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Do it! You Won't Regret it - 85%

TadakatsuH0nda, June 9th, 2017
Written based on this version: 1985, 12" vinyl, Mandrake Root

Mandrake Root records were pretty iconic among fans of Japanese metal, and deservingly so. With an uncanny knack for uncovering some of the finest guitarists the country had ever seen, they were every bit as skilled at unearthing entire bands who were just as talented playing various forms of neoclassical and melodic heavy or power metal. One such band, Shella, who to me were one of Japan's most underappreciated metal acts of the 80s were easily one of the most complete packages on Mandrake Root's diverse and incredibly strong roster, despite almost never being mentioned in relation to the label's bigger names.

After two quality demos, Shella were picked up by Mandrake Root records and promptly began work on constructing their debut album Listen!, which to no surprise included all 6 of the songs from their two demos, polished up to a full-length album standard, as well as two more songs freshly written for the release. Upon the first moments of playing this album, one thing that becomes clear immediately is Shella's keen sense of melody, one which when combined with their upbeat brand of heavy metal creates a lovely, organized sound that many AOR bands would kill for, but without sacrificing any of the band's heaviness in the process.

While with most bands it's easy to pick out one or two members that are obvious standouts, much to Shella's credit, all members do a fantastic collective job and it's clear the group had some great chemistry performing together. The rhythm section of this band is very good, with both drummer Kazunari Kosuge and bassist Eiji Anan not only setting the pace for this band, but uplifting everyone else at key moments with some great fills, riffs and are especially strong during Shella's guitarists solo sections.

Perhaps even better than the rhythm section is the band's dynamic guitar duo of Shinichi Fujiwara and Yasuhiro Coda. Mandrake Root records' bands were well known to generally feature one star guitarist per main roster band, however, Shella were distinct in that they had two, and both happen to be incredibly talented. Playing off of each other and leading the way for Shella with countless fantastic riffs and dizzying twin guitar solos throughout the entire album, either of these two guitarists were skilled enough to hang with the very best of their better known label mates.

The cherry on Shella's proverbial cake is none other than vocalist Satoru Kimura. With an absolutely insane range, Kimura brings to the table what a similar vocalist like Marcy Nishida brings to his own band, Earthshaker, though Shella are overall quite a bit faster paced. He's got a very pleasant vibrato and enough sandpaper to his voice to remove any doubt that he belongs pretty much exclusively as a heavy/power metal vocalist, and luckily for Shella, he's the perfect man for them.

Listen! features a good musical balance, with four melodic heavy metal tracks, two power metal tracks, a slightly strange and funky, though enjoyable rocker in Peter Pan, and an excellent ballad. Among the melodic metal tracks are the anthemic Keep on Movin' and Red Heat, as well as the extra melodic Party Tonight, which calls to mind the style of their label-mates Zodiac. Dream Chaser is the final of the four melodic metal tracks and is also the album closer, and features some nice vocal harmonization between all of Shella's members, something that they would do several other times on the album, but especially on this song.

As for the power metal songs, Again and Shout Through the Night are ass kicking power metal steamrollers that feel like something Shella's countrymen Wolf could have written once they appeared a few years later. These two songs happen to feature arguably the two best guitar solos on the album, a lofty feat considering there's great duelling guitar to be found on every song except the ballad which obviously had a different tone. One of the best songs on the album is the aforementioned ballad Fairy Tale. It's got all the heart and soul of the very best ballads that bands like Earthshaker or X Japan concocted in their heydays, though I'd definitely liken it more closely to an Earthshaker song such as Love Destiny for sure. Shella's instrumentalists all demonstrate that they're every bit as capable playing slow as they are playing fast on this song as well.

I honestly haven't got much in the way of negativity to say about this release, some of the songs are a bit similar in construction, but they're all extremely entertaining and there's so many different ideas in each that it always feels quite fresh. The songs are laid out through the album with a good balance with the two power metal tracks enclosing the ballad in the very middle of the album, and the melodic heavy metal tracks surrounding them at both the start and end of the album, which is actually a pretty well thought out tracklist, and it makes for a pleasant listening experience. It's also worth mentioning that the band made the decision to put their ballad in the middle of the album, rather than closing the album out with it as so many bands do. This decision works very well for Shella. One other thing that makes this album as good as it is is that it's actually leveled extremely well, which is something a few other 80s Mandrake Root bands had trouble with, everybody in Shella can be heard very clearly.

This is a great entry level album for Japanese metal newcomers to try, it may be sung almost exclusively in Japanese, but the whole album is just constructed very well and it's all so damn catchy, it should appeal to the ears of both rock and metal fans. Shella were a band who deserved a better fate than fizzling out after just one album, and if I were to pick one band as the most underrated on the entire Mandrake Root roster, I'm leaning heavily towards these guys.