Earthshaker’s self-titled debut marked a strong beginning for a band in a brand new metal scene who didn’t yet know how to construct a proper heavy metal album, as evidenced by them enlisting the help of Adrian Smith who even contributed a song to said album. While there were a few undeniably great tracks, I could still see that this was still a young and largely inexperienced band. Fast forward just over half a year, a very busy one at that where the band released two EPs, Earthshaker had fine-tuned their sound and were ready to put forth their second full-length, Fugitive, an album which I feel is easily one of the best albums in Japanese metal’s first wave. Fugitive was the checkpoint in Earthshaker’s career where absolutely everything clicked. The band’s chemistry had never been tighter, nor would it ever be quite as tight again following this release.
While it wasn’t officially their debut record, Fugitive was very much the debut of Earthshaker’s true sound, a perfect fusion of beautiful melodic heavy metal and cheery pop, an idea that would take Japan by storm decades later. Another massive aspect of the sound that became synonymous with Earthshaker’s music, the keyboards, was also introduced on this album with the band bringing in Mitchell Froom as a guest. Fugitive is I would say about half heavy metal and half pop-infused hard rock, with a couple of lovely soulful ballads added to the mix for good measure.
An aspect of Fugitive that I felt was done exceptionally well was the placement of each subsequent track which paces the album extremely well, generally having a metal track followed by a hard rock track, followed by a metal track and so on, importantly avoiding front-loading the album with all the fast-paced tracks like I’ve seen many bands do. Among this albums most metallic tracks are “Fugitive”, “Young Girls” and “More”, all three of which are extremely melodic, I’ll touch on a couple of those later. As for hard rockers, they’ve got “記憶の中“ which has a bit of a Y&T feel. My favorite of the hard rock songs is “Shiny Day”, which opens with a nice little acoustic intro alongside Marcy’s strong voice, and it quickly picks up, turning into a very upbeat song with an excellent, powerful riff from Shara.
One of Earthshaker’s biggest strengths on Fugitive is the genuine soulfulness the band achieves at some point on pretty much every track, Marcy Nishida has a voice with so much power that the band could certainly earn its name on his singing ability alone. Also adding to the soulful, sorrowful atmosphere of Earthshaker’s sound is Shara Ishihara’s work on guitar, he’s got a lovely tone that’s soothing and pleasant on the ears without sacrificing any of the band’s aggressiveness. Shara’s body of work isn’t focused on complexity and flashiness, but my goodness he is so massively talented at devising powerful and catchy yet for the most part simple riffs. Earthshaker have the impressive ability of conveying a sorrowful tone over pretty and cheerful melodies, a trait that elevates songs like “Love Destiny” and “Nijuu Ji (22:00)” far beyond the scope of your everyday ballads.
The album does have a little bit of fare that could be deemed unnecessary, a perfect example of such is the song “Drive Me Crazy,” it’s a jumpy, overly happy rock song that is very different from everything else on the album, think along the lines of Blind Guardian throwing “Barbara Ann” on Follow the Blind. I don’t mind “Drive Me Crazy” so much, as it’s a kinda fun, intentionally silly track immediately following one of the band’s ballads, and it leads decently into the album closer “Fugitive”, sort of like a band playing something silly at a live show leading into their encore song. As is the case with most Japanese bands, there are also various attempts at lines sung in English, though they’re generally quite short and Marcy doesn’t butcher his Rs and Ls badly at all, which is a positive, usually the band sticks firmly with Japanese though, which I consider a large positive.
My two favorite songs on the album are “Fugitive” and “More”, the latter of which just happens to be one of the most famous metal songs in Japan. More features some of the strongest riffing on the album, beginning with a fade into a great scaling opening riff which gradually grows into an aggressive galloping metal riff with, as usual, extremely strong vocals from Marcy. In the solo section, the scaling intro riff returns and builds into the best guitar solo on the album before closing out with a final verse, this is also the song in which the rhythm section excels most, especially drummer Yoshihiro Kudo. “Fugitive” is another great track, and is the album closer. To me it’s essentially Earthshaker characterized in a song, it employs a rich, strong tone on guitar and a poppy overtone, but as the song progresses it steadily becomes louder and angrier, with Marcy’s vocals eventually stopping and the instrumentalists of the band going on a sheer rampage, then ending the song with three powerful chords, rolling drums and keyboards winding to a close and ending the album perfectly.
Fugitive is deservingly the album that made Earthshaker no less than the second most famous heavy metal or hard rock act in the whole Kansai region during the 1980s, and despite the poppy tendencies brought about by Marcy, an obsession with pop that would increase to the point that it ended this band for a few years in fact, this is a beast of a heavy metal album at its very core, and these musicians are incredibly talented. This won’t be for everyone because of said poppy influences, but if poppier hard rock and heavy metal bands like Y&T, Autograph and Stryper, or Earthshaker’s countrymen Make-Up are something you’re a fan of, there’s a good chance you’ll find plenty to enjoy on Fugitive.
Album Rating: 91/100
Favorite Track: More