Enlarge Jurassic Jade

15 of the Best Old-School ’80s Thrash Bands from Japan

0

Let’s go back to the ’80s: a decade of explosions. Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th sequels were fresh releases at the video store. Super Mario Bros had just jumped onto a fresh new console called the Nintendo Entertainment System. Venom, Slayer and Possessed were the most evil bands in the land while the Bay Area was exploding with young talent like Metallica and Exodus influencing thrashers the world over.  

One of those places was Japan. The country was no stranger to new sounds in metal, creating their own style with visual kei. In the ’70s, Judas Priest, KISS, Aerosmith and the Scorpions rocked crowds in the country while Japan’s own homegrown talent like Bow Wow and Earthshaker set the template for what was to come. By the ’80s, bands like Anthem, Loudness and X Japan formed, along with faster and meaner acts who would represent the thrash movement in Japan. We’ll highlight some of the best of those here today.

Outrage 

From 1982 to present day, Outrage have never taken any breaks, a consistent force in the Japanese thrash scene. They have produced crunchy, thrashy numbers which take cues from the Bay Area, while also offering up an obligatory ballad or two. Outrage’s legend as one of Japan’s thrash giants has been validated by their international peers, opening for Pantera on their 1992 Japanese tour and playing Japan’s biggest metal festival, Loudpark, several times. Listen to their album Black Clouds for your new favorite thrash album released in 1988 (sorry, Justice).

Gargoyle 

Formed in 1987, these pioneers of visual kei threw everything together, including funk, folk, death, doom, black, and speed, though thrash is what we’re here for, and thrash they brought with 1988’s Misogi and 1990’s Furebumi. Their first and second albums are best enjoyed while guzzling beer with fellow thrash aficionados while admiring the experimentation the band offers, including the use of violin. After 30 years, vocalist Kiba started a new project, Under Gargoyle, in which he plays Gargoyle songs with various other musicians. The previous members, meanwhile, started the act 美しき時代 (beautiful days). 

United 

“United, united, united we stand. United we never shall fall. United, united, united we stand. United we stand one and all.” Taking their moniker from the Judas Priest track off of their legendary British Steel album, United not only named their band after their heroes but started by performing their songs. Throughout the years they’ve earned their legendary status on their own merits, though, serving as Paul Di’Anno’s live band in Japan while also performing with Slayer and Testament. On their debut, Bloody But Unbowed, which came out in 1990, they blew open the gates of thrash with a fist-pumping speed-fest.

Deathblow 

Deathblow were only around for about a decade (1986-1997) but their contribution to the scene brought an album no serious hesher should overlook, Meanless Propaganda, released in 1991. The band take notes from Metallica, opening the album with the acoustic “Pathetic” before kicking it into gear with “The Distorted Symbol” and “Seventh Angel Blows a Bugle.” Though recorded in 1991, the album’s raw production makes it feel like it came out a decade prior with its straightforward, aggressive thrash and occasional outside-the-box guitar work. 

Shellshock 

Shellshock play a brand of crossover thrash best suited for those hardcore-minded individuals in tattered S.O.D shirts. As hard as nails and taking influence from d-beat punk, albums like Protest and Resistance serve as especially vivid anti-war vessels. Shellshock kept the battle raging in later years, releasing Unpredictable in 2019.

Casbah 

Casbah have been rocking since 1983, when vocalist Taka Hatori joined forces with original guitarist Nariaki Kida, soon releasing Bang Your Heads to Hell along with a live album bearing the same iconic name. The band raged around the clubs for the remainder of the ’80s, releasing various splits and demos until Bold Statement came out in 1997. The 30-minute album is a statement of being true to the cause in a decade that wasn’t kind to thrash metal. The antithesis of Load, it was the true hero of the day with its mother lode of frenetic energy. 

Sacrifice

The influence of the first wave of black metal made it to the East and birthed the unholy spawn Sacrifice back in 1985. The band’s debut, Crest of Black, was full of primitive, blackened, charbroiled thrash that was highly influenced by Venom, leading to proclamations that it was Japan’s own veritable Black Metal. The band raged into the early ’90s, releasing Total Steel and Tears, before going on a hiatus. The band picked up their instruments again in 2013, and they can still be witnessed as one of the founding fathers of blackened thrash in the country. 

Raging Fury 

The independent, unsigned and unrestrained fury of Raging Fury has been active for nearly 40 years. The band did their share of Bay Area emulation, but vocalist Haruo Nakagawa made his own style heard loud and proud with a bellow straight from his gut opening their self-titled 1992 record. This endearing approach sounds like a speed metal vocalist after 50 beers and a carton of cigarettes, the full fury of an all-night rage. 

Jurassic Jade 

Thrash finds a way. From 1985’s Complete Death demo, Tokyo’s Jurassic Jade have situated themselves as among the most mysterious in Japan’s thrash scene. Wearing kabuki makeup, vocalist Hizumi provided a visual spectacle unique to the region, while the rest of the music could be considered A-class thrash. Gore, released in 1989, is a classic, the venomous vocals of Hizumi as deadly as they are crystal clear. With 1991’s 誰かが殺した日々, the intensity was doubled, hewing closer to the sonic palette of Reign in Blood

Doom 

More avant-garde than traditional trash, the anaconda-like bass lines and progressive song-structures of Doom drew comparisons to Canada’s Voivod. That weirdness is on full display on 1988’s Complicated Mind, while their debut record, No More Pain (1987), is an introspective rager, leading to a gig at New York City’s famous CBGB’s in October of 1988. Tragedy struck Doom in 1999, when founding member Koh drowned to death. The group disbanded shortly after but reformed in 2014, and with their second coming have put out more technically expansive bangers.  

Aion 

Formed in 1983 by guitarist Izumi, Aion helped start the visual kei movement in the early ’80s, but more importantly, they thrashed like motherfuckers. Deathrash Bound, also the band’s catchphrase, is the name of their 1989 debut LP, and you’re bound to have neck pain in the morning after pulling an all-night rager with this on the playlist. Double the pain if you put on their second LP, Human Griefman, which is the same album but with vocalist Nov replacing original singer Hisayoshi. 

Riverge 

Riverge are another one of those bands that never released a proper full-length until a few decades into their career. Granted, they took quite a bit of time off from 1989-2007, but they finally put out Rebirth of Skull in 2009, marking a defiant second coming for the thrashers from Osaka. They continued their roll with 2012’s Raid for Riverging, and have been highlights at many of Japan’s thrash fests in recent years. 

Rose Rose 

Mosh of Ass, Kill Your Brain, No Medicine Cures an Asshole: just a few of the near 20 albums Rose Rose have put out over their near four-decade existence. Rose Rose play a myriad of styles blended together to make a delicious liquid worthy of their name. This is perhaps best heard in their crossover thrash album Liquidation from 1989. Put on your Suicidal hat and prepare to take a dive. 

Ground Zero

Naming their band after nuclear destruction is morbidly fitting, though the Japanese have been integrating the WWII bombings into their media since those dark days. With Ground Zero, violent thrash references the horrors of war on songs like “World War 3” on their Gate of Death EP as well as their namesake, “Ground Zero.” The band was only active for two short stints (1988-89 and 2009-2010). Here’s hoping for another round.

Z-Sect

In the A-Z of Japanese thrash, Z-Sect represent the tail end of the ’80s, active for only three years (1987-1990). Still, they put out a few demos and an EP to make sure their time as a band was sealed in the record books. After their breakup, vocalist Nov went on to more well-known bands such as Aion (above) and Volcano, keeping the spirit of Z-Sect alive. Now he works as a lecturer in the music department of MI Japan. 

Show Comments
Metal Sucks Greatest Hits