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“…always knew that this day would come soon…”
Solid is a good word to describe Tokyo Blade’s eight-track debut. Defensible, however, is better. You coulda gotten away with something like ‘solid’ in ’82 and before, but this superior adjective expresses the heavier, more demanding, and more aggressive ruckus fighting its way to the frontier of metal’s ’83 heat-up season. Yeah, heat-up season. Follow me here. If ’84 is the initial mass bombardment of thrash metal napalm, then ’83 is the guy on the ground with the flamethrower, and that’s not a derogatory statement. Something was gaining momentum, but not really through overly rapid footwork and/or fast(er) hands. It was more like pressure - audible pressure, sonic pressure, the pressure of elevated aggression, of louder aggression, of superior aggression, of aggression ushering in…something else, something finally…metal pure, metal without the siphoned blues underbelly slowing things up, metal putting a few more layers between it and hard rock’s thanked but unending foundation, metal that wasn’t gonna beat around the friggin’ bush anymore. This of course is all in hindsight, ‘cos who knew thrash a) would come to exist, b) would come to exist the following year, and c) would make most modern speed metal seem like a wheelchair race as well as be so noticeably removed from traditional metal? But prior to that, this was the smell of something traditionally burning that was prepared to bum rush whoever or whatever was on the hilltop.
As a band, the quintet had been gelling together for a few years and ascribes to their better-than-average tightness and, I feel, overall songwriting solidarity. It’s only logical that this time together ultimately allowed them to mature at a (more or less) similar pace and location than most, likely benefiting mental flexibility where thoughts and ideas are more easily bounced around one another, perhaps reducing possible unknown motives and secrecy as well as in-fighting frequency, and hopefully nourishing that creative energy which floats all around this record like a vengeful spirit. And naturally, of course, just becoming more adult, for which an example could be measured in their chronological name changes; life began in the late '70s predictably dry as the late ‘70s-saturated White Diamond, then even more dully in ’81 as probably the 67th Killer not running anywhere near amok. Later that year and into '82 they become deadlier and more purposeful with Genghis Khan (with one song here serving in his army prior to enlisting with TB, as well as their ’83 Double Dealin indie ep that feature future TB tracks that remarkably mirror the force and concentration of their future selves). Finally there's the ’82 unsheathing of Tokyo Blade, a mildly mystifying choice considering the members’ English homestead, but that was probably the point. Maybe I’m just wasting a pine tree.
Whatever their past, Tokyo Blade in ’83 charge the sound of the pitted dinner bell armed with visibly-anticipated, heady n’ heavy utensils that can’t be missed, yet secreted in a palm is a sharp n’ slender manicuring tool for that little bit of gristle that needs to go. Ripped into quickly are the hunks of meat that cover most of the table: bloody “Powergame”, rowdy and dual-soloed “Killer City”, coolly-chorused “Liar” and “Sunrise in Tokyo”, middleweight bruiser “Break the Chains”, and Khan’s former soldier “If Heaven is Hell”. For me, much of it is about a release’s leg-breakers and the placing of them. You don’t know how many screw this simple thing up. No worries here, however, ‘cos with an uncommon six of them we’re served a logical split of three per side where they obligingly squeeze out space for the storytold-paced and interest-dribbled “On Through the Night” as well as the disc’s only alien, the Russ Ballard-(often covered singer/songwriter and ex of fairly low rent mid-‘70s rockers Argent)-penned stinker “Tonight”, an obvious pop cover that methodically picks its nose in side two’s right field, which as usual is the second from last song. And just to show how unstuffy they are, the outro/finale is this unnamed (on either version), seventy-three second, cowbell-blessed, piano-led, marginally slapsticky, The Outlaw Josie Wales band-wide old country chorus that brings to life the tale of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, which over time has apparently become its title.
Vocalist Alan Marsh waves at these tunes from what seems to be the contralto seats, above yer mid-priced tenor section, though not as high-ticketed as mezzo-soprano, and even though he’s obviously capable, his attempts to sneak up there are quite rare (but of course the stupid outro gets one ‘o these). Tandem team Andy Boulton and John Wiggens (and Ray Dismore, who only plays on “If Heaven is Hell” which, incidentally, has a dual solo) use those years together as an asset, pulling off some pretty nifty twin axe work that would be criminal if complained about.
Tokyo Blade, the album, flies by pretty quickly and there’s no wondering why. With six tunes feasting with both hands, there isn’t much dainty napkin-dabbing, and had gutter ball “Tonight” simply gotten lost somewhere in the ball return, the alley between “Liar” and “Sunrise in Tokyo” could’ve been filled by already-recorded and nowhere-near-waste-of-spacers like “Meanstreak” (when it was one word), “Highway Passion”, or “Midnight Rendezvous” if they didn’t save…them…for…hey! Well tickle my pickle, ‘cos that’s exactly what they did for the ’84 Combat Records version, bumping “Tonight”, “On Through the Night” and, sadly, “Liar” for the twisters above. Here and now starts the confusing and hard to explain headache brought on by the band’s early discography where releases a mere year apart have the same cover and lots of the same songs, yet a different name, but further gumming up the works is an ep with the same name, cover and…pffftt. Calculus may be easier.
Fun fact #u8d+0: the album’s insert is nothing more than a one-sided order form for TB merchandise including a t-shirt or sweatshirt with your choice of the unflattering cover of their If Heaven Is Hell single or, well, the unflattering cover of their 2nd Cut single. D.I.Y. or die, man.
“…the end, it is near, and a tear fills your eye…”