Those of us who grew up in the UK a little too late to truly be a part of the NWoBHM had our own bands that we revered just as much as the big names of the movement. Bands that came to national recognition a little after the NWoBHM storm had blown out but which now always seem to have that tag applied to them if they’ve managed to weather the intervening thirty five-plus years. For me, growing up just outside Cardiff in the mid eighties, ‘my’ bands were Persian Risk, Rankelson and… Tokyo Blade.
Tokyo Blade’s debut album is the great unsung classic of eighties Brit metal. To my mind, and with all due respect to all concerned, it’s better than anything more lauded bands like Grim Reaper managed to come up with, an album that tempered the blazing twin guitar assault of Maiden with the melodic radio-rock sensibilities of Leppard and Priest at thier poppiest. But, stuck on no-hope label Powerstation, the band got mired in the usual record company/management bullshit seemingly so prevalent at that time. They made an ill-fated stab at full-on spandex clad jester metal then limped to the wayside, overtaken by other Brit metal hopefuls like Marshall Law and Wolfsbane.
Founder member and guitarist Andy Boulton has kept the flag flying with an ever-changing cast of supporting actors (largely other NWoBHM survivors, but also, interestingly, an American version of the band which played extensively at the end of the last decade) and so here we are in 2020 – and he’s back with four fifths of the lineup that recorded that storied debut! Will those of us who’ve waited patiently for the stars to align for this band one more time be rewarded with something to rival the class of that debut?
Of course not. Because, whilst the band is back, hungry, lean and firing on all cylinders, this isn’t the early eighties, no matter how much all of us wish it was. It’s 2020, the world has moved on, and so, it would seem, has Tokyo Blade. That’s a good thing in places – this new album is produced beautifully, retaining the band’s signature heaviness yet sounding thoroughly modern, whilst vocalist Alan Marsh has perfected his craft and used his experience well; gone is the reedy, occasionally nasal warble of yore, replaced by a full throated heavy metal roar that suits the music perfectly. But it’s also undeniable that the reckless enthusiasm of youth has been supplanted in places by a reliance on craft where before a few chances might have been taken, the odd bare-faced piece of theft acknowledged, slips in the studio let through to the keeper in the name of retaining ‘the spirit’ of the band. There are just a few too many moments on Dark Revolution that are workmanlike rather than virtuoso to make this a true, out-and-out classic.
Strangely enough, most of these moments occur early on in the running order. Story of a Nobody really is too nondescript a song to kick things off; Burning Rain has it’s moments but outstays it’s welcome at over six minutes in length. However as the album warms up so does the band, and the back end of the record is loaded with latter day Blade classics-in-the-making. Both Boulton and guitar partner John Wiggins are in fine form, and the rhythm section (drummer Steve Pierce and bassist Andy Wrighton), though not given much in the way of starring roles both perform their roles with the requisite amount of oomph. Songs like Crack In The Glass, the more melodic Perfect Enemy, Not Lay Down and Die and closer Voices of the Damned are all roof-raising crackers, with that distinctly Brit metal style the band made their own in 1983 thoroughly re-installed and blazing. Indeed if it’s a first album dead ringer you’re looking for, then look no further than the rattling The Fastest Gun in Town, which could easily have been written in that halcyon age long ago… Some of Marsh’s lyrics are pretty nifty too – you often get a whiff of prime time Phil Lynott in the stories he weaves – with the result being an album that, despite giving up it’s secrets slowly, is going to be looked at as one of the band’s best in years to come. Great work, and well worth a listen!
Dark Revolution is out on May 15th.