• Much more than a simple compilation - A review of Saber Tiger's ''The Best Of''

    Saber Tiger - The Best Of (2015)

    Saber Tiger is a Japanese heavy metal band in the vein of Anthem, Bow Wow and Loudness that has been around for three and a half decades. A few years ago the band had decided to try to conquer foreign markets and especially the North American heavy metal scene. The band has played a few dates abroad and has now released this compilation in order to amplify its impact and introduce its music to a new audience. It's respectable that a band that has a legendary status in its home country still wants to break new grounds so late in its career. This might be a new beginning. So far, the band hasn't had a significant international breakthrough though and despite its experience, passion and talent I guess that the band's heavy metal style might not be appealing to a larger audience nowadays. Genre fans should though immediately get their hands on this compilation.

    As usual when it comes to compilations, there are both positive and negative elements but this compilation here is definitely on the right side. First of all, I would like to underline the band's unique sound. Despite being deeply rooted in the traditional heavy metal soil of the eighties, the production of the twelve songs is modern and tight but also slightly clinical here and there. The band sounds more technical than their Japanese colleagues and stands for an almost progressive musicianship. The rhythm section plays a few quite complex patterns and the guitar riffs are tight, fast and always perfectly executed. The sound has a few minor American power metal and thrash metal influences here and there. The throaty, raw and poignant vocals fit perfectly to the thunderous sound. They remind me a little bit of Concerto Moon and are a welcome alternative to exchangeable high-pitched genre vocalists. Despite a minimal progressive touch, the band always sounds to the point and you won't find any overlong guitar solos, fluffy keyboard passages or calm bridges in their tunes. What you get here are twelve energizing and focused heavy metal tracks and no acoustic ballads, epic anthems with orchestral parts or overlong instrumental masturbation. 

    This compilation reflects the attitude of the band perfectly. The booklet doesn't include any unnecessary lengths and focuses on a short introduction and the lyrics. The song selection is to the point and offers sixty-seven minutes of passionate heavy metal instead of filling the space to the maximum. There are no unnecessary gimmicks like flyers, posters or stickers included either. What matters to the band is the music itself and not its image.

    Let's talk about the highlights on this enjoyable compilation because there are quite a lot. The complex opener ''Messiah Complex'' exposes the singer's versatility, powerful riffs and a quite progressive and technically stunning rhythm section. The song varies between mid-tempo and a few faster parts. The guitar solo is short and fits to the rest of the track. The chorus is as powerful as the rest of the song and includes some background vocals that add a slightly epic and uplifting touch without sounding too cheesy or catchy. The band's song writing manages to be homogeneous and detailed at the same time which is quite unique. This song probably represents contemporary Saber Tiger best on this album. ''Hate Crime'' mixes a modern sound with oomph and traditional heavy metal elements crowned by a great but never overwhelming guitar solo and an atmospheric chorus that won't let you go. The band has only released two singles in its entire career and it becomes obvious why this song was one of them. ''At the Front'' is another great tune with a most diversified drum play that makes you feel as if you were standing in the middle of a battlefield as bullets are passing by. The melodic, hopeful and glorious vocals represent the spirit of victory while the instrumental parts reflect the cold, chaotic and mechanical aspect of war. This is the best conceptual tune on the album. The stomping ''Bionic'' is the most modern track on the record and includes a few chugging riffs that recall Over Kill's groove metal elements. The most epic song comes around with ''Reminiscence'' that opens with majestic yet menacing melodies before a short bass guitar solo leads to a calmer part driven by mysterious guitar melodies and more melodic vocals. As soon as the listener might wrongfully assume that this track could be a ballad, the other instruments kick back in and develop the record's most diversified tune. This complex song takes a few spins to open up but is a serious candidate for this compilation's best track. The equally brilliant album closer ''Dividing Line'' also has a few mellower parts with melodic vocals and highly emotional guitar solos but this mixture is intertwined with high speed power metal guitar solos and a sometimes longing and desperate atmosphere. This song is the record's most exotic one because it's the only one to feature mostly Japanese lyrics as only the strong chorus is sung in English. The track perfectly resumes all the strengths of the band an closes the circle to the album opener.

    There aren't too many negative points concerning this release. One is obviously the song list. This album only features tracks from the band's three most recent albums. The first three tunes are taken from the 2012 studio record ''Messiah Complex'', songs four to nine are cuts from the 2011 studio record ''Decisive'' and the final three tracks are taken from the 2011 compilation ''Paragraph IV'' which consists of re-recorded material. The three last songs were originally released on the 1994 release ''Agitation'', the 1995 record ''Timystery''  and the 2001 opus ''Saber Tiger'', Obviously, it would have been even more interesting to introduce new fans to the different line-ups and sound changes of the band over the past thirty-five years instead of focusing solely on three outputs released within just fourteen months. Another point one could criticize is a certain lack of diversity concerning the twelve tracks but I personally prefer these twelve homogeneous songs that make this compilation almost sound like a regular record.

    To keep it short, this compilation is a homogeneous high-quality introduction to the contemporary sound of an overlooked Japanese heavy metal legend. Don't expect anything exotic or overwhelming and buy this if you are looking for energizing heavy metal anthems with a technically appealing twist. This album should not only please to fans of Earthshaker, Ezo and Sex Machineguns but also to fans of the tighter tracks from Accept, Judas Priest and Symphony X. Support these legendary veterans in North America by purchasing this record and let's hope to hear and see more from them in North America.

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