japanese imports

#967: Dilemmas of Buying

RECORD STORE TALES #967:  Dilemmas of Buying

Mixing friends with work is always a tough balancing act.  When you work retail, it’s even harder.  The friends come to you, and they’d like to do business with someone they are familiar with.  Who wouldn’t?  At the Record Store, it was particularly difficult to maintain a stable counterbalance when buying used CDs from people who consider you to be a friend.

One thing always said when training new staff on buying used CDs was that “every customer thinks their CDs are gold.”  They don’t really understand why certain ones are worthless to you.  When buying from the customer, we went into detail explaining the why’s and wherefore’s of the offer, breaking it down disc by disc.  “These ones I can’t take because I already have two or more copies of each right now, and the other stores are well stocked too.”

When it’s a friend coming in to sell their discs to you, they don’t necessarily expect any special treatment, but they do expect you to “do your best” with your offer.  And that wasn’t always possible.

Upper management really kept an eye on my interactions with my regular customers.  They often complained to me that I paid too much for stuff when it was somebody I “preferred”.  That may be true in some instances, but I believe that upper management were too focused on dollars and cents, and not maintaining good relations with a regular customer.  A customer — somebody who spent money in our stores or supplied us with used stock that we in turn sold and made a profit on.  The managers were always hammering us on COGS – Cost of Goods Sold.  We had targets to aim for, and strategies for buying stock.  Unfortunately, this ran contradictory to “doing your best” when buying stock from somebody who knows you.

Just because somebody considers you a friend doesn’t mean they won’t go somewhere else to sell their discs to get better money.  They will.  They did!

“Come on Mike, this was twelve bucks when I bought it from you!  You can only give me three?”

“Fine, fine, I’ll give you four.  Just don’t say anything.  The bosses really hound me if they see me giving more than I should.”

Another factor is that every customer felt their CDs were in great shape even if the store didn’t.  That was another source of conflict.  We had a regional manager who was so picky that she would deduct money from a customer’s total for the lightest hairline scratches, even off the actual playing surface of the disc.  When you answer to someone like that, it was hard keeping your regulars happy with your offers.

And they really did watch me.  More than once they gave me shit for treating my regulars better than they thought I needed to.  Conrad, for example.  The guy bought in so many Japanese imports.  I don’t know how he had so many, but I tried to give him the maximum.  He could have taken them downtown, but he came to me.  He chose me because we both liked heavy metal (especially Bruce Dickinson) and both understand the value of Japanese imports.  He pissed off management because if I wasn’t working, the person who was usually offered him less, which he would complain about.

To me it didn’t matter that my COGS would take a hit by offering Conrad top dollar.  What mattered more was keeping Conrad loyal.  Where in Kitchener are you going to buy Japanese imports?

At Encore Records, that’s where, if Conrad thought he wasn’t getting enough money.

I’m sure, given the opportunity, the old management could run off a litany of reasons why I’m wrong.  But the fact is they had their own preferred customer.  They called him “Scottish Man” and only a limited number of employees dealt with him because he expected top dollar.  Now, upper management would always tell you that “Scottish Man brought in better stock and was more pleasant than gum-chewin’ Conrad.”  That sounds like a bias against heavy metal and chewing gum to me.

Just my opinion.  Just my opinion from my position at the front counter.

Let’s just say that if Conrad was bringing in rare Van Morrison and Stones imports instead of Axel Rudi Pell and Helloween box sets, their opinions might have been different.  With or without the chewing gum.

GUEST REVIEW: Anthem – Ultimate Best Of Nexus Years (2012) by Thunder Blackmore

By Thunder Blackmore

ANTHEM – Ultimate Best Of Nexus Years (2012 King Record Co.)

In the world of metal, there is no short list of underrated bands from every corner and country of the world. Specially with long-standing bands that are still going strong to this day. Would it be bands like E-Z-O from Japan, Pretty Maids from Denmark, Thor from Canada, or Helloween from Germany, everyone regardless of nationality has a favorite band, who did well for themselves, but could’ve, would’ve and should’ve gone big. And while my choice for most underrated metal band ever would go to my fellow countrymen Pretty Maids (national bias has its moments), Japanese metal legends Anthem earns the runner-up spot, easily.

The band, led by bassist Naoto Shibata, who are perhaps more famous for his work with Loudness and Crush 40 in the 90’s, had a tough time in the 80’s with success in their homeland and even a small US tour in ’87, but also with internal struggles which prevented the band to go beyond like their fellow and more successful countrymen, Loudness. Ultimately the band would be disbanded in 1992 until they reunited in 2001 and have been going strong since then. A band considered by many to be part of the big four of Japanese Metal (with X Japan, Loudness and Flatbacker/E-Z-O) with mostly consistent excellent releases throughout the years, who just now are getting released to the west on streaming services and (hopefully) physically by Nuclear Blast. So far, there’s two options for getting into Anthem’s discography, which just so happen to be compilations. For their new era, there is Nucleus, released by the aforementioned Nuclear Blast. But as for their classic period, the import to buy is this one. Ultimate Best Of Nexus Years.

Japanese releases has a reputation of not being a very cheap options, so getting this compilation is definitely a good starter point. It collects songs from the band’s initial 80’s era, starting with the self-titled debut and ending with their final album before their hiatus, Domestic Booty (you’ll be the judge for the supposed meaning of “booty”). Given that the compilation is split into two cd’s, it also reflects the times with the singers Eizo Sakamoto and Yukio Morikawa representing disc 1 and 2, respectively. This decision, coupled with the track list being in chronological order, can be difficult at first listen. Not necessarily with the tracks themselves but more with the unevenness with the production, as the first Anthem albums sound pretty rough. Granted, that’s not a problem exclusive to the band, but that also means that you’ll have to skip to track 13, “Bound to Break”, if you are somewhat put off by the roughness.

If you can hang with it, you are in for 2 hours of kickass catchy melodic metal majesty from glorious Nippon with no noteworthy duds. Even with my nitpicky desire to swap out some tracks for others, I’m still absolutely happy with this purchase. Standouts have to be “Venom Strike”, “Shadow Walk”, “Bound to Break”, “Hunting Time”, “Night After Night” and “Show Must Go On”. The latter being their first original song with English lyrics (courtesy of the late Chris Tsangarides) and being their first to be featured in the Anime OVA, Devilman.

Until Anthem can finally release their back-catalog on physical media for a much more affordable price (CD, vinyl or otherwise), this one will do wonders in the meantime.

4.95/5 stars

Thanks to Thunder Blackmore for this awesome review.

 

 

REVIEW: Loudness – Metal Mad (2008)

“Forever, carry on!  Turning up the sound and let it roll.  Raise your fist up in the sky!  The spirit of metal will never die!”

LOUDNESS – Metal Mad (2008 Tokuma Japan)

Loudness reunited their original lineup in 2000, but little did they know it would not last a full decade.  Drummer Munetaka Higuchi was diagnosed with liver cancer only two months after the release of the 2008 album Metal Mad.  He passed away in November of that year.  Although they had enough drum tracks recorded to make one more record with Higuchi (2009’s The Everlasting), Metal Mad was the last in his lifetime.

Metal Mad is the 21st Loudness studio album, recorded in the midst of a flurry of studio activity, as Loudness never slowed down, and guitarist Akira Takasaki was pounding out solo work on top of it.

One certain thing about Loudness:  just because they reunited the original lineup doesn’t mean they wanted to backtrack musically.  Metal Mad is heavy.  It continues the sonic experimentation that Loudness began in the mid 90s.  Though it does contain one undeniable anthem, this album is a heavy grind of metal styles, all very loud.

The opening instrumental “Fire of Spirit” sets the tone with a heavy riff that could have come from one of Loudness’ thrash contemporaries like Megadeth or Metallica…but with far more weight, and with an absolute master on the drums.  There’s a hint of the St. Anger snare, but it does not persist through the album.  Instead the track fades into the anthem of the album:  “Metal Mad”!

“Metal Mad” is a fast, simple track, but damn does it get the job done!  “Forever! Carry on! Turning up the sound and let it roll. Raise your fist up in the sky! The spirit of metal will never die!”  Custom built for the festival crowds.  Akira takes a couple bananas solos as the perfect icing on this sweet piece of metal cake.

But that’s it for that style of metal on this album.  They thrash through “High Flyer” with singer Minoru Niihara’s voice filtered through distortion.  Then it’s a hint of rap metal on the very aggressive “Spellbound #9”.  Funny thing is, Minoru can pull it off.  This is heavy stuff, certainly strong enough to compete with the big name heavy bands that Loudness inspired in the first place.  “Crimson Paradox” takes on groove metal, with a touch of exotic guitar added for spice.

The metal is heavy on “Black and White”, but with lyrics like “bullshit bullshit”, it’s a little too much of the “nu” variety.  Same with the droning guitar and vocal of “Whatsoever”, though the melodic chorus isn’t bad.  “Call of the Reaper” takes things back to centre with a riff similar to “Be Quick Or Be Dead” by Iron Maiden, but within a song that goes in a different direction.  Mental solos!  “Can’t Find My Way” starts promisingly, with quiet experimental guitars, and focuses strongly on vocal melody despite the heavy riffing going on.  In fact the only thing wrong with it is one particular riff that too strongly resembles (ugh) “Loch Ness” by Judas Priest.

The end of the album is heralded by two interesting final tracks, “Gravity” and “Transformation”, both experimental with grooves and great guitar work.  Akira uses so many different tones on this album, often within the same song.  “Gravity” is guitar player nirvana, while “Transformation” even goes a little funky.

Metal Mad ain’t bad.  Its strength is the musicianship.  Metal Mad has the title track going for it, but not a lot of actual memorable songs besides that.  By focusing so much on being heavy, it loses distinction between the songs.

3/5 stars

Easter Memories: Quiet Riot, GI Joe, Alice Cooper, Def Leppard & More!

Just a short show tonight, for those stuck at home this Easter weekend with nothing much else to do! Music, toys, happy memories. Lots of audio/visual aids. Great comments and audience participation.

Quiet Riot, Black Sabbath, David Lee Roth, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, and rare Japanese imports.

Bonus: Couldn’t resist playing some music so we closed with the show with Uncle Meat singing “Fairies Wear Boots” back in 1991 with Heavy Cutting. Thank you for watching!

 

NEXT WEEK:  ANDY CURRAN!

REVIEW: Loudness – Live-Loud-Alive – Loudness in Tokyo (1983)

LOUDNESS – Live-Loud-Alive – Loudess in Tokyo (1983 Columbia)

Like many classic rock bands, Loudness waited three studio albums before going double live.  The Birthday EveDevil Soldier and The Law of Devil’s Land were ripe and ready for live album immortality.  English is minimal, but you don’t need a Japanese dictionary to enjoy the metal within Live-Loud-Alive.  It is the most galvanized of the metal; Loudness’ integrity uncompromised, with Akira Takasaki in lead shred mode.

With a double length album so early in Loudness’ career, they played plenty of non-album material to fill it.  And it’s good!

Opening with a recording of Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War” the band rip right into the riff for “In the Mirror”.  That guitar sounds so classic, you’ll be questioning which Scorpions or Metallica album it’s from.  A heavy chug named “Road Racer” (originally a non-album Loudness single) is paired with one of Minoru Niihara’s most melodic lead vocals.  Only the thick and shimmery (probably embellished) chorus is in English.   On guitar, Akira Takasaki’s solo sounds like he is re-entering the atmosphere after an alien/robot conference in space.  “I Was the Sun” has a slower beat, pounding sheet metal into lethal form, with an elementary riff.  Ordinary as the riff may be, it isn’t the highlight this time.  The chorus takes center stage.  The first side of the original vinyl ended on “Fly Away”, a mammoth of a song mixing the delicate and the heavy.

“Black Wall” opens on what sounds like bass synth, but Akira soon takes command with a melancholy and precise guitar pattern.  Then, like any good Sabbath song, he breaks into a completely different lick, just as catchy.  An instrumental track from Akira’s solo album follows, including a wicked drum solo by Munetaka Higuchi.  This side of the record blows out with “Mr. Yesman”, a complex track like “2112” crossed with “Children of the Damned”.

On side three, a new song is previewed:  “Exploder”, a Van Halen-like guitar instrumental destined for album #4.  This transitions into another instrumental called “Heavenward”, similar to Akira’s solo work.  It’s all just good music that flows track intro track.  Guitar shrieks tell us that “Loudness” is next, a brilliant mid-tempo rocker of radio-ready nature.  It sounds like vintage, early 80s Scorpions.  Another killer riff in “Sleepless Night” brings the side to a solid close.

“Speed” does what it says.  That’s no surprise.  What may be surprising is the quality of the non-album B-side “Shinkiro”.  This cool track has some great melodic twists and an absolutely brilliant and varied Akira solo.  One of his best!  From volume-knob twists to full-on speed, it’s brilliant.  The only way to end it is by going back to the beginning, and “Burning Love”, the first non-album single by the band.  It’s a blistering way to go out.

Though not singing primarily in English yet, their musical influences were clearly the same ones from North America and Europe that we know and love too.  While you may not recognize the songs, many will sound familiar because they draw from the same pool.  It’s the best of early Loudness, void of commercial ambition.  While you do lose the ability to sing along, you can at least slam to the riffs.  One can hear why this album is held in such high esteem by the faithful.  It sounds like an experience.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Corey Taylor – CMFT (2020 Japanese version)

COREY TAYLOR – CMFT (2020 Warner Japan)

I’ve never particularly cared for Slipknot and I don’t own any Stone Sour.  However I’ve been aware of Corey Taylor since 2014’s Dio tribute, and “Rainbow in the Dark”.  That side of Taylor landed right in my ballpark.  So did his solo single “Black Eyes Blue”.

“Why not spend some dollars and get his album, see what he’s up to?” I said to myself.

“Oh wait,” and a pause.  “I need to know if there are any bonus tracks so I can buy the most complete version,” replied my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Some typing.  C-D-J-A-P-A-N into the search engine, a short wait and — confirmed.  “Black Eyes Blue”, acoustic bonus track.  In stock.

“It’s only money,” said the idiot in the middle of a pandemic.

A few weeks later, a Japanese CD of Corey Taylor’s solo debut CMFT , bejewelled wresting belt on the cover, had hit Canadian shores and was on its way to my post box.


The scene is set when the laser blasts aluminium.  A southern rockabilly vibe on “HWY 666” takes us on a heavy car trip in the forbidden zone.  This is what Nickelback was wishing they did with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”.

The big single is in the welcoming second slot.  It’s hard to describe “Black Eyes Blue”, except that the beat swings in a danceable way while the chorus delivers big hooks.  Just like a classic Bon Jovi rocker, a guitar solo blasts out Sambora-like with a complimentary hook.  It’s all over but the crashing chords in just over three minutes.  Picture yourself on the highway going on at a good clip with the windows down, but the music blasting louder than the wind.  Classic in the making.

Taylor goes for a punky hard rock vibe on the next one, “Samantha’s Gone”, just a blast in a pickup truck on a dusty highway.  “We all got nothin’ to lose because the cash is gone,” goes the the thick chorus.  Some bright blasts of mean guitar melodicism keeps the hooks-a-flowin’ like booze.  It goes full-on punk rock with “Meine Lux”, but still in southern territory.  Filler perhaps; fortunately “Halfway Down” has a broader appeal.  It’s from the same Sonic Temple that the Cult built in 1989.  Straight-ahead hard rock with fat trimmed and bone-in.  

Corey opens and lets sentiment out on the sixth number, a dark exploration called “Silverfish”.  It’s a big ballad that sounds akin to some of the radio staples of the early 90s, but the surprising next twist is a splash of nice acoustic on “Kansas”.  This bright pop rocker recalls the big sounds of the Goo Doo Dolls on some of their biggest albums.  Clearly, Corey Taylor is dialled into the pop side of his music collection on this album.

Suddenly, like the car has hit the brakes to save a scared animal’s life, the tone changes and you’ve got whiplash.  “Culture Head” gets topical and aggressive.  It’s detuned and pissed off.   The speed picks up on a tangent with “Everybody Dies on My Birthday” which recalls the drum stylings of Matt Sorum.  The metal is strong with this one, as are the “We are!” singalong vocals.

The car you’re driving pulls into a diner on the roadside, and that’s “The Maria Fire”.  There’s a local band with a southern twang playing electric guitars.  Though the band is hot and the guitarist is smoking the fretboard, this is rough place and the tension feels like a fight could break at any moment.  Time to go “Home”.

“Home” is a beautiful piano piece, just Corey and keys.  The heartfelt tone and vocals could have been a perfect ending to the album here.  It’s one of those moments that maybe should be left as-is, and just walk away.  Instead we’re treated to the rap-rock closer “CMFT Must Be Stopped”.  Not my kind of thing, but I’m not Corey’s core audience and admittedly it’s fun to bop along to.  Listen for some cool percussion stuff in the background.  I’m oblivious to his guest rappers Tech N9ne and Kid Bookie; one of them has a very cool speed rap flow.  This is the point at which I roll up the windows of the car because I don’t wanna look like Michael Bolton in the movie Office Space.  This goes into a hardcore Anthrax-like thrash punk rocker “European Tour Bus Bathroom Song” which ends the album on an unnecessary jokey note.

It turns out that, though financially stupid, my choice of buying the Japanese version of the album was the correct one.  They end with the acoustic live version of “Black Eyes Blues”, a sparse version that leaves you feeling refreshed when the album’s over.

You know what lane I’m in musically, and where Corey Taylor comes from.  You can divine from this review whether you will like the album or not.  I think there’s a good chance that many of you would like most of it, but few would love it all.  Certainly not a bad investment since songs like “Black Eyes Blues”, “Samantha’s Gone”, “Everybody Dies on My Birthday” and “Home” have potential to stick around in your head for years.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: The Cult – Dreamtime / Live at the Lyceum (Japanese import)

THE CULT – Dreamtime (Originally 1984) / Live at the Lyceum (Originally 1986) (2006 2 CD Beggars Banquet Japanese set)

This was a bit of a surprise to me. Once I got this Japanese pressing in my hot little hands and opened it up, out popped two CDs! This was not advertized on the case. (Well, maybe it was in Japanese, but I can’t read Japanese!) The second CD is the legendary and extremely hard to find live album, Live At The Lyceum. For that live album alone, this Japanese import is worth the price of admission.

The debut album by The Cult is surprisingly solid, a fully-formed vision of the band with complete and catchy songs. For a long time this album was hard to get and all but unknown to “new” fans of the band who thought that it started with Love. This was rectified in the 90’s with numerous reissues, plus many of these songs found their way onto the Pure Cult compilations.

Dreamtime has a punk-like energy.  The drums (by Nigel Preston) hit hard.  “Horse Nation” and “Spiritwalker” open Dreamtime with a powerful one-two punch.  “Gimmick” has soaring vocals with stabbing guitars, coupled with a fast beat that gets the heart racing.  The title track has a similar accelerated pace.  The Cult are also known for their slower, darker, macabre side.  “83rd Dream”, “Bad Medicine Waltz” and “Butterflies” certainly cover that.  Dreamtime sounds like an angry young band unwilling to compromise.

Yet tracks like “Go West” had tremendous commercial potential.  Memorable, punchy melodies and Ian Astbury singing with all the panache he can muster.  “A Flower in the Desert” could be called a ballad if you like.  A dour, dusky one.  An impactful “Rider in the Snow” has some excellent guitar shimmer.

Gladly, I have found that there is not one weak track on this album. The songs are more challenging and not as instantaneous as Love, but when Astbury’s one-of-a-kind vocals mix with Duffy’s angular guitars, it sounds like the Cult. Period. From aggressive rock songs to mournful dirges like “Bad Medicine Waltz”, this album has a bit of everything that the Cult would later become, in embryonic form.  This set contains just the album, the original 10 songs, and none of the B-sides. Don’t fret however as those songs can be found on the Rare Cult set.


Although I got Live at The Lyceum (the original abbreviated cassette which only had eight of the 15 songs) in my teens, I was a stranger to early Cult.  This raw live disc (which opens with a bit of Wendy Carlos’ score from The Shining) includes all the songs from the 1983 Death Cult EP:  “Christians”, “Horse Nation”, “Ghost Dance” and “Brothers Grimm”.  It also includes the blistering Death Cult single “God’s Zoo” live, and the B-side “Bone Bag”.  Going even further back, “Moya” predates Billy Duffy, being an early single by Ian’s band Southern Death Cult.  It slams with vital energy.  As good as this whole live album is, “God’s Zoo” has to be the highlight.

Astbury is as combative as ever, and the crowd eats it up. The energy of this live album is astounding. I strongly encourage you to look for a Japanese copy of this CD for the live album — it is totally worth your time and money to do so. Lyceum was the second Cult album I ever owned (shame it was just a cassette) and I have very fond memories of learning about the Cult’s history by playing  that tape over and over.

This Japanese CD release has the original, superior cover art.  With the full 15 song version of Live at the Lyceum included, it’s the standout version to own.  What an album, and what a live disc to boot.  Dig into the Cult.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Storm Force – “Breathe” featuring Serena Pryne (2020 music video)

STORM FORCE – “Breathe” featuring Serena Pryne (2020 Escape Music video)

Our rock and roll friends Storm Force have released a new video for “Breathe”, and a good one it is!

These days when a band drops a new video, are you often disappointed?  Many videos today are low budget slideshows of still photos, or crude animations.  This was the trend even before Covid.  Unless you’re AC/DC, few go to the trouble of actually filming a concept/performance music video anymore.  Storm Force did a good one with “Pretty Vegas”, and now they are back to blow minds with “Breathe”, one of the strongest tunes on the new album Age of Fear.

“Breathe” deserved a proper video, and Storm Force deliver.  Lead singer Patrick Gagliardi sings from behind bars, but is it the prison of the mind?  He is joined by vocalist extraordinaire Serena Pryne, who has the grit and power of people like the highly respected Sass Jordan.  Although the lyrics are open enough to work with many interpretations, the song is about mental health, and having someone there to support you.  The video has the right tone and passion for this serious subject.  But if you want, you can just enjoy it as a mighty power ballad.

Of course, guitarist Greg Fraser has plenty of experience with music videos.  His solo on “Breathe” is cool because you can hear that it is him by the tone and technique.  Drummer Brian Hamilton and bassist Mike Berardelli create a really cool groove on this track, and Hamilton looks imposing and fearless in the video.

One must also credit Gagliardi for a collection of increasingly cool hats.

5/5 stars

Gallery: A closer look at Alice Cooper and Japanese import unboxings

This week’s live show included some cool unboxings.  Here is a closer look at the three new arrivals at LeBrain HQ.

#1 Dokken – The Lost Songs: 1978-1981 Japanese import.  Old unreleased demos polished and finished for release.  This baby has a bonus track called “Going Under”.

#2 Accept – Blind Rage Japanese import.  2014 studio album.  “Thrown to the Wolves” is the name of this Teutonic terror’s bonus track.

# Alice Cooper – “Don’t Give Up” 7 inch picture disc single.  Great to finally have this new Covid-related recording on a physical format.

 

Adventures in Epilepsy – Live LeBrain Train with Guests

Episode 30 – Adventures in Epilepsy

A few technical difficulties with the Facebook feed, but a good show all around.  A more personal show this time, if you ever wanted to know how epilepsy can change lives, then you’ll want to check this one out.  No more concerts, no more movie theaters — such is the new reality that my wife lives in.

But we did more than just talk about epilepsy, much more in fact.  Unboxings, books, and guests — it’s all below.

The live stream feed is much choppier on Facebook so I encourage everyone to watch on Youtube from now on.  The Youtube feed was solid.   People on Facebook were reporting freezing video, so in an effort to fix that, I stopped the feed and started over.  That’s why there are two Youtube videos below.

  • I started with some cool unboxings — Japanese imports and vinyl.  Go to 0:05:10 of the first video to see some metal goodies and rarities.
  • For the start of the epilepsy show, go to 0:18:25 of the first video.  It continues at 0:07:15 of the second video.
  • Old pal and author Aaron Lebold came on to talk about his own history with epilepsy, and his new book Genocide at 0:41:15 of the second video.
  • Kevin Simister aka Buried On Mars stopped in at 1:06:35 of the second video to talk about crappy Amazon shipping and to do a CD unboxing.
  • And finally Rob Daniels came in at 1:20:45 of the second video to hang out, talk music, and his own show Visions in Sound.  He has lots of fun planned for October!

Thanks for watching the LeBrain Train episode 30!

First video – start of show

Second video – continuation and conclusion