Anthem should be a name more familiar with long-term Heavy Metal fans than they appear to be. I apologize to anyone who is already in the know, but bear with me while I remind everyone else that Anthem were one of the pioneering Japanese Metal bands of the early 80’s who, despite releasing quality product throughout the decade, never seemed to get the exposure of fellow country-men Loudness, Earthshaker or Bow (Vow) Wow. I remember hearing them in the late 80’s and was very impressed by their full-on Metal stance and classic Metal vocals courtesy of Yukio Morikawa, whose sound was not a million miles away from Western vocalists such as Graham Bonnet. The band took a break during the 90’s, re-emerging in 2000 with none other than the aforementioned Graham Bonnet as vocalist! Although this incarnation did not last long (Eizo Sakamoto stepping in admirably for the next few releases), Morikawa returned in 2014, taking up vocally where he left off for their most recent two albums. 2019 sees Nuclear Blast realizing finally that the world needs easier access to this bands music and “Nucleus” is unleashed.
So, as a launch-pad from Nuclear Blast, what we have here is a best-of type selection of tracks written post 2001 (with one exception) and re-recorded with English lyrics. As you would hope/expect, what we have here is a Metal onslaught of mature and intelligent Heavy/Melodic/Power Metal, bursting at the seems with great guitar-work, utilizing tight, powerful, intricate rhythms and proper Heavy Metal vocals – Hell Yeah! I’m not sure if it’s just because I know that the band are Japanese (the power of suggestion and all that) but there is something…Japanese about their sound that just sets the band apart, makes them stand out. Yes I heard them back in the day so that might influence me, but the technicality of the arrangements, a slight accenting to the vocal style, or even a lilt in the lead guitar – it could be nothing, but it’s there…and I like it – always have! European and American Metal bands are common-place in comparison to class Japanese Metal bands, so it’s great to hear that slightly unique approach that this band and their compatriots seem to have.
There is absolutely no let up in the barrage of top quality Metal on offer here, intensity, memorability and power maintained throughout, no ballads, no particular respite…another big tick from yours truly! There’s great choruses, fabulous solos (never more present than on the rather splendid instrumental!) and the whole album is a wonderfully relentless 18-wheeler of force. I really don’t want to single a track out but if pushed…Venom Strike is a double-kick driven monster, reminiscent of Holy Mother…and wait, is that a very low percussive use of cowbell I detect within the drum-line?? Too right! Just another little attention to detail that this talented band have sneaked in. Ironically this track is the exception to the “post 2001” rule, but shows the bands willingness to re-record properly the hard-to-find opening track from an album released in 1992 – and utterly update it!
This is under no circumstances a bunch of ageing rockers re-living their youth – this is a totally relevant, current and forward thinking Metal album expertly delivered with conviction and maturity – they just happen to have been around for a while and be presenting a selection of their favourite tracks from recent times to an audience that were largely unaware of them. Entertaining, interesting, powerful, committed and glorious from start to finish. This has so much appeal for Metal fans old and new – how could it not? It’s a lesson in how Melodic/Heavy/Power Metal should be delivered and there are plenty of European and American Metal bands with just as many albums under their belt that could benefit from a good blast of Anthem!
(8.5/10 Andy Barker)