Nippon Columbia

REVIEW: Loudness – Live-Loud-Alive – Loudness in Tokyo (1983)

LOUDNESS – Live-Loud-Alive – Loudess in Tokyo (1983 Columbia)

Like many classic rock bands, Loudness waited three studio albums before going double live.  The Birthday EveDevil 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.

4/5 stars

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