There are some specific countries we are immensely attracted or attached to for various reasons. A lot of us have our sincere, well thought out wish-list which reflects our indomitable longing to visit some enchanting faraway land or the pages of our diary testify the memorable joyous experience of being to some fascinating place we always wanted to spend a part of our mortal life in.
From my childhood days, I have an overpowering weakness for the land of the rising sun, Japan. Breathtaking scenic beauty, a rich culture attracting unalloyed veneration and state-of-the-art technology firmly establishing the archipelago on the modern world stage make Nippon very special to me. While I am not the biggest fan of Japanese cuisine (I do enjoy Ramen, but Sushi is not meant for my palate) I am very much an anime (Japanese animation) addict. This magnificent island-nation has faced colossal adversities in several forms over the years ranging from detonation of Napalm canisters to devastating earthquakes and destructive tsunamis. However Nippon always bounced back with combative readiness of a ninja, undaunted grit of a samurai and unwavering devotion of a sumo wrestler. Double-horns up to the unflinching spirit of Japan, as sublime as a bottle of expensive saké, as towering as the Fuji mountain and as winsome as the Sakura flowers.
No, you are not on the wrong site. Also, I have not lost my way here. Before further digression I would like to recall some of the big names the country’s Metal scene boasts of like Loudness (my most favourite), Saber Tiger, X Japan, or the latest divisive sensation called Baby Metal, who made the native metal-heads proud. This oriental nation happens to be one of the biggest music markets in the world (few years back I heard it stands second).
For decades several renowned international music artists like Guns N’ Roses, Accept or Ozzy Osbourne who performed in Japan have not only left an indelible momentous impression on the minds of the ardent Japanese audience but also on their own illustrious musical journey.
Here are five smashing Metal concerts (in chronological order) held in Japan which continue to spellbind Metal listeners all over the world:
Made In Japan – Deep Purple, 1972
Big bands from the west look to the east and continue the stream of sterling concerts in Nippon. Now is this how it all started? The devastating energy of Ian Gillan’s vocals, incendiary riffs of Ritchie Blackmore, the sheer majesty of Jon Lord in command of keyboards, the enthralling genius of Ian Paice on drums and Roger Glover’s adroit inspiring bass works all come together to quake the grounds of Osaka (Festival Hall) and Tokyo (Nippon Budokan). This historic concert which was the very maiden live recording by the pioneering force made some of the contemporary artists pull up their socks! According to Rock folklore, a man even took his life in the wake of the riveting performance of “Child In Time”. Performed by the masters of their own department, a set list charged with encore classics like “Highway Star”, “Space Truckin” and “Smoke On The Water” reinforcing the success story of the timeless album Machine Head has finely woven a pedagogic body of work which will inspire generations of metal-heads to come.
Tokyo Tapes – Scorpions, 1978
This one is a collector’s item and I consider this CD as one of one of my most prized possessions. 70s Scorpions with the legendary Uli Jon Roth were the frenzied Teutonic juggernaut crushing everything in their way. This concert captures the tremendous life force of the band. The sheer savagery of the riffs projecting from the twin guitars of the untamed Rudolph and the impassioned Roth at Nakano San Plaza (Tokyo) subjugates the listeners and tells the world of the kind of mayhem this German metal force were once capable of. The versatility of Klaus Meine’s vocals simply puts the audience in trance. Truly this man deserves more credit than what he usually gets. They keep burning the sky (not sure if the pyromaniacs Def Leppard took their cue from the mighty Scorpions) with one scorcher of a track after another like “Speedy’s Coming”, “Dark Lady” and my absolute favorite “He’s A Woman -She’s A Man”! Rarebell as a drummer delivers competently enough while the raw audible bass works of Francis accentuates the instrumental abilities of the band. The cheers and applause of the Japanese audience are as sincere as it can get.
Although the following decade earned the metal giants of Deutschland a much larger fan base with their adopted commercial sound (which I love as well) and the contribution and devotion of Mathias Jabs have been undeniably impressive, the Scorpions were a pioneering brutal force with the neo-classic guitar maestro Uli Jon Roth and this concert album is a genuine slab of uncompromising old school metal catered to an insatiable crowd of Japanese fans in the late 70s.
Unleashed In The East – Judas Priest, 1979
While I wish they had performed “Saints In Hell”, “Beyond The Realms Of Death”, “Dissident Aggressor” or “Dreamer Deceiver” instead of certain chosen tracks, the awe-inspiring performance more than compensates for the could-have-been-better set list. The holy trinity of Priest consisting of Tipton-Halford-Downing along with Les Binks (arguably the best skin-pounder the band ever recruited) serves the Japanese audience with top-notch proto-thrash metal in the most epic way possible. Even Ian Hill’s bass sound does not get drowned amidst all other high-octane instrumentation and singing. The production is another plus of this album. It won’t be a hyperbole if Rob Halford’s stratosphere-piercing wail towards the end of “Victim Of Changes” is called an epoch-making moment of metal which puts the spotlight on a matchless live-performer of the genre. Not too many bands are able to outshine their studio recorded material by their live efforts on stage, but not every other band is Judas Priest!
Live In Tokyo – Queensryche, 1985
While Queensryche became a pivotal metal force with the release of their timeless concept album Operation Mindcrime and the corresponding live album Operation Livecrime saw the band at the very prime of their career, Geoff Tate & Co. were far more aggressive and dynamic in the early 80s. Given the nasty dismissal of Tate and all the court case and dramas that followed, its’ a pity how the mighty has fallen. Wish there was a way to turn back the clock and go back to the time when the band was fresh, full of inspiration and brimming with zeal to take over the world.
Now this is the concert which finds the Japanese audience swooning over the majestic pipes of Tate. The guitar tandem of Wilton-DeGarmo is at par excellence throughout the course of the concert while sticks-man Rockenfield relentlessly thunders Nihon Seinen-Kam (Tokyo) with sheer crumbling impact. Eddie Jackson’s powerful thumping bass tones never get bogged down by the volcanic works of the rest. More explosive they get on stage, more euphoric gets the audience in front of them. It’s an absolute pleasure for any music artist to perform for such amazing crowd. Pick up any track from the set list- “Child Of Fire”, “Enforce”, “Take Hold Of The Flame” or “Queen Of The Reich” – every one of them is performed with unparalleled proficiency and passion. Musically, some of the finest hours of Queensryche before they embarked on their voyage to the zone of Progressive metal or establishing their USP, “thinking man’s metal”.
Beast From The East – Dokken, 1988
Wild, wild east! Thanks to the wild guitar sorcerer George Lynch and his ripping work with the strings that cogently made this beast the best release of Dokken till date. Even “Wild” Mick Brown does his bit just fine behind the drum kit. Jeff Pilson with his tight bass execution sticks to his duty steadily like an absolute pro while Lynch displays his face-melting shredding ability. This album can surprise many casual listeners by the fantastic live performance of superbly well catered tracks like “Dream Warriors”, “Breaking The Chains”, “Alone Again”, “Unchain The Night” etc. most of which sound a hell lot better than their studio recorded counterparts! Front man Don Dokken’s clean soaring vocals add to the hypnotic effect which mesmerizes the Japanese audience who sing along and howl in ecstasy.
Too bad after pulling off such an incredible concert they had to “Walk Away” and returned to the scene after seven long years. While production of Beast From The East certainly could have been better, if you are a fan of classic Hair metal you must get this overall stunning album without further delay to time-travel at the instant of Dokken’s splendid reign over Koseinenkin Hall (Tokyo), Shibuya Kokaido (Nagoya), NHK Hall (Tokyo) and Koseinenkin Kaikan (Osaka) in the late 80s.