that Saber Tiger, one of Japan’s finest bands, has signed a record deal with the Dutch label Into The LimeLight Records, I also feel honored that the band approached me to write their English biography. You can read it in Into The LimeLight’s official press release by clicking here. As I have stated many times before, Saber Tiger has brought me something that I was missing in contemporary “western” Heavy Metal and I’m glad the rest of Europe will finally get the chance to experience this as well. It seems like 2017 will be the year that Europe will be definitively introduced to this amazing band after testing the waters ealier this year.

Congratulations to all the guys in Saber Tiger!

Album of the Week 24-2016: Saber Tiger – Decisive


Yesterday and the day before, I was lucky enough to witness the first two concerts Saber Tiger ever gave on European soil. It’s hard to explain how happy that makes me, but Saber Tiger is the one band I never thought I’d have a chance to see without actually going to Japan. They never made the international impact that their peers Loudness and Anthem did, even though they’ve been vastly superior to either of them in recent years. In fact, ‘Decisive’ is one of my all time favorite records, because it combines everything that I love about Heavy Metal in general.

Guitarist Akihito Kinoshita has soldiered on with Saber Tiger since 1981 and has improved the band with each change. However, ‘Decisive’ marked the start of a significant leap forward, because it finally combines all of the band’s strengths: Takenori Shimoyama’s raw, passionate singing, the dual guitar attack of the intuitive Kinoshita and the somewhat more modern, technical Yasuharu Tanaka and the inventive riff work. In addition, newcomer Yasuhiro Mizuno’s very accomplished drum work offers the opportunity for a more contemporary, progressive approach – think Nevermore – to the band’s traditional Heavy Metal and Power Metal sound. The sound is energetic, melodic, unpredictable and just simply amazing.

Still in the phase of discovering the band, ‘At The Front’ was the song that won me over definitively and I still think it’s their best. It’s also the perfect example of the album’s strength: some of the rhythms and riffs contain more than a hint of Progressive Metal influences, but the melodies also have the dramatic elegance of classic Heavy Metal. This sense of drama is reflected well in the song’s lyrics and Shimoyama’s powerful performance. All the elements of this highly dynamic track complement each other, making the result even better than the sum of its parts.

What makes ‘Decisive’ stand out from many contemporary Metal records is that every song has a clear identity of its own. ‘Angel Of Wrath’ was a logical choice for a video because of its strong melodic sensibilities, ‘Avenger’ features one mind blowing riff after the other and opening track ‘The Hammer’ ups the intensity to almost Thrash levels. The main riff in ‘Bionic’ pushes the band into more modern, Pantera-like territory, something that works very well with the excellent lyrics courtesy of co-producer Fubito Endo. It’s amazing how much variation they crammed into this one hour album. That alone is worthy of your attention and quite likely the reason why it will hold your attention as well.

Every self-respecting fan of expertly written and executed Heavy Metal with excellent vocals should have ‘Decisive’ in his or her collection. It’s the work of a band looking to expand its boundaries and succeeding in it with an ease that I – as a songwriter – should envy, but instead, can’t stop listening to. It’s unbelievable how much the band continues to grow more than three decades into their career. ‘Decisive’ is an album that contains everything you could wish for as a Metal fan and more. And there may be a chance that Europe will finally get the chance to discover this amazing band. I’ll meet you there.

Recommended tracks: ‘At The Front’, ‘Angel Of Wrath’, ‘The Hammer’

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