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The 50 Greatest Japanese Metal Bands of All Time

I'm a big fan of Japanese heavy metal and a collector of Japanese metal and rock music. I also enjoy documenting the scene's history.

Best Japanese Metal Bands

Best Japanese Metal Bands

This article is in celebration of my home site, Japanese Metal Forum, on its first anniversary. To mark our first full year, just for fun, here is my very best, an unbiased attempt at placing in order the 50 greatest Japanese metal acts ever. It was extremely difficult, as there were so many good choices and a whole bunch of fantastic bands didn't quite make the cut (bands like Wolf, Church of Misery, Abigail, and Misako Honjoh just barely missed the list, the competition was that strong).

The criteria I used in selecting the following bands were based, for the most part, on their influence within the Japanese music scene and overall success, spanning across all metal genres (Note: hard rock bands are not included on this list unless they were pretty much equally fused with heavy metal. I also didn't include alternative/nu-metal or any of the core subgenres).

This article has been a very long time in the making with countless hours of research. If you're already a Japanese metal fan, I'm sure you can guess quite a few members of this list, but I thought it would be fun to do anyway.

Without further delay, here are the 50 greatest Japanese metal bands of all time.

Lazy

Lazy

50. Lazy

Origin: Osaka, Japan

Year Formed: 1973

Lazy began as a high school band comprised of five friends going by the stage names of Michell, Suzy, Funny, Pocky, and Davy. In 1978 they signed with RCA and were pushed by the label to become a Japanese answer to pop rock acts such as the Bay City Rollers and released multiple albums under this forced style. However, Lazy's members desperately wanted to play hard rock and heavy metal and when they released their fifth album Earth Ark, they completely disregarded their management's direction, writing the music they truly wanted to write, resulting in one of the most famous heavy metal/hard rock albums in the very earliest years of Japanese metal. This band launched major careers for all of its members, Michell became a hugely successful singer under his real name, Hironobu Kageyama. Shunji "Pocky" Inoue would become moderately successful making soundtracks in the band Neverland along with Hiroyuki "Funny" Tanaka. Shortly after Lazy broke up, the two remaining members Suzy and Davy quickly created a certain band who appear just a wee bit higher on this list.

Marino

Marino

49. Marino

Origin: Osaka, Japan

Year Formed: 1979

Heavily influenced by the earliest bands in the NWOBHM movement of the U.K., Marino were way ahead of the game in Japan, forming in Osaka in 1979 and releasing their earliest music that same year. Perhaps the first pulls-no-punches, pure heavy metal band in Japan, Marino played an aggressive heavy metal that at times straddled the line between heavy and full-tilt speed metal, before many of their eventually famous counterparts had even formed. During their height in the mid 1980s, Marino were easily one of the most famous metal bands in the highly populous Kansai region, and were well known players in Japanese metal years before the rival Kanto region's metal scene had really begun.

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Precious

Precious

48. Precious

Origin: Tokyo, Japan

Year Formed: 1986

Precious were a band that appeared early and set the bar high for the many Japanese power metal bands who appeared in the years following. One of the most popular bands attached to the Mandrake Root label, their album To Glory We Steer has continually been considered a Japanese metal classic ever since its release in 1990. Precious' leader Akira Kajiyama has gone on to be regarded as a legendary metal guitarist in his homeland and has collaborated with several international metal musicians over his extensive career.

Outrage

Outrage

47. Outrage

Origin: Nagoya, Japan

Year Formed: 1982

One of Japan's earliest and best known thrash metal pioneers, Outrage had a sound heavily influenced by bands such as Metallica throughout the 1980s, achieving reasonable popularity at the time. While most thrash bands experienced their biggest success in the 80s, Outrage are a rare case of a classic thrash band being at their height in the present day; having evolved into their own unique sound, the band has made several appearances on the Oricon charts steadily since the mid-2000s.

Corrupted

Corrupted

46. Corrupted

Origin: Osaka, Japan

Year Formed: 1994

One of Japan's best known extreme metal acts, Corrupted have been a staple of Japan's underground metal scene for many years, performing an unmistakable, bone-crushing sludge/doom metal. A reclusive and incredibly private band, they opt to let their music speak for them. With six critically acclaimed studio albums to date and a mosh-pit full of other EPs and splits, Corrupted look to remain one of Japan's leading extreme acts for years to come.

Kuni Takeuchi (Kuni)

Kuni Takeuchi (Kuni)

45. Kuni

Origin: Tokyo, Japan

Year Formed: 1986

One of the longest running solo careers in Japanese metal, Kuni has long been regarded as an important figure in the scene, and one of Japan's finest metal guitarists. His albums have featured numerous American friends despite his career being exclusively based in Japan; he has also been featured at numerous major Japanese festivals, including two appearances at Loud Park.

Liv Moon

Liv Moon

44. Liv Moon

Origin: Tokyo, Japan

Year Formed: 2009

If there's one woman who could probably be called Japan's symphonic metal queen, I'd say it's Akane Liv, who along with her band Liv Moon has become a mainstay in Japan's modern symphonic/power metal scene despite only having started activities relatively recently in 2009. With a lovely and absurdly powerful voice, the rest of her band is equally talented, and includes not only one of Japan's biggest guitar names, Takayoshi Ohmura (who is also part of the hugely successful alternative metal/metalcore group, Babymetal), but also perhaps the most prominent bassist in Japanese metal too, Masaki. Liv Moon has also sold well, charting respectably on Oricon with every release in their career thus far. Expect these guys to be around for quite a few more years.

Light Bringer

Light Bringer

43. Light Bringer

Origin: Tokyo, Japan

Year Formed: 2011

In my opinion one of the finest power metal bands Japan has ever seen, they unfortunately disbanded right as they seemed to be teetering on the edge of stardom. With one of the best front-women to ever lead a Japanese metal band and a dizzying technical prowess instrumentally, surpassed by few within the genre, their sudden end of activity came as a shock to many. Should Light Bringer return some day and release more albums of the same standard as their existing material, they will likely climb this list significantly.

Blood Stain Child

Blood Stain Child

42. Blood Stain Child

Origin: Osaka, Japan

Year Formed: 2000

Blood Stain Child were one of the more popular Japanese metal bands internationally during the 2000s. The band rose to prominence through combining a sound influenced by that of bands like Children of Bodom and In Flames, together with trance elements. While there were a bunch of other melodic death metal bands who also appeared in Japan at the turn of the century, almost none of them became quite as well known nor have lasted as long as Blood Stain Child; though a few challengers such as Gyze have appeared in recent years.

Nokemono

Nokemono

41. Nokemono

Origin: Tokyo, Japan

Year Formed: 1977

If they weren't around for such a short amount of time with just one album to their name, they would easily be much higher on this list. Nokemono were one of the biggest players in early Japanese metal music, and one of the first to release a full-length album that was predominantly heavy metal, preceding a whole bunch of eventual Japanese metal legends featured higher on this list. They were a big part of putting Japanese metal on the map, winning Yamaha's massive EastWest band battle competition in 1978, and in wake of the event proceeded to tour Japan with Judas Priest later that same year, cementing Nokemono as an integral part of the first wave of Japanese metal. Their lone album, From the Black World (1979) has grown to become somewhat of a cult classic among Japanese metal fans.

X-Ray

X-Ray

40. X-Ray

Origin: Chiba, Japan

Year Formed: 1981

One of the most popular heavy metal bands in the Kansai region during the 80s, X-Ray left their mark quickly during a pretty short 5 year run from 1981 to 1986 where they released four full-length albums. While the band lacked longevity, they made up for it with quality, as the band's albums have been favorites among many Japanese metal collectors for years now; many reprints of X-Ray's works having been issued in the years since their disbandment. Former members of the band have also gone on to take part in several notable metal projects in Japan.

D

D

39. D

Origin: Kanagawa, Japan

Year Formed: 2003

A major player in the current Japanese metal world, D quickly became one of the most popular visual kei bands after forming in the mid 2000s. Playing a very strange and diverse, but highly complex and entertaining brand of symphonic/gothic metal, D have also managed to sell well, having made dozens of appearances on Oricon over the past several years with no sign of slowing down. Consider these symphonic metal madmen a band who will likely rise through these rankings significantly by the time they're done.

Terra Rosa

Terra Rosa

38. Terra Rosa

Origin: Osaka, Japan

Year Formed: 1982

One of Mandrake Root Records' flagship bands and also one of Japan's first successful female-fronted metal groups, Terra Rosa are best remembered for their iconic debut album "The Endless Basis". They also made two other excellent albums shortly after as well. Several current and former members of this band are also members of many of the other bands on this list, and the caliber of musicians involved in this band truly speaks for how good the product they put out was. While they're technically inactive due to members paying attention to other bands right now, it's likely Terra Rosa will get together again sometime in the near future, and if they do, a new album could very well be made.

Reaction

Reaction

37. Reaction

Origin: Tokyo, Japan

Year Formed: 1983

Speed metal was pretty commonly played among metal bands during the mid 80s in Japan, but very few of them caught on before the appearance of a certain legendary band way higher on this list. One of the very few that did become quite popular, and did so before the aforementioned legendary band, was Reaction. After a successful run throughout the majority of the 1980s, the band unfortunately parted ways, with a couple of the band's core members tragically passing away a few years later. Thankfully, the legacy they did leave was clearly a positive one, as this was a band that was so well respected by their peers that a tribute album was made in honor of them, featuring an all-star cast of members of bands from nearly a quarter of this entire list of all-time greats.

Jupiter

Jupiter

36. Jupiter

Origin: Tokyo, Japan

Year Formed: 2013

Initially created as somewhat of a successor to another band a bit higher ranking on this list when that band went on hiatus, Jupiter jumped immediately into a major spotlight in the visual kei scene; and they certainly capitalized, releasing two albums which are arguably some of the best power metal to come from any Japanese band at any point in time. Featuring what is considered by many as the finest guitar duo in the country, matched with a rhythm section that is talented enough to equal them, Jupiter are a band that was built for Japanese metal stardom, and they've yet to disappoint, nor do they look like they will anytime soon. This is another band who will likely rise in these rankings significantly over the coming years and probably even surpass some of it's members' main band eventually.

Doom

Doom

35. Doom

Origin: Tokyo, Japan

Year Formed: 1985

One of the most innovative and straight up bizarre Japanese bands ever, Doom are one of Japan's all-time great progressive and thrash metal acts. With a sound every bit as oddball as their appearance, Doom thrived in Japan's underground metal scene for essentially their entire career, releasing 5 albums and a handful of EPs and splits before the tragic passing of bass mastermind Koh Morota in 1999. They would release one more album later that year before calling it quits permanently... or so we thought. Doom reunited in 2014 and have picked up about as strong as they left off, as evidenced by their latest album. It's hard to say what this band might do in the coming years, but don't be surprised if they continue making albums and build on their already legendary reputation.

Sabbrabells

Sabbrabells

34. Sabbrabells

Origin: Tokyo, Japan

Year Formed: 1980

A pioneering 80s metal band in Japan and one of the very first occult themed heavy metal bands to appear in the island nation, Sabbrabells had the distinction of being the first heavy metal band to use occult lyricism and imagery to be signed to a large record label in Japan, joining King Records, a truly remarkable feat for obvious reasons. With one of the tightest sounds of any Japanese metal band in the 80s, fronted by the howling madman Kiichi Takahashi, Sabbrabells released three well received albums and an EP. Sabbrabells unfortunately called it quits shortly after the third album "One Night Magic", but are still remembered as one of the great 80s Japanese heavy metal bands. The band reunited to perform a handful of acclaimed shows with original singer Kiichi Takahashi recently, though the band has opted to stay retired in the long run.

Crowley

Crowley

33. Crowley

Origin: Nagoya, Japan

Year Formed: 1982

Much like Sabbrabells, Crowley were a band that narrowly missed out on what could have been something special. One of the first heavy metal bands in Japan with an occult image, they quickly built up a reputation of infamy in Japan, taking shocking promo photos of the band with nooses, weapons and satanic props, which in turn led to overseas tour offers, western metal magazine features, and label offers; however internal conflict divided the band, causing members to leave and forcing them to disband before their careers really took flight. Their "shock image" was an influence on the eventual rise of the visual kei scene which would be pioneered by a few other bands on this list.

Blizard

Blizard

32. Blizard

Origin: Tokyo, Japan

Year Formed: 1984

Blizard were one of the first major heavy metal acts in the Kanto region (Tokyo/Saitama/Yokohama, etc.) of Japan. At roughly the same time that the band featured in the legendary Grand Metal Festival in 1984, Blizard were signed by Warner Bros. Records for the Japanese market; from there they quickly churned out 7 full-length albums over the course of 6 years, several of which are among Japanese metal's most memorable 80s albums. Some members of this band would later take part in several other notable metal bands.

Action!

Action!

31. Action!

Origin: Osaka, Japan

Year Formed: 1982

A forefather of Japanese metal, Action's music has been played since the mid 1970s when several of its members played in the band Sansuikan. With a career spanning over 30 years if you include Sansuikan, Action! released a whopping 7 full-length albums along with two EPs between 1984 and 1989, and were an integral part of the Kansai region's metal scene during its formative days until Action parted ways in 1998. Members of Action! were also attached to the Japanese prog rock legends Novela during the early 80s. Though no longer active, Action! reunited from 2003 to 2009 and released two more quality albums before calling it quits for good.

G.I.S.M.

G.I.S.M.

30. G.I.S.M.

Origin: Tokyo, Japan

Year Formed: 1980

G.I.S.M. were at the very forefront of Japan's metal/punk fusion, a style that saw reasonable popularity in Japan's underground music scene in the 80s. Famed for their extremely violent and unpredictable performances, they attained a fairly large cult following both in Japan and internationally among both metal and hardcore punk fans and are considered a highly influential band in both scenes. If you see any modern Japanese hardcore punk/heavy metal fusion bands, a significant degree of credit for their existence is owed to G.I.S.M.

44 Magnum

44 Magnum

29. 44 Magnum

Origin: Osaka, Japan

Year Formed: 1977

44 Magnum were one of the very early Japanese metal bands, forming in 1977. While primarily a hard rock/AOR band during the majority of their career after about 1985, their first few albums were an energetic traditional heavy metal, the first two of which quickly became Japanese metal classics. They were one of the key bands in Japan's first wave of metal, and took part in some of Japan's most important early metal festivals. In recent years the band has come to include singer Paul's son Stevie as the band's co-lead vocalist, so you can expect 44 Magnum to be around quite a few more years.

the-50-greatest-japanese-metal-bands-of-all-time

28. Church of Misery

Origin: Tokyo, Japan

Year Formed: 1995

One of Japan's most internationally recognized and acclaimed metal bands within their respective style, Church of Misery have been titans in the Japanese doom/stoner metal scene since the late 90s, and are one of the country's few bands with enough international success to tour worldwide on a regular basis. From quirks like their lyrical theme to band leader Tatsu Mikami's unusual bass technique, they're a band full of character and unique personality, as can be found across a large discography spanning 6 albums, as well as several EPs and splits. Despite several lineup changes over their career, both their popularity and quality have held steady.

Saber Tiger

Saber Tiger

27. Saber Tiger

Origin: Sapporo, Japan

Year Formed: 1981

Here's a band who have been decently well known for ages now, yet only recently made the leap into well deserved commercial success after toughing it out independently for several years. To wit, the band released 8 demos before deciding to make albums under their own label, which they did for a few albums before finally getting signed by a big record label almost 17 years after formation; even then their commercial breakout didn’t occur until a bit before their 30th anniversary. One of Japanese metal's finest models for sheer dedication, it's amazing they didn't catch on with a larger audience sooner, as the band evolved over the years to play one of the most technically proficient and energetic styles of power/progressive metal to ever come out of the country.

Aion

Aion

26. Aion

Origin: Osaka, Japan

Year Formed: 1983

There might not be a thrash metal band in Japan who had more commercial success than Aion did at their peak. During the early 1990s, they truly hit their stride and were not only making critically acclaimed albums, but selling them too, with a string of several releases reaching the top 40 on the Japanese charts. Aion were also major pioneers of visual kei during the 90s era of the scene. It could be reasonably argued that the Japanese thrash metal scene pretty much revolved around Aion in their heyday, considering how many of their members were or are a part of a whole bunch of other major thrash acts in the country. There are however two more even greater thrash metal band who we will get to just a little bit later.

Ningen-Isu

Ningen-Isu

25. Ningen-Isu

Origin: Hirosaki, Japan

Year Formed: 1987

For the record, Ningen-Isu have always been very, very good, however, only in recent years has that translated to major commercial success. Ningen-Isu are a band who worked their asses off for just about 20 years before finally achieving their commercial breakthrough in the late 2000s. In the following years, their popularity has continued to rise, all without a drop in musical quality, and since the mid 2010s the band now frequently achieves top 40 charting releases on Oricon. Their massive spike in popularity has allowed the hard working trio to quit their day jobs to concentrate on creating and performing music full-time, and the band has even begun performing major metal festivals in recent years, such as Ozzfest.

Vow Wow

Vow Wow

24. Vow Wow

Origin: Tokyo, Japan