|Musical Style: Metal/Hard Rock||Produced By: Imari Tones|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: Japan|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: Imari Tones|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 55:15|
Imarii-Tones-The-First-Christian-Metal-Band-From-Japan. Read that back to yourself. Imarii-Tones-The-First-Christian-Metal-Band-From-Japan. It’s got a certain ring to it, and this Yokohama based power trio is convinced of its dual role to “reach beyond their culture to make the music they love, and to reach beyond their music to bring Jesus into their culture” (as taken from the Imari Tones press material).
I have avidly followed the Christian hard music scene since the early eighties - and administered Angelic Warlord the past nine of those years - and find it disconcerting the dearth of Christian bands from the Far East. The only other group of which I am aware is Jeremy, a South Korean power/progressive metal act that has eight full-length albums to its credit since its mid-nineties inception. Yet, a Christian band from South Korea should not surprise in light of the growth of Christianity in the region over the past century (an online article suggests that as of 2010, 29% of the South Korean population is Christian). Hence, the relevant question should actually be why aren’t we aware of more Christian bands from South Korea?
But what about Japan? According to Wiki, Japan remains one of the most secular nations in the world, with roughly only 500,000 Protestant Christians out of its population of 130 million, which translates to less than 1% in comparison. In the face of such daunting numbers, a Christian band from Japan is significant in and of itself. Consider as a result the potential and opportunity for Imari Tones to reach people, particularly in light of its ultimate goal of “making stellar heavy metal music” and to “see their native Japan embrace Christianity” (again, taken from the groups press material either way). Imari Tones best sums up said mission in the following regard: “This world needs a healing. A spiritual healing. We need more Love, not Hate. So this is our spiritual healing in (a musical) form”.
It was December 2007 when Imari Tones lead vocalist and guitarist Tak “Tone” Nakamine came to the faith as a direct influence from an acoustic concert in Harajuku Tokyo. Tak, impressed with several Christian artists performing at the show, opened his heart and mind to Christianity after concluding that Jesus was the larger meaning behind music that he always felt was there. Bassist Yuki “Hassy” Hashimoto and drummer Hide “Jake” Yamazak later solidified the Imari Tones line up that has since released four full-length albums, Welcome To The School (2008), Victory In Christ (2009), Japan Metal Jesus (2011) and its most recent offering Revive The World (2014).
Editor’s note: Before laughing at the Japan Metal Jesus title, please first consider that Finland’s highly regarded HB also released an every bit quirkily entitled album The Jesus Metal Explosion.
Imari Tones likes to describe itself as a ‘diverse type of hard rock and metal band’ while listing Van Halen, Stryper, Rush, Living Color, Led Zeppelin and Living Color as influences. What I hear from Imari Tones on Revive The World is old school eighties metal but that might be somewhat limiting in that the group also branches out accordingly. Yes, you will find your share of up-tempo melodic metal meets hard rock (think Stryper, Whitecross or Laudamus) but also hints of straightforward and blues based hard rock (sort of like Aerosmith and early nineties Bride), occasional progressive aspects (this is where the Rush influence comes into play) and even some alternative overtones.
Opening Revive The World track “Unlimit” gets things going with a bang, a high energy four and a half minutes of melodic metal that reeks breakneck riffs and vivacious demeanor to match. “The Imaginary Number Boy 3” follows similar suite with a buoyant up-tempo disposition in racing front to back at a near speed metal clip as light traces of groove underpin the backdrop. Characteristic of the pair is Tak’s exuberant guitar playing, who proves throughout Revive The World a more than above average performer with soloing that ranges from the all out flashy to bluesy in form.
“Ripping Through Hell” also upholds the animated goods but in the heavier package, spirited with its lively tempo but also delivering every bit the forthright blow in the process. As with the other up-tempo material here, I see this one translating great live. The incredible “Born To Ride” maintains the fiery impetus, establishing a mercurial tone with its mesmerizing guitar riffs and non-stop catchiness to its ardent refrain (one of the albums best). Imagine Whitecross going speed metal and this might be the result.
Tak also exhibits his adept soloing abilities on the scintillating open-air lead guitar at the start of “17 Years”. Musically, this one takes the more reserved heading, as warm and rich low-end flavorings align with start to finish bouncing guitar riffs. The understated progressiveness hints of Rush. Likewise, “Falling” plays up some Rush nuances in its guitar tones but otherwise reinforces smooth mid-paced groove with a chorus on the soothing side of things. “Victory” maintains the mid-paced penchant, albeit in a semi-ballad format with verses on the calm side of things and chorus excited as uplifting guitars kick in.
Tempering things further is “Unknown Road”, a classic AOR to melodic hard rocker in which the guitar proclivities have been toned down while upping the commercial aspects in the process. Yes, this one is on the mellower side but good nonetheless. The song also allows Tak to highlight his varied vocal abilities, who proves a technically solid performer capable of a high-end falsetto within the framework of a comfortable middle register groove. A concern voiced by some in which this reviewer shares is a language barrier (the same type inherit to some bands from Brazil also with English singers) that potentially prevents both his vocals from standing out to their full potential and Imari Tones from garnering further acclaim in the process. I cannot help but wonder accordingly if Imari Tones would ever consider recording an album with a singer in which English is not a second language (sort of like countrymen Loudness)?
Slowing impetus to a near crawl is “Invisible Rain”, this reviewer’s choice track off the album. The song proves creepy and portent with its haunting demeanor, evenly drifting its length as lighter guitar aspects combine with periodic stalwart rhythm guitars that plow in and out of the mix to play up a melody driven milieu. With its darker and moody flavorings, “Invisible Rain” almost gives rise to some Gothic to doom-ish elements and proves that when Imari Tones steps outside the box its creativity knows no bounds.
The group also shines when adding some bluesy touches such as on “Steel Wheels”, another standout track driven by straightforward hard rock guitars that dig and bite with their snarling edge. Momentum is determined and daring as it gets, although things do temper for a cool funk-paced passage in which bristling bass assumes command. Also bluesy is “Heaven’s Gate”, with the type of gritty guitar driven swagger I can see Aerosmith fans taking notice but also exuding the needed melodic backbone at the same time. Imari Tones allows for a ton of bristling class and backbone therein.
Lone track not to do it for me is “Hometown”, a shorter (three and a half minute) melodic hard rocker that reflects the trademark Imari Tones energy but also comes across a bit flat. Perhaps it is the abbreviated length or the fact the chorus fails to stand out as some, but that extra element of creativity defining the better material here is missing.
Staying independent and label-free is an important priority with Imari Tones in that the group does not believe in the music business, especially in Japan. Hence, how Revive The World lacks the big budget production values one might associate with a label based release. Yes, you will encounter some thinness to production (as can become an independent music) but not to the point of denigrating the listening experience either. One also cannot fault the group for remaining independent, particularly in light of how most labels in Japan are more than likely not going to be friendly towards the Imari Tones Christian lyrical stance.
Speaking of lyrics, I am unable to go into too much detail due to not having a lyric sheet, but the group’s faith does not fail to come across in its prose. Packaging is pretty basic in consisting of a two page insert with track listing, band roster and credits on the inside.
Imari Tones has composed some standout material on Revive The World, with my favorites being “Born To Ride”, “Steel Wheels”, “Invisible Rain” and “Heaven’s Gate”. Albums remaining tracks (in my opinion) rate within the above average to very good categories, one skip button notwithstanding. Yes, production could use a bit of tightening while vocals are competent but encounter a language barrier at the same time. This, however, is not the point in that all artistic critique aside, Imari Tones - as the first Christian metal band from Japan - is in a unique situation to influence its environment in a positive manner. I feel it to be important moving forward to give Imari Tones our complete support in order that it might successfully bring its music and faith to a culture not necessarily open or friendly towards its message at hand. Within this light, Imari Tones are metal missionaries in the truest sense of the word.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Unlimit” (4:29), “The Imaginary Number Boy 3” (3:44), “Victory” (4:44), “Unknown Road” (4:44), “Falling” (4:54), “Steel Wheels” (4:27), “Heaven’s Gate” (5:07), “Ripping Through Hell” (4:00), “Invisible Rain” (5:28), “Hometown” (3:31), “Born To Ride” (4:34), “17 Years” (5:35)
Tak Nakamine - Lead Vocals & Guitars
Yuki Hashimoto - Bass
Hide Yamazak – Drums