One of the things I find quite cool about Japan is the friendly rivalry between the Kanto (Tokyo area) and Kansai (Osaka area) regions of the country that spans everything from sports rivalries to whose food is better to, of course, who plays the better music. It’s a rivalry like the East/West coast rap in America, but with the angry rappers, their guns and terrible fashion sense being replaced with young, slightly annoyed Japanese metalheads wielding guitars with only mildly bad fashion taste. The Japanese metal edition of this rivalry on a grander scale has always been groups like Loudness, Earthshaker, and Action! vs Bow Wow, Anthem, X Japan and so on, but in 1985 Kow-Sin Agency decided it would be a cool idea to showcase five completely unknown bands divided between the two regions, and put forth the aptly titled Kanto vs Kansai (the 宣戦布告 usually shown in the title translates to battle or versus).
This is a really interesting split, maybe my favorite in the whole Japanese metal scene, partly because not a single band on this ever ended up making it, despite ample skill present here. Every group had two songs featured, with at least one strong track from each band. The first band featured on this split is Slayer who launch this album into action with a very NWOBHM influenced scorcher called “Shoot Down Tokyo” featuring fairly strong vocals, some solid bass, and an enjoyable twin guitar solo. Slayer’s second track “Hurt Angel”, while less aggressive in general than their first, is an extremely pleasant metal song that builds in heaviness slowly but steadily as the song progresses, hitting its peak from the solo section onward and is overall every bit as enjoyable as “Shoot Down Tokyo”.
Despite being from way back in 1985, this split features two early Japanese power metal bands, those being Storm Bringer and Rei’s. Storm Bringer’s song “ラブ ファイヤー” especially fits this bill, it’s very melodic and fast-paced with double kick, soaring vocals and whimsical keyboards adding especially to that heavy/power fusion sound. “Resurrection” by Rei’s has a really fun central riff, and also features keyboards, though the manner in which they’re used differs greatly from Storm Bringer’s usage, and are solely there to build atmosphere, which they do effectively, the star of this band is easily their guitarist. Rei’s features fairly strong vocals, “Resurrection” in particular boasting a decent chorus.
Though I enjoy all bands on this split, my favorite is the band Virgin Killer, they’re hugely influenced by Scorpions if you couldn’t tell by their name and logo, and that’s perfectly fine, because they do far more than brainlessly mirror their evidently favorite band. They’re the only band on the split to feature female vocals, and while that in itself was next to unheard of and extremely early for a Japanese metal band at the time, consider the fact that Virgin Killer had already been around for four years by the time this split was released, so really they were true pioneers of female-fronted metal in the country. Virgin Killer’s tracks are both great, “Break Down” feels a lot like something that their countrymen Wolf could have written and is a slow song with a very heavy riff and extremely aggressive drumming, while their song “Midnight Lady” is super fun and has a similar main riff to Scorpions‘ Blackout, though the song is structured entirely different thankfully. Both feature some great leads and solos by guitarist Takahiro Sumitomo.
If I have one bone to pick with this release it’s that it could do without any lackluster ballads like “Romance Messenger” (glares in Pandora‘s direction) which has zero business being anywhere near this split, it’s just quite simply boring and does the band no favors in making people want to check their music out (if they actually had more that is). Both of Slayer and Storm Bringer’s other songs while not as heavy as their first songs are still very good at least and don’t do the bands any disservice, unlike Pandora’s “Romance Messenger”. Thankfully for Pandora though, their other track “Kiss and Kiss” is for the most part awesome, thanks 100% entirely to their guitarist and rhythm section. Pandora’s guitarist has a wonderfully cool tone and some really creative and fun riffs on this song, topped off with a fantastic solo. The bass is loud and thumping and takes on a few leads at times too which is very nice to see, the backing of the guitar solo is another good bass highlight for Pandora. Their vocalist has an alright voice, but my god is his chorus to the song stupid, easily the worst chorus on the album, “Oh kiss, kiss and kiss!” is literally the central line of the chorus, despite everything else in the song being sung in Japanese. It would have been a lot better if they’d just stuck with Japanese like they had for every other vocal section of the song.
One thing in particular which I really like about this split is the presentation of the album itself, you’ve got nice photos of these unknown bands along with their logos, all of which look pretty cool, though whoever designed the artwork could have at least put the Kanto bands on the Kanto side of the cover and Kansai bands on the Kansai side. The vinyl itself is beautiful, it’s a pearly translucent white with a red and white checkerboard center. It’s very cool, and that kind of visual effort is not an initiative I typically expect a label to take when making a split full of bands who were quite frankly nobodies, and on the inside sleeve, complete with a bunch more band photos, it also shows that this was intended to be a series of splits, though it seems to have never come to fruition.
All in all despite a few amateur-ish moments though, inherent with bands who never saw the big stage or even a decent production studio; hell, only one of them even got demo tapes out, this is a damn cool split with some great features all things considered. There’s some serious talent that almost never saw the light of day here, but thankfully this split at least offers a small glimpse into the potential that some of these bands possessed. This is fairly accessible in sound to those who are brand new to Japanese metal, it’s mostly straightforward heavy metal without a lot of the quirks you tend to see from bigger Japanese bands that are at times off-putting for some, and I recommend this to pretty much any traditional heavy metal fan that doesn’t mind metal sung in mostly Japanese.
Favorite Track: Slayer – Shoot Down Tokyo