If you want to know what an '80s Metal band is truly made of...just look at what they did once the 1990s showed up and ruined the party. The Grunge wave spared none its flannel-bedecked wrath, but the changing musical climate was doubly disturbing in Japan, where a vibrant (if insular) Metal scene suddenly found itself assaulted by ‘Visual Kei’ (think ’Hair Metal’ with a full-on sex change) pretenders aplenty.
Which makes ANTHEM’s ‘90s output all the more impressive.
While ANTHEM is known for their unrelenting consistency and peerless quality, the two albums released prior to the band’s 1993 break-up - 1990’s “No Smoke Without Fire” and 1992’s “Domestic Booty” - are far and away the two strongest albums the band has ever produced.
This album marks the debut of axe-man Akio Shimizu, who has a reputation both in Japan and abroad as one of the most naturally proficient, technically-sound guitarists in the game today. At the time, he was also the youngest member of the band, having departed from the pack early during the lengthy auditions held in the wake of Hideaki Nakama’s departure in 1990. His trademark bafflingly precise fret work is more than accounted for on the absurdly-titled “Domestic Booty.” I call particular attention to the entirety of “Blood & Diamonds,” the third track on the album, and one of the record’s clear standouts.
Stepping behind the microphone for the fourth time in his ANTHEM tenure, Yukio Morikawa does an absolutely spectacular job; opening up shrieking through the Thrashier affairs at the beginning of the album, and then effortlessly evoking anguish and pain in the album’s more introspective latter half. There are hidden depths to the man’s voice, and the material provides adequate inspiration for them to slowly emerge. Naoto Shibata and Takamasa ‘Mad’ Ouchi really shine as the rhythmic backbone of the band, particularly on slower, heavier driving tracks like “Heavy Duty” and “Mr. Genius.” Don Airey (longtime RAINBOW keyboardist and Rock ‘n’ Roll journeyman extraordinaire) makes another welcome appearance lending atmosphere and even riffage to an already splendid album. What separates his playing on this album from previous efforts is that the keyboards are much higher in the mix, and he’s given a bit more room to play.
Turning the knobs once again, after a one-album absence (presumably to work on JUDAS PRIEST’s seminal “Painkiller” album) is the legendary Chris Tsangarides. While George Azuma and Tony Taverner did a fantastic job on the previous record, it’s great to have Chris back, as you can sense that the man is energized by the fantastic PRIEST album he just produced. There’s an energy, a crispness, an intangible metallic majesty present here, and Tsangarides is at its heart.
To describe the flow of the album is fairly simple. It starts as pseudo-Thrash Metal, and then it settles into the more rhythmic Heavy Metal that ANTHEM is known for before venturing into some very emotional ballads toward its latter third. I really can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s tight, it’s well-produced. In a way, it’s the brother of “Painkiller.” Buy it.
Standouts: “Renegade,” “Gold & Diamonds,” “Cry in the Night,” “Heavy Duty,” “The Dice of No Mercy.”
Guest review by Daniel "RazörFist" Harris
(Online June 1, 2011)