Monday 14 January 2019

Tokyo Blade - Unbroken (2018)

Country: UK
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 20 Jul 2018
Sites: Facebook | Metal Archives | Official Website | Wikipedia

I've been a Tokyo Blade fan for a very long time now. Night of the Blade, their 1984 album, is never too far from my playlist and their session for the Friday Rock Show is one of my favourites. What I haven't done is kept up with them. Like many NWOBHM era bands, they've broken up and reformed a lot. The era I remember took them through to 1991, but they reformed in 1995, disbanded in 1998 and reformed again in 2007.

Their 2018 album, Unbroken, is the second from this latest incarnation, and it's their ninth studio album overall. Given that I only know three of those albums, I have some catching up to do, starting with this one, and I'm looking forward to it, especially as the current line up includes four of the five Night of the Blade era members. Only vocalist Alan Marsh wasn't on that album, but hey, he was on the one before it, their debut back in 1983, so he could hardly be described as the new guy! That would have to be Andy Wrighton, who didn't join the band until 1984, so a new guy in the sense that Dave Gilmour is the new guy in Pink Floyd.

What hit me right off the bat was the fact that this doesn't just sound like a NWOBHM era band, it sounds like a NWOBHM era album. Every album nowadays has a deep pounding at its bass end, courtesy of modern production, but this one ignores that for the old school sound and, as offputting as that initially was, I kind of appreciated that. It feels like I just discovered an album recorded way back when that nobody knows about.

It was probably the fact that it took me a little while to get used to this that I initially felt that Devil's Gonna Bring You Down was a weak opener (it isn't). I had sinking feelings, but I felt a thrill of nostalgia during Bullet Made of Stone. "Hit me hard, hit me again; it was sweet adrenaline," sings Alan Marsh and that's exactly what my heart was screaming. Burn Down the Night kept that feel growing with cheesy eighties lyrics delivered with melodic power just like I remember, over playful twin guitars and a reliable rhythm section.

If Andy Wrighton's bass is lower in the mix than it would be on any other 2018 album, he is at least given the intro to The Man in Black to make his presence known and it's very welcome. He rumbles along wonderfully underneath the guitarwork throughout this track and on many others too, like Bad Blood and The Last Samurai. It feels odd that the quietest bass of the year is so memorable and I grinned at that realisation.

I found myself grinning a lot during this album, but perhaps never more than during the middle section of Dead Again, with a simple but very effective Thin Lizzy style riff underpinning the delightful soloing of Andy Boulton and John Wiggins, or when they slow the pace towards the end of Bad Blood and become reminiscent of classic era Diamond Head. It's true that I miss some of the speed of Night of the Blade but when slower sounds like this, I'm surely not complaining!

I also grinned at the lack of a glam vibe because Tokyo Blade went there in the late eighties and lost me. They're notorious for being a band who changed their sound as trends changed and, with the exception of the added speed on Night of the Blade, that approach never served them well. This album feels like they're done with trying to anticipate the latest in thing and so settling back to do what they did best at the very beginning, merely with new material. "The winds of change are blowing," sings Marsh on The Last Samurai, and finally they're blowing the right way.

I grinned at the most overt Thin Lizzy influence shown on Stings Like an Open Wound and the most overt Iron Maiden influence on My Kind of Heaven. I grinned at the cheesy Japanese theme on The Last Samurai, which is kind of required for this band. I grinned at the really tasty guitar intro to My Kind of Heaven. I grinned at how radio friendly No Time to Bleed was without losing any of its power. I grinned at how good Alan Marsh still sounds 35 frickin' years after their debut. I grinned just because I'm listening to a damn fine Tokyo Blade album in 2018 and it's new.

I first heard Tokyo Blade in 1984 shortly after finding rock music in general through The Friday Rock Show, so they were there at the beginning for me even though I wasn't quite there at the beginning for them. This sounds like a lost eighties classic to me and, frankly, that's the best Christmas present I could have been given last year.

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