Anthem - Nucleus
Heavy Metal
13 songs (63' 35")
Release year: 2019
Reviewed by Andy

One hundred and sixty five years after the Shogunate of Japan opened to the West, parts of its culture remain as mysterious as ever (did you know they grow apples there with art stencilled on them by the sun? They do). Equally mysterious, sadly, are heavy metal bands that were popular in Japan but rarely got an introduction anywhere else -- before the Internet, anyway. Anthem is one of these. Nucleus reintroduces this classic band to the Western world with re-recordings of selected tracks using all English lyrics, sung by the vocalist of their heyday, Yukio Morikawa.

Morikawa's been compared to Graham Bonnet, but the pipes I'm reminded of are Tony Moore's from post-Thundersteel Riot. His clear tenor, punctuated by effortless screams for flavor, is matched by Akio Shimizu's equally precise guitar work. Precision is at the heart of the Anthem sound; everything is tight and in its place, and that includes the production, in which the bass and drums get plenty of room to cover the melodies from their own angle. Speaking of those melodies, all of them are heavy, and some are absolutely beautiful. The instrumental Omega Man and the speed-crooner Pain are my favorites, but the somewhat grittier Eternal Warrior is also excellent, and the keyboard/guitar hybrid of Unbroken Sign is a hybrid pop-metal piece that few but the Japanese could pull off without the whole thing falling flat.

That ability to take on risky material and still come out on top could be what makes Nucleus so interesting. The crisp riffing speaks for itself long before the main portion of any song starts, and for the most part the band keeps things moving right along. Though heavy metal got a lot harsher and heavier in Europe and the US over the last 20 years, it's still easy to stop at the end of almost any one of these tracks and say "Wow, that was a great song, and might have become a classic if given airplay here." The original versions, which are beautifully made in and of themselves, only differ in the band's trademark of starting with an English verse and then doing a couple of extra verses in Japanese, switching back to English, and so forth; so this is an album primarily targeted at new Western listeners, though collectors may still be interested in getting to listen to previous songs with Morikawa's vocals newly applied.

Those who have not heard Anthem before should take note of a peculiarity of this collection. Great as these tracks are, all of them are from the early 90s forward -- in other words, after their popularity peaked, when Anthem's heavy metal was eclipsed by grunge and (in Japan) Visual Kei. An American or British band doing a re-recording would almost certainly have gone for their hits, and this display of nonchalance is utterly baffling to me. Maybe because Shimizu started with the band in 1991 and the sound changed? But it didn't change that much, and someone with Shimizu's talent could crush the songs on the 80s albums. Some weird rights-related issue? I don't see it, and at the time of this review, I can't find the reason.

No matter. If you haven't heard the band's substantial back catalog (this is the eighteenth full-length Anthem has produced), view this as an invitation to start catching up.

The album is on Golden Robot Records in the US, NB is a license for Europe, Ward is Japan
Killing Songs :
Omega Man, Pain, Unbroken Sign
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