Here's a name I was very happy to see put out new material in 2023 but I got caught up in events so I never listened to it then. Well, that's partly what January catch-up is for! Now, if the name has no meaning for you, let me explain that back in the eighties, Japanese metal was becoming known to the west. The biggest band in Japan at the time were Loudness and we heard their albums in the UK, but the one we heard most was Vow Wow, previously and subsequently Bow Wow, who briefly relocated to the UK and hired Neil Murray of Whitesnake fame as their bassist. A little behind but still third on the list were Earthshaker, who were released on the ever-reliable Music for Nations.
I liked Earthshaker a lot and I remember Radio Magic getting stuck in my head for a long while. It seems that they stuck it out until 1994, Japan perhaps remaining more accepting of a traditional rock and metal sound in the face of grunge than the US and UK, but split anyway. I didn't notice at the time but probably assumed that they'd already gone. What I see now is that they reformed in 2000 and have stayed together ever since. This is their twenty-fourth album and the twelfth since their reformation, so matching the tally from their original run. As its title suggests, it also shows up forty years after their self-titled debut in 1983.
And it's good stuff. It seems that they've moved a little more towards a hard rock sound than pure heavy metal, but this is hard and heavy to me, with feet firmly in both camps. Certainly, the guitar of Shara Ishihara is still front and center, with blistering solos on a whole bunch of tracks, starting with the opener, 儚き夢よ, or A Fleeting Dream, but with the peach oddly being the final minute of 点と線, or Points and Lines, which is otherwise a ballad, so a lot softer than the norm.
I should add that Earthshaker always did like their ballads, but I always enjoyed them for feeling substantial, never soporific in the way that so many ballads by so many other bands were. I'd love to know what the lyrics say to build this one up to such a finalé, but it's sung in Japanese, as indeed most of the album is, even if five of the ten titles are listed in English. I don't know close to enough Japanese to be able to catch more than a word here and there.
Ballads aside, the most obvious rock song here is It's Showtime, because there's a serious Jon Lord style drive to the organ and a perky beat. Marcy Nishida doesn't remotely sound like Ian Gillan but it's not tough to see Deep Purple covering this. It's a great song already because of those aspects, but there's an impressive flow to the vocals, a wonderful bass solo and a neat shift to keyboards as it ends. This is such a natural approach for Earthshaker that I'm surprised that there aren't more Purple-influenced songs here.
My other highlight is 永遠に消えぬ約束, or An Everlasting Promise, because it's a rocker that finds an interesting groove from the outset and builds wonderfully. I also like Our Glory Days and 傷跡, or Scar, more and more with each listen, because they feel so uplifting, even given the title of the latter. In fact, the former is so uplifting that it suggests that, however many glory days this band has had in its past, its members feel like their true glory days are right now as they recorded this song. That's a good feeling.
That was quite the realisation, but I'd already noted down how the guitar solos play that way too. They're not merely joyous from the standpoint of being technically accomplished, which they are, they're also joyous because they feel actively uplifting. I certainly felt better about my day after listening to Ishihara's guitar, especially when he's soloing on songs like Points and Lines or Scar.
I can't call out more songs as particular highlights, which suggests that this isn't quite as strong as the Loudness album I reviewed almost a year ago, but it's highly consistent and feels comfortable quickly. That, along with how uplifting it often feels, helps it to become an old friend in relatively few listens. I may have given Loudness's Sunburst album a slightly higher rating a year ago, but I'm more likely to be coming back to this one to visit.