Japanese rock

REVIEW: Loudness – Disillusion (1984 Japanese version)

LOUDNESS – Disillusion (1984 Nippon Columbia)

For a few albums starting with their fourth record Disillusion, Loudness began recording English lyrics for outside Japan.  For the Japanese versions, the lyrics are a mixture of both languages with the choruses usually sung in English.  Whichever version you hear, Disillusion will satisfy your craving for memorable heavy riffs, brilliant vocals, and incredible guitar shredding.

Guitarist Akira Takasaki was considered the Japanese Eddie Van Halen and you can hear why on Disillusion.  Though Loudness are heavier than Van Halen, Takasaki employs techniques similar to King Edward.  Disillusion opens with the thunderous “Crazy Doctor”, on which you can hear the Van Halen chords loud and clear, though the track sounds more like heavier vintage Dokken.  As outstanding as Akira is, also unmistakable is singer Minoru Niihara.  The original Loudness frontman could really sing with all the necessary panache and metal inflection.

The opening guitar shreddery on the speed metal “Esper” recalls St. Edward once again, but Loudness could have given Metallica a run for their money on this one.  Completely over the top!  A number of fans think that Loudness softened their sound when they released their American major label debut Thunder in the East in ’85.  You can understand why they think that when you hear “Esper”.  However this is a balanced album, and the more melodic “Butterfly” slows things down so you can catch your breath.  Unfortunately “Butterfly” is the closest thing to a mistep on this otherwise brilliant disc.

There’s a Maiden-y vibe to “Revelation” circa Piece of Mind, but not just because of the name.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Loudness were influenced by Maiden.  We do know that both Loudness and Maiden were influenced by Deep Purple so there might be some convergent evolution going on.

The parallels to Sir Edward continue on side two with an instrumental called “Erupt…” err, sorry, it’s called “Exploder”.  Whatever the similarities, Takasaki is an enticing guitar player and he came to public attention exactly when this kind of playing was most popular.  “Exploder” blows away most of the competition.  Only a handful of players could do stuff like this and they usually had names like “Rhoads” and “Halen”.

Vocals return on “Dream Fantasy”, another blazing hot metal extravaganza, with solid chorus intact.  It’s worth noting that Takasaki was not alone in musical excellence.  Drummer Munetaka Higuchi (R.I.P.) was a heavy-hitter who could thrash it up and come up with interesting fills.  Masayoshi Yamashita has a knack for a busy, melodic bassline, though mostly holds down the fort so Akira can fly.

“Milky Way” boasts a cool, smoother style of riff and another exemplary Minoru Niihara chorus.  It’s a challenging arrangement with different rhythms and textures.  Loudness were not simply banging out metal riffs for your rock and roll crazy nights.  They were stretching the boundaries of their abilities, playing intelligent metal like the Scorpions and Priest did in the 70s.  But they also weren’t afraid of getting down n’ dirty, as they do on “Satisfaction Guaranteed”.  Though you can’t tell without the lyric sheet, it’s the only song that is completely sung in English.  It’s not the lyrics, but the riff that will hook you.  Note the passing Maiden-esque gallop.

This version of Disillusion concludes with an epic “Ares’ Lament”.  It’s a cross between early Maiden and Scorpions with a touch of darkness, with a long shadowy outro reminiscent of “Child in Time”.  It’s a brilliant end to a pretty stunning album.

Disillusion is not immediate, except for “Crazy Doctor” which will hook you at first listen.   It’s a busy record, so you need to give it a couple proper listens to let the riffs and hooks come to the fore.  Once they do, you will uncover many elements of pleasure in the grooves within.  It sounds uncompromised and is more unique than the albums that followed.  It’s a fine example of metal forged in integrity.

4.5/5 stars

#815: Let It Go

“I was the one who talked about the other man,
I thought he was my friend but you had other plans!” – Loudness

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #815: Let It Go

The first time I saw Loudness on the Pepsi Power Hour, I was hooked. I can remember being fascinated by Japanese culture for a long time, but Loudness made it deeper, because now I had Japanese heavy metal to be interested in.

“Rock and roll Crazy Nights!” sang the quartet.  “You are the hero, tonight!”  Sounded cool to me.  I was 13.

Minoru Niihara on MuchMusic, 1986

The Power Hour didn’t play a lot of Loudness, just two songs.  “Crazy Nights” was the first, but by 1986 the band were becoming more Americanized.  “Let It Go”, the only other video they played, was a real attempt to crack the US market.  I was an instant fan.  Contrived or not, “Let It Go” is one of the ultimate 80s rock anthems.

Some brief Loudness history is in order.  Akira Takasaki, lead guitar, is the Eddie Van Halen of Loudness.  He formed the band and is the only member to play on all the albums.  He and drummer Munetaka Higuchi came from an earlier band called Lazy, named after the Deep Purple single.  Lazy was far more pop rock and Takasaki, a true virtuoso, was dissatisfied.  Metal was growing in Japan.  Soon Masayoshi Yamashita had joined on bass, and the band just needed a singer.  Minoru Niihara of Earthshaker to the rescue.  Within months they had a debut album:  1981’s The Birthday Eve.

The band recorded four albums in Japanese.  But the fourth, Disillusion had an English version recorded as well.  This led to their breakthrough Thunder in the East, released on Atco in the US.  The opening track was “Crazy Nights”, which led to video play.  And that’s how I came on board.

“M-Z-A!”

“You, come to see the show, well we’re gonna rock and roll you!”  I never ask too much lyrically of any band whose second language is English.  Still, “Crazy Nights” was about as good as the American rock of the 80s.  Niihara’s accent is thick but this only adds to the appeal.  The music, compared to their earlier Japanese albums, is toned down, more mainstream.  But it’s still clearly heavy metal.  The emphasis is on the riff.

Also important is the image.  Despite the cultural differences, Loudness still looked cool to American audiences.  When everybody else (cough cough Iron Maiden) were wearing rising sun T-shirts, these guys were actually from the rising sun!  Their stage moves also translated perfectly.  And check out Takasaki’s metal-plated guitar.  He understood the kind of visual flash that he needed.  His outfit matched, but Vince Neil was not amused.  When Loudness opened for the Crue, Takasaki was ordered to wear a different top.  His was too similar to Shout-era Motley.

But what’s with that strange chant, “M-Z-A”?  According to Niihara, he didn’t have lyrics in place for that section, and on the guide vocal just sang random sounds, “M-Z-A”.  It made the album, and puzzled fans the world over!

Like Thunder in the East, the followup album Lightning Strikes was produced by Max Norman.  Under Norman, the band recorded “Let It Go”, their most commercial song yet and one that will stick with me for life.

In 1986 I had mono, and I was housebound for weeks and weeks on end, except for doctor’s appointments.  I sat in the basement recording MuchMusic videos, and “Let It Go” was early in that batch.  To me, Loudness had never looked or sounded cooler.  I thought Niihara was really slick in that suit jacket.  The image was clearly toned down to “hard rock” from “heavy metal”, but the new casual-looking Loudness also appeared more natural.  The video even showed the construction of a guitar (Takasaki’s), the likes of which I had never seen before.  When I was well enough, Bob came over and watched all the videos I taped.  He loved “Let It Go” too.

“It’s Godzilla!” 

I continued to love the song into adulthood, partly because of the lyrics.  They were almost autobiographical!

I was the one who talked about the other man,
I thought he was my friend, but you had other plans,
I just can’t take that chance,
There ain’t no looking back,
Just a victim of circumstance,
I helped you fall in love so, Let It Go!

That happened to me!  I did tell her about the other man.  They totally would not have met if it wasn’t for me.  Fuckin’ hell!  Niihara knew my pain before I even did!  What about the rest of the words?

Driving to the top of the city,
Drive until I reach the view,
Where we used to try and see,
Our dream come true.

There was this one location where you could park the car and just look down at the city.  I did this sometimes when I was feeling romantic, or alone and feeling down.

Stop the car, light a cigarette,
Fill the air with the radio,
And there’s nothing I can do,
But think of you.

I never smoked a cigarette in my life; I wish I could just delete that line!  Otherwise, everything so far is bang on.

When I dial your telephone number,
It’s like you’re never home,
But I know it isn’t true,
What’s he doing with you?

Oh man.  So many times.  So many times.

They almost could have called this “The Love Life of Young Mike”!  That’s one way a song you like can stick with you for life.  Today I just really like the music.  “Let It Go” has all the right stuff.  Brilliant riff, great verses and chorus, and a well-composed melodic guitar solo.  It’s literally the perfect hard rock song.

Loudness with Mike Vescera

What happened next to Loudness?  They made one more album with Niihara called Hurricane Eyes, with Eddie Kramer producing.  It failed to have an impact, and Takasaki was convinced to hire on an American vocalist.  It seemed to be the only option, to grab that brass ring of success.  After one more EP (Jealousy, released only in Japan), Minoru Niihara was let go.  He was replaced by Obsession’s Mike Vescera for two albums.  “You Shook Me” from 1989’s Soldier of Fortune gained some video play.   Ultimately though, Mike had to make a go of it with Yngwie Malmsteen, with whom he recorded the excellent Seventh Sign album.

Like many metal bands, in the 90s Loudness faced an identity crisis.  Bassist Yamashita departed, and Mike Vescera was replaced by former E-Z-O lead singer Masaki Yamada.  E-Z-O had two US-released albums, and some name recognition due to a Gene Simmons produced record.  Releasing albums in Japan, Loudness carried on after original drummer Munetaka Huguchi departed as well.  The band experimented musically and lyrically, with Eastern and nu-metal influences, like the song “Dogshit” from 1998’s Dragon.

Loudness with Masaki Yamada

Takasaki kept Loudness going while also taking care of a very busy solo career.  Through the 1990s, Loudness made five albums with Yamada singing, all released only in Japan.

Ultimately, though Yamada was an ideal replacement, he could never be the original.  He suggested that Loudness reunite their classic lineup for their 20th anniversary, and so it happened.  Akira Takasaki, Minoru Niihara, Masayoshi Yamashita and Munetaka Higuchi reformed the classic lineup, and proved it was not just a one-off.  They continued to crank out new albums starting with 2001’s Spiritual Canoe, losing no momentum.  The reunion seemed built to last, until Higuchi sadly succumbed to liver cancer in 2008.  The beloved drummer was replaced by Masayuki Suzuki the following year and Loudness carried on again.

It’s an inspiring tale of perseverance, talent, and determination.

Strangely enough I have only now bought my first Loudness album.  They no longer have a huge presence here and their CDs are very hard to find.  Lightning Strikes seemed the right one to go with.  It’s enjoyable.  Everybody knows that Takasaki is frighteningly good, but really the whole band is.  Quite a lot of fun, to hear a classic 80s metal album so long after it came out.  It’s a trip.  And I’m glad Loudness never “Let It Go”, and kept going on despite all the changes.  Time to get Thunder in the East next.  I love it Loud…ness.

 


“Let It Go” with friends at the memorial concert for Munetaka Higuchi