Album: Iron Lotus
Genre: Power Metal
Release Date: March 24th, 2021
For Fans Of: Iron Maiden, Loudness, Lovebites, Firewind
Welcome to the New Wave of Thai Heavy Metal.
That’s what Nacarbide would say, at least.
This Bangkok quartet formed in 2016 and are heavily, heavily influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal of the late 1970s and 1980s, as well as classic Japanese rock like Outrage and Bow Wow. They dropped their debut album Lots of Eyes in 2017, followed closely by their Revolution EP. Now, with their second full-length album Iron Lotus, this band of Japanese and Thai musicians assert that they are leading a New Wave of Thai Heavy Metal. A bold claim, for sure, but does Nacarbide live up to their own hype?
When the title track of Iron Lotus kicks off the album, Masa’s Maiden-induced harmonized guitars make it clear that Nacarbide is charging into power metal territory. Hitomi’s belting alto confirms that fact, but something’s…off. It’s not that her voice isn’t refined or that she’s singing with abandon, though it isn’t and she is. It’s that so many of the instruments share the same frequencies and compete for the same sonic space. Hitomi’s chesty timber often disappears behind the guitars, which only highlights their slushy, unflattering tone. As Masa trades solos with himself around the 3-minute mark, you may ask yourself why, if this guy can shred like this, are his rhythm parts so uninspired and predictable? It’s like he was so laser-focused on studying British new wave guitar all his life that he failed to notice metal evolve beyond the borders of 1980’s Europe. Unlike Masa’s heroes, his guitar tones feel plasticine and artificial. Just listen as the noise gate chokes the sustain from the final note of any song on this album, robbing it of a satisfying conclusion.
If the guitars in “Iron Lotus” are a bland stew of stock power metal riffs, “Run” at least tries to spice things up with hints of glammy, Ratty overtones. But even Hassy’s unexpected bass fills and a key change at the 3:28 mark aren’t enough to make this song any more memorable than the first. Everything you expect in a power metal song is here—palm-muted rhythms, drawn out power chords, melodic solos—but there’s nothing unique. Even Hitomi’s diaphragmatic, ESL vocals can’t give the band a singular identity with powerhouse Japanese frontwomen like Asami of Lovebites or even Marina Hebiishi of Mardelas setting the modern standard. Her wantonness is charming, but her lack of control is clear when the lead guitar tries to match her pitch. The end of “Run” plays out on another predictable 80’s guitar riff before another jarring noise gate strangles the song into silence.
Luckily, before you can get too frustrated with Nacarbide’s squandered potential, the single arrives in the form of “Undisclosed.” You are yet again treated to competent harmonized guitars that could be mistaken for Maiden practice tapes or “Play in the Style of Iron Maiden” guitar instruction exercises, but this time they are packaged over a vi-IV-I-V progression in G. For those who don’t speak guitar nerd, this combination of Em-C-G-D is one of the most battle-tested progressions in rock, responsible for the sticky hooks found in Toto’s “Africa,” Alice Cooper’s “Poison,” The Cranberries’ “Zombies,” The Offspring’s “Gotta Get Away,” Sarah McLachlan’s “Building a Mystery,” The Offspring’s “Self Esteem,” The Offspring’s “The Kids Aren’t Alright;” Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life,” The Offspring’s “You’re Gonna Go Far Kid…” You get the idea. If ‘conventional’ is all Nacarbide has to offer, at least this song is conventional and catchy.
When the vocals arrive barely audible in “Resolution,” or when the guitars repeat the same conventions for the fourth song in a row, you would be forgiven for skipping ahead, even as you try to give Nacarbide the benefit of the doubt. “Maybe their core audience finds the predictability comforting,” you may wonder. “Maybe the energy Hitomi brings to her live performances is worth the price of admission. Maybe the delight of seeing a Japanese, female-fronted power metal band in Bangkok distracts from the worn out compositions. Maybe this band doesn’t have any surprises up its sleeve.”
But they do. Eight track in, on “Zense No Yakusoku,” Hitomi bursts in with a thundering confidence unheard on the album until now. She’s singing in Japanese. The last three songs of Iron Lotus are all in Japanese, and it makes a world of difference. Hitomi destroys these final songs with the fearlessness of classic Japanese bands like Loudness and Anthem. This is where Narcarbide’s true potential hides. They shouldn’t tuck these songs away at the end of the album; they should showcase these tunes and move entirely in this direction.
If Nacarbide set out to make a predictable, paint-by-numbers tribute to 80’s European power metal, they succeeded. But to truly live up to their claim of leading a New Wave of Thai Heavy Metal, they need to use the conventions and vocabulary of their 80’s power metal heroes in a manner that’s fresh, unique, or at least a little surprising. They should take notes from bands like Celestial Sanctuary, who deliver on their bold claim of leading a New Wave of British Death Metal by reimagining and repackaging the traditions of death metal in new and exciting ways.
The only surprise on Iron Lotus is Hitomi’s brilliant Japanese vocals, but a late-album surprise ultimately can’t save this album from the bargain bin.
- Iron Lotus
- Human Race
- Eye of a Hawk
- 前世の約束 ~Zense no Yakusoku~
- Dear Friend
Total Playing Time: 41:17