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The Top 15 Japanese Metal Bands Of The 80s

The Top 15 Japanese Metal Bands Of The 80s

#15 Aion

Formed in 1983 by guitarist Izumi Ochiai, Aion started out as a thrash band but would later develop into more of a power metal-sounding entity. . Along with X Japan, Aion was one of the creators of the Visual Kei movement. Though the band started in the 80s, they found their biggest success in the 90s. Aion has released the following studio albums: Deathrash Bound (March 21, 1989), Human Griefman (February 25, 1990), Aionism (October 8, 1991), Aion -Aion- (愛音~AION~, August 21, 1992), Z (Z [ZETTO], June 2, 1993), Absolute (March 2, 1994), Freak-Out (November 22, 1995), Mithras (February 22, 1997, fan-club only), Eve (April 4, 1998, fan-club only), Ceremony of Cross Out (September 9, 1999, fan-club only), Judge of Death Line (September 9, 1999, fan-club only), Manners of Kill and Wound (September 9, 1999, fan-club only), Magnitude (December 24, 2000, fan-club only), Sister (October 24, 2003, fan-club only).

 

 

#14 Doom

Formed in 1985 this Japanese Thrash band Doom was successful in Asia, but also managed to play the famous CBGB in New York in 1988. Takashi “Taka” Fujita on vocals and guitar is the only remaining original member left in the lineup. Bassist Koh “Pirarucu” Morota died in 1999. Doom has released the following studio albums: No More Pain (1987), Complicated Mind (1988), Incompetent… (1989), Human Noise (1991), Doom VI – Illegal Soul (1992), Where Your Life Lies!? (1999), Still Can’t The Dead (2016)

 

 

 

#13 Outrage

Thrash metal band Outrage began in 1982 from Nagoya, Japan. The bands’ first album Black Clouds was released in 1988 on the major label, Polydor Records. Their present-day lineup contains long-tenured members from the 80s with the band consisting of Yosuke Abe (阿部洋介) – guitar, backing vocals (1982–present), vocals (1998–2007), Yoshihiro Yasui (安井義博) – bass, backing vocals (1982–present), vocals (1998–2007), Shinya Tange (丹下眞也) – drums (1982–present), and Naoki Hashimoto (橋本直樹) – vocals (1986–1999, 2007–present). Outrage has released the following studio albums: Black Clouds (1988), Blind to Reality (1989), The Great Blue (1990), The Final Day (1991), Spit (1993), Life Until Deaf (1995), Who We Are (1997), 24-7 (2002), Cause For Pause (2004), Outrage (2009), Outraged (June 5, 2013), Genesis I (October 7, 2015), Raging Out (October 11, 2017), and Run Riot (April 15, 2020)

 

 

#12 Sabbat

This Japanese Black Metal band started in 1984. Sabbat is another band that only released EP’s and singles during the 80s and would not officially release a full album until 1991. In the beginning, Sabbat often played cover songs by Venom around Japan. After releasing several singles in the 80s the band begins to find success outside of Japan as well. Sabbat has released the following studio albums to date: Envenom (Evil Records, Japan 1991), Evoke (Evil Records, Japan 1992), Disembody (Evil Records, Japan 1993) Fetishism (Evil Records, Japan 1994), The Dwelling (Evil Records, Japan 1996), Karisma ((Iron Pegasus Records, Germany 1999), Satanasword (Iron Pegasus Records, Germany 2000), Karmagmassacre (Iron Pegasus Records, Germany 2003), and Sabbatrinity (Iron Pegasus Records, Germany 2011)

 

 

#11 United

United took their name from the Judas Priest song “United” from the British Steel album. The band was formed in 1981 and these days, guitarist Yoshifumi “Hally” Yoshida is the longest-tenured member of the band having joined in 1988. Early Vocalist Kouichi “Nao” died in 2017. United released 3 EPs during the 80s before releasing their debut full-length album “Bloody But Unbowed” in 1990. United has released the following studio albums: Bloody But Unbowed (1990), Human Zoo (1992), N.O.I.Q. (1995), Reload (1997), Distorted Vision (1999), Infectious Hazard (2001), Core (2002), Nine (2005), Tear of Illusions (2011), and Absurdity (2018)

 

 

 

#10 Saber Tiger

Saber Tiger was formed in 1981 by founding member and guitarist Akihito Kinoshita. Strangely, the band only released singles before their actual debut album in 1992. Saber Tiger released a major label international album entitled Project One which featured vocalist Ron Keel (Keel), bassist Naoto Shibata (Anthem), and drummer Hirotsugu Honma (ex-Ezo and Loudness).  The album was successful and brought significant attention to the band. Saber Tiger has released the following studio albums: Invasion (April 21, 1992), Agitation (August 25, 1994), Timystery (October 25, 1995), Project One (February 5, 1997), Brain Drain (February 21, 1998), Saber Tiger (January 24, 2001), F.U.S.E. (March 13, 2002), Indignation (January 26, 2005), Decisive (August 3, 2011), Messiah Complex (October 10, 2012), Bystander Effect (November 23, 2015) and Obscure Diversity (October 10, 2018).

 

 

#9 Dead End

Another Japanese band that tried to reach the shores of the U.S., Dead End achieved only modest sales with their Ghost Of Romance album. The band received airplay on MTV with the song “Danse Macabre”, but never really achieved the level of success Of Loudness and X Japan. The band had a unique style and image that was often confusing to American audiences, who were right in the middle of the glam metal movement at the time.

 

 

 

 

# 8 Show-Ya

This all-female Japanese metal band was originally formed in 1981 and released its first studio album in 1985.  The band’s main lineup included: Keiko Terada – lead vocals, Miki “Sun-go” Igarashi – guitar, backing vocals, Miki “Captain” Nakamura – keyboards, backing vocals, Satomi Senba – bass, backing vocals, Miki “Mittan” Tsunoda – drums, backing vocals and Mitsuko Numata – guitar (1981-1984). Show-Ya was a stand-out in the 80s metal genre in Japan because of the band being comprised of all female members. Show-Ya forged the way for modern female metal bands like BabyMetal and LoveBites in Japan. They have released the following albums to date: Masquerade Show (1985), Queendom (1986), Ways (1986), Trade Last (1987), Immigration (1987), Glamour (1988), Outerlimits (1989), Hard Way (1990), Touch the Sun (1995), Genuine Diamond (2012), Progress (2015) and Aurora (2017). Show-Ya is set to release their latest album “Showdown” in 2021.

 

 

# 7 Earthshaker

Earthshaker is one of the early Japanese metal bands.  They were unfortunately overlooked in the U.S. market with bands like Loudness, E-Z-O, and Anthem reaching an American metal audience. Early on Earthshaker actually featured Loudness vocalist Minoru Niihara as their singer and bass player. Earthshaker is still well-known in Japan and has released a large discography over the years. In the 80s they released the following albums: Earthshaker (1983), Fugitive (1984), Midnight Flight (1984), Passion (1985), Overrun (1986), Aftershock (1987), Smash (1988), and Treachery (1989). The band released their latest album “The Story Goes On” in 2018.

 

 

 

# 6 Bow Wow / Vow Wow

Bow Wow is one of the early Japanese metal bands. Starting in the late 70s the band released several albums.  In the 80s they released Glorious Road (1980), Telephone (1980), Hard Dog (1981)
Asian Volcano (1982), and Warning from Stardust (1982).  In 1984 the band changed their name to Vow Wow and released the albums Beat of Metal Motion (1984), Cyclone (1985), III (1986)
V (1987) and Vibe (1988).  Kyoji Yamamoto is considered a guitar virtuoso and is known for his skillful style.

 

 

 

 

Seikima-II# 5 Seikima-II

This Japanese band started in 1982 and has featured different lineups over the years with vocalist Demon Kakka as the only constant member.  They have been compared to KISS for their elaborate costumes and use of black and white makeup.  The band has sold over 10 Million records in Japan.  Seikima-II released the following albums during the 1980s: Seikima II – Akuma ga Kitarite Heavy Metal (聖飢魔II〜悪魔が来たりてヘヴィメタる, 1985), The End of the Century (1986), From Hell with Love (地獄より愛をこめて, 1986), Big Time Changes (1987) and The Outer Mission (1988). The band have a long career and officially disbanded in 1999.

 

 

 

# 4 EZO

In terms of mainstream success in the United States, E-Z-O was probably one of the closest to breakthrough. The band’s video for the single Flashback Heart Attack” received airplay on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. The band was helped along by Gene Simmons of Kiss and released their debut album on Geffen Records. The band wore leather and black and white makeup that represented the different elements of Japanese folklore. The band was originally called “Flatbacker” and recorded several albums in Japan before changing their name to E-Z-O at Simmons’s request. After the band disbanded, leader singer Masaki Yamada joined Loudness for a succession of albums replacing vocalist Mike Vescera, who had replaced original Loudness vocalist Minoru Niihara.

 

 

 

# 3 X Japan

X Japan, started a new wave of music by incorporating visual elements like heavy makeup, elaborate costumes, and hairstyles, similar to the U.S. glam rock movement, but purely Japanese in style. X Japan was not widely known outside of Asia for many years but has steadily built a loyal following of fans worldwide. Unfortunately, they received the most press, for the tragic death of guitarist, Hide who was well-loved and wildly popular in Japan and now is recognized for his talents around the world. X Japan has only released 5 full-length albums throughout their long career and is lead by the charismatic drummer, Yoshiki. The band still does a tribute to their fallen band member Hide in each live performance. X Japan is considered a legendary rock band in Japan and throughout the world despite having a smaller discography than many other bands. The bands’ popularity has actually grown over the years.

 

 

#2 Anthem

After Loudness broke through as the first mainstream Japanese heavy metal band, many bands tried to follow their lead. One of the best Japanese bands to hit the scene was Anthem. The band still continues to release new albums, periodically. Bound To Break was the band’s biggest success in the United States, but failed to capture the album buyer’s attention at the same level as Loudness. Highly regarded in Japan, the band has a lengthy discography and deserved far more credit overseas than they received. Studio albums released by Anthem to date: 1985: Anthem, 1985: Ready to Ride EP, 1986: Tightrope, 1987: Bound to Break, 1988: Gypsy Ways, 1989: Hunting Time 1990: No Smoke Without Fire, 1992: Domestic Booty, 2000: Heavy Metal Anthem, 2001: Seven Hills, 2002: Overload, 2004: Eternal Warrior, 2006: Immortal, 2008: Black Empire, 2011: Heraldic Device, 2012: Burning Oath, 2014: Absolute World and 2017: Engraved

 

 

# 1 Loudness

The first Japanese metal band to secure a major record deal with a company from the United States. That band is “Loudness”. Loudness started in 1981 and is one of the most popular metal exports from Japan. In May of 1981, Munetaka loudnessHiguchi (drums) and Akira Takasaki (guitar) from the Japanese band, Lazy decided to form their own band to pursue their favorite music style. Minoru Niihara (Vocals), a former member of Earthshaker, became the original lead singer of Loudness after auditioning. Masayoshi Yamashita (bass), an old friend with Takasaki, was also selected after a few auditions. The band released six releases consisting of full albums and EP’s before recording their debut album for Atlantic Records, entitled “Thunder In The East”. Loudness had made an intentional attempt to reach international fame. When Thunder In The East was recorded, Minoru Niihara did not speak English and learned to sing all of the vocals phonetically. The band received airplay on MTV, which brought them to a whole new audience of American rock fans. The album released in 1985, reached no. 4 on Japanese charts and landed at no. 74 in the U.S. They toured the U.S. with Motley Crue and became the first Japanese rock band to play Madison Square Garden. The band released Lightning Strikes and Hurricane Eyes in the United States and Akira Takasaki began to get noticed as a guitar hero, alongside the likes of Eddie Van Halen, George Lynch, Yngwie Malmsteen, Jake E. Lee, and others. The band went through a few lineup changes when Niihara left the band as was replaced by American vocalist, Mike Vescera and later by Masaki Yamada of the Japanese band EZO. Niihara returned to the band in 2001. To date, Loudness has released a total of 26 studio albums and remains a legendary band, both in Japan and the United States. Today, Akira Takasaki is considered among the best rock guitarists in the world.

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About the author

Bobby Caughron

Bobby Caughron is a music journalist and Editor-In-Chief for XS ROCK. He began a life-long fan of hard rock and metal music after hearing KISS as a kid. He is still an avid fan of the 80s metal scene and continues to discover and write about new music in all rock genres today.

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