I thought these six CDs had been lost in the mail. I am so, so glad to be wrong.
“Forever, carry on! Turning up the sound and let it roll. Raise your fist up in the sky! The spirit of metal will never die!”
Loudness reunited their original lineup in 2000, but little did they know it would not last a full decade. Drummer Munetaka Higuchi was diagnosed with liver cancer only two months after the release of the 2008 album Metal Mad. He passed away in November of that year. Although they had enough drum tracks recorded to make one more record with Higuchi (2009’s The Everlasting), Metal Mad was the last in his lifetime.
Metal Mad is the 21st Loudness studio album, recorded in the midst of a flurry of studio activity, as Loudness never slowed down, and guitarist Akira Takasaki was pounding out solo work on top of it.
One certain thing about Loudness: just because they reunited the original lineup doesn’t mean they wanted to backtrack musically. Metal Mad is heavy. It continues the sonic experimentation that Loudness began in the mid 90s. Though it does contain one undeniable anthem, this album is a heavy grind of metal styles, all very loud.
The opening instrumental “Fire of Spirit” sets the tone with a heavy riff that could have come from one of Loudness’ thrash contemporaries like Megadeth or Metallica…but with far more weight, and with an absolute master on the drums. There’s a hint of the St. Anger snare, but it does not persist through the album. Instead the track fades into the anthem of the album: “Metal Mad”!
“Metal Mad” is a fast, simple track, but damn does it get the job done! “Forever! Carry on! Turning up the sound and let it roll. Raise your fist up in the sky! The spirit of metal will never die!” Custom built for the festival crowds. Akira takes a couple bananas solos as the perfect icing on this sweet piece of metal cake.
But that’s it for that style of metal on this album. They thrash through “High Flyer” with singer Minoru Niihara’s voice filtered through distortion. Then it’s a hint of rap metal on the very aggressive “Spellbound #9”. Funny thing is, Minoru can pull it off. This is heavy stuff, certainly strong enough to compete with the big name heavy bands that Loudness inspired in the first place. “Crimson Paradox” takes on groove metal, with a touch of exotic guitar added for spice.
The metal is heavy on “Black and White”, but with lyrics like “bullshit bullshit”, it’s a little too much of the “nu” variety. Same with the droning guitar and vocal of “Whatsoever”, though the melodic chorus isn’t bad. “Call of the Reaper” takes things back to centre with a riff similar to “Be Quick Or Be Dead” by Iron Maiden, but within a song that goes in a different direction. Mental solos! “Can’t Find My Way” starts promisingly, with quiet experimental guitars, and focuses strongly on vocal melody despite the heavy riffing going on. In fact the only thing wrong with it is one particular riff that too strongly resembles (ugh) “Loch Ness” by Judas Priest.
The end of the album is heralded by two interesting final tracks, “Gravity” and “Transformation”, both experimental with grooves and great guitar work. Akira uses so many different tones on this album, often within the same song. “Gravity” is guitar player nirvana, while “Transformation” even goes a little funky.
Metal Mad ain’t bad. Its strength is the musicianship. Metal Mad has the title track going for it, but not a lot of actual memorable songs besides that. By focusing so much on being heavy, it loses distinction between the songs.
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.
Original Loudness vocalist Minoru Niihara was let go in 1988 so they could have a stab at a success with an American singer. While they went their way (and did not cross over onto the charts as they hoped), Niihara recorded his first solo album appropriately titled One. He worked at Cherokee studios in Hollywood, where there must have been a lot of rock stars hanging out. The credits on One include: Mark Slaughter, Reb Beach, Doug Aldrich, the rhythm section from Journey (Steve Smith and Ross Valory), Kal Swan, David Glen Eisley, and the Tower of Power horns!
That being said, you might expect a straightforward hard rock album right out of 1989 like so many you remember from that year. You’d be partly right. However the lyrics are mostly in Japanese, and while the intent might have been to make a straight-ahead commercial rock record, it goes a bit sideways on some tracks.
It sounds like some of the same opening sounds as on Alice Cooper’s Trash album (also 1989) are used on first instrumental “Overture”. Then it goes soft rock, with guitar strings tinkling like a fragile piece of glass, backed by heavenly keyboards. In a jarring shift, the first proper song “Let’s Get Together” doesn’t meld well with this intro. It also sounds a bit out of time, a relic from a couple years prior. But Minoru is on top of it. “Let’s get together! Have fun tonight!” goes the boppin’ English chorus, with plenty of the expected thick backing vocals from the Hollywood cast and crew. Although it already sounded dated for 1989, “Let’s Get Together” is a fun track clearly aiming for a party concert vibe. Not bad — production is clunky, and there are a couple key changes that sound off, but it’s otherwise a fun song that does what it’s there to do.
American rock vibes dominate “Stand Up to the Danger”, sounding a bit like “Loud and Clear” by Autograph. That could be Reb Beach just rippin’ it up on the solo, but the track is very standard for the genre. A neat ballad follows, the Journey-like…ahem…it’s a case of a language barrier, I’m sure, but the song is called “Come Over Me”. Very much like a Journey ballad, and it’s probably Valory and Smith on bass and drums respectively. Maxine and Julia Waters on backing vocals.
A cool 80s bass groove sets the tone on “I Can’t Wait”. This mid-tempo car-cruiser is an album highlight, and a track worth getting in your ears. Great solo too (Doug?). Coincidentally, Minoru’s replacement in Loudness was a fellow named Mike Vescera, and he later recorded a different song called “I Can’t Wait” with Yngwie J. Malmsteen. One of Minbru’s weaknesses (and it probably comes down to English as a second language) is a reliance on cliche song titles. “I Can’t Wait”, “Stayin’ Alive”, “Dynamite”, and “Fool For You” are all song titles you’ve heard before.
Speaking of “Dynamite”, the next track on the disc — it’s a little more unique. With a bluesy opening, it soon lets loose with a blast of saxophone. The chorus is full-on pop. A little clunky in construction and production, but different and still cool.
A soft keyboard ballad called “You Can Do It” sits right in the middle of the album. Even though vinyl, and especially cassettes were big in 1989, One only saw release on CD. No “side one” or “side two” with this album. Once more the ballad would sound appropriate on a Steve Perry album, and the guitar solo is really smooth. Good song; Minoru’s style of singing is a bit overblown for a soulful ballad, but you can certainly tell he loves singing this way.
“Bluest Sky” is cool, acoustic and stripped back but “Stayin’ Alive” really scorches. It’s the closest thing to classic Loudness. It is the only clearly heavy metal track on the album. Probably Reb Beach ripping up his fretboard and whammy bar on the solo. Definitely Mark Slaughter on the chorus. The horn section returns on “Fool For You”, but Minoru’s over-the-top singing does not suit the funky metal stylings. He does well on “Too Long Away to Reach”, a little more restrained. But it is the third ballad that really does sound like Journey. So much that you’d assume it was Neal Schon on guitar.
Finally Minoru closes his solo debut on one more ballad, “I’ll Never Hide My Love Again”. This time it’s a big power ballad with a massive chorus, and because it’s dramatically different from the earlier ballads, it works. Definite vibes of King Kobra’s “Dancing With Desire” (1985).
See what I mean when I say that One sounds dated already even for 1989? That doesn’t make it bad, but not all pieces fit. There are some obtrusive keyboard overdubs, some of the ingredients just don’t mix. While Minoru is a fine vocalist, and he gives 110% here, some of the songs sound like they would work better if he laid back a bit. Then again, that could be the language barrier; the words he is singing might be totally appropriate to his vocal output. Everything in music is subjective anyway. Regardless of interpretation, Minoru Niihara’s effort is no less than his whole heart, and you have to give credit for that.
Like many classic rock bands, Loudness waited three studio albums before going double live. The Birthday Eve, Devil Soldier and The Law of Devil’s Land were ripe and ready for live album immortality. English is minimal, but you don’t need a Japanese dictionary to enjoy the metal within Live-Loud-Alive. It is the most galvanized of the metal; Loudness’ integrity uncompromised, with Akira Takasaki in lead shred mode.
With a double length album so early in Loudness’ career, they played plenty of non-album material to fill it. And it’s good!
Opening with a recording of Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War” the band rip right into the riff for “In the Mirror”. That guitar sounds so classic, you’ll be questioning which Scorpions or Metallica album it’s from. A heavy chug named “Road Racer” (originally a non-album Loudness single) is paired with one of Minoru Niihara’s most melodic lead vocals. Only the thick and shimmery (probably embellished) chorus is in English. On guitar, Akira Takasaki’s solo sounds like he is re-entering the atmosphere after an alien/robot conference in space. “I Was the Sun” has a slower beat, pounding sheet metal into lethal form, with an elementary riff. Ordinary as the riff may be, it isn’t the highlight this time. The chorus takes center stage. The first side of the original vinyl ended on “Fly Away”, a mammoth of a song mixing the delicate and the heavy.
“Black Wall” opens on what sounds like bass synth, but Akira soon takes command with a melancholy and precise guitar pattern. Then, like any good Sabbath song, he breaks into a completely different lick, just as catchy. An instrumental track from Akira’s solo album follows, including a wicked drum solo by Munetaka Higuchi. This side of the record blows out with “Mr. Yesman”, a complex track like “2112” crossed with “Children of the Damned”.
On side three, a new song is previewed: “Exploder”, a Van Halen-like guitar instrumental destined for album #4. This transitions into another instrumental called “Heavenward”, similar to Akira’s solo work. It’s all just good music that flows track intro track. Guitar shrieks tell us that “Loudness” is next, a brilliant mid-tempo rocker of radio-ready nature. It sounds like vintage, early 80s Scorpions. Another killer riff in “Sleepless Night” brings the side to a solid close.
“Speed” does what it says. That’s no surprise. What may be surprising is the quality of the non-album B-side “Shinkiro”. This cool track has some great melodic twists and an absolutely brilliant and varied Akira solo. One of his best! From volume-knob twists to full-on speed, it’s brilliant. The only way to end it is by going back to the beginning, and “Burning Love”, the first non-album single by the band. It’s a blistering way to go out.
Though not singing primarily in English yet, their musical influences were clearly the same ones from North America and Europe that we know and love too. While you may not recognize the songs, many will sound familiar because they draw from the same pool. It’s the best of early Loudness, void of commercial ambition. While you do lose the ability to sing along, you can at least slam to the riffs. One can hear why this album is held in such high esteem by the faithful. It sounds like an experience.
In an unfortunate twist of events, Loudness drummer Masayuki Suzuki was sidelined by stroke and could not perform on the Rise to Glory tour. Ryuichi “Dragon” Nishida filled in beat-for-beat and appears on the live album World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo. This 2 CD/1 DVD combo set is compiled from three days in Tokyo, with a bonus: the DVD features one track with Masayuki Suzuki from the fourth day. His performance on “Loudness” is as if there was nothing wrong with him, and he appears delighted to be playing live again.
Live in Tokyo is an energized performance, focusing almost entirely on early Loudness. This being a hometown crowd, many of the songs are performed with their original Japanese lyrics. 1985’s Thunder in the East takes the early focus on disc one with the first six tracks all being sourced from the “big” album. These tracks are intense, with solos by Akira Takasaki that melt the face. Classic Loudness with jagged riffs and still-powerful vocals from Minoru Niihara.
Oldies abound. Disc 1 also includes “Loudness” (the version with Ryuichi Nishida on drums) from the 1981 debut The Birthday Eve. A slick, well-received version. There’s also a punishing “In the Mirror” from third LP The Law of Devil’s Land, and the memorable “Crazy Doctor” from 1984’s Disillusion.
The second disc spotlights two lesser-known albums. First is The Law of Devil’s Land from 1983. The first five heavy numbers (including a second version of “In the Mirror”) all come from that platter. This is the heavy proto-thrash that Loudness were peddling at the start of the 80s, and vicious stuff it is. But not without hooks! The last five originated on Disillusion, regarded by some aficionados as Loudness’ best. From “Crazy Doctor” through the ballad “Ares’ Lament” and the finisher “Esper”, these are some great metal songs.
Impressively, the third disc (the DVD) highlights another batch of songs missed on the first two discs: newer material. “Soul on Fire”, “Go For Broke”, “Until I See the Light”, “I’m Still Alive” and a pair of instrumentals from the new Rise to Glory (2018) stand up to the earlier material. The awesome “The Sun Will Rise Again” from the 2014 album of the same name rounds out the freshest material. The new tunes are still heavy, riffy and melodic, but with a very slight modern edge. “I’m Still Alive” goes thrash metal, but that’s part of Loudness’ origins. Besides the return of Suzuki on drums for one song, the highlight of the DVD is a ballad. After so many brutal songs, Minoru breaks out an acoustic guitar for an unplugged “Ares’ Lament”. This is completely different than the version on CD 2, which was done fully electric.
Any classic band from the 80s or earlier, still trying to pull it off today, has the same question to answer: How good is the singer? Minoru Niihara is excellent. As if no years have passed. None of the material presents a challenge.
Considering the mixture of material over the three discs, Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo would be a suitable entry point for any rock fan wanting to check out Loudness. You’ll get the hits from Thunder in the East, ample early deep cuts, and a sampling of quality new stuff. Value for the money and time invested.
This week I’ve realized that regular readers here are not as familiar as they should be with the legendary Japanese metal band Loudness! I’ve done my best to educate with my Loudness reviews, but there is nothing better than hearing the story directly from the source. This brief 2015 interview with the affable Loudness is from the Tuska Open Air Festival in Helsinki, and conducted in English!
The surviving original members Masayoshi Yamashita, Minoru Niihara, and Akira Takasaki are questioned by interviewer Kati Rausch about their history. Subjects covered:
- Their first gig (sold out) in 1981 (when Masayoshi was only 19 years old)
- Switching to English in 1984
- Their recent album The Sun Will Rise Again
- Devil horns
A great little 5 minute interview with three guys you can’t help but like. Check out some Loudness today.
- Akira Takasaki – Tusk of Jaguar (Take Another Bite) (1982)
- Disillusion (1984 Japanese version)
- Thunder In the East (1985 English version)
- Lightning Strikes (1986 English version)
- Hurricane Eyes (1987 both versions – 5 CD boxed edition)
- Loudness (1992)
- Masters of Loudness (1996)
- Ghetto Machine (1997)
- Dragon (1998)
- Engine (1999)
- Buddha Rock 1997-1999 Music Clips (2016 DVD)
Tons of fun, both on and off topic tonight, on the LeBrain Train. Aaron from the KMA and Kevin from Buried On Mars were on board with some killer lists of ZZ Top’s best deep cuts. A lil’ bit of overlap but not too much! We also read off some guest lists: San Diego guitarist Mike Slayen, and a local Kitchener singer named Mike Mahler. Check out their lists as well as ours!
Show time index:
Watch from the start to see the latest CD unboxing from Encore Records.
To check out the new music video by Current River called “Hodder To Hell”, skip to 0:16:45 of the stream.
The ZZ Top talk commences at 0:22:20.
At the end of the show I spun the Loudness video for “Black Widow”. Find that at 2:32:36. (No copyright strike, yay!)
I hope you enjoy this week’s show as much as I did! The 2021 season is off to a great start.
Part Four of Four – Buddha Rock 1997-1999
The complete Buddha Rock 1997-1999 set comes with the three Loudness albums from that brief era, and also a bonus DVD with the accompanying music videos. On the back some are listed as “full size” and others “short size” — let’s find out what that means and what Loudness videos looked like in the late 90s.
“Ghetto Machine” opens, with Loudness including a shaven-headed Akira Takasaki performing in a darkened room. The added static interferance reminds us we are in the 90s when bands like Loudness didn’t have much budget and covered it up with tricks like this. Masaki appears cold with his big fur hat, but it’s fun to see this version of Loudness on video. “Evil Ecstasy” has cleaner production, but this is one of the “short size” videos — it’s only about 90 seconds of a pretty cool song. Too bad because this video is much more watchable. The funkier “San Francisco” is also one of these short versions, as is “Creatures”. All of these videos appear to be taped at the same time. The section of “Creatures” used focuses on the guitar solo. That’s cool at least. “Katmandu Fly” is the “full size”, but it’s also only a minute-long instrumental so to call it “full size” is kinda cheatin’.
Moving on from the Ghetto Machine album, all the rest of the videos are “full size”. From Dragon, it’s two of the best tracks: “Dogshit” and “Crazy Go Go”. This time Loudness are playing in a huge, uber-clean garage. As “Dogshit” demonstrates, Akira was now into his “fly sunglasses” phase. It looks like the band are having fun here, which makes it an enjoyable watch. Great song too. “Crazy Go Go” is more straight ahead, with lights and struttin’ stage moves instead of goofing around.
Apparently they only did one video for the final Masaki album, Engine. “Black Biohazard” is that song; not a tune that impressed on prior listens. (Also strange how “Black Biohazard” is the only song not in capital letters on the cover.) This video is made from grainy outdoor concert festival footage. From this we can ascertain that live, Masaki was a capable frontman with a cool rock star stage persona.
At 25 minutes, this DVD can not be considered more than a bonus for buying the Buddha Rock box set. It is not the main draw. The fundamental reason to get Buddha Rock is to acquire the three albums Ghetto Machine, Dragon and Engine in one place with ease. As a bonus feature, the Music Clips disc does what it does. “Dogshit” is the best video by a wide margin, and it remains unclear why “short size” videos were included, unless that’s all that was ever made for those particular songs?
The Buddha Rock box set also comes with photos, complete lyrics (in English) and liner notes (in Japanese). It’s the obvious way to go to cover those years, an era which ended with the Engine album in 1999. At Masaki’s urging, Akira Takasaki reunited the original Loudness lineup and released Spiritual Canoe with Minoru Niihara at the microphone. That put an end to the Masaki Yamada era, which started with member turnover before solidifying on these three albums with Naoto Shibata and Hirotsugo Homma on bass and drums respectively. Great musicians both who helped Loudness explore new and weird directions at the end of the 90s.
Music Clips DVD: 3/5 stars
Buddha Rock 1997-1999 box set: 3.5/5 stars (the sum of the whole is greater than its parts)
Part Three of Four – Buddha Rock 1997-1999
The Masaki Yamada era of Loudness ended with the 1990s. Masaki felt (correctly) that Loudness would be best off reuniting with its original lineup in the year 2000, and so Engine is the last album to feature Yamada, drummer Hirotsugo Homma and bassist Naoto Shibata.
As with the previous two Loudness albums (also included in Buddha Rock), Akira Takasaki’s penchant for experimentation is at the forefront. “Soul Tone”, the opening instrumental, makes that much clear with its atypical exotic guitar drones in place of a song. Then Akira cranks up the string harmonics on the bizarrely rocking “Bug Killer”, a 90s song if there ever was one. He must have been listening to Rage Against the Machine. The track descends into guitar mayhem by the end. It’s incredible to think how Akira transitioned from an 80s guitar hero compared to Eddie and Yngwie, to a 90s master borrowing from Morello and the Middle East.
“Black Biohazard” chugs unremarkably just like much of the 90s did. Leaning on a groove, “Twist of Chain” has certain 80s delicious metal elements hidden under the distortion. It’s the kind of song that makes these lost albums really worth hunting down. Similarly, “Bad Date/Nothing I Can Do” buries its hooks under vocal distortion. Unfortunate that they didn’t just let it loose. “Apocalypse” fails to build on this with a forgettable alterna-dirge. “Ace in the Hole” has more going on, with a menacing far East vibe. The guitars are like razor blades.
A sudden left turn on the partly acoustic “Sweet Dreams” almost sounds like a great lost Stone Temple Pilots song from some unknown era. “Asylum” focuses on the bass, as a lot of the album does, choosing a heavy psychedelic feel. A long guitar solo section is the track’s highlight.
Without warning, the oddly titled “Burning Eye Balls” goes to acoustic exotic Zeppelin territory. This refreshing change is followed by “Junk His Head”, a pretty straightforward headbanger that does away with the distorted vocals. Hirotsugo Homma lays down a killer beat on this one. The penultimate instrumental track “2008 (Candra 月天)” doesn’t have any particular hooks to relay which is unfortunate since previous Loudness instrumentals have at least been interesting. This leaves it to the closing track “Coming Home” to make final impressions, of which it makes few. It has echoes of the old Loudness track “So Lonely” but without much of the feeling or structure.
These three final Masaki-era Loudness albums all have some cool tracks; enough at least to assemble a good single-disc compilation. Owning all three is for fans only. It is fun to sit and listen to a band evolve, and watch them try on all kinds of different hats. If that’s your obsession too, pick up Engine and check out the complete Buddha Rock box set while you’re at it.