When Loudness released their first live album with new singer Masaki Yamada Once And For All, they took the oft-misguided step that many bands with replacement singers make. Much like Van Halen, they dropped the majority of their earlier material from the set and focused on the new album. Unlike Van Halen, this wasn’t done due to ego, but because of changing styles of the 90s.
You hate when bands do that, don’t you? Well allow Loudness to open your mind on the concept.
In 1992, Loudness released their self-titled new album with Masaki on vocals. It is excellent. Like many late-period self-titles, it sounds like a new start. Masaki was a very different kind of singer from either Minoru Niihara or Mike Vescera. Truthfully his voice was not well suited to the old material (shades of Blaze Bayley). Focusing on the fine, new songs for their first live album together was a wise move.
Loudness opened this live set with some smokin’ guitar licks and the first two tracks from the new album: “Pray For the Dead” and “Slaughterhouse”. Masaki was in great vocal shape, able to hold it steady and belt. The slow, exotic groove of “Pray For the Dead” screams “early 90s” but in a good way. “Slaughterhouse” has a faster tempo and more “metal” vibe. Drummer Munetaka Higuchi (R.I.P.) has this song by the balls. He gets a wicked solo at the end, too.
The sole Mike Vescera song that lingered in the setlist is “Down N’ Dirty” from 1991’s On The Prowl. A little dated-sounding, its persistence in sets over the years is surprising. New bassist Taiji Sawada (R.I.P.) has the opportunity to shine on the slinky opening. The Masaki-era version is heavied-up, but that chorus can’t be saved. Never cared for it. But personal favourite “Everyone Lies” comes next in the set, a punchy fast groove with an angry vocal.
Masaki’s old group E-Z-O were not unknowns; they put two albums out on Geffen and are something of a cult band. Their “House of 1,000 Pleasures” is deservedly visited for track five. Akira Takasaki takes a wicked solo here, in a song that definitely owns its place on the album. It’s also nice to get tracks that are not on regular Loudness studio albums when you pick up a live disc.
Track six would fall where “side two” should begin — the single “Black Widow”. This menacing groove is performed to perfection. All the tracks are. Album accuracy is not an issue, but the live versions do have more energy. “Black Widow” kills, as it should.
Two more of the newer songs follow before they finally dip into classics: “Twisted” and “Waking the Dead”. Akira blazes for a bit before “Twisted”, just a prelude to the extended jam in the middle of this funky rocker. The three instrumentalists Akira, Taiji and Higuchi really get a chance to show off their chops as the song goes on for 10 minutes. After that workout, the straight-ahead riffing of “Waking the Dead” is almost a relief.
The two classics from the Minoru Niihara days are the two most obvious songs: “Crazy Night” and “S.D.I.”. Masaki’s style transforms “Crazy Night” into something more 90s. He simply isn’t the kind of singer to belt out a melody. Masaki tortures the melody and bends it to his range and growl. It is not a bad version of “Crazy Night”, but it is a different take than Minoru’s. “S.D.I.” is the encore, a blitzkrieg of metal that fares well with Masaki leading the charge. It was always a bit of a screamer.
Once And For All isn’t easy to find, and is often prohibitively expensive. This isn’t the kind of album you’re likely to just find sitting on the shelf at your favourite used CD store. It’s the kind of thing that must be sought. If it were a 5/5 star live album, I’d say “seek it”. But very few live albums are an 5/5.