Dead End – Shambara

   1988 Metal Blade

Let’s face it, this album (and indeed this band) never stood a chance stateside what with the fact that they were a Japanese heavy metal band whose singer sang in Japanese, although there are two tracks here sung in English with the lyrics to those tracks proudly printed on the inner sleeve.

The odds were firmly stacked against them, as any mainstream pseudo-fascination with Japanese metal was cursed with the memory of the only band of that genre to get any real exposure in the US…Loudness.  Loudness was actually a good band, although you would never know it from their major-label US releases and their almost hysterically funny lyrics…embarrassingly magnifying the fact that English was undoubtedly their second language.

This proved to be an unshakable albatross around the neck of any Japanese metal band looking to make it stateside, relegating them sadly to an almost novelty status (i.e. Bow Wow, EZO, et al).   If ever there was one of these bands who deserved to make it, Dead End is that band.

Until Dead End, I couldn’t really get into any band whose singer sang in another language.  Oh, I tried with Spanish hard rockers Baron Rojo and some others in the 80’s, but usually the singers were merely average so the language barrier was just another strike against them.  Not so with Dead End. 

Lead throat Morrie (Motoyuki Ohtsuka) has an incredibly engaging and dramatic style that spills melody and passion so effortlessly you just don’t care that you can’t understand the words.  Crazy as it sounds, his performance is so strong on this and prior release ‘Ghost Of Romance’ that you almost feel that you understand the songs without understanding a word…underscoring the fact that music itself is a universal language.

Their image was very showman-like at the time, the darkly street-glam look almost contrasting with the decidedly classical and gothic overtones of the music itself, but upon a closer look totally making sense.   Leadoff track “Embryo Burning” still gives me goosebumps 20 years later as the sense of cold mystery just permeates your airspace and demands ever-higher volume.

“Night Song,” “Serpent Silver,” “Luna Madness” and “Blind Boy Project” don’t sound the least bit hackneyed or cliched even today, as it’s obvious that these guys had the chops to more than match their songwriting talent.  Guitarist You (Yuji Adachi) is just brilliant, bringing passion and razor-sharp brilliance to riffs and solos alike.  Only the second track, “Junk” is a real clunker here, the rest being of a much higher quality.

Album closer “I Can Hear The Rain” and the aforementioned “Night Song” are the two tracks sung in English and quite frankly, I wish Morrie had sung those in his native Japanese, as his dark sense of style makes his native tongue sound cryptic rather than merely foreign.

With guitars for miles, this is very much a hard-rocking disc with “metal” being too limiting of a term here.  If you have a sense of adventure and want to hear a disc that will truly take you somewhere you’ve never been before, search the web for this one.  It’s there awaiting your discovery.

Rating:  4 out of 5