Stingray were a band that was rather mysterious, they appeared essentially out of nowhere, were signed almost immediately by a large label in King records and dropped a debut album right away. They had seemingly no demos leading up to this, no known previous member experience in popular bands or anything. Not quite the typical start to a career for an 80s metal band to say the least, especially uncommon for Japan where metal bands being signed by big labels in the early to mid 1980s was a rare occurrence.
In 1984, riding off the high of their recent albums Disillusion and The Law of Devil’s Land with subsequent successful tours in Europe and America, it was with good reason that Loudness thought they had a shot at a breakthrough in the States. Under the management of Joe Gerber, Loudness’ dream was set in motion when the band landed a deal with Atco records after which the quattro began work on their fifth full-length record and in January 1985, Loudness unleashed Thunder in the East, an album that quite simply revolutionized Japanese heavy metal.
From the Black World is a massive landmark in Japanese metal history. Nokemono were a band that appeared out of nowhere in 1977, participated in and dominated a major Yamaha band-battle tournament in 1978, and by 1979 released arguably the first Japanese album that was predominantly heavy metal, nearly a full decade after the Flower Travellin’ Band helped influence the genre.
Heavy Metal Army were a very short lived supergroup featuring a totally unique cast of musicians from various decently popular projects from the 70s Japanese rock scene. One of roughly the first five metal acts signed to a large Japanese record label, in 1981 the quintet released their debut, and what turned out to be their only album under this name, Heavy Metal Army 1. While this is an album that had a few minor flaws, in the grand scheme it was something extremely important, I would even say vital to the fledgling Japanese metal scene.
Japan’s fascination and adoration with Traditional Heavy Metal is well documented and a boon that has provided us with a veritable buffet of incredibly passionate and well executed metal. Comparatively (and to my disappointment) the country’s abilities or interest never really made their way to doom metal. The Metal archives lists only 86 doom metal bands in Japan of which traditional and epic doom metal makes up only a small percentage. Outside of notable bands like Bellzlleb and Church of Misery, very few ever gained any real attention. Despite the massive influence that Black Sabbath has had over heavy metal, it seems that doom metal just completely failed to draw the attention that heavy, thrash or black metal did in Japan.
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.
Starting with the late 60’s and early 70’s, the Japanese were absorbing the hard rock and folk rock happening in the West and releasing their unique takes on it. This continued through the rest of the 70’s until Japan become a common Asian fixture among big world tours towards the end of the decade. Scorpions, Judas Priest, and Van Halen played there to sold out crowds, and you can only bet there was an entire scene full of metal bands inspired by these that developed soon after.