Part Two of Four – Buddha Rock 1997-1999
LOUDNESS – Dragon (1998 Rooms, from the box set Buddha Rock 1997-1999)
Lucky 13th album for Loudness? Maybe not, but it is an uptick from the prior release Ghetto Machine. The band just kept on going, with only Akira Takasaki remaining from the original lineup. Their third singer Masaki Yamada was on his fourth album with Loudness, and by now they had established a heavy alterna-metal 90s sound. It is the strongest of the three albums of the Buddha Rock era.
Loudness had become fearless, blending thrash and funk together on “9 Mile High”. Those who don’t enjoy Masaki’s growling style won’t be turned around here. Those who like it fast enough to make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs will not have a problem. It skips between thrash and funk without warning.
The appetizingly titled “Dogshit” could only have come from the 1990s. Harmonic drones are substituted for a main riff, and Masaki’s vocal is closer to rap metal. Yet there’s something irresistible about it. “Dog shit on my bike boots!” sings Masaki with a heavy guitar backing him. And that’s why Loudness could get away with doing this kind of music. It’s the guitar. Akira Takasaki is one of the best in the world, but he’s more fearless than Yngwie and can play just about anything. With a virtuoso like that, it’s unlikely you’re going to sound like dog shit.
“Wicked Witches” is heavy, detuned, and it grooves to the max while drilling into your brain. There’s even a little bit of early Van Halen in the riff. That leads into “Crazy Go-Go”, a single and album highlight. Foregoing the nu-metal, this one is wah-wah heavy and just plain rocks! Flat out, kick ass, rock and roll. “Backstage go-go babe, like a circus after school, playin’ my guitar like a country horse.” (Country horse?) You get the picture! It’s about groupies! (Akira makes his guitar whinny like a horse!)
Drummer Hirotsugo Homma gets to have some rhythmic fun on “Voodoo Voices” which is one of the most bizarre tracks Loudness have ever done. Voodoo voices indeed, as the vocals are buried, ethereal in the mix. It’s trippy and trip-hoppy. The instrumental “回想” (“Kaisō”) is made up of backwards guitars playing quietly and hypnotic. Then suddenly it’s a metal riff on “Babylon”. Masaki eschews the growl and goes for psychedelic singing. “Crawl” features a chugging Akira riff, and then some pulsing synth? This album goes everywhere.
“Forbidden Love” is pretty cool, coming closer to the spirit of 80s Loudness. Then go for some more 90s funk metal on “Mirror Ball”, which is as hot as Anthony Kiedis’ arm pit. Another stunning instrumental emerges in “Taj Mahal”, which is not about the shredding but entirely about atmosphere. A variety of unique sounding guitars are accompanied by exotic percussion and bass. Unfortunately that leads into a little bit of a dud for an album closer. “Nightcreepers” doesn’t make an impression.
While this Dragon is an experimental one, not afraid to mess with expectations or traditions, it is still rooted in that 90s nu-metal dungeon. That is something that dates the disc to certain period in time. When it rises above that, as it does on “回想”, “Crazy Go Go” and “Voodoo Voices”, it transcends genre and goes somewhere unique. There are just enough of those moments to make this album a keeper.