It always comes back to Black Sabbath. It really does. In the case of Japanese metal, Sabbath was more or less the spark that catalyzed the genre in the East. In 1970, the Tokyo-based Flower Travellin’ Band—whose gloomy heavy metal merged psychedelic and prog trends—released their first LP, Anywhere, which included a cover of the title track of Sabbath’s self-titled record from the same year. The following year, they released the weighty, howling Satori, a landmark record that sounded like equal parts Sabbath and The Stooges and solidified the genre’s sovereignty in Japan. Since Satori, many bands have fought to live up to its standard. Fortunately, to help sort through almost 50 years of heavy sounds from the Land of the Rising Sun, Loudwire has made their definitive list of The 10 Best Japanese Metal Bands.
The list is a decent primer into the country’s history in metal; yet, surprisingly, it does not include Flower Travellin’ Band or other important, early groups like 44 Magnum or Bow Wow. The ‘80s glam-metal band Loudness is represented here, and so is late-’80s/’90s power-metal group X JAPAN, who pioneered “visual kei,” which is basically the Japanese stylistic equivalent of glam and punk rock, in terms of incorporating fashion into the aura of a band.
The list does hit solid modern groups like Maximum the Hormone and Dir En Gray, but surprisingly, leaves out Church of Misery. Teenage metal sensations BABYMETAL are on here as well and, whatever your opinion of them may be, it cannot be contested that they’re one of the most popular Japanese bands on the planet. To me, they sound like what would happen if Katy Perry made a metal record, so I’m a little skeptical of their inclusion as one of the greatest Japanese metal bands. But they’re massively successful, so it’s fine.
And, of course, doom/drone/extreme-metal masters Boris are here. Alongside BABYMETAL, they’re probably the other dominating force from Japan in the contemporary Western metal scene. Boris, whose 2005 album Pink is considered a contemporary metal landmark, is celebrating their 25th anniversary as a band in 2017 as they prepare to release Dear. Before you explore their latest, turn your back to the sun and delve into our rich history of Japanese metal, which uses Loudwire’s list as the foundation while expanding the scope with some supplementary selections of our own.
* Unfortunately, the music of Abigail and Maximum the Hormone is not available on Spotify, but it can be found on YouTube. Abigail, who is self-described as “the most evil band in Japan,” is particularly worth investigating.