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A Japanese Painkiller - 98%

xQueenxofxthexReichx, April 21st, 2008

Anthem in the mid-to-late 80's is pretty well known, particularly for the vocals of Eizo Sakamoto, who after leaving Anthem in 1988, rose to superstardom as a solo artist and with his Animetal band. But the material after Eizo's departure is worth a look, particularly the early-90's output such as the album in question, 1990's 'No Smoke Without Fire'. First off, out of the entire Anthem discography, this is far and away the easiest to track down and cheapest to purchase from Ebay or Amazon or what have you. The reason why is apparent as soon as you spin this record: it's Anthem's 'Painkiller'. It was released in the same year as the Judas Priest opus, and the songwriting is just as solid, and at times resplendent, as the album I'm comparing it to. The only difference here is the vocals.

Yukio Morikawa is an incredible vocalist, but like the man he replaced, he is a man with a naturally high range, who sings full-voice, rather than falsetto, and does an incredible job plying his craft here. The triumvirate of tunes that hold this record together are actually the first three, which will tear the face off any Classic Metal fan, without question. 'Shadow Walk' is perhaps the most instantly recognisable of the three, but 'Hungry Soul' is the real gem, here. You will have the second track on this album spinning for weeks to come, and when it's not playing, it will be stuck in your head. It's a downpace, straight-forward Metal tune in the vein of Accept's 'Balls to the Wall' with an awesome driving riff and a bridge and chorus that are instantly memorable. 'Blinded Pain' caps off the unholy trio, with a similarly addictive chorus, but its real strength comes in the reverb-drenched haunting guitar solo sandwiched right in its middle.

The album at this point exchanges most of its catchiness for sheer brutality and thrashiness, which has always been one of Anthem's staples. 'Do You Understand?', 'Voice of Thunderstorm', 'Fever Eyes', and 'The Night We Stand' have a heavy Thrash / Speed Metal vibe, while 'Love on the Edge' and 'Power & the Blood' are more Classic Metal anthems that wouldn't be at all out of place on an Accept album. The songwriting remains spectacular until the very end, with a perfect Metal guitar tone and Morikawa's soaring performance keeping the proceedings together. Anthem experiments throughout this album with some keyboards, but never once do you feel as if it's over the top, and it certainly never detracts from the heaviness. Think of how keyboards were used on 'Painkiller', and you'll get the idea of what's going on. An exceptional album, and my personal favourite in their entire discography. Highly recommended for Classic Metal nerds and fans of bands like Accept and Judas Priest.

Standouts: Shadow Walk, Hungry Soul, Blinded Pain, Love on the Edge