japanese imports

REVIEW: Corey Taylor – CMFT (2020 Japanese version)

COREY TAYLOR – CMFT (2020 Warner Japan)

I’ve never particularly cared for Slipknot and I don’t own any Stone Sour.  However I’ve been aware of Corey Taylor since 2014’s Dio tribute, and “Rainbow in the Dark”.  That side of Taylor landed right in my ballpark.  So did his solo single “Black Eyes Blue”.

“Why not spend some dollars and get his album, see what he’s up to?” I said to myself.

“Oh wait,” and a pause.  “I need to know if there are any bonus tracks so I can buy the most complete version,” replied my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Some typing.  C-D-J-A-P-A-N into the search engine, a short wait and — confirmed.  “Black Eyes Blue”, acoustic bonus track.  In stock.

“It’s only money,” said the idiot in the middle of a pandemic.

A few weeks later, a Japanese CD of Corey Taylor’s solo debut CMFT , bejewelled wresting belt on the cover, had hit Canadian shores and was on its way to my post box.


The scene is set when the laser blasts aluminium.  A southern rockabilly vibe on “HWY 666” takes us on a heavy car trip in the forbidden zone.  This is what Nickelback was wishing they did with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”.

The big single is in the welcoming second slot.  It’s hard to describe “Black Eyes Blue”, except that the beat swings in a danceable way while the chorus delivers big hooks.  Just like a classic Bon Jovi rocker, a guitar solo blasts out Sambora-like with a complimentary hook.  It’s all over but the crashing chords in just over three minutes.  Picture yourself on the highway going on at a good clip with the windows down, but the music blasting louder than the wind.  Classic in the making.

Taylor goes for a punky hard rock vibe on the next one, “Samantha’s Gone”, just a blast in a pickup truck on a dusty highway.  “We all got nothin’ to lose because the cash is gone,” goes the the thick chorus.  Some bright blasts of mean guitar melodicism keeps the hooks-a-flowin’ like booze.  It goes full-on punk rock with “Meine Lux”, but still in southern territory.  Filler perhaps; fortunately “Halfway Down” has a broader appeal.  It’s from the same Sonic Temple that the Cult built in 1989.  Straight-ahead hard rock with fat trimmed and bone-in.  

Corey opens and lets sentiment out on the sixth number, a dark exploration called “Silverfish”.  It’s a big ballad that sounds akin to some of the radio staples of the early 90s, but the surprising next twist is a splash of nice acoustic on “Kansas”.  This bright pop rocker recalls the big sounds of the Goo Doo Dolls on some of their biggest albums.  Clearly, Corey Taylor is dialled into the pop side of his music collection on this album.

Suddenly, like the car has hit the brakes to save a scared animal’s life, the tone changes and you’ve got whiplash.  “Culture Head” gets topical and aggressive.  It’s detuned and pissed off.   The speed picks up on a tangent with “Everybody Dies on My Birthday” which recalls the drum stylings of Matt Sorum.  The metal is strong with this one, as are the “We are!” singalong vocals.

The car you’re driving pulls into a diner on the roadside, and that’s “The Maria Fire”.  There’s a local band with a southern twang playing electric guitars.  Though the band is hot and the guitarist is smoking the fretboard, this is rough place and the tension feels like a fight could break at any moment.  Time to go “Home”.

“Home” is a beautiful piano piece, just Corey and keys.  The heartfelt tone and vocals could have been a perfect ending to the album here.  It’s one of those moments that maybe should be left as-is, and just walk away.  Instead we’re treated to the rap-rock closer “CMFT Must Be Stopped”.  Not my kind of thing, but I’m not Corey’s core audience and admittedly it’s fun to bop along to.  Listen for some cool percussion stuff in the background.  I’m oblivious to his guest rappers Tech N9ne and Kid Bookie; one of them has a very cool speed rap flow.  This is the point at which I roll up the windows of the car because I don’t wanna look like Michael Bolton in the movie Office Space.  This goes into a hardcore Anthrax-like thrash punk rocker “European Tour Bus Bathroom Song” which ends the album on an unnecessary jokey note.

It turns out that, though financially stupid, my choice of buying the Japanese version of the album was the correct one.  They end with the acoustic live version of “Black Eyes Blues”, a sparse version that leaves you feeling refreshed when the album’s over.

You know what lane I’m in musically, and where Corey Taylor comes from.  You can divine from this review whether you will like the album or not.  I think there’s a good chance that many of you would like most of it, but few would love it all.  Certainly not a bad investment since songs like “Black Eyes Blues”, “Samantha’s Gone”, “Everybody Dies on My Birthday” and “Home” have potential to stick around in your head for years.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: The Cult – Dreamtime / Live at the Lyceum (Japanese import)

THE CULT – Dreamtime (Originally 1984) / Live at the Lyceum (Originally 1986) (2006 2 CD Beggars Banquet Japanese set)

This was a bit of a surprise to me. Once I got this Japanese pressing in my hot little hands and opened it up, out popped two CDs! This was not advertized on the case. (Well, maybe it was in Japanese, but I can’t read Japanese!) The second CD is the legendary and extremely hard to find live album, Live At The Lyceum. For that live album alone, this Japanese import is worth the price of admission.

The debut album by The Cult is surprisingly solid, a fully-formed vision of the band with complete and catchy songs. For a long time this album was hard to get and all but unknown to “new” fans of the band who thought that it started with Love. This was rectified in the 90’s with numerous reissues, plus many of these songs found their way onto the Pure Cult compilations.

Dreamtime has a punk-like energy.  The drums (by Nigel Preston) hit hard.  “Horse Nation” and “Spiritwalker” open Dreamtime with a powerful one-two punch.  “Gimmick” has soaring vocals with stabbing guitars, coupled with a fast beat that gets the heart racing.  The title track has a similar accelerated pace.  The Cult are also known for their slower, darker, macabre side.  “83rd Dream”, “Bad Medicine Waltz” and “Butterflies” certainly cover that.  Dreamtime sounds like an angry young band unwilling to compromise.

Yet tracks like “Go West” had tremendous commercial potential.  Memorable, punchy melodies and Ian Astbury singing with all the panache he can muster.  “A Flower in the Desert” could be called a ballad if you like.  A dour, dusky one.  An impactful “Rider in the Snow” has some excellent guitar shimmer.

Gladly, I have found that there is not one weak track on this album. The songs are more challenging and not as instantaneous as Love, but when Astbury’s one-of-a-kind vocals mix with Duffy’s angular guitars, it sounds like the Cult. Period. From aggressive rock songs to mournful dirges like “Bad Medicine Waltz”, this album has a bit of everything that the Cult would later become, in embryonic form.  This set contains just the album, the original 10 songs, and none of the B-sides. Don’t fret however as those songs can be found on the Rare Cult set.


Although I got Live at The Lyceum (the original abbreviated cassette which only had eight of the 15 songs) in my teens, I was a stranger to early Cult.  This raw live disc (which opens with a bit of Wendy Carlos’ score from The Shining) includes all the songs from the 1983 Death Cult EP:  “Christians”, “Horse Nation”, “Ghost Dance” and “Brothers Grimm”.  It also includes the blistering Death Cult single “God’s Zoo” live, and the B-side “Bone Bag”.  Going even further back, “Moya” predates Billy Duffy, being an early single by Ian’s band Southern Death Cult.  It slams with vital energy.  As good as this whole live album is, “God’s Zoo” has to be the highlight.

Astbury is as combative as ever, and the crowd eats it up. The energy of this live album is astounding. I strongly encourage you to look for a Japanese copy of this CD for the live album — it is totally worth your time and money to do so. Lyceum was the second Cult album I ever owned (shame it was just a cassette) and I have very fond memories of learning about the Cult’s history by playing  that tape over and over.

This Japanese CD release has the original, superior cover art.  With the full 15 song version of Live at the Lyceum included, it’s the standout version to own.  What an album, and what a live disc to boot.  Dig into the Cult.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Storm Force – “Breathe” featuring Serena Pryne (2020 music video)

STORM FORCE – “Breathe” featuring Serena Pryne (2020 Escape Music video)

Our rock and roll friends Storm Force have released a new video for “Breathe”, and a good one it is!

These days when a band drops a new video, are you often disappointed?  Many videos today are low budget slideshows of still photos, or crude animations.  This was the trend even before Covid.  Unless you’re AC/DC, few go to the trouble of actually filming a concept/performance music video anymore.  Storm Force did a good one with “Pretty Vegas”, and now they are back to blow minds with “Breathe”, one of the strongest tunes on the new album Age of Fear.

“Breathe” deserved a proper video, and Storm Force deliver.  Lead singer Patrick Gagliardi sings from behind bars, but is it the prison of the mind?  He is joined by vocalist extraordinaire Serena Pryne, who has the grit and power of people like the highly respected Sass Jordan.  Although the lyrics are open enough to work with many interpretations, the song is about mental health, and having someone there to support you.  The video has the right tone and passion for this serious subject.  But if you want, you can just enjoy it as a mighty power ballad.

Of course, guitarist Greg Fraser has plenty of experience with music videos.  His solo on “Breathe” is cool because you can hear that it is him by the tone and technique.  Drummer Brian Hamilton and bassist Mike Berardelli create a really cool groove on this track, and Hamilton looks imposing and fearless in the video.

One must also credit Gagliardi for a collection of increasingly cool hats.

5/5 stars

Gallery: A closer look at Alice Cooper and Japanese import unboxings

This week’s live show included some cool unboxings.  Here is a closer look at the three new arrivals at LeBrain HQ.

#1 Dokken – The Lost Songs: 1978-1981 Japanese import.  Old unreleased demos polished and finished for release.  This baby has a bonus track called “Going Under”.

#2 Accept – Blind Rage Japanese import.  2014 studio album.  “Thrown to the Wolves” is the name of this Teutonic terror’s bonus track.

# Alice Cooper – “Don’t Give Up” 7 inch picture disc single.  Great to finally have this new Covid-related recording on a physical format.

 

Adventures in Epilepsy – Live LeBrain Train with Guests

Episode 30 – Adventures in Epilepsy

A few technical difficulties with the Facebook feed, but a good show all around.  A more personal show this time, if you ever wanted to know how epilepsy can change lives, then you’ll want to check this one out.  No more concerts, no more movie theaters — such is the new reality that my wife lives in.

But we did more than just talk about epilepsy, much more in fact.  Unboxings, books, and guests — it’s all below.

The live stream feed is much choppier on Facebook so I encourage everyone to watch on Youtube from now on.  The Youtube feed was solid.   People on Facebook were reporting freezing video, so in an effort to fix that, I stopped the feed and started over.  That’s why there are two Youtube videos below.

  • I started with some cool unboxings — Japanese imports and vinyl.  Go to 0:05:10 of the first video to see some metal goodies and rarities.
  • For the start of the epilepsy show, go to 0:18:25 of the first video.  It continues at 0:07:15 of the second video.
  • Old pal and author Aaron Lebold came on to talk about his own history with epilepsy, and his new book Genocide at 0:41:15 of the second video.
  • Kevin Simister aka Buried On Mars stopped in at 1:06:35 of the second video to talk about crappy Amazon shipping and to do a CD unboxing.
  • And finally Rob Daniels came in at 1:20:45 of the second video to hang out, talk music, and his own show Visions in Sound.  He has lots of fun planned for October!

Thanks for watching the LeBrain Train episode 30!

First video – start of show

Second video – continuation and conclusion

REVIEW: Storm Force – Age of Fear (2020 Japanese import)

STORM FORCE – Age of Fear (2020 Japanese import)

If 2020 is indeed the Age of Fear, then at least Storm Force have brought us the album that we deserve for all our suffering.  Released before the pandemic but with some eerily relevant lyrics to our current time, Age of Fear is one of the most kickass discs you are going to hear this year.

Storm Force features the stellar talents of former Brighton Rock guitarist Greg Fraser, powerhouse singer Patrick Gagliardi, drum monster Brian Hamilton, and groovin’ bassist Mike Berardelli.  Fans of Brighton Rock (R.I.P.) will recognize the tone and stylings of the six-string magician they call Fraze.  That said, Gagliardi’s arena-sized vocals cords are what will draw you in to this band immediately.

Storm Force waste little time cutting to the chase.  The single-ready “Because of You” opens with some epic sci-fi keyboards that might have you feeling you’re at the intro to a progressive concept album.  But then Fraze hits you with a cool stuttery riff, and Patrick’s in your ears with a classic hard rock voice with grit and range to spare.  But you want hooks?  Storm Force deliver on “Because of You”, a song that would have been a massive hit in an earlier time.

Without letup it’s the title track “Age of Fear”, ushered in by the mountainous drumming of Brian Hamilton.  He and Mike Berardelli are locked in.  The riff has a bit of Darkness and the melody has shades of Dio. It’s an uptempo blast through midnight, but even that is just a warmup for the third track “Breathe”. With guest vocals from Serena Pryne, it’s a full-on epic. Keyboard accents lend it appropriate drama. This song is massive, powerful and perfect.  In another universe, a hit. Watch for a music video coming soon.

“Ember Rain” gives us the first true ballad. The ringing acoustics and storytelling guitar solos recall some of the best of late 80s Whitesnake. Listen to the bass roll, and how the sparingly and effectively the drum fills are used. After a ballad, it’s best to chase it with a heavy headbanger. “Ride Like Hell” is a vicious road tune that Axl Rose wishes he wrote. The chorus nails it home, and the solos are eloquent.

“Dirty Vegas” was the first Storm Force video and you can hear why.  With a title like “Dirty Vegas” you can count on a party tune.  With bite, and a chorus that goes on for days.  Music like this is what we need right now.

Storm Force know you need a comedown after a track like “Dirty Vegas” so an upbeat acoustic-based tune called “More Than You Know” is there to sooth your aching rock hangover.  But it’s only temporary as “Marshall Law” has come to bust the door down!  It takes a real singer to deliver on a track like this and Gagliardi is world-class.  Truly one of the hottest on the scene today and one listen to “Marshall Law” is all it should take to convince you.

These guys know how to pace an album, and a piano ballad called “Different Roads” occupies the all-important second-to-last track.  The vocals on this one are on a whole ‘nother level!  Gagliardi can do so much with his voice that I could probably convince you that he is actually two singers.  For penultimate tracks, “Different Roads” is one of those ballads that could close a record in its own right, but actually sets you up for one more knock to the skull.  “Ringside”, like its title suggests, is not a ballad.  It’s a high velocity adventure in heavy metal histrionics.  And that closes the album with a slam!…

…Unless you’re one of the lucky who owns a Japanese CD (or an iTunes download).  The bonus track on those formats is “Weight of the World”, a song certainly equal to the others on the album.  A solid rocker, “Weight of the World” might express how some of us feel right now.  “The weight of the world is tearing out the heart of me.”  Ever felt that way?

Expertly constructed songs.  Thoughtful lyrics.  World class production by Darius Szczepaniak.  Veteran performances by artists at the top of their craft.  An album we desperately needed in 2020.  Get Age of Fear.

5/5 stars

If you missed it, check out our live interview with Storm Force from September 4 2020 starting at the 0:16:50 mark.  Thanks to Superdekes for helping setting that up.

 

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes (1994 Japanese version)

BLACK SABBATH – Cross Purposes (1994 EMI Japan)

Cross Purposes catches a lot of crap from fans, and maybe it is the softest Sabbath, but it ain’t bad.  The Tony Martin era was unfairly derided when he was the singer in Black Sabbath.  “Only Ozzy or Ronnie — no Tony!” complained some fans.  Well, we had Ronnie for Dehumanizer and that didn’t last.  Tony Martin was probably always the backup plan in case things went south with Dio.  It is said that Tony Martin recorded his own set of vocals for the Dehumanizer album in case Dio left abruptly.  It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that Tony Iommi called up Martin when Dio did inevitably walk.

Ronnie brought drummer Vinny Appice with him, which meant Sabbath were replacing two members.  In a genius move, Iommi snapped up ex-Rainbow heavy-hitter Bobby Rondinelli.  Bassist Geezer Butler stayed put, but not without regrets.  He would later say that he thought they were recording an album for a new band, but that Iommi decided to use the name Black Sabbath.  This seems hard to believe given that Iommi always returned to the Sabbath name in the past.

Tony Martin & Bobby Rondinelli

Whatever the case may be, Cross Purposes was met with mixed reactions when it was released in 1994.  While some welcomed the return of a classic sounding band, others called them irrelevant in the face of grunge.  Indeed, Sabbath were accused of copying the style of Alice in Chains on “Virtual Death”, featuring a double tracked vocal similar to the Seattle band’s trademark sound.

True as that may be, there is no question that opener “I Witness” sounds like no band other than Black Sabbath.  From Iommi’s squealing guitar shrieks to Geezer’s slinky bass, only one band sounds like this.  Yes, on the surface Tony Martin sounds like Dio, but that sells him short.  Dio has more grit, while Martin takes it smooth.  “I Witness” is one of those blazingly fast Sabbath openers, and Rondinelli’s massive snare sound just kills it.  I’ve always enjoyed how Black Sabbath worked their name into certain lyrics, like “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”.  Here, Tony Martin (an underrated lyricist) refers to the “pilgrims of Sabbocracy”, a word that doesn’t seem to exist outside the Black Sabbath pantheon.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons this album was poorly received is that two of its best songs are ballads.  People forget that Sabbath have many classic ballads — “Solitude”, “Changes” and “Born Again” come to mind.  “Cross of Thorns” is a vocal workout for Martin that darkens the sky and shakes the seas.  An acoustic riff begins the journey, but it transforms into something bigger and more dramatic.  It also includes one of Iommi’s most memorable guitar solos from his entire career.  Special mention goes to late keyboardist Geoff Nicholls who provides much atmosphere for this dark burner.

“Psychophobia” is an interesting song; not the most memorable but with a tricky riff that’ll get the heads banging.   The middle section exactly halfway into the song is outstanding.  It’s also a gas to hear Martin singing “It’s time to kiss the rainbow goodbye”.  A sly jab at Dio?  Fans will probably always see it that way.  But then comes “Virtual Death”.  Its possible grunge inspirations stick out like the sorest of thumbs on side one.  This slow song drags too long.  The whole “virtual reality” trend was well worn out by 1994, so that did not help matters much.  Fortunately the first side redeems itself with a resounding closer called “Immaculate Deception”.  The beguilement here is that the song seems like trudge at first, until Rondinelli puts it in turbo on the choruses.

Side two opens with the second ballad (more of a blues really) called “Dying For Love”.  This is reminiscent of “Feels Good to Me” from the Tyr album.  Interestingly, Geezer’s bassline sounds like the one Bob Daisley played on “The Shining” in 1987.  (Geezer was around when “The Shining” was written, possibly under the name “No Way Out”.)  It must be said that, as great as Tony Martin is on this song, it would have sounded out of this world had Dio sung it.

“Back to Eden” is a skipper.  Nothing particular wrong with it, just not as good as other tracks.  We resume on the single, “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle”.  A keyboard opening gives way to a killer Iommi riff, one that sticks in your brain for days.  Top it off with an excellent chorus and this track is a winner.  Shame it never had a chance as a single.  “Cardinal Sin”, like “Back to Eden”, isn’t much to talk about, though it does have a cool keyboard line.

The standard album ends on “Evil Eye”, a song that incredibly came about through an unlikely 1993 jam with Eddie Van Halen.  Van Halen laid down a solo, but the band weren’t recording properly.  According to Tony Martin, the Van Halen recording is simply too poor in quality to release.  I don’t think fans would mind, but that is wishful thinking considering they couldn’t even give Eddie a writing credit due to contractual wranglings.  This song just grinds, like a mountain over the aeons.  Tony Martin wails on the chorus, and Tony Iommi lays down several minutes of guitar licks that may or not have been inspired by Van Halen’s original solos.

A big thanks must go out to Harrison the Mad Metal Man for locating this Japanese printing of Cross Purposes that you are looking at.  A Sabbath collection that began in earnest back in 1992 was finally completed in 2020.  The bonus track here is “What’s the Use”, a song that doesn’t quite sound like the rest of the album.  The short choppy Iommi riff sounds more like Judas Priest than Sabbath, but it’s a welcome addition because it’s unlike the usual.

Had Cross Purposes come out under a different band name (something anonymously 90’s…like, I dunno, Carpet or something) with “Virtual Death” as the single, who knows what might have happened?  Probably nothing, because just as there were too many glam rock acts in the late 80s, the 90s were choked to the gills with alterna-bands.  A Japanese copy is expensive to come by, so don’t hesitate too much if you find a gently used domestic CD in the wild.  The album is, of course, out of print.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Akira Takasaki – Tusk of Jaguar (Take Another Bite) (1982)

AKIRA TAKASAKI – Tusk of Jaguar (Take Another Bite) (1982, 2009 Columbia CD reissue)

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.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Loudness – Hurricane Eyes (1987, 2017 30th anniversary 5 CD reissue)

LOUDNESS – Hurricane Eyes – 30th Anniversary Limited Edition (originally 1987, 2017 Warner Japan)

In most timelines and biographies, they’ll have you believe that the original lineup of Loudness had already peaked by 1987 and were creatively and commercially going downhill.  While the commercial side of things was out of their control, creatively Loudness were still writing great songs.  Though they did have one more EP in them, Hurricane Eyes is the final album of the original Minoru Niihara era of Loudness.  It was recorded by Kiss and Jimi Hendrix producer Eddie Kramer with one track by Andy Johns.  Though not as heavy or complex as Disillusion or noteworthy as Thunder in the East, it is thoroughly enjoyable from side A to side B.  The commercial bent is obvious on some songs, but it doesn’t really blunt the impact.

Like most Loudness albums from the classic era, the band recorded lyrics in both English and Japanese and both versions of the album are included in this luxurious 5 CD box set.  In Japan, the Loudness catalogue has been treated reverently but this is the beefiest of all their deluxe sets.  Along with both versions of Hurricane Eyes (including minor musical differences), the set includes a disc of album demos, and another disc of alternate mixes and rhythm tracks.  The fifth CD is a live set from the Hammersmith Odeon from 1986.  Like any set of this nature, you’ll be listening to the same songs in four or five versions, but fortunately they stand up to such immersion.

Though Hurricane Eyes represents a peak effort to break into the American market, and some songs verge on Dokken homages, it’s a strong album loaded with hooks and enviable guitar theatrics & riffs.  And regardless of some of the more radio-friendly material, it also boasts the thrash-like “S.D.I.”, a speed metal riff-fest that remained in the Loudness set list long after after Minoru was let go.  The technical playing on “S.D.I.” is outstanding, and that’s laid bare for you to hear in the instrumental mix on Disc 4.  The guitar solo is pure Eddie meets Yngwie.  “S.D.I.” opens the English version of the album, but closes the Japanese.  It works excellently in either configuration.

The English album continues with “This Lonely Heart”, a hook-laden hard rocker anchored by a solid riff and soaring chorus.  Lynch and Dokken must have been jealous they didn’t write it because it’s right up their alley.  The album title Hurricane Eyes comes from a lyric in “This Lonely Heart” but what you’ll remember mostly is that indelible chorus.  Keyboards are poured into “Rock ‘N Roll Gypsy”, an obvious choice for a radio single.  Though it didn’t hit the charts you can certainly hear the effort in it.  On the Japanese version of the track, the keyboards are present but not mixed in as prominently.  It’s the better of the two mixes, with more of that Akira Takasaki guitar up front.

“In My Dreams” is the first power ballad, with focus on the power part.  Akari has some sweet anthemic guitar melodies in his pocket for this very Scorpions-sounding track.  This gives way to another blitz of a song, though not as over the top as “S.D.I.” was.  “Take Me Home” has similar urgency but more deliberate pace.  “Strike of the Sword” is in similar metal territory with a fab Akari riff.  The vocal melodies sound a little disconnected from the song though.

Don Dokken’s turf is revisited on “Rock This Way”, a mid-tempo ditty within hit territory.  You could imagine this being written for the concert stage, so you can have a singalong chorus — “Rock this way!”  Picking up the pace, “In This World Beyond” is a bit more complex though retaining an insanely cool chorus.  The Loudness guys really developed an absurdly good chorus-writing ability by this point!  But stick around to be strafed out of the sky by Akira’s machine-gun solo.  “Hungry Hunter” returns us to mid-tempo rock ground, though it’s not their most remarkable song.

The American album ends with “So Lonely”, a re-recording of “Ares’ Lament” from 1984’s Disillusion, also in the closing position.  Disillusion didn’t get a lot of attention outside Japan, and “Ares’ Lament” was a clear highlight.  Though the structure is essentially the same, “So Lonely” is a tamed version” of the more traditional metal original.  Keyboards are added, replacing the Akira-shred of the original.  The chorus is beefed up and placed front-and-center.  It suits Hurricane Eyes and though it’s merely a blunted version, it’s still quite excellent.  It’s a demonstration of how you can take a song and tweak it into a different direction.

“So Lonely” isn’t present on the demo CD, presumably because they didn’t need to demo their own classic tune.  Instead there are two tracks that didn’t make the album, but would be finished in the future:  “Jealousy” and “Love Toys”.  The 1988 Jealousy EP would see the first track released (but only in Japan).  This is the most Dokken of all the songs, with one of those concrete riffs that George Lynch was prone to writing with ease.  Maybe when Dokken broke up, Don should have given Akira Takasaki a phone call.  The more frantic and metal “Love Toys” was revisited in 1991 with new lead singer Mike Vescera, for the On The Prowl album of re-recordings.  Both tracks had potential in the unfinished demo stage.  In fact all the Loudness demos on this disc are nearly album-ready.  They’re rougher but also appealing for that same reason.

Disc 4, Behind the Hurricane Eyes is a hodgepodge of alternate mixes and rhythm tracks.  The eight rhythm tracks (essentially mixes without vocals and solos) include another version of “Love Toys”.  The mercilessly tight rhythm section of Munetaka Huguchi and Masayoshi Yamashita come to the fore on these tracks, as does Akira Takasaki as the riffmaster.  “S.D.I.” is present on this CD twice, in rhythm track form and as a straight instrumental.  You will be getting plenty of “S.D.I.” in this box set!  You’ll also enjoy the brighter “Top 40 Mix” of “Rock This Way”, a really good remix that sounds perfect for the hits of the era.  A mix of “So Lonely” with an earlier fade-out isn’t that interesting, but still desired by the collector.  “Hungry Hunter” and “This Lonely Heart” are present in “old mix” and “rough mix” respectively.  Differences are minor.

You could find yourself with a bit of ear fatigue after hearing so many versions of the same songs.  Fortunately Disc 5 is a live set from the previous tour with none of the same songs.  Buckle up.  Opening for Saxon at the Hammersmith Odeon, Loudness went straight into “Crazy Doctor” from Disillusion after a glowing intro from Biff Byford.  It’s right to the throat from the start and this CD has their full set.  “1000 Eyes” from Lightning Strikes follows, the album for which they were touring.  Loudness could have used some backing vocals live to beef up the chorus, but Minoru does a remarkable job on his own, givin’ ‘er all over the place.  It’s also cool to hear Akira go from rhythm to lead so effortlessly live.

There is honestly something charming about someone who isn’t a native English speaker really giving their all to talk to an audience in English.  Minoru is clearly happy to be in “London rock and roll city!” and the audience lets him know he’s welcome.  The awesome “Dark Desire”, also from Lightning Strikes, follows and Akira lays down a mesmerising solo.  Then a long dramatic intro opens “Ashes in the Sky / Shadows of War”, a highpoint of an already great set.

The big Loudness single in 1986 was “Let It Go“, a truly special pop metal song.  This version opening for Saxon at the Hammersmith might be the best live recording if not the most energetic.  Afterwards the late Munetaka Higuchi takes a drum solo (presumably to give Minoru’s voice a rest after this workout!).  There’s a brief segue into Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, and Minoru introduces the band.  That pumps up the crowd for Loudness’ biggest hit “Crazy Nights” complete with crowd singalong.  “MZA!”  After smoking through this one, Akira takes a blistering solo break.  The set closes with “Speed” from their third album The Law of Devil’s Land.  They saved the most aggressive song for last.  Couldn’t let Saxon have it too easy, right?

Though hard to get, these Loudness deluxe editions from Japan are really beautiful to hold in hand.  The thick booklet is printed on glossy paper, and though the liner notes are in Japanese, lyrics are provided in both languages.  The rest of the booklet is stuffed full of tour photographs whose only language is rock and roll.  Loudness certainly looked the part.  The set also includes a little reproduction backstage pass, but the main feature is the music.  Diehards are going to love it.

4/5 stars

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