In 1982, Loudness guitarist Akira Takasaki and a Japanese keyboardist named Masanori Sasaji teamed up to record an album of music that was different from the usual Loudness rock. Though the cover art and title Tusk of Jaguar screams “pure metal”, this is actually a combination of rock, pop and jazz fusion among other influences. The cool thing about the album is that Loudness play on almost all of it, including singer Minoru Niihara on a couple of vocal tracks. Some songs are all but considered part of the Loudness discography.
Certainly the opening title track sounds like Loudness. That speed metal pace can only have been set by Munetaka Higuchi on drums and Masayoshi Yamashita on bass. “Tusk of Jaguar” is a strange amalgam of shredding metal and jazz-rock interludes. It sounds a bit like the Ian Gillan Band but with Eddie Van Malmsteen on lead guitar instead of Berne Torme. Tremendously enjoyable, but way over the heads of most of the masses.
Minoru makes his first appearance on “Steal Away”, a song difficult to describe. It’s Styx-like and has a big organ sounds like Dennis DeYoung. Cinematic, progressive pop dance rock? Then it goes pure Burn-era Deep Purple! I don’t know what it is, and even with Minoru it sounds little like Loudness. It’s also one of only a few songs without Higuchi and Yamashita.
“Macula (Far from Mother Land)” is based on synthesizer until it transforms into a more traditional guitar instrumental, with clear Brian May influences. The way Akira Takasaki stacks his guitar harmonies can only be described as Queen-like. For that reason, this song is the most accessible to rock fanatics, who will eat up every note that Akira celeverly lays down. For those curious to know more about the critically acclaimed guitarist, check out “Ebony Eyes”, a serious hard rocker on which he takes lead vocals himself! His voice is higher in timbre than Minoru’s, and while he is not an amazing vocalist, he does have some pretty incredible guitar solos on this track.
“Wild Boogie Run” is an interesting tune, sounding almost exactly like Dixie Dregs. The violins, the acoustic & electric guitars, and slight western leanings make this a track that will make your friends wonder what Dregs album it was from. This could be the track worth buying the album for. Rock returns on “Gunshots” but even when Akira is just riffing, the rhythms beneath are complex and jazzy. Hard to describe, but heavy! A jazzy funk opens “Mid-Day Hunter”. Takasaki is nothing if not diverse on Tusk of Jaguar, but even if the rhythms throw you for a loop, you can surely dig into his always memorable lead work. In their early pre-Steve Perry days, Journey wrote songs like this.
Minoru Niihara returns on a song that is basically a Loudness track: “Show Me Something Good”. Though it also has Masanori Sasaji on keyboards, it is the entire Loudness lineup otherwise. A pop rock track like this could have sat on an album like Lightning Strikes if it was produced with heavier intent. The album closer is called “Say What?” which you might in fact be saying by the end of it. Blazing tempos and synth solos adorn a track that is beyond the comprehension of mere mortals.
This is a challenging album, no word of a lie. It’s certainly not immediate, and though parts of it sound familiar, it takes a bit of listening to really start to penetrate. Loudness fans, and anybody into challenging progressive rock should give it a go.