Power metal has been a staple of the American and European scenes since the 1980s. And while those proverbial hotbeds are certainly the genre's main stomping grounds, in Tokyo, Japan, power metal is as popular as ever.
Of course, the members of Lovebites, including Midori Tatematsu – who makes up one half of Lovebites' shredding guitar duo alongside Watanabe Miyako – are lovers of all things metal, especially the tried-and-true classics from the genre's heyday.
And sure, keeping power metal vibrant in 2023 is critical to the band, but that's not the only objective Lovebites have on their docket.
"It can be difficult – metal has a high percentage of male players and audiences, but if there continues to be examples of success among women, I think it will be easier to see a concrete path forward," Tatematsu tells Guitar World. "The more female guitar heroes there are, the more young women will probably naturally want to play the guitar."
Lovebites have experienced quite a bit of success on home soil. Their first record, 2017's Awakening from Abyss, topped out at No. 33 on the Japanese Billboard Charts. 2018's Clockwork Immortality and 2020's Electric Pentagram reached No. 23 and No. 12, respectively.
Astonishingly, Lovebites bettered themselves yet again in 2023 with the release of their latest – and hardest-hitting– album, Judgement Day, which hit No. 5.
Of course, given their breadth of talent and commitment to their mission statement, none of this surprises Tatematsu – but obstacles still lie ahead.
"There are a lot of people online and in the real world who see and hear Lovebites perform and say, 'That's cool,'" she tells us." But some still have negative preconceived notions about metal music."
She continues, "We've had a lot of success, but the impression I get is that metal music hasn't really penetrated the public yet. But we can expand the range of people who enjoy heavy metal. It can be one of the triggers to revitalize the metal scene."
To that end, Tatematsu says, "There are so many guitarists who started playing guitar around the same time as me who I admire, like Orianthi. I remember seeing a video of her collaborating with Steve Vai and thought, 'Women play the guitar, too. I can become a hero!' I remember being very encouraged by that."
Guitar hero status seems to have come naturally to Tatematsu, whose feats of death-defying alternate picking and neoclassical arpeggios are routinely astonishing. But there was a time when wielding a guitar within the metal setting couldn't have been further from her mind.
"The first time I stood on stage as a guitarist was not in a metal band, but as a member of a brass band," Tatematsu recalls.
"The most difficult thing about playing with a brass band is that brass instruments have a slower rise in sound than electric guitars. It's noticeable when playing fast rock songs. If it's a fast song, I tend to get in a rush, but I have to endure it. To create a cohesive ensemble, listening carefully to the overall sound while listening to the conductor's instructions is important. I learned the importance and difficulty of controlling it."
Control it Tatematsu has, though, by way of a formidable array of E-II guitars, and a digital backline that makes her job easier.
"My focus is on finding playable guitars," Tatematsu says of her taste in six-strings. "My style involves a lot of quickness on the high positions and bending the 24th fret, so having good access to the high positions is a must. I'm always looking for the perfect guitar with all of that, a neck that can handle hot and humid environments, and hardware stability. Oh, and one that has nice grain and looks cool!"
Digging deeper into her amps, she continues, "I've been using the Kemper live for about nine years. When I practice in the studio, I connect directly to a tube amp. But during live performances, I receive Kemper tone control signals and synchronization, and I don't switch them myself. That's why I can concentrate on playing and performing. Also, some songs use harmonizers, but Kemper allows me to make detailed settings and harmonize them clearly.
"The distortion feels different than a tube amp, so it takes a little getting used to, but I think the Kemper suits my playing style. I haven't built a pedalboard that looks like a pedalboard for a long time. I only have a Kemper controller at my feet."
Despite their success in Japan, there's still plenty of work to be done for Tatematsu and her bandmates. Regional success is appreciated, but Lovebites have their eye on the international prize. And that's why Judgement Day is such a critical release.
"With Judgement Day, the offensive power has increased compared to before," Tatemastsu enthuses. "The songs convey the charm of each member, and the melodies make it easy to convey the content of the lyrics. One song that means the most to me is We Are the Resurrection, which had some of my best guitar moments on the album. The tension and chords are layered in several places, and we paid close attention to details."
Tatematsu now has her eyes fixed on the future of Lovebites. Of course, she's proud of what she's done, but she's not hung up on it. For Midori Tatematsu, her journey to cement her place within the bedrock of heavy metal has just begun, and by the sounds of it, she's ready for anything.
"Ever since I started playing guitar, I've been searching," Tatematsu says. "I've seen so many players who feature a combination of flash, shred, and emotion, all of which I'm still looking for each day. It's not always easy because metal is not a mainstream genre in Japan. But I feel that the prejudices to the word 'metal' have eased in the last few years, which is a great sign for the future."
- Judgement Day is out now via Victor Entertainment/JPU Records.