The greatest Japanese metal albums of all time are a great way to celebrate one of the genre’s most underrated nations. Japan has always been a very supporting nation of the heavy metal genre but its bands don’t get a lot of love in the West. It’s a shame because there is much to like about Japanese metal. Let’s find out which Japanese metal album is the greatest of all time.
It’s also worth pointing out that the greatest Japanese metal albums are not just on this list. The truth of the matter is that there are lots of great Japanese albums and bands out there. But these are not only some of the best but also a great starting point. All of these bands have several albums that deserve a lot more recognition.
Japan has produced movies, animated series (commonly known as anime), literature, technology, and, of course, great heavy metal albums. This list of the greatest Japanese metal albums is, of course, a celebration of heavy metal.
The Top 12 Japanese metal albums
It’s also worth pointing out that this list is entirely subjective. There is a perfect chance that many readers can create their own lists. However, this is just the author’s point of view and his own personal appreciation of these records.
If someone believes an album or a band was missing from this list, feel free to drop a comment and voice your opinions.
Which are the 12 greatest Japanese metal albums?
- Anthem – Gypsy Ways
- Loudness – Thunder in the East
- X-Japan – Blue Blood
- Earthshaker – Fugitive
- Show-Ya – Outerlimits
- Dead End – Zero
- Galneryus – Angel of Salvation
- D’erlanger – Basilisk
- Bow Wow – Warning from Stardust
- Seikima-II – From Hell with Love
- Versailles – Holy Grail
- Church of Misery – Houses of the Unholy
Anthem – Gypsy Ways
To say that Anthem was facing a challenge in 1988 with “Gypsy Ways” would be an understatement. Eizo Sakamoto had been the band’s singer for its first three albums and the third one, 1987’s “Bound to Break“, was a huge success and gave Anthem its first tour in the United States. So when Eizo called it quits and decided to leave after that tour, it was back to the drawing board.
Bassist and band leader Naoto Shibata hired Yukio Morikawa as the replacement. Interestingly enough, Morikawa had been Naoto‘s first choice for the singer position. It seemed like it was meant to be, just like the band’s fourth release, 1988’s “Gypsy Ways“.
This is one of the greatest Japanese metal albums because of its strong collection of songs and its consistency. Songs like the title track or “Love in Vain” show Anthem at its best. Morikawa is also perhaps a more naturally gifted singer than Eizo and it shows throughout the album. The record has a strong melodic focus while not giving away that classic 80s metallic feel.
Loudness – Thunder in the East
There is no denying that Loudness was the most successful Japanese metal band overseas. The band had made some connections abroad and worked their way into the Western market while not sacrificing their Japanese audience. However, 1985’s “Thunder in the East“, the group’s fourth album, is widely regarded as the band’s peak.
Ever since the band was called Lazy in the late 70s, it seemed this was its natural progression. “Thunder in the East” is one of the best Japanese metal albums because it has strong riffs, and good melodies, and the entire record flows with ease. There is also that Western influence shining through and it makes sense because it was recorded in California in 1984.
Loudness has a very large catalog so it would be a bit irresponsible to say this is the band’s best work. However, “Thunder in the East” is certainly in the discussion and deserves a place among the greatest Japanese metal albums.
X-Japan – Blue Blood
The thing about putting an X-Japan record among the greatest Japanese metal albums is that, much like Loudness, they have been all over the place. This is a band that wasn’t afraid of taking risks and it shows throughout its catalog. In that record, 1989’s “Blue Blood” might be the best of both worlds.
X-Japan went from a speed metal band to a more progressive one throughout its career and “Blue Blood” is arguably the sweet spot. This is where fans and newcomers can enjoy the heavy stuff with the melodies and more intricate sections. It shows the different sides of this brilliant band and is a very solid starting place as well.
Earthshaker – Fugitive
The thing about Earthshaker is this was one of the first metal bands to break big in Japan but hasn’t received a lot of attention in the West. Bands like Anthem, X-Japan, and Loudness are usually brought up as the first examples. And is a shame because Earthshaker is a big example of 80s heavy metal and 1984’s “Fugitive” is one of the greatest Japanese metal albums of all time.
“Fugitive” is a combination of classic 80s heavy metal with some late 70s influences. For example, the influence of the first Van Halen album is palpable through the guitar work. The track “More” was a hit single in Japan but the entire record deserves people’s attention.
Show-Ya – Outerlimits
It’s fun to look back at Show-Ya‘s career. This is perhaps the most successful metal band most people in the West have ever heard of. But in Japan, the ladies of Show-Ya have sold millions of records and are legends of Japanese hard rock and metal. And while the band’s sound evolved over the years, 1989’s “Outerlimits” is one of the greatest Japanese metal albums.
The album has a strong combination of metal riffs and melodies but also a lot of speed metal influences. As an interesting variable, “Outerlimits” is also quite lighthearted and accessible. It is a perfect first choice for those who want to get into the band as it has everything metal fans enjoy and more.
Dead End – Zero
It is safe to say that 80s Japanese metal could often be stuck in a formula. It is clear that a lot of Japanese fans enjoy heavy metal a la Judas Priest, Queensryche, and Iron Maiden. However, Dead End‘s case is quite different because the band took from that well but also from gothic rock, adding a unique twist to their sound.
It’s also hard to gauge which Dead End album is the best but 1989’s “Zero” was something special. This record deserves to be among the greatest Japanese metal albums because it has a lot of experimentation while maintaining musical consistency. Tracks like “Serafine“, “I Want Your Love“, and “Promised Land” are bizarre, experimental, somber, and beautiful.
If people want to listen to something different from the usual Japanese metal, “Zero” and Dead End is the best way to go.
Galneryus – Angel of Salvation
It’s worth pointing out that Galneryus is a band that worked its way to the top and it shows. The band had been working very hard since the early 2000s with a lot of high-quality power metal and found its peak of popularity in the next decade. It’s also worth pointing out that 2012’s “Angel of Salvation” is perhaps the band’s creative peak.
This is one of the greatest Japanese metal albums because it combines the best of power metal with top-class musicianship. The guys of Galneryus are extremely gifted musicians and know how to combine technicality with melodies and epic moments. Fans of classic power metal are definitely going to enjoy this one.
As a fun side note, the song “Hunting for Your Dream” was the ending song for the 2011 “Hunter X Hunter” anime series. This helped boost the band’s popularity in the West as well.
D’erlanger – Basilisk
Japan in the late 80s had a movement called Visual Kei. It was the combination of boyish and feminine aesthetics along with heavy metal and some pop influences. Dead End and X-Japan were part of that trend, and the protagonists of this section D’erlanger, were as well. And among its work, 1995’s “Basilisk” could be one of the greatest Japanese metal albums.
D’erlanger evolved from heavy and speed metal to something a bit more pop-oriented in the 90s and this album could be the right mix of that. It has a lot of variety for different kinds of listeners and is a snapshot of what Japanese metal was at the time. Definitely a somewhat underrated record these days but one that deserves a lot of attention.
Bow Wow – Warning from Stardust
This band is one of the godfathers of Japanese metal. The interesting part is these guys have been grinding since the mid-70s and developed their sound as the years went by. They got heavier and heavier until finding their peak with 1982’s “Warning from Stardust“.
This album is perfect for old-school fans of the genre. It is one of the greatest Japanese metal albums because it combines melodies with solid guitar work and the vocals are quite enjoyable. There is a nice and enjoyable combination of elements that gets people’s attention from the get-go.
Seikima-II – From Hell with Love
There is a strong argument to be made that Seikima-II was the Japanese answer to King Diamond and similar artists. Not only do the musicians share some musical and aesthetic similarities but also the ideology. Seikima-II, much like King Diamond, played around with the Satanic imagery and craze of the 80s in metal. This was a band that was known for its theatrics and its shows were quite memorable because of that.
Of course, none of the theatrics matter if it is not offering good music. The good news is that Seikima-II has that in spades and 1986’s “From Hell with Love” is one of the greatest Japanese metal albums. It has that combination of a strong metallic feel while having hooks and catchy moments. If people enjoy something like Mercyful Fate and the first Slayer album, there is a good chance they are going to like this.
One of the greatest Japanese metal bands out there and this record deserves a lot of attention as well.
Versailles – Holy Grail
There is an argument to be made that Versailles is the band that best represents Japan’s most epic side in metal. These guys have been playing since the mid-2000s and if people want over-the-top, symphonic metal, then this is the best way to go. And when it comes to the band’s records, there is no debate that 2011’s “Holy Grail” is the finest.
The whole record is rock solid from beginning to end and that’s its biggest strength from the get-go. It’s pure and epic power metal with strong symphonic elements. For those who love European power metal and want to listen to it at its most over-the-top interpretation, this is it.
Versailles is, along with Galneryus, one of the main faces of Japanese power metal. And “Holy Grail” is a wonderful entry point for a lot of newcomers.
Church of Misery – Houses of the Unholy
There is no denying that Church of Misery is not only one of the famous Japanese metal bands out there but also one of the most unique. This is a band that focuses a lot more on doom metal, which is a metal subgenre that is not very popular in Japan. However, these guys have managed to build a great reputation across the world and 2009’s “Houses of the Unholy” is their creative peak.
There is a strong reason why this is one of the greatest Japanese metal albums of all time: the riffs. It has some of the best riffs ever produced in the Land of the Rising Sun. And they are accompanied by some of the best musicianship in the doom metal subgenre. The songs are dark, heavy, and have a lot of charisma.
If people need something heavy, powerful, and made by great musicians, then Church of Misery has them covered.
What are your favorite Japanese metal albums? Let us know in the comment section!