Posts Tagged ‘ Takenori Shimoyama ’

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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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’

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’

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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