Anthem – Heraldic Device – 4.5/5
For those unaware of their Japanese history, it's considered that back when the rest of the world were just discovering the world of thrash metal, Japan was booming ten years behind with its own flourishing metal scene, amongst them their own 'Big Four' of Heavy Metal; X-Japan, Loudness, EZO and Anthem. And much like the Big Four of Bay Area Thrash, their histories haven't exactly been filled with gem after gem; X-Japan wouldn't take long before they started gradually softening their sound for wider appeal and providing the framework for many of the Japanese rock bands to emerge; Loudness reached a peak and have been struggling to match it for so long even die hard fans have given up hope, and EZO simply quit whilst they were ahead. None of them have a patch on Anthem, because Anthem have done what none of the rest – the US or the Japanese four – have managed to do: successfully make a comeback.
So that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but history was never kind to Anthem; after receiving moderate success in the late 80s they decided to call it quits, ending life on a high, but as anyone whose picked up an instrument knows all too well, you can't separate a man from his weapon for long. A decade passes, their names becomes forgotten, and suddenly when the reunion occurs they find themselves on the bottom rung once more; these ageing head-bangers now finding that they have to prove themselves all over again, and so they set out to do it in the only way they know how. They haven't tried to to worry about how times have changed, how sounds have evolved or trying to flirt with new styles; that would be as much an abomination as... well you've all heard about the Metallica/Lou Reed collaboration haven't you? Anthem first made their name playing catchy, ballsy Heavy Metal, and that's how they'll do it again, as this album is sets out to prove.
If you're looking for something game changing then you're really looking in the wrong place, but what they perhaps lack in originality they compensate by simply performing it so well. They've spent so long honing their craft to perfection that it's hard not to be mesmerised by it all, the intricacy of the instruments never getting lost in the production. The drums hit with a raw effigy that never relies on speed as much as creativity, working with the bass lines to create a melodic rhythm for the rest of the instrumentation to layer on top of; chords interspersed with riffs, fluidly changing throughout a tracks length and proving that he can do the job of two guitars. The work he lays down here is possibly the most impressive aspect to it all despite rarely feeling all too complex, but as if to lay any suspicions about his technical ability to rest, he belts out an instrumental ("Code of Silence") to stop nay-sayers in their tracks.
Topped off with the vocals to complete the line-up, its here that their second strength comes shining through; the power and intensity of his instantly recognisable vocal talents matched only by his ability to create hooks and chorus lines so catchy and memorable that they instantly lodge themselves in your mind; one track at times feels suspiciously similar to The Scorpions “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” but ultimately that just proves my point. I rejoined Anthem's second wave of superiority with their impressive last album, but here they've delivered on something that beats even that, producing one of the best modern 'old school' releases to have released in recent years; more than equal to the spellbinding return of Accept with their “Blood of the Nations.” “Heraldic Device” feels 80s without feeling 'retro;' they've embodied the style as though the past thirty years haven't happened, as opposed to trying to somehow modernise it. They were the best of the bunch back in their day and now they've returned to prove their day ain't over yet.
Highlights: Contagious, Go, Blind Alley, Code of Silence
EDIT: I've since been catching up with some Loudness, and I guess it's only fair to say that they've made something of a comeback as well.