Part One of Four – Buddha Rock 1997-1999
1997: Masaki Yamada, the third Loudness singer, was now on his third Loudness album. Besides founding guitarist Akira Takasaki, the rest of the band was new. Ghetto Machine is the first with bassist Naoto Shibata, and second with drummer Hirotsugu Homma. The 90s were chaotic even for Loudness, just like it was for bands in North America. In Loudness’ case, they now had more original E-Z-O members (in Masaki and Homma) than original Loudness members. Like most Loudness albums from the 90s onwards, Ghetto Machine was released only in Japan.
The album was self-produced by Takasaki, recently converted to Buddhism, and he fearlessly dove into the 1990s. Opening with the title “Ghetto Machine”, the riff is low and grinding. Masaki takes on a growly lower tone, and in place of hooks there is only groove and the drone of guitar. This is far removed from the regal metal of the earliest days, but seems sincere given the freedom for Loudness to do whatever they wanted.
Track two, “Slave” features an unusual droning riff, with the thrash metal tempos of early Loudness. At least 90s Loudness didn’t forego guitar solos like some bands. Akira’s here is as interesting as any he’s done. “Evil Ecstasy” opts for a nice groove right in the pocket. Although the riffs are simpler, Akira always does something interesting, either with tone or technique. Though 90s Loudness seems to be less focused on songwriting hooks, sonics are treated with care.
“San Fransisco” isn’t outstanding, though the guitars always are. Nice wah-wah on the solo. Zeppelin seems to be one of many influences on “Love and Hate”, but at this point of the album it is clear that Masaki Yamada will not be delivering much in terms of melody. “Creatures” has a stinging little whiplash of a riff and biting vocals but little that you can sing along to. A cool funky groove called “Hypnotized” is preceded by “Katmandu Fly”, a short atmospheric instrumental. I almost get the feeling that the chorus riff to “Hypnotized” is a twisted variation of “Smoke on the Water”, though it could be my imagination striving to find any kind of hook.
Some crooning during a slow psychedelic jammy break in “Dead Man Walking” is the only melody in that song. The albums takes a turn back towards melodic at the end. Second-to-last track “Jasmine Sky” starts the change up. It’s slow and sparse, and sounds like lead vocals by Akira. It’s one of the only tracks with an actual vocal melody from start to finish, and sets up “Wonder Man” as a final blowout. This monolithic riff is accompanied by exotic guitar soloing and a Masaki vocal you can sing along to. It crawls to a vaguely Zeppelin-y ending.
Ghetto Machine brings me back to that unhappy time in the 90s, when classic bands did what they had to do to adapt, and while the new albums had merit, they were clearly missing…something. The ’92 Loudness album with Masaki was awesome and represented everything good that the 90s could do to a rock band. Ghetto Machine is the slide afterwards.