“That’ll never happen” was the first thing I said when the news broke that X JAPAN, an old school heavy metal unit out of Chiba, will be playing London’s second-largest indoor venue, Wembley Arena.

With their careers peaking in the 80s and 90s, these guys were Japan’s answer to KISS, Black Sabbath, and the heavy metal genre as a whole. Rising to fame from a young age with their extreme looks (think hair metal, then add more hair), these days there isn’t much to look at, but, as an outsider of the fandom, it’s not until you delve into what the band has gone through to get to this point that you can really admire the significance of this moment in rock history.

X JAPAN have the most captivating story of any band to come out of Japan. It’s a wild story of loss, friendship, and overcoming all odds. This was all put into perspective with a 60-minute cut of their feature length documentary before the show. An emotional reminder to why fans were here to begin with, and a perfect intro for newcomers as the sounds of their mammoth performances from back in the day blasted though the sound system (sure beats IMAX).

X JAPAN Documentary ‘WE ARE X’ Premieres At London Film Festival

As the film ended and the screen rose, the seated crowd took to their feet for a roaring applause as the band exploded onto the stage. What followed was a 20+ setlist of uppers and downers from non-stop heavy metal bangers to sentimental ballads.

These guys have stamina. Despite their age and what the documentary had told us, you wouldn’t have guessed 3 out of the 5 members were going on 50, nor that drummer and band leader Yoshiki suffers from a host of health issues. Jumping back and forth between letting loose on the drums and playing enchanting classical tunes on the grand piano, Yoshiki constantly pushed himself to the to the brink, even to the point of collapsing after his contemporary drum solo for the encore.

An overall emotional night, X JAPAN delivered a performance that has been over a year in the making, and it was worth the wait. It’s hard to think anyone walked out without feeling taken away by the raw power on display. Even when things got casual with typical “sorry I can’t hear you” old man banter and almost QVC levels of salesmanship as they talked though the exclusive CDs they had on sale, it only made the whole night that more real.

The juxtaposition between their sombre and bitter last live event at Tokyo Dome back in 1997 after Toshi decided to leave the band after being “brainwashed” into joining a cult (you couldn’t make this up), and the pure love between the two remaining original members and best friends since they were kids, was nothing but a joy to see.

Despite all odds these guys have kept their dreams and the dreams of their friends alive without losing the heart and talent that has driven their success all these years, and the passion X JAPAN shows in their work is only reflected by their fans who have joined them every step of the way.

It wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if their first ever massive UK show will be their last, but even if it is, the impression they left on the night will be felt for a long time to come.

Words by Charles Shepherd

we are x official soundtrack

We Are X Soundtrack

Release Date: 03/03/2017
Label: Legacy Recordings
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– X JAPAN | Official Website