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50 Years of Japanese Metal: A Half Century of Heavy Music in the Far East

I'm a big fan of Japanese heavy metal and a collector of Japanese metal and rock music. I also enjoy documenting the scene's history.

50-years-of-japanese-metal

In celebration of the first fifty years of heavy metal in Japan, throughout this article we will be exploring five different decades of Japanese metal releases, year by year, beginning with the Flower Travellin' Band's Anywhere in 1970 and running through 2020, bridging the gap from the country's origins in metal to the eventual bustling and busy scene still going strong today. For each year I will talk briefly about up to three Japanese metal highlights which I felt were interesting or important features of that particular year. To be clear, this is in no way a rankings list, but merely highlighting just a few albums of note for each subsequent year.

Keep in mind that the early-mid 70s portion of this does contain some proto-metal and heavy rock mixed with the actual early metal features, because let's face it, Flower Travellin' Band were way ahead of the game and after them there were a handful of years without bands playing legitimate heavy metal in the country, so a bit of proto-metal content and some rock albums containing single instances of metal songs will simply keep me from committing seppuku digging through releases, trying to fill a few years of gaps in metalness up until the style began to take off at the start of the 80s. I also didn't restrict subjects for the decade to just albums in the 70s section, allowing for occasional mention of EPs, demos and such, because quite frankly there wasn't a whole lot of metal on a global scale until the later half of the decade anyway.

Please note that this article focuses primarily on the evolution of Japanese heavy, power, doom, thrash and speed metal, though I mentioned a handful of other albums of major significance to more extreme subgenres on occasion. I didn't make mention of divisive "metal" styles like alternative (including idol metal), nu-metal or metalcore unless bands were equally fused with more widely agreed upon metal styles. Also important to mention, in the 80s through early 90s, let's be honest, I could have highlighted any trio of quality Loudness, Anthem, X or Seikima-II albums for nearly every year, however doing that is completely uninteresting and there was just so much more going on in the country beyond that extremely busy handful of Japanese metal stalwarts, I felt it was only right to mention other highlights over some of these obvious, more famous choices whenever I could, though those names still appear often for obvious reasons. I've also listed up to ten additional releases of note for any given year, as I couldn't possibly talk about every single important or interesting release the country has seen. All of my rambling aside, let's get this started.

50-years-of-japanese-metal

1970

Flower Travellin' Band - Anywhere

Flower Travellin' Band - Anywhere

Flower Travellin' Band - Anywhere

Note: Not a metal album overall, but the band's Black Sabbath cover is the first clear example of heavy metal music being played in Japan.

Sure it's a cover album, but Flower Travellin' Band's Anywhere is an incredible demonstration of just how early this heavy rock and metal band really was. It contains the first legitimate heavy metal song ever performed by a Japanese band, being a cover of Black Sabbath's monumental track, Black Sabbath, which in itself was released just a mere ten months earlier in the same year, so as Black Sabbath's legendary debut turned fifty in 2020, so did Anywhere, Japan's first mark on the metal radar. Outside of the obvious metal highlight of the album, the band also created monstrous dark and heavy covers of rock songs, such as King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man. The fact that the band somehow heard of Sabbath's debut from the other side of the world, obtained a copy, and enjoyed it enough to cover it and record it to a studio album only months apart is a bit baffling to be honest, but that's exactly what they did and in turn it makes a great starting point for this article.

1971

Flower Travellin' Band - Satori

Flower Travellin' Band - Satori

Flower Travellin' Band - Satori

Considered by many as the first album from Japan that could reasonably be called heavy metal and also one of the first metal albums on a global scale, Flower Travellin' Band's iconic mixture of Black Sabbath inspired doom metal and eastern folk flavored psychedelica was a monument in the development of Japan's heavy metal scene. There was the obvious Sabbathian influence to the album, but make no mistake, the Flower Travellin' Band were very much a remarkable and unique entity on their own, with dark and aggressive tracks such as Satori Part I, to the slow-progressing, trippy and ominous rides that are Satori Parts III and V. The Flower Travellin' Band would never be quite as heavy as the level they reached on their first two albums, opting to delve deeper into bluesy and proggy tracks, but the mark they left on a yet largely untapped music style was a massive one. The Flower Travellin' Band's music has in turn been cited as an influence by groups such as Opeth and covered or paid tribute to by bands ranging in style from The Claypool Lennon Delirium to Marduk, to the band's countrymen Outrage or Gargoyle.

Too Much - Too Much

Note: Not a metal album, it's a heavy blues album included as a proto-metal example based on certain songs.

This is one of my favorites of this era, the band Too Much with their self-titled and sadly only album that they would release before disbanding. The album is mostly pretty chill blues rock, but of course as I'm mentioning them on this list there's a couple of outlier songs; those being Love is You with its crunchy, doomy rock riffing and metal-as-hell uptempo solo section, along with the slower, more psychedelic but nearly as heavy Grease it Out. The guitar work demonstrated here is magnificent for 1971, it's honestly hard to believe such a talented band never managed to stick around for more than one release.

Blues Creation - Demon & Eleven Children

Note: Not a metal album, it's a heavy blues album included as a proto-metal example based on certain songs.

Blues Creation were one of the heaviest bluesy rock bands in the world when they released their debut in 1969, so it wasn't all that surprising to see them crank things up a notch with their second album, 1971's Demon & Eleven Children. While they were never a clear-cut metal band, they were roughly the heaviest Japanese band not named Flower Travellin' Band in these very earliest years of heavy Japanese rock and metal. There's metallic ideas to be found all over the place, such as the massive, thundering riffs present in the title-track, Demon & Eleven Children, as well as Atomic Bombs Away. Also worth mentioning in regards to metallic ideas is the song Sorrow which opens with guitar work reminiscent of England's eventual NWOBHM movement.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • Speed, Glue & Shinki - Eve
  • Strawberry Path - When the Raven Has Come to the Earth
  • The Mops - Iijanaika

1972

Flied Egg - Dr. Siegel's Fried Egg Shooting Machine

Flied Egg - Dr. Siegel's Fried Egg Shooting Machine

Flied Egg - Dr. Siegel's Fried Egg Shooting Machine

Note: Not a metal album, this is a heavy progressive rock album included as a proto-metal example based on certain songs.

One of Japan's prog rock classics, Flied Egg's creatively titled Dr. Siegel's Fried Egg Shooting Machine is also one of the heaviest albums in the Japanese rock scene's earliest years. The band, melding numerous influences; in particular Uriah Heep with a little Hendrix, Sabbath, ELP and others; could rock any way you'd want. The album boasted complex and cheery prog rock songs, slower bluesy numbers, or pummeling doomy tracks of which there were multiple such as I'm Gonna See My Baby Tonight, Burning Fever or Rolling Down the Broadway. Such a vast array of ideas made this album a memorable and unique contribution to Japanese rock's tapestry.

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Flower Travellin' Band - Made in Japan

Note: Not a metal album overall, however the band was still creating incredibly heavy songs at this point.

As mentioned under 1971, The Flower Travellin' Band's sound would never be quite as heavy as it was on Satori again, but that's not to say they weren't still a juggernaut of heavy rock when they released their second album, Made in Japan. While boasting a more progressive psych sound, the group hadn't forgotten how to rock your face off, and they were still arguably the heaviest band on Japanese soil, though the competition was tighter by this point. Songs like Kamikaze or Spasms would have fit in reasonably well on Satori.

Speed, Glue & Shinki - Speed, Glue & Shinki

Note: Not a metal album, this is a heavy blues/psych album included as a proto-metal example based on certain songs.

While Speed, Glue & Shinki as well as Shinki Chen's other bands were already quite heavy for the era, 1972 saw this band crank things up a notch. While they never really changed their heavy blues and psychedelic rock formula, the band's self-titled album added a heap more attitude and explosive energy to their songwriting formula, resulting in proto-metallic songs like Wanna Take You Home or the funky yet nearly as heavy Calm Down.

1973

Cosmos Factory - Cosmos Factory (An Old Castle of Transylvania)

Cosmos Factory - Cosmos Factory (An Old Castle of Transylvania)

Cosmos Factory - Cosmos Factory (An Old Castle of Transylvania)

Note: Not a metal album, this is a heavy prog album included as a proto-metal example based on certain songs.

While this one is also not a metal album, it's likely the heaviest rock album of 1973 in Japan. It calls to mind stylistic influence from other heavy-prog acts such as Uriah Heep and King Crimson. Among the album's proto-metallic highlights are the songs Maybe as well as Fantastic Mirror. Worth a mention as well is the final two segments of the album's epic-length An Old Castle of Transylvania (from 11:06 onward roughly). The group's output would continue to be strong throughout the rest of the 1970s, but this was the heaviest their sound would ever be.

Bad Scene - Subete ga Wakaru Toki

Note: Not a metal release, this is a heavy rock record included as a proto-metal example.

The debut single of Bad Scene, Subete ga Wakaru Toki was another one of the heaviest rock records to be found in these early days of the Japanese scene. Of the two songs present, the most metallic is the title-track; though the B-side, Rock 'n' Roll o Buttobase is fairly punchy too, albeit more of a standard classic rock track. Interestingly, this earliest era of the band featured the eventual legendary Japanese rock guitarist Char. Bad Scene would never make it big, although they would surprisingly stick around until the late 80s, fighting it out in Yamaha's expansive band battle circuit, eventually releasing both an album and a brilliant single titled Sahara in 1981.

1974

Yonin Bayashi - Ishoku Sokuhatsu

Yonin Bayashi - Ishoku Sokuhatsu

Yonin Bayashi - Isshoku Sokuhatsu

Note: Not a metal album, but the title-track is heavy prog, only included as a proto-metal example.

1974 is the weakest year on this list in terms of bands performing metal, or even proto metal songs for that matter, however I'm comfortable at least mentioning prog rock band Yonin-Bayashi's stellar 1974 album Isshoku Sokuhatsu for one main feature, the epic-length title-track. For the most part a calm and smooth prog rock song, it slowly creeps further into insanity, then with a literal snap at 7:32 turns the remaining half into probably the single heaviest Japanese rock song of the year; thumping and authoritative bass and drums, an aggressive vocal performance, heavily distorted guitar riffs and solos, and topped with spacey, early 70s heavy-prog keyboards.

1975

Yamaha 8.8 Rock Day '75

Yamaha 8.8 Rock Day '75

V/A - 8.8 Rock Day '75 (Featuring Murasaki)

Note: Not a metal album overall, but included based on a handful of Murasaki songs featured on the compilation.

A bit of an odd inclusion, but here we have the live album for Yamaha's 1975 8.8 Rock Day band battle event. I mention this only due to the inclusion of one band, and that's Murasaki from Okinawa. One of the early pioneers of hard rock in Japan, Murasaki, whose name translates to "purple" in honor of their main inspiration Deep Purple, were gaining a bunch of fanfare around the country, even though the young band hadn't even released their debut by this point. Yamaha thought they'd bring the promising youngsters to headline this gigantic festival and make their mainland debut, and as the guests of honor Murasaki would introduce several thousand Japanese music fans to the wonders of hard rock and heavy metal on this grand stage of a former World Expo (Expo '70, Osaka). Much like Deep Purple, Murasaki had a tendency to get really heavy when performing live, and this was demonstrated well on the live album for the event, where Murasaki, whose performance was a smash hit, would be given an entire side of the two record release. At this event they debuted some of their classic songs including Double Dealing Woman, which is a rather up-tempo and aggressive track not unlike something the band's heroes and metal pioneers Deep Purple would have made around the same time. Speaking of Deep Purple, another hit with the crowd was Murasaki's cover of Highway Star.

1976

Bow Wow - Hoero! Bow Wow

Bow Wow - Hoero! Bow Wow

Bow Wow - Hoero! Bow Wow

Forming in 1975, gifted youngsters Bow Wow quickly went major and were able to release a debut record only a year later. Roughly half metal and half rock, Hoero! Bow Wow set the tone for the rest of the band's career to come, with massive heavy, powerful, and metallic tracks abundant, among them Hearts on Fire and Volume On. The young band, led by guitarist extraordinaire and lead vocalist Kyoji Yamamoto, marked a shift in the still developing Japanese rock landscape, bringing a new dynamic of speed and energy to the table to a level only briefly explored prior by bands like Murasaki. Bow Wow, rooted much less in the slow and doomy blues of the slightly older bands on this list, could play as fast as anyone that 70s rock had to offer by contrast (though they still ventured into slower tracks on occasion, see James in My Casket). Loudness frontman Minoru Niihara stated in an interview with Kevin Pasman of The Sushi Times that before the Loudness guys' rise, the two most famous and heaviest home-grown metallic bands rocking Japan in the mid 70s were Murasaki and Bow Wow. There was simply nothing quite like these guys in the country at the time.

Murasaki - Murasaki

Note: Not a metal album overall, but included primarily based on the song Devil Woman, as well as other metallic ideas the band had on this record.

Immediately following Murasaki's acclaimed performance at 8.8 Rock Day in 1975, they hit the studio, quickly assembling their debut album and preparing for its release early in the next year. The self-titled Murasaki featured some of the heaviest and most metal songs found in Japan yet, with the polished up studio versions of multiple songs from their performance in the year prior. Among these was an early metal song in Devil Woman, a galloping, in-your-face number that was one of the fastest metal tracks a Japanese band had come up with to this point, easily on par with Bow Wow. Additionally, and while not particularly metallic, I just love the dual leads and overall swagger that the track Do What You Want carries. This album was a real success for Murasaki, quickly selling over 40,000 copies when most bands in the young Japanese rock scene struggled to sell anything close to that number.

Ginbae - Ginbae

Note: Not a metal album, but as one of the heaviest Japanese albums of its time, I figured it was worthy of a mention.

One of the heaviest Japanese releases to come out since The Flower Travellin' Band's monumental Satori, Ginbae played an extremely heavy, doomy rock sound, at times straddling the line between rock and metal. Probably the most mysterious band on this list, Ginbae appeared and disappeared very quickly, leaving only one release behind. That said, their lone EP, the 1976 self-titled Ginbae is very worthy of a mention on this list. With a rich, fuzzy, thunderous guitar tone and a thumping, slow musical pace, Ginbae were another band who took a great deal of influence from Black Sabbath plus various doomy heavy rock bands of the early 70s, applying elements of their styles to a more cheerful, bluesy style. One of the standout tracks from the EP is the song Toluene, which features a fantastic leading riff that carries the song similarly to that of more modern doom and stoner metal tracks. I'll also mention the song Akage no Anne which is nearly as metal.

Other notable releases for this year:

Olive - Olive

1977

Bow Wow - Signal Fire

Bow Wow - Signal Fire

Bow Wow - Signal Fire

One of the most famous Japanese rock albums of the 70s with popularity continuing to this day, for Signal Fire, in my opinion Bow Wow's musical game was at the highest level it would be at any point in the decade. A young, inspired and energized band, Bow Wow's Signal Fire featured about half metal songs, and half rock. This album, building on the debut a year prior, helped to rocket Bow Wow towards stardom, becoming one of the first famous hard rock and heavy metal acts in the Tokyo area. The album also left its mark outside of the country, and while not a huge seller the album attained a fair share of fans for the band, including eventual members of Metallica and even landed Bow Wow tours in support of both Aerosmith and Kiss. A couple of the album's metal highlights are the songs Silver Lightning and Electric Power Up.

Murasaki - Impact

Note: Not a metal album overall, however it features a couple metal songs. Included as an early metal example.

Thanks to the success of their self-titled album, Mursaski were able to get right back to work, recording and putting forth their second album Impact less than a year later. The band's final album before a nearly thirty year disbandment, the Okinawan rock legends went out with a bang. Released on New Year's Day, 1977, Impact was "more of the same" thing offered by their first album, and I say that in the best way possible. While noticeably more progressive, Impact carried plenty of the Deep Purple-loving 70s rock sound that the band wore so proudly earlier, and also similar to their first album, Impact included a dose of metal, particularly with the high speed Let Me Go which, vocals aside, would fit seamlessly on an early Riot or Judas Priest album. Also worth a mention is Doomsday.


Bow Wow - Charge

Note: Not a metal album overall, however it contains a couple of early metal songs and warrants a mention at least.

Charge was Bow Wow's second album of 1977 and it was surprisingly good given how quickly it was produced following Signal Fire. While overall I'd say it’s teeth aren’t quite as sharp as its predecessor, Bow Wow were still one of the most metallic 70s acts to be found and Charge had plenty to offer. Included among the album's metal highlights are Jet Jive, The Clown, or Blue Eyed Lady. Bow Wow would sink into a period of relative inconsistency and reinvention over the course of their next few albums until roaring back in the early 80s.

1978

Yamaha EastWest '78

Yamaha EastWest '78

V/A - EastWest '78 (Featuring Nokemono)

Note: Not a metal album overall, this is included based on the band Nokemono's feature.

Another oddity inclusion for this list in the same vein as what we saw in 1975, but I couldn't think of a more fitting album for 1978 than the live album for Yamaha's EastWest '78 band battle festival, which unknown to a lot of fans had a prominent feature of the early Japanese metal band Nokemono, who were brought in as guests of honor after winning their regional festival, MidLand '78. The band played several songs that would eventually feature on their album as well as songs they would sadly never release, such as the excellent early Japanese heavy metal example, Down to Hell. Also featured was Hijiri e no Tabiji which would be reworked into the song Tozasareta Machi for their album.

Sansuikan - Moetsukita Akumatachi

This was another one of Japan's earliest predominantly heavy metal releases. Sansuikan released a four song demo tape in 1978 called Moetsukita Akumatachi. The music on this demo was an upbeat and fairly nimble heavy metal with a big helping of progressive rock overtones. This band more or less merged with the band Scheheradaze to become Novela in 1980, and then from there Yoshiro Takahashi and Mototsugu Yamane would eventually split off to create Japanese metal pioneers Action!, bringing a few of Sansuikan's songs with them, including 100,000 Volt and Back Stage Queen. This was a little-known, but fascinating early contributor to Japanese metal because they were tied to so many prominent musicians and influential bands.

1979

Nokemono - From the Black World

Nokemono - From the Black World

Nokemono - From the Black World

The main highlight this year, Nokemono released From the Black World, one of the first Japanese full-length albums that was predominantly heavy metal, influenced by the late '70s works of Scorpions, Bow Wow, and Judas Priest primarily. Though they weren't around long at all, they're a big part of the formative years of Japanese metal, winning a large Yamaha competition and then as a result touring Japan with Judas Priest that same year. Their album preceded Loudness' debut by almost three years. Probably their best known song, Run Away, is a great example of what the album as a whole was all about, boasting excellent guitar work with brilliant 70s metal riffing both fast and slow, double bass drums, an upbeat swagger, and ultra catchy style that set them apart from many other '70s heavy metal and hard rock acts during that era. Another favorite of mine from the album is Ari Jigoku, a song that would be covered by Sabbat in 2004.

Lazy - Rock Diamond

Note: Not a metal album overall, but this is included based on "Hotel" being an early example of Japanese heavy metal.

In 1979 change was quickly brewing for the label-controlled pop rock act Lazy; guitarist Akira Takasaki and drummer Munetaka Higuchi were growing dissatisfied with the band's rather forced direction and were pushing for a bigger say in the band's songwriting. With Lazy's 1979 album Rock Diamond, the future Loudness star members successfully managed to get a metallic monster of a song in Hotel included on an otherwise quite mellow pop rock album; a glorious act of defiance and a telling signal of where the band would be heading in the coming years.

George Murasaki & Mariner - Mariner One

Note: Not a metal album overall, but this is included based on "Demon King" being an early example of Japanese heavy metal.

Created after the disbandment of George Murasaki's main band Murasaki, Mariner was an Okinawan powerhouse of a hard rock act which marked the first time George Murasaki would team up with vocalist Hiroto Arasaki, who would front the bands Heavy Metal Army as well as Eastern Orbit a few short years later. Playing a style influenced by the likes of Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, Rainbow, and a few others, they had a tendency to get pretty metallic, just as the aforementioned influences did. On this first album Mariner One, the song Demon King goes full-on Rainbow-mode and is a total barn burner of a Blackmore/Dio inspired metal song, right in the middle of a relatively relaxed hard rock album. Mariner had some very metal moments in other instances, but never quite to the extent of this track.

Other notable releases for this year:

Marino - Demo

50-years-of-japanese-metal

1980

Lazy - Uchusen Chikyugo (Earth Ark)

Lazy - Uchusen Chikyugo (Earth Ark)

Lazy - Uchusen Chikyugo (Earth Ark)

Lazy, as mentioned in 1979 were quickly morphing into a completely different band from what they had been known as previously. With this album Akira Takasaki and Munetaka Higuchi would set in motion the rest of their careers, jumping head first into heavy metal and hard rock. All but abandoning their pop rock roots, Uchusen Chikyugo, known in English as Earth Ark was another leap forward for the fledgling Japanese metal scene and was musically a direct predecessor to the duo's eventually famous Loudness. Consisting of roughly half metal songs, half rock, Uchusen Chikyugo had the same speed and raw energy offered in a similar manner by Bow Wow's early albums and, in my opinion, was the perfect prequel to Loudness' debut the following year. An excellent album across the board, some of the album's metal highlights in my estimation would be Earth Ark, Dreamy Express Trip and Dreamer.

Novela - La Songerie

Note: Not a metal album overall, but this is included based on certain songs, particularly "Illusion" and "Night With No Name" being early examples of Japanese heavy metal.

Japan's progressive rock scene has always boasted several bands who had highly metallic traits and influences, groups like Starless, Scheherazade, Eastern Orbit and so on. Novela were another, and maybe the most important of these bands. I don't think anyone who knows them would deny that they were prog rock first and foremost, however the band's discography was dotted with plenty of metal tracks through the years, particularly on early albums. La Songerie featured a handful of examples, still in the extremely early days of Japanese metal, those being the progressive-heavy metal hybrid tunes Illusion and Night With No Name, as well as to a slightly lesser extent the reworked Scheherazade song The Boyhood ~The Cliff from about the halfway mark onward; the track as a whole reminds me of 70s Judas Priest, albeit more progressive. Novela's lineup would fracture after the band's second album In the Night, with Yoshiro Takahashi, Eijiro Akita and Mototsugu Yamane splitting off to create Japanese metal pioneers Action!.

George Murasaki & Mariner - Mariner Two

Note: Not a metal album overall, but this is included based on "I'm Alone" being an early example of Japanese heavy metal.

For the band's first album, I'd singled out the song Demon King as being the most metal song Mariner ever made, and while they wouldn't hit that peak level of metalness again, the group's second album Mariner Two still had its own early Japanese metal example in the song I'm Alone. George Murasaki and co. would part ways a few years after this, continuing to dabble in metal occasionally before George and JJ would reunite under the Murasaki name in 2007, picking up where they'd left off and continuing an excellent career.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • Novela - In the Night
  • Silver Stars - See

1981

Heavy Metal Army - Heavy Metal Army 1

Heavy Metal Army - Heavy Metal Army 1

Heavy Metal Army - Heavy Metal Army 1

1981 saw the formation of Japan's first heavy metal/hard rock supergroup, comprised primarily of members from the biggest bands on the island of Okinawa. The group featured members of Murasaki, Mariner, Condition Green, and from the mainland members from Carmen Maki's solo project as well as Blues Creation. Additionally, the quintet also boasted none other than Bow Wow's Kyoji Yamamoto as a "secret" guest. Everything went right for this project, they were picked up by a major Japanese label immediately for the release of what would be this self-titled album and their only album under this name. While the album had quite a few AOR leanings, it was mostly metal, following in the footsteps which bands like Nokemono or Bow Wow had left only a few years prior. Songs like Yes or No, That's Hammurabian Police or Heavy Metal Army are only a few examples of what you can expect from this album.

Loudness - The Birthday Eve

One of the most important albums in the history of Japanese metal. This is the album that put heavy metal firmly on the radar of Japanese music fans and catapulted Loudness to stardom, becoming the face of Japanese metal for the majority of this decade. Coming up at the same time as the peak of the NWOBHM movement with British bands subsequently touring Japan, it was no surprise that a homegrown band of Loudness' quality would become a huge success. Labels didn't believe in Loudness at first though and they struggled to get a record deal, however upon release The Birthday Eve immediately caught on and quickly went Gold-certified in sales in Japan, and from there Loudness never looked back. Songs like To Be Demon or I'm On Fire are just a couple of this classic's highlights.

Silver Stars - Rape Noise

A band who appeared in the late 70s was Silver Stars, whose members worked as roadies for Bow Wow. While their first album was kind of a bizarre spacey rock, Silver Stars would take things in a more refined as well as metallic direction for their sophomore effort See, and the group would hit their metal peak with their third and final album before a long disbandment, the strangely titled Rape Noise (I'm about 99% sure it's a poorly translated attempt at calling it something to the affect of "Sound Assault"). The album was the farthest thing from ear-rape though, boasting an extremely well-executed metal and rock sound heavily inspired by the likes of Bow Wow and Thin Lizzy. Melodic and polished with excellent guitar work, yet contrasted with gruff, often shouted punkish vocals, these guys had a great sound in my opinion. Some of my favorites from this all-around enjoyable album include Hard Cover, Stardust and Buchi Korose.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • Bad Scene - Sahara
  • X-Ray (Tokyo) - Demo

1982

Bow Wow - Warning from Stardust

Bow Wow - Warning from Stardust

Bow Wow - Warning from Stardust

Considered by a large portion of Bow Wow fans to be the crown jewel of their discography, this was Bow Wow's strongest album since the mid 1970s and one of, if not the, most metal albums they would release. On the back of their 70s reputation they were flown to England to perform at Reading Rock Festival '82 sharing the stage with acts such as Iron Maiden, Budgie, Trust, Tygers of Pan Tang and numerous others during the height of the NWOBHM movement; which needless to say only strengthened Warning from Stardust's release. Warning from Stardust was a resounding success for the band, selling extremely well and opening the door for more overseas opportunities. Bow Wow adapted their sound to that of the early 80s while still remaining very much "Bow Wow", with sleek new tracks including You're Mine, Break Out the Trick, or the title-track Warning from Stardust. In 2007, Rolling Stone Japan named the album one of the greatest Japanese rock albums of all-time at 23rd. Following Warning from Stardust, Bow Wow would go on hold while Kyoji and crew ventured overseas with a new hard rock and heavy metal project called Vow Wow, which would in itself become a moderate success internationally.

Eastern Orbit - Future Force

Despite a successful debut in 1981, Heavy Metal Army ended up parting ways with bassist Masahiko Takeuchi and guitarist Shinki Sugama by 1982. In the midst of restructuring, the band added guitarist Isamu Tada in place of Sugama as well as Dave Ito in Takeuchi's stead. Along with these personnel changes they revised their name to Eastern Orbit, adopting a more experimental and progressive rock and metal sound which would be unveiled on their second album Future Force. While you can easily tell it's the same band who made Heavy Metal Force 1 a year prior, there's so many different ideas present, most of which I think were successful. For one there's a ridiculous sci-fi and dystopian future theme running across the album, and while it's pretty nerdy, it's equally awesome and very metal for the era. Another noticeable difference separating this record from their prior one is Isamu Tada's more muscular guitar tone, as well as more subtly mixed keyboards from Yuki Nakajima. This record features less metal overall than Heavy Metal Force 1 did, however Future Force's metallic peaks are typically bolder and more explosive. Some of the best examples from this album are Project Noah, Air Shock and Madame X. While Eastern Orbit would break up in 1983, they'd leave behind one more single as well as an excellent live album which featured plenty of strong material that, for one reason or another, never received studio recordings.

5X - Human Target

Carmen Maki was already a mainstay in Japanese rock thanks to her band Oz, her solo career and a well-received collaboration between her and Blues Creation. While she was no stranger to rock music, 5X was her first venture into heavy metal when she teamed up with guitarist George Azuma. The group's debut record Human Target, boasting fun tracks like Down to Pieces or the punky, Motörhead-esque Midnight Train, was another one of the earliest Japanese metal releases on a major label, with the group quickly being signed by EMI after formation. This album spurned a brief, albeit fruitful couple years for 5X in which they created another album, plus a live-album which was recorded during Human Target's successful tour. The band parted ways not long after however, with Carmen Maki remaining a popular singer and George Azuma becoming a prominent producer for Japanese metal bands.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • Akira Takasaki - Tusk of Jaguar
  • Bow Wow - Asian Volcano
  • Loudness - Devil Soldier
  • Misako Honjoh - Messiah's Blessing
  • Sniper - Demo 82

1983

Sabbrabells - Sabbrabells

Sabbrabells - Sabbrabells

Sabbrabells - Sabbrabells

1983 saw Japan's first two successful heavy metal bands to utilize "shocking" occult imagery and themes in their look and sound, those being Crowley and Sabbrabbells respectively. The first of these two acts to release an album however was the latter. It was also around this time that you saw Japan's first prominent heavy metal-dedicated label appear in Explosion Records, and one of the first bands signed to the label was Sabbrabells who quickly put together their first full-length; the self-titled Sabbrabells. The album, boasting classic Sabbrabells tracks like Black Hill, Devil's Rondo or Wolf Man separated Sabbrabells from most other early Japanese metal groups in both quality and memorability.

Loudness - The Law of Devil's Land

The Law of Devil's Land marked the beginning of Loudness' height not only commercially, but in my opinion creatively too. The obvious classic Loudness track on the album was In the Mirror, but there was plenty of other great metal here as well like Black Wall or Show Me the Way. Loudness was firing on all cylinders by this point, and yet again, the album went Gold-certified in sales in Japan. Loudness were practically gods in the Japanese rock scene by this point even though they had only been around for two years, which just goes to show the scope of the impact they'd already made. In the wake of Loudness' immediate and large-scale success, coming up around them were about a million inspired young bands in Japan who wanted to be the next Loudness, playing heavy metal for themselves. This album also gave them the opportunity to tour in the United States for the first time in their career.

Earthshaker - Earthshaker

Another significant band that got rolling this year was Earthshaker. They had already been around for a few years, but riding the wave of NWOBHM bands that were touring Japan successfully at this time, now was the perfect time for Earthshaker to release their own debut which as you might expect boasted a healthy NWOBHM influence to its sound. In 1983 the group pulled out all the stops in putting forth a self-titled album, working closely with the prominent producer Masa Itoh to get their album just right. They even had a song written for them by Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden, that being Dark Angels (Animals). A couple other killer tracks from this record were Time is Going and Wall. Earthshaker would slowly gravitate towards pop more and more as the decade progressed, but they followed up with two more strong albums and would be one of Japan's most successful metal bands of the 80s.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • 44 Magnum - Danger
  • 5X - Carmen Maki's 5X
  • Eastern Orbit - Journey to Utopia ~ Eastern Orbit Live!
  • Mari Hamada - Lunatic Doll 〜 Ansatsu Keikoku
  • Mari Hamada - Romantic Night 〜 Hono no Chikai
  • Messiah - Metal Ground Zero
  • Misako Honjoh - 13th
  • Misako Honjoh - The Cruiser
  • Munetaka Higuchi - Destruction
  • X-Ray - Hard Section

1984

Loudness - Disillusion

Loudness - Disillusion

Loudness - Disillusion

1984 saw Loudness continue the momentum they'd built with The Law of Devil's Land, as this album also went Gold-certified in sales in Japan, and for good reason. This was perhaps Loudness' hardest hitting record yet and an instant classic loaded with all-time Japanese metal staples like Dream Fantasy, Esper and of course Crazy Doctor. At this point Loudness were garnering international talk among metal fans and with that the opportunity to tour globally arose, along with significant record deals. This album saw both Japanese and English versions as well, as there was enough Western interest to warrant it. With the release of this album, Loudness embarked on a massive world tour which included their first of many European shows, along with a return to North America.

Sniper - Open the Attack

Sniper's Open the Attack was another significant album in 1984. Coming up through the massive Yamaha band battle circuit; the same circuit which spawned Nokemono in the late 70s albeit a different regional event; Sniper put forth an excellent debut here and while only teenagers, their sheer instrumental prowess garnered them some mild international attention as well, and as a result this record would see a European print too. Easily one of the fastest Japanese heavy metal bands of this era, it's not a stretch to call Sniper one of the first bands to play speed metal in Japan, with songs like Never Change or Open the Attack demonstrating this best. They could also blow you away with world class guitar heroics courtesy of guitarist Burny, in particular the song Fire boasts some of his finest riff work, as well as a nice guest feature in Marino's Raven Ohtani. Sniper were particularly notable in that they were one of the first metal bands in the Nagoya metropolis to really garner any attention (alongside Crowley), as to this point the Japanese metal scene was rooted almost exclusively in the Tokyo and Osaka areas.

Blizard - Blizard of Wizard (Ankoku no Seisho)

Another one of Japan's earliest major successes in metal, Blizard's career took off almost immediately after forming. Honing their skills live and writing material over their first two years, 1984 saw the band's career skyrocket, beginning with a performance at the legendary 5th Grand Metal festival where they shared the stage with 44 Magnum, X-Ray, Marino, Make-Up, Misako Honjoh, Rajas and Arouge. While Honjoh was already pretty well-established, virtually every other band hit their peaks immediately following the event, and Blizard were no exception. Dropping their debut Blizard of Wizard right after the event through Warner-Pioneer records, the record sold well and was met with praise from critics. Another record with heavy influence from the NWOBHM movement (and to be fair, who wasn't taking cues from that scene's stars at the time), the guitar work in particular, courtesy of Toshiya Matsukawa, was applauded. A handful of highlights from this one include Stealer, Orion and Lady Stardust. Blizard would follow up with another strong album in Kamikaze Killers this very same year, and their run of success would endure for the remainder of the decade before the band parted ways.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • 44 Magnum - Street Rock'n Roller
  • Action! - Hot Rox
  • Action! - Action! Kit
  • Arouge - ~Bogyaku no Kikoshi~
  • Blizard - Kamikaze Killers ~ My Tears Evaporate
  • Earthshaker - Fugitive
  • Earthshaker - Midnight Flight
  • Marino - Target
  • Vow Wow - Beat of Metal Motion
  • X-Ray - Tradition Breaker


1985

Loudness - Thunder in the East

Loudness - Thunder in the East

Loudness - Thunder in the East

With Loudness' fifth album Thunder in the East, history was made. This was the first Japanese album, rock or metal to ever chart on the Billboard 200 in America, hitting an incredibly respectable #74 where it remained for several weeks, going on to sell a few hundred thousand copies. Following this album a handful of Loudness' countrymen would also make attempts at overseas markets to varying success. With the success of this album in particular, Loudness shared the stage with Mötley Crüe on a massive North American tour and established a reasonable foothold in the American market that would last for a few years after this. Songs such as Like Hell or Clockwork Toy showed the band's evolution into a more commercial sound, all without losing their metal bite. This album also generated the catchy hit Crazy Nights. M-Z-A! M-Z-A!

Anthem - Anthem

Anthem had already been around since 1981, however they took more time to establish themselves and prepare for their debut than bands like Loudness or Earthshaker had. Among this preparation was the making of a demo, as well as an appearance on the first Heavy Metal Force compilation, showcasing the young band among some of Japanese metal's up-and-coming stars, helping Anthem to secure a major record deal in the process. Anthem would also switch out original singer Toshihito Maeda for a more fitting voice in the smooth and versatile Eizo Sakamoto, and from there they were set. While most of the Japanese heavy metal to this point came from the Kansai (Osaka/Kyoto area) region, this self-titled album made Anthem one of the first big successes in heavy metal to come out of the Kanto (Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, etc.) region. While they were still a young and relatively inexperienced band, this record spawned all-time Anthem classics such as Warning Action, Steeler, Wild Anthem and more.

Seikima-II - Akuma ga Kitarite Heavy Metal

Also making their debut in 1985 was Seikima-II. One of Japanese metal's great entertainers, when Seikima-II formed, they gave themselves a backstory as a band of akuma sent from hell with the mission of propagating Satan and conquering the world through heavy metal by the end of the century, by which point they'll have finished their quest and disband. Along with this backstory, the band were both humorous and extremely theatric, adding to the incredible music they put out consistently. Akuma ga Kitarite Heavy Metal set the stage for the legendary career Seikima-II would go on to enjoy for the following fifteen years. With this first album, you got an idea exactly what the band were about. Fun, finely crafted heavy metal performed by nutty, but seriously talented musicians with a flair for the dramatics, I can leave you with nothing more appropriate than the six-part Akuma Symphony Suite Opus #666 in D Minor (playlist).

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • Flatbacker - Senso (Accident)
  • Hellen - Talon of King
  • Rajas - Turn it Up
  • Shella - Listen
  • Show-Ya - Masquerade Show
  • Stingray - Rain
  • The Datura - One Night Dream
  • Toshiya Matsukawa - Burning
  • Vow Wow - Cyclone
  • X-Ray - Strike Back

1986

Anthem - Tightrope

Anthem - Tightrope

Anthem - Tightrope

Tightrope was another big stepping stone for Anthem. After the success of their debut, momentum continued to build for the young band and they were becoming better-known by the day, and as a result they returned quickly with a follow-up in Tightrope. A more experienced band, the record, displaying a clearer musical direction and tighter musicianship was another success for Anthem, spawning classic tracks such as Night After Night and Victim in Your Eyes. It was around this time that King records realized what they had in Anthem and began promoting them more. With an expanded touring schedule and features in practically every rock magazine in Japan, more opportunities started to open up for Anthem. Their expanding popularity allowed them to begin working with American record producers, aiming for a better sound, and it also opened the door for them to do a bit of soundtrack work, which included them releasing the single Xanadu, which would be the first metal song used in promotion of a video game.

Loudness - Lightning Strikes / Shadows of War

With Lightning Strikes, Loudness maintained their overseas success, and this album would peak even higher on the Billboard charts (#64) than Thunder in the East had just a year prior. Continuing to evolve with the ever-changing metal world, Loudness would add more glam metal elements to their sound, however behind this glammed up façade, they were still the same old Loudness at their core, as demonstrated on Black Star Oblivion, Face to Face or Ashes in the Sky. Seeing both an English and Japanese version, Lightning Strikes performed well in both markets. After this record, Loudness put out one more moderately successful album in Hurricane Eyes before cracks started to form and the band went into a period of decline and regrouping.

Crowley - Whisper of the Evil

One of the first Japanese metal bands to use occult imagery and shocking visuals, Crowley flirted with success, with it slipping from their grasp as the band's lineup fractured at the worst possible time. With their debut, Whisper of the Evil, Crowley were another one of the few bands in this article to garner international attention, earning magazine features and even overseas tour offers. This record was relatively bare-bones, straightforward, but quality heavy metal, centered around a particularly strong vocalist in Takashi Iwai, and of course it was much more ominous than what you'd find in most of Crowley's countrymen at the time. A couple tracks in particular which I enjoy from this one are Stalker and Floating Man. In the years following this release, Crowley's whisper would still echo as the band maintained a reasonably strong cult following, ultimately leading to the band's full revival in 2014.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • Breeze Least - Breeze Least
  • Dead End - Dead Line
  • Flatbacker - Esa
  • Jewel - Jewel I
  • Reaction - Agitator
  • Sabbrabells - Sailing on the Revenge
  • Seikima-II - The End of the Century
  • Show-Ya - Queendom
  • The Comes - Power Never Die
  • Zodiac - Hot Line

1987

Terra Rosa - The Endless Basis

Terra Rosa - The Endless Basis

Terra Rosa - The Endless Basis

One of the first female-fronted bands in Japanese metal, Terra Rosa took a few years to really get going, following their formation in 1982. With a handful of demo tapes and plenty of gigs played, they would eventually be picked up by the pioneering Japanese metal label Mandrake Root, and they would make their debut soon after. Terra Rosa's debut, The Endless Basis, is a magnificent heavy metal record wearing its 70s metal influences proudly and is anchored by the rock-steady, charismatic vocal performance of Kazue Akao. Psychedelic and progressive overtones abound, there really wasn't another heavy metal band quite like Terra Rosa in Japan in the late 80s. Just a few of my favorite songs on this one are Petrouchka, Vision of the Lake Bottom and The Endless Basis. The album performed so well for the band that it received an additional pressing in 1987, and then that success eventually led to Terra Rosa signing with a major Japanese record label in King, with whom they would release two more excellent albums in Honesty (1989) and Sase (1991).

Anthem - Bound to Break

Things were continuing to progress well for Anthem in 1987, and with their popularity ever rising, the band put an incredible amount of effort into taking another step with their third record, Bound to Break – widely considered to be their most consistent album to this point. Playing their signature high-octane, carefully crafted heavy metal with power metal-ish overtones, now with a squeaky clean production job by the legendary Chris Tsangarides, several of Anthem's best known songs appeared on this record including Show Must Go On, the title-track and Empty Eyes. Newly minted metal stars in their homeland, things were also going as well as they could internationally for Anthem at this point, as on their Bound to Break tour they were also able to include a trip to America on their schedule, not only playing on U.S. soil for the first time, but headlining a gig, supported by, I kid you not, Paul Gilbert and Racer X, as well as Commander. Anthem would keep their momentum rolling over the next couple years with two strong albums in Gypsy Ways and Hunting Time, despite a major shift in the band's core lineup shortly after Bound to Break's tour, as Eizo Sakamoto departed due to anxiety issues and was replaced admirably well by Yukio Morikawa.

G.I.S.M. - M.A.N.

Influential hardcore punk outfit G.I.S.M. always boasted a bunch of metal elements in their sound thanks to guitarist Randy Uchida, however none of their albums were quite as metal as their sophomore record M.A.N. This record is like if a guitarist from the NWOBHM movement wandered into a hardcore punk gig, shredding away in melodic bliss when the rest of the band simply wanted to have fun and smash things. It's beauty and chaos meshed together perfectly in a totally unique metal-punk hybrid, listen to Good as It Is or Nation's Prosperity to see what I mean. Already highly regarded in both the punk and metal scenes, and having already influenced countless metal-punk hybrid bands in Japan and abroad, this album added another distinct chapter to G.I.S.M.'s considerable legacy. A couple of other important metal-punk hybrids from this era include Gastunk and The Comes.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • Dead End - Ghost of Romance
  • Doom - No More Pain
  • EZO - E.Z.O
  • Loudness - Hurricane Eyes
  • Presence - Presence
  • Reaction - True Imitation
  • Sabbrabells - One Night Magic
  • Seikima-II - Big Time Changes
  • Tilt - The Beast in Your Bed
  • Wolf - Wolf

1988

Doom - Complicated Mind

Doom - Complicated Mind

Doom - Complicated Mind

One of Japan's most beloved thrash metal names, prog-thrash weirdos Doom came up through the independent circuit early on, carving their path alongside other 80s staples like Jurassic Jade, Rose Rose, Shellshock and a handful of other notable names in the Tokyo metropolis. With a string of quality releases to start their career in 1986 and 1987, the band was able to swiftly land a major deal with Victor for the release of their Killing Field EP, and with a quick turnaround Doom put out their major debut by the end of the year. That album was Complicated Mind; a record I think most Doom fans would say was the finest hour of a truly great band. There's only so many words you can use to describe Doom's brand of thrash metal; inventive, complex, bizarre and eclectic would only scratch the surface and you get these traits in spades on Complicated Mind. Doom meshes vast stylistic diversity and eccentricity with catchy-as-hell grooves and rhythms in a way few bands metal-wide ever have. One of the things people always love most about Doom is the brilliant fretless bass work of the late great Koh Morota, who's at his very best here, adding so much to Doom's collective sound with his crafty licks, riffs and grooves. A few favorites from this intricately crafted gem of a record include Can't Break My... Without You or Bright Light. I'm pretty fond of Poor Boy Condition as well. Though Doom were never quite as famous as they deserved to be, they carved out a solid, fruitful career as a whole, which has included a successful reunion following a lengthy disbandment; they're rightly recognized as one of the most innovative metal acts to ever come out of Japan.

X (X Japan) - Vanishing Vision

Note: I would have made this monumental record the main feature of this year, however I don't think HubPages would enjoy the cover art, so I've given X a couple of later main features.

In 1988 X Japan, then known simply as X, released their debut record after several years of preparation as an independent band, which included the release of their Orgasm EP in 1986. X were a new breed in Japanese metal, captivating the frustrations and angers of their young audience and reflecting it in a relentless assault of speed and power metal. The band was so edgy for their time in a reserved Japanese society that they couldn't land a record deal, and with that the band opted to release Vanishing Vision themselves through their own label, the pioneering visual kei label Extasy Records. The album was a resounding success and reached #19 on the Oricon charts, which was unprecedented for an independent band such as them. With that the band was able to finally land the big record deal they'd pursued for the past few years and it was becoming apparent that a star was about to be born. In this era, I'd wager there wasn't a single metal band in Japan who could play quite as fast as X did in their prime. This record included several X classics such as I'll Kill You, Vanishing Love and one of the earlier versions of Kurenai.

Dead End - Shambara

Rising from the ashes of the band Liar, Dead End swiftly established themselves as a unique entity in the Japanese rock world, with a distinct blend of heavy metal and a large helping of Gothic rock elements. Melodic, yet raw and eerie, the band's third record Shambara carried on a natural path of progression set in motion with the band's first two albums, and songs like Serpent Silver or Embryo Burning offer just a glimpse into this album's distinct sound. Over the course of their career, especially in the latter portion of this original run of activity, Dead End would establish themselves as an extremely important band to Japanese music, with vocalist Morrie and bassist Joe in particular helping to pioneer both the visual kei movement as well as the Gothic rock sound that would eventually dominate in the 90s. Guitarist You Adachi on the other hand, while not a part of the fledgling visual kei movement was already regarded as one of the most gifted guitarists in the country.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • Anthem - Gypsy Ways
  • Dancer - Violent Emotion
  • Eliza - Something Like Hot
  • Excuriver - In Hard Time
  • Genocide Nippon - Black Sanctuary
  • Girl Tique - Shijuu Kinkaku
  • Hurry Scuary - Break it Up
  • Kuni - Lookin' for Action
  • Outrage - Black Clouds
  • Vanishing Point - Twilight Zone

1989

Show-Ya - Outerlimits

Show-Ya - Outerlimits

Show-Ya - Outerlimits

Show-Ya's Outerlimits is one of the most significant albums in Japanese metal history. By this point Show-Ya had already been around for several years. Going back to their early days, Show-Ya were primed for a strong career after taking Yamaha's band battle festivals by storm back in the early 80s, winning numerous events on their way to a record deal with EMI. After some restructuring, the band put forth six full-length albums between 1985 and 1988, featuring a tight heavy metal and hard rock hybrid, topped with the powerful voice of Keiko Terada. Come 1989 when several bands around them were usually further softening their sound, Show-Ya decided to kick things up a notch and gave us Outerlimits, which would become the most successful album of their career. Outerlimits was a smash hit, reaching #3 on Oricon and quickly going platinum in sales, eventually selling upwards of 600,000 copies. I'm not overstating this when I say the following either, the album revolutionized the role of women playing heavy metal in Japan, opening the door for the countless young women rocking the country today. Among this album's classic tracks you have songs like Genkai Lovers, Yasei no Bara and Battle Express. Show-Ya would find similar success only a year after this in the album Hard Way before lineup problems sent the band into a rapid decline and eventual dissolution.

X (X Japan) - Blue Blood

Barely one full year following the massive, if somewhat unexpected success of their debut, Vanishing Vision, Blue Blood continued the astronomical rise of X, and as the band's major debut on CBS/Sony, the record was a smash hit. Reaching #6 on the Oricon charts, X, along with Show-Ya were on top of the Japanese metal world, but in X's favor, they also had a massive movement forming around them in a legion of groups with a "visual shock" image inspired by their own, soon to be better-known as visual kei bands. Playing a myriad of musical styles, this movement would quickly become a dominating force in Japanese rock. As for Blue Blood, this one's a total Japanese metal classic and fans are typically torn as to whether this album, Vanishing Vision or Art of Life is the band's greatest work; I personally lean towards Blue Blood. For the most part a lightning fast power and speed metal record, this is a fierce, inspired and consistent album, chock full of X classics from Orgasm to the better-known version of the earlier mentioned Kurenai, as well as X, the title-track and the symphonic power metal masterpiece Rose of Pain. In the years immediately following Blue Blood, X's influence would continue to snowball, with the band growing to become the best-selling Japanese metal act of all-time.

EZO (Flatbacker) - Fire Fire

Arguably the greatest metal band (along with Saber Tiger) to ever come out of Hokkaido, originally known as Flatbacker, the band mowed through the competition at Yamaha's Stage Flight and Light Music Contest band battle tournaments in 1984 on the way to a record deal with Victor, releasing two successful albums in 1985 and 1986 before the band's ambitions took them overseas under a new moniker, EZO. Changing style from an intense heavy/speed metal, as EZO the band opted for a more commercial "glam" sound, albeit still playing metal mixed with hard rock. EZO's overseas debut, the self-titled EZO was a decent success, generating a couple minor hits and achieving #150 on Billboard, also giving EZO the distinction of being only the second Japanese metal act to ever chart in America, following Loudness. This also opened the door for a U.S. tour with Guns 'N' Roses. Attempting to build on the success of the first EZO album, in 1989 the band put forth Fire Fire, which would be their final record. My personal favorite release in their catalog, Fire Fire was a relative dud in terms of sales, unfortunately for the band, although the musical product was arguably better than the more famous record that preceded it. A lot of Japanese metal fans are fairly staunch in their preference of eras of this band; they're either an EZO fan or a Flatbacker fan with little in-between. I think this is a shame though as these guys were masters of their craft in both eras, whether it was their gnarly brand of speed metal or the sleazier heavy metal and rock, and they were generally far heavier than their peers around them in both scenes. In my opinion Fire Fire blew the doors off of most of the other glammy metal albums of the late 80s, with content like the speedy Black Moon, the pounding Night Crawler, or the groovy, post-apocalyptic title-track. While the band met their end shortly after Fire Fire, both Hiro Homma and Masaki Yamada would join Loudness in the 90s, with Homma joining Anthem by 2000 as well.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • Anthem - Hunting Time
  • BellzlleB - BellzlleB
  • Doom - Incompetent
  • Fast Draw - Let off the Alarm
  • Gargoyle - Misogi
  • Hideaki Nakama - Point of No Return
  • Jurassic Jade - Gore
  • Loudness - Soldier of Fortune
  • Outrage - Blind to Reality
  • Terra Rosa - Honesty
50-years-of-japanese-metal

1990

Precious - To Glory We Steer

Precious - To Glory We Steer

Precious - To Glory We Steer

With the popularity of metal starting to hit its global 90s decline, we have a few years upcoming where we can talk about some less commercially dominant releases and dig into the Japanese metal underground which would remain strong through this upcoming era with numerous influential groups appearing in the coming years. One of these significant releases was Precious' To Glory We Steer. Forming in 1986, Precious were groomed to become Mandrake Root records' top band in the late 80s, with guitarist Akira Kajiyama becoming the star of the label's impressive roster of musicians. With quality singles already released and a busy touring schedule, a full-length was a natural progression for Precious, and in 1990 we were given To Glory We Steer, one of Japan's most recognizable power metal records of the 90s. A smooth neoclassical power metal, flashy enough but not over the top as some bands in the style could be, this record was ahead of its time in the Japanese scene and in particular defined the power metal sound that Mandrake Root records would focus on for the majority of this decade. Precious, and especially this album, would launch major careers for multiple members of the band, particularly keyboardist Yusuke Takahama as well as Akira Kajiyama who would become one of the best-known guitarists in Japanese metal. To Glory We Steer, with songs like Burning Vengeance, Blasting Your Head or Back to the Memory remains a popular album in the J-power metal fandom to this day.

Anthem - No Smoke Without Fire

One of the most beloved albums of Anthem's career, No Smoke Without Fire was Anthem's proverbial last kick at the can in terms of international success during their original run. Now a well-oiled machine with newest vocalist Yukio Morikawa settled into the band nicely, Anthem travelled all the way to the UK to record this new album, pulling all the stops and putting everything they had into this one. While their international ambitions sadly wouldn't be realized here for a myriad of reasons beyond their control, the album's musical product was stunning. Boasting some of the best material of their career, killer songs such as Voice of Thunderstorm, Blinded Pain or Hungry Soul made this an eternal classic among Japanese metal fans. After this album however, cracks began to show for Anthem, as the band's iconic guitarist Hiroya Fukuda quit, right as the band was about to embark on a massive tour in support of the record. In a frantic search for a worthy replacement, Fukuda's spot on the tour would be filled by the brilliant Hideaki Nakama, formerly of Hurry Scuary, who was fresh off of the release of a successful solo album. This was a temporary solution however and in 1991 he had also left the band. Finally, with the addition of a then-unknown quantity in Akio Shimizu, Anthem would release one more album in 1992 with the hilariously titled, but still strong Domestic Booty before looking at the fading Japanese metal landscape and opting to disband for the better part of the next decade.

Wolf - Some Aspects of the Moment

In my opinion one of Japan's best heavy metal acts of the 80s, Wolf were pretty unlucky in that they were late to the party, as far as traditional heavy metal goes. As a result of this, they largely missed out on the successes that several of their countrymen got to taste just a few years earlier, despite the skill to match most of those bands pound for pound. Never fortunate enough to see a major record deal, Wolf released their self-titled debut EP in 1987, and then in 1990 they released their first and only full-length, Some Aspects of the Moment, right as heavy metal was starting to decline. An energetic, well-crafted album boasting stellar performances from vocalist Tatsunori Matsumoto and shredder extraordinaire Masahiko Kuroki, some of this album's highlights include Star Light, Beyond the Horizon and Never Surrender. While Wolf never saw stardom, their records have received constant praise from Japanese metal fans and they remain sought after classics in the scene.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • Aion - Human Griefman
  • Blizard - Danger Life
  • Fast Draw - Rough & Ready
  • Gargoyle - Furebumi
  • Kinniku Shoujo Tai - Gekko Chu
  • Ningen Isu - Ningen Shikkaku
  • Sacrifice - Total Steel
  • Show-Ya - Hard Way
  • S.O.B. - What's the Truth?
  • United - Bloody but Unbowed


1991

X Japan - Jealousy

X Japan - Jealousy

X (X Japan) - Jealousy

The best-selling record in the history of Japanese metal, topping the Oricon charts and selling well over a million copies, Jealousy was X Japan's commercial height. While still mostly heavy and power metal, the band began to experiment more with this record, featuring glammier tracks like Joker or Desperate Angel, multiple instrumental segways, my favorite of which was the somewhat spacy and whimsical Love Replica, or arguably the band's prettiest ballad in the acoustic Voiceless Screaming. As for metal, this record boasted one of the most famous songs in Japanese metal history, that being Silent Jealousy. This record also saw one of the band's earliest songs in the speedy Stab Me in the Back appear on an album for the first time. The last record to feature their classic bassist Taiji Sawada, X, from here on out known as X Japan, would only become more experimental, leading to one of the highlights of their career in 1993 with the epic Art of Life.

Sabbat - Envenom

Forming in 1983, Sabbat, counted among the first wave of black metal, was another band who traversed Yamaha's band battles, albeit aiming for infamy as oppose to commercial success. For some context to the video linked above, Sabbat, already masterfully building their brand, showed up half-naked to Yamaha's MidLand '86 band battle as a competitor; this was an event featuring mostly soft rock, pop, and jazz groups. Though they clearly had no intentions of winning, they got to play a massive stage while attaining all the infamy/recognition they could have possibly wanted. In doing so they proceeded, in glorious fashion, to confuse and horrify the reserved festival-goers with their assault of black/thrash metal, hurling insults at the numerous record companies in attendance while they were at it. I guarantee nobody in the crowd that day forgot the antics of Sabbat, hence their unusual but brilliant publicity stunt was a resounding success. Though it took several more years before they would finally release their first full-length album Envenom, Sabbat were already highly experienced by this point with four EPs as well as various splits, singles and demos to their name and were already the face of extreme metal in Japan. With a polished up yet still fittingly raw and gritty production, the vicious Envenom was a monumental release for these guys and it was Japan's first significant mark on the extreme metal radar globally, setting in motion a massive career of widespread acclaim for Sabbat. Some of my favorite tracks from this one include Evil Nations, Deathtemptation or Carcassvoice. In the following years Sabbat would become one of the most well-traveled bands to ever come out of Japan across any genre, playing countless gigs and festivals across the globe nonstop over the next three-plus decades.

Aion - Aionism

One of Japanese metal's few big successes of the 90s, as well as a major pioneer of the visual kei movement, Aion were seasoned veterans by the time they put out Aionism, their major debut, in 1991. Hitting their stride, Aion, with their blend of thrash, power metal and various other styles took the Japanese rock world by storm in 1990 and early 1991, topping the Oricon indies chart three times with the album Human Griefman, their Ma-G-Ma EP, as well as guitarist Izumi's solo record; it was no surprise seeing the band ink a major deal with CBS/Sony subdivision Ariola. Aionism, the band's third full-length, took the band to new heights and the album hit number 37 on the main Oricon charts. One of the best visual kei records to be found in this era, Aionism is a stylistically varied and inspired effort, as exciting and energetic as anything you'd find in the 90s Japanese metal scene. You really can't go wrong with songs like S.S.S., Be Afraid or Chimeishou to name just a few great moments from this album. Aion's height would continue a few years beyond Aionism, with a further three successful albums before the band's popularity unfortunately began to dwindle towards the end of the decade.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • Babylon - Farewell
  • Bad Loser - Utter Indifference
  • Bellzlleb - Mr. Ree ~ Kugutsu to SAD ~
  • City Indian - Howling on Fire
  • Doom - Human Noise
  • Ebony Eyes - Hard Rock Renaissance
  • Jurassic Jade - Dareka ga Koroshita Hibi (Never Forget Those Days)
  • Rosenfeld - Pigs of the Empire
  • Shellshock - Protest and Resistance
  • Terra Rosa - Sase


1992

Loudness - Loudness

Loudness - Loudness

Loudness - Loudness

After Loudness' international fame of the mid 80s evaporated, which was exacerbated by the departure of singer Minoru Niihara and subsequent replacement by Mike Vescera, the band went into a bit of a tailspin, and the results were the divisive and oft-maligned Soldier of Fortune and to an even greater extent, On the Prowl. While the duo of albums had their moments, Loudness were caught in the frustrating position of trying to appeal to their American audience (hence the Vescera hire, though I'm not pinning blame on him) and evolving with the ever changing metal scene and the results were mixed. After this turbulent period where much of the results which the band worked so hard for in the prior decade had all but vanished, Loudness returned home to regroup and restructure. Adding to the mix Masaki Yamada of the recently disbanded EZO as well as Taiji Sawada who had recently departed from X Japan, this disgruntled powerhouse of a lineup unleashed arguably the biggest comeback album Japanese metal would ever see in the self-titled Loudness. In what could only be described as a sheer assault of heavy metal, Loudness undid their last four years of misery and moved the band into the 90s era with ease. This album would reach #2 on the Oricon charts and set Loudness up to survive the tumultuous remainder of the 90s when the vast majority of the metal bands around them broke up. Just a few of this album's highlights are Hell Bites, Firestorm or Pray for the Dead.

Ningen Isu - Ougon no Yoake

Ningen Isu had a brief taste of success early on in their career, with both their debut and follow-up albums (Ningen-Shikkaku and Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita respectively) placing respectably well on the Oricon sales charts at 31 and 57. This brush with success however happened right as the Japanese metal scene came tumbling down in popularity, so from that point forward Ningen Isu, despite their talent, would be relegated to the underground for nearly the next two decades. In an era where the vast majority of metal bands were stuck releasing demos or appearing on split albums, praying for a record deal, Ningen Isu, in relative comfort, would continue releasing albums steadily on the small Meldac label and that run of albums started with their third full-length, Ougon no Yoake, establishing the trio as one of metal's best-kept secrets. A more seasoned Ningen Isu, this album really saw the band refine their trademark proggy heavy/doom metal sound. Just a few highlights from this one include Kyouki Sanmyaku, the title-track or the thrashy Koufuku no Neji.

Marge Litch - The Ring of Truth

One of the first symphonic metal bands in Japan, Marge Litch was another act that enjoyed a good career in the underground metal scene. Marge Litch released numerous demos throughout the 80s before their first full-length finally came out in 1991, titled Fantasien. Self-released and limited to a mere 500 copies, the band achieved what they'd set out to do with the album, as it was received well by those who heard it, and in the process they secured a record deal with the small label "Made in Japan", and thus began work on a follow-up, eventually named The Ring of Truth. Playing a hybrid of progressive rock/metal and grand, majestic symphonic metal, topped with the stunning voice of Junko Sera, while the band wasn't exactly a household name, they were one of the most technically impressive metal bands of their time in Japan. Here's the full album, note that it gets increasingly technical as the album progresses.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • Aion - Aion
  • Anthem - Domestic Booty
  • Damzell - War Songs
  • Ded Chaplin - Final Revolution
  • Ebony Eyes - Final Fight
  • Gargoyle - Aratama
  • Musashi - Musashi
  • Sabbat - Evoke
  • Saber Tiger - Invasion
  • Tokyo Yankees - Overdoing

1993

X Japan - Art of Life

X Japan - Art of Life

X Japan - Art of Life

One of the most ambitious songs in Japanese metal history, this would be X Japan's second album to top the Japanese charts after Jealousy. I never personally thought of it as a full length, rather an EP due to its length, but that's beside the point. Viewed by a portion of their fanbase as the band's magnum opus, Art of Life was a 29 minute epic that had no business being a smash hit, yet against all odds this single song marketed as an album quickly topped the Oricon charts and sold over half a million copies. Themed around the song's subject's descent into madness and eventual rebound to some semblance of normalcy in their life, this wild ride, while brilliant, was also an extremely abstract piece, bouncing around from being a ballad to speed/power metal fury to a divisive nine minutes of Yoshiki practically destroying his piano. Art of Life helped X Japan to maintain their throne, all while the rest of the metal world was crumbling around them in the 90s metal lull.

Sigh - Scorn Defeat

This is a really neat piece of extreme metal history. After a couple demos and an EP, Sigh were taken on by Euronymous' infamous label Deathlike Silence Productions for the release of their debut record, Scorn Defeat in 1993. The album, receiving widespread praise, put the strange band and Japanese black metal as a whole on the world stage, with Sigh joining Sabbat as Japan's biggest export in the style. A much more straightforward black metal album by Sigh, what Scorn Defeat gave them was a firm base to grow from musically and eventually branch into the bizarre experiments and theatrical brilliance that made them icons in the scene. The Knell and At My Funeral are just a couple tracks from this classic Sigh record.

Fast Draw - Rinne-Tensho

One of the staples of Hokkaido's heavy metal scene, Fast Draw along with Flatbacker, Saber Tiger, Eliza, Screw Driver and a few others defined the trademark Sapporo metal sound, which typically was a gritty, fast and mean heavy metal with a thrashy edge. On what would end up being their final album, Kosei Iida and crew hadn't lost a step despite the ever-changing metal world around them. Still as inspired as when they'd begun, Rinne-Tensho was another rock-solid album full of the in-your-face attitude and energy they'd become known for. With songs like Dear Mr. Black, Osamanomimiharobanomimi and O Manju o Kudasai, Fast Draw closed the book on their career with a bang rather than a whimper.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • Aion - Zetto
  • Amphibian - Doppelganger
  • Eldritch - Blood Breed Calls My Name
  • Gargoyle - Tenron
  • Hellchild - Where the Conflict Reaches
  • Ningen Isu - Rashoumon
  • Sabbat - Disembody
  • Stingray - One Night Rose
  • Voidd - Desperate Truth
  • Youthquake - Quake Dope

1994

Gargoyle - Tsuki no Toge

Gargoyle - Tsuki no Toge

Gargoyle - Tsuki no Toge

Forming back in 1989, Gargoyle were one of the exceedingly few bands to rise as metal as a whole was falling, in fact, they would go on to establish arguably the strongest career a Japanese thrash metal band would ever see, only really rivalled in success in the early 90s by Aion. The fifth Gargoyle album, Tsuki no Toge saw the band make a remarkably strong rebound following the departure of longtime guitarist She-Ja. By this point a far more seasoned and experienced Gargoyle, the band didn't skip a beat despite the major lineup change and Tsuki no Toge would end up being perhaps their greatest work and an essential piece of Japan's thrash metal canon. Playing the wild and lively, hot-blooded prog-thrash metal hybrid for which they're so widely loved, with songs like Senzaiteki Genkyoukaku Musabetsu Kakusei Kin Kansenshea, Kanzen na Doku wo Youkyuu Suru or the funky Doko ka de Jimushi ga Nai Teita, Gargoyle demonstrated on this album that they were a virtually unstoppable machine in Japanese thrash by this point, and it really set the tone for their career to follow. An all-time great visual kei pioneer and one of the exceedingly few Japanese metal acts thriving on a major label in the 90s, Gargoyle would continue to make excellent music for the better part of the following twenty-five years, releasing a further thirteen albums by 2016.

Fumihiko Kitsutaka - Euphoria

Under the Blizard highlight in 1984, we talked about the Grand Metal festival, and among the impressive roster of names was Arouge, the only band at the event that didn't really make it, despite musical quality suggesting that the band deserved a much better fate. Fast forward a decade however and so many things have changed for Arouge's old guitarist Fumihiko Kitsutaka. Now a widely recognized name in Japanese metal and rock through his career in Kinniku Shoujo Tai, 1994 seemed like an appropriate time for him to put out a solo album, and this would come to be titled Euphoria. An excellent neoclassical power metal and hard rock hybrid, Kitsutaka put an emphasis on quality songwriting and musical depth first and foremost ahead of flashy guitar heroics, although he's still very impressive in that regard, as you'd expect. This record had shown just how far he'd come as a musician; while always an excellent guitarist, his songwriting ability had grown exponentially by this point in his career. Listen to Sacred Garden, The Room (Named Despair) or Deep in Love for just a few of the metal highlights on the diverse package that is Euphoria.

Saber Tiger - Agitation

Going back to the beginning of their career, for their first eleven years leading up to their 1992 debut, Invasion, Saber Tiger played a more straightforward heavy metal, releasing a plethora of demo tapes and changing out pieces of their lineup constantly, attempting to find the right mix of musicians. Finally settling on a core lineup of members in 1992, particularly with the addition of the lovely Yoko Kubota on vocals and guitarist Yasuharu Tanaka, the band established their trademark sound which would last the remainder of their career, morphing into an abrasive progressive/power metal hybrid. Saber Tiger's second album, Agitation, continued the band's growth from their first album and firmly established the band as the best Hokkaido had to offer. Some favorites from this one include Dividing Line, All My Fear and Motive of the Lie. While they never managed to break out commercially in this era, thanks in part to being so far away from the country's main music hubs in Osaka and Tokyo, the band would be a staple in the underground for many years.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • After Image - Kuroi Kessho
  • Dirty Trashroad - Dirty Trashroad
  • Hisashi Takai - Radiant Heat
  • Loudness - Heavy Metal Hippies
  • Narcotic Greed - Fatal
  • Sabbat - Fetishism
  • Seikima-II - Ponk!!
  • Sly - Sly
  • Tokyo Yankees - Vacate Your Useless Brain
  • Youthquake - Youth... Mine and the Truth

1995

Kuroageha - Teiou Sekkai

Kuroageha - Teiou Sekkai

Kuroageha - Teiou Sekkai

With the massive success of X Japan, from the late 80s throughout the 90s there were countless underground visual kei power metal bands popping up all over the place. A fairly large portion of these bands were average at best, and to be fair it was hard to capture the magic of X in their prime, however on the other side of things, the higher-end X-influenced bands tended to be really good. One of the very best of these bands in my opinion was Kuroageha. Forming in 1993, Kuroageha would release a handful of demos and singles, as well as appear on a couple of omnibus releases before deciding the time was right for a full-length debut. Released through Tears Music, in 1995 Kuroageha's debut came to fruition with Teiou Sekkai. An inspired power/speed metal record with lots of bombastic, high-flying riffs, these guys were in my estimation one of the best metal bands visual kei had to offer in the 90s. In talking about Kuroageha, a friend of mine pointed it out best, they wouldn't blow you away with sheer instrumental skill or vocal prowess, rather their very biggest strength is that they just had so much character and heart poured into the making of their music. A few highlights here include Kiss Over Death, the anti-war Dear Hitler and Guernica.

Stone Edge - Gypsy of the Night

Another solid record from this era was Stone Edge's debut, Gypsy of the Night, self-released in 1995. Another one of the many quality independent bands of this era, Stone Edge came up alongside many of Mandrake Root records' bands, and even featured on one of the label's compilations themselves a year after the release of Gypsy of the Night, though a record deal would ultimately elude them unfortunately. Playing a brand of heavy/power metal with crunchy, even thrashy riff-work at times, paired with the gruff female vocals of Jakey, when first hearing this one I was honestly a little surprised it was self-released as it's so polished and musically tight, plus the production job was quite clean. A handful of songs for you to hear from this one are Feel the Pain, Live in Peace and A Red Light.

Sigh - Infidel Art

Following an acclaimed debut, Sigh's second album, Infidel Art was a fork in the road, so to speak. Now on Cacophonous Records thanks to Euronymous' untimely passing, Sigh, with some name-recognition, began to get more experimental with Infidel Art, and the album was somewhere in-between the more straightforward black metal sound of their first record and the avant-garde black metal insanity of their career following this album. Now boasting whimsical symphonic overtones in contrast to a grimey black metal sound, this album was a first in Japanese extreme metal. Songs like Izuna, Suicidogenic and The Last Elegy are great examples of the ever-evolving sound of this era of Sigh's music.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • Dirty Trashroad - Daring Tribal Roar
  • Ezra - Toge
  • Gargoyle - Natural
  • Kuroageha - Isho Hakudatsu
  • Marge Litch - Crystal Heart in the Fountain
  • Ningen Isu - Odoru Issunboushi
  • Unholy Grave - Crucified
  • Vasalla - Insanity
  • Volfeed - Majesty
  • Yukihisa Kanatani - Eau Rouge

1996

Metalucifer - Heavy Metal Drill

Metalucifer - Heavy Metal Drill

Metalucifer - Heavy Metal Drill

Metalucifer began in 1995 as a side-project of Gezol, leader of the black/thrash metal legends Sabbat. Rounding out what would be the band's core lineup with brothers Elizaveat and Elizabigore. Wasting no time after formation, by 1996 we already got the band's first record in Heavy Metal Drill. With Metalucifer, the trio opted to play straightforward, no gimmicks traditional heavy metal, with a throwback sound to the NWOBHM movement and other groups from that era. As I mention no gimmicks to their music, that's not to say they didn't have fun, as they sing primarily about heavy metal and all its awesomeness, even going so far as to name the majority of their releases "Heavy Metal-something", as well as feature noted metal collector and friend of the band Neal Tanaka on most of their cover artwork. For a few tracks from this one, I recommend Heavy Metal Hunter (Part II), Headbanging or Heavy Metal is My Way.

Abigail - Intercourse & Lust

Another one of Japan's extreme metal titans, Abigail played a black/thrash combo as popularized in the country by Sabbat, however Abigail cranked up the speed and aggression a notch further here on their debut, resulting in a truly relentless steamroller of an album. Intercourse & Lust was another success for the Japanese underground, receiving widespread praise from black metal fans both internationally and domestically, cementing Abigail as one of Japan's best exports in the style. Along with several other strong studio albums in the years following this album, much like Sabbat, Abigail have enjoyed an exhaustive overseas touring schedule over the years. Just a couple of tracks from this one are Confound Eternal and Strength of the World.

X Japan - Dahlia

The final X Japan album. By the time X Japan released Dahlia, the writing was already on the wall for the band. They had enjoyed a great run, but the members were becoming increasingly distant from each other and by this point they were quite frankly burnt out from over a decade of intense touring and recording. Dahlia was a fairly mixed bag stylistically, far removed from the more direct power and speed metal sound from their heyday, and while continuing the experimentation of some of their middle-era works, it was apparent the band no longer had a clear direction. On Dahlia they had Yoshiki's obvious creative pull as the band leader clashing with a since self-admittedly brainwashed Toshi who wanted out, as well as the influence of a blossoming solo career for guitarist Hide. Despite Dahlia's creative conflicts, it did still boast two of the band's most famous songs in the title-track and especially Rusty Nail and again topped the Oricon charts for the third time in the band's career. Shortly after this album X Japan split, with Hide passing away in 1998 and the band would remain apart for the next decade.

A few other notable releases for this year:

  • Bad Loser - Winds of Tomorrow
  • Boris - Absolutego
  • Blasdead - Another Dimension
  • Grudge/Curse - Insanity Brain
  • Guardian's Nail - Believe
  • Ningen Isu - Mugen no Juunin
  • Sabbat - The Dwelling
  • Seikima-II - Mephistopheles no Shozo
  • Vasalla - Tsume ~Nail~
  • Youthquake - Youthquake

1997

Animetal - Animetal Marathon

Animetal - Animetal Marathon

Animetal - Animetal Marathon

Their debut record and the first in their Animetal Marathon series, Animetal was one of the funnest Japanese metal acts to appear in years. Putting a metal twist on covers of classic anime themes, Animetal were unlike any Anison band before them. With a star-studded lineup of Anthem's Eizo Sakamoto, Gargoyle's She-Ja, Reaction's Yasuhiro Umezawa and freelance bassist Masaki, the band was an instant hit, despite metal in Japan still being in the midst of the 90s popularity downswing. They were a gimmick from the start and they didn't care one bit; the immensely fun Animetal gave the world intense heavy/power metal versions of classic theme songs which people never knew they needed so badly, including themes from Space Battleship Yamato, Getter Robo!, Macross and thirty-five, yes, thirty-five other songs. This band in various incarnations would have a very strong run after this album, releasing a further nine studio albums under the Animetal name. Remaining popular in the years since their disbandment, even an American tribute called Animetal USA eventually formed.

Azrael - Run for the Night

One of Japan's more notable power metal bands to appear in the mid 90s; Azrael, while you'd never really call them famous, have enjoyed a long, fruitful career approaching three decades in length and are a respected name in Japanese power metal. The band's first major marker in this long run was the self-released album Run for the Night. Playing a hyper-melodic, Euro-inspired (Helloween in particular) power metal topped off by the impressive upper range of singer Akira Ishihara, this album has seen an increase in popularity in more recent years. For just a few examples from this record, here's the title-track, as well as Going for Glory and Waiting for You. Following this record the band signed with a small label in Highways Records for their second album, and following that they'd built enough momentum to even go major for their third, getting a shiny deal with Japanese industry titans Tokuma in 2003. They continue going strong to this day.

Fatima Hill - Valhalla

Fatima Hill are a band that simply never got the recognition they deserved as one of the best progressive metal acts Japan ever saw. Going back as far as the late 80s under the name Eternal Hill, they toughed out the rough years of the 90s recording numerous demos and gigging with other smaller names, refining their abilities and writing new material with the hope of using it later on. 1995 saw the band debut on a split album (Melodical Renaissance), showcasing them alongside three other relatively unknown, albeit quality acts in Volfeed, Guardian's Nail and Hidden, and following one more preparatory demo earlier in 1997, Fatima Hill would finally release their debut album titled Valhalla. A mid-paced progressive and power metal hybrid with avant-garde elements, this album is loaded with staggeringly complex riff work by guitarist Anjue Yamashiro as well as an impressive and powerful, yet also somewhat haunting vocal performance by singer Yuko Hirose. Some of Valhalla's highlights include