When it comes to Japanese rock and metal, there are a ton of artists waiting to be discovered by international listeners if they know where to look. Some on the more extreme end of the spectrum has broken through thanks to record labels on this side of the world, but when it comes to heavy metal and power metal many can only be found through YouTube videos and expensive import CD’s. Thanks to labels like JPU Recordssome of these artists have gotten exposure outside their home country, and one of their latest releases is the fourth album from Lovebites, Judgement Day. The band’s promo image may have you thinking this is an idol or J-rock/pop band, but they’re closer to the type of soaring and shredding power and heavy metal that Europe is known for. Judgement Day debuts the band’s new bassist Fami and continues their take on aggressive yet catchy instrumentation, and while it may not deviate significantly from their established sound the album features some of their strongest tracks to date.
If you’re unfamiliar with Lovebites, their sound channels elements of NWOBHM and European heavy metal with some thrash added in for good measure. Opener “We Are the Resurrection” gives you a good idea of the type of scorching and high-flying riffs that the band has to offer throughout Judgement Day, as after a big booming chorus that has a symphonic flair to it the speed and tonality kicks in and the remainder of the track hits hard. At times the emphasis on shredding and speed gives off a Dragonforce flair, as there is a lot of technical ability on display and the members of Lovebites deliver a tight and consistent performance throughout. But even if the tempos don’t change that frequently throughout Judgement Day, the writing does switch things up from one track to the next and there are plenty of standout moments. Songs like “Stand and Deliver (Shoot ‘em Down)” find that sweet spot between blistering, weighty thrash and traditional heavy metal, while “My Orion” ups the melody and keyboard arrangements for a booming melodic rock song that wouldn’t sound out of place on the current Frontiers Records roster. There’s that sense of power metal’s energy and soaring heights no matter where Lovebites is going, and fans of the genre are sure to find the entire disc infectious. Admittedly this isn’t a huge leap for the band, and I wouldn’t mind some of the rock elements expanded upon further to break up the constant barrage of fast tempos. But given that predecessor Electric Pentagram was a mammoth hour and ten minutes where Judgement Day comes in at a more reasonable fifty-eight and doesn’t feel like it wastes any of that time, I can’t blame Lovebites for doing what they know at such a polished level.
Heavy and power metal bands can have technical prowess and catchy riffs, but all of that doesn’t mean as much if they don’t have a strong singer to carry the material. Lovebites’ singer Asami manages this with ease, and if you were thinking you’d get a sickly-sweet pitch similar to J-Pop based on the band photo the first verse of “We Are the Resurrection” will change that thought immediately. Asami has a booming voice that starts off a bit lower and heads to soaring heights as the songs reach their choruses, utilizing quite a bit of range in the process. Some of the lower pitches remind me a bit of Doro, while the higher ones bring a slew of different power metal singers to mind, but Asami still manages to have a feel of her own. Some songs feature some backing chants that are like the back-ups you’d get on classic 80s thrash, and this type of additional variety helps the material.
I wouldn’t mind if Lovebites varied the tempo just a bit more in the future, as the regular emphasis on speed and shredding does result in a few passages running together over the course of the album and the dip into melodic rock on “My Orion” suits their sound. But even with some minor flaws, this is another strong showing from this group and they seem very capable of grabbing a sizeable audience of power and heavy metal fans outside of their home country. Japan’s had a lock on heavy hitting yet incredibly infectious material in both of these genres, and Lovebites is currently some of the best they have to offer. Judgement Day is available from JPU Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg