Evil – Possessed by Evil Review

I’ve got a soft spot for Japanese metal, especially the old-school varieties. It should shock absolutely nobody that Evil come directly from the lineage of Abigail and Sabbat thematically, meaning that they take the “evil” schtick of classic Venom and Bulldozer so far that it exceeds parody and lands in a strange realm of charming innocence and naivete. Evil, on their second album Possessed by Evil, lands feet-first in this realm. Bewitcher gets within driving distance of this place on Under the Witching Cross due to their unadulterated enthusiasm, but they lacked the legitimate language barrier which allows Sabbat titles like “Envenom Into the Witch’s Hole” and “Metalucifer and Evilucifer” to be charmingly hilarious and stupid instead of merely the latter. The legendary anti-poser credo — which absolutely applies here, I should add — of “if you are a false, don’t entry” couldn’t come from a band whose mother tongue was English.

Evil, despite writing their lyrics in Japanese, helpfully provides English translations of their song titles. The seventh to ninth tracks here are a triptych of sorts and are titled, in order, “The Gate of Hell,” “Hell’s Evil Bells,” and “Bottom of Hell.” This should tell you roughly what you’re in for, but for those still unsure, Evil sounds like a mix of classic Venom, Bulldozer, Bathory, Sodom, and Destruction’s masterpiece Sentence of Death. Show No Mercy plays a big part in the speed metal sound here, and the quirky and quintessentially Japanese melodicism of Sabbat (especially as heard on Karisma) informs much of the lead work. There’s also that same Motorhead influence which was present in both Bulldozer and Venom in spades and even in certain Sodom songs, and like their forebears, Evil takes Lemmy’s “rock n’ roll,” cranks it up, and makes it unmistakably metal.

Unsurprisingly, this is a lot of fun. The uniformly great guitar work reaches its apex in closing number “Evil Way of Live” where a lead melody pops up over propulsive bass and drums. The expectation is that the Sabbat-style melody will be harmonized with the same melody played one octave higher to achieve that old-school soaring sound, but Evil decides to have both guitarists play their own chaotic, shredding solo simultaneously instead1. Evil succeeds mightily in this and closes the record in excellent fashion. “Reaper” takes much from Bathory, right down to just how the bass bolsters the searing riffs. Thankfully not content to merely clone Bathory, Evil makes this their own by importing a Show No Mercy influence filtered through Bulldozer’s The Day of Wrath. “Enmaten” keeps the riffs coming with something that sounds like Bathory’s “Raise the Dead” if Sabbat wrote it and Sodom decided to cover it sometime before 1990.

Structure also plays a role in Evil’s success. Bulldozer’s The Day of Wrath saw the vicious “Mad Man” followed up by metallic party anthem “Whisky Time,” and Evil does something similar here by following the punishing Sodom and Destruction influenced “Revenge” with the absurdly catchy Motorhead-via-Sodom influenced “Raizin,” and it works just as well in 2021 as it did in 1985. Overall, the record never loses steam thanks to smart structuring and concise songs. There really isn’t much to complain about here unless you’re a fiend for novelty and innovation. If you stopped listening to metal after 1989, Evil wouldn’t surprise you too much. That may put some listeners off, but to my ears the enthusiasm, skill, and energy present throughout Possessed by Evil makes its anachronistic nature a benefit instead of a bane.

The production values of Possessed by Evil remind me of Witches Hammer’s Damnation is My Salvation from last year — it’s muscular and fat-free, not sounding purposely dated but retaining that old analog charm. Adding to this charm is an omnipresent tape hiss that can only really be heard during the few quiet moments. It’s not distracting whatsoever, and while it may annoy picky audiophile types, chances are slim they’d even bother with Evil after repeated mentions of early Bathory anyway. Looking back at the prime of early proto-black/speed metal, the cliché “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore” may well still apply, but I’d be lying if I said Evil didn’t do their best to prove it wrong. While it falls short of classic status, Possessed by Evil is nevertheless a resounding success with enduring appeal and comes highly recommended.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear War Now! Productions
Website: facebook.com/eviljapan
Releases Worldwide: February 1st, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. El Cuervo informed me that Wishbone Ash did this in “Throw Down the Sword” back in 1972, and Iron Maiden was heavily influenced by it, according to Steve Harris.
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