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Album Review: Anthem – Tightrope

The early eighties sparked an uprising in Japanese heavy metal that isn’t touched on that often, yet contains some absolute gems.  Loudness is typically the first band that comes to mind when thinking of this movement, but alongside them came a band that go by the name of Anthem.  Their self-titled debut dropped a year prior to this, and while it got them on the map, it wasn’t quite up to par as far as quality.  Instead, their follow up Tightrope from 1986 would be the one to leave a lasting impression.  What’s interesting is that most of their lyrics are in Japanese, but the song titles themselves are in English, as well as most of the choruses.  Not being fluent in that language, it makes it tougher to get into, but the quality of the tunes doesn’t change, and if anything, this adds some more culture to it.

Being on the shorter side, Tightrope is a very melodic piece sticking to the traditional heavy metal aesthetics.  Raw production, clean vocals, mean riffs, and harmony are the bread and butter of this entire release.  A lot of major keys are used, with friendly yet gritty chord progressions.  “Tightrope Dancer” is a fine example of this, as it not only implements all of these characteristics, but it has a booming outro with harmonic voice overlays across the guitars.  Others, such as the song following entitled “Death To Death” take on a more threatening sound, tying in more minor keys.  The tempo to this one also resides on the darker side.  Both styles work very well, which allows it to cover more than one face of the traditional heavy metal cube.  That said, glam elements get mixed in from time to time as well, mostly with the poppier glaze that is painted on top with the backing harmonics.  Rest assured that there are no keyboards used on this release (not that that would take away from it).  This style can be heard on album opener “Victim In Your Eyes.”

Production plays a large part of how this album comes across, and due to the rough mixes, it is a little hard on the ears.  On the other hand, it also gives it a nastier feel, allowing the rhythms to have that harsher environment to them.  Mostly, it makes the vocals come off much raspier, keeping them away from that Bruce Dickinson-esque falsetto sound.  Whether that helps, or hurts is dependent on the preferred vocal delivery, but I suppose it works for what they were trying to do.  To say the least, it helps the speed metal driven tracks a lot, such as “Driving Wire.” Had the production been cleaner, Tightrope would have definitely been a bit more accessible, and far less dirty sounding.

One way or another, this is certainly worth a spin.  Anthem have a pretty lengthy discography, and this is the one that would be perfect for those new to the band.  It covers many techniques in the realm of traditional heavy metal, and has the most memorable songwriting, which is what matters at the end of the day.

Tightrope came out on April 21, 1986 on Nexus and can be purchased at Amazon.com.

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