Album of the Week 35-2012: Loudness – 2012

Why there isn’t any European or American label with the balls to release Loudness’ new albums is beyond me. Loudness has been one of Japan’s best bands ever since their inception, but they’ve really been on a roll these last few years. ‘The Everlasting’ was good, ‘King Of Pain’ was great, ‘Eve To Dawn’ was brilliant and ‘2012’ continues this tradition by being even better. In fact, ‘2012’ is to these ears the most successful attempt at combining the classic Loudness sound with the more modern, somewhat Pantera-esque sound they’ve been experimenting with for the last 15 years. As such, ‘2012’ is Loudness’ best album since their self-titled album twenty years ago. Maybe even since 1984’s ‘Disillusion’.

Stylistically, ‘2012’ lies somewhere between modern Power Metal and Thrash-lite (think Death Angel’s classic ‘Act III’ – in fact, Akira Takasaki’s guitar approach vaguely reminisces Rob Cavestany’s on the awesome ‘Behind The Scene’). ‘Eve To Dawn’ already hinted at this, but they’re really digging into the sound that made ‘Law Of The Devil’s Land’ such an amazing album back in 1983, in the sense that the songs on the album are obviously influenced by some western bands (Judas Priest most predominantly), but there are so many unexpected structures, that you’re really listening to a unique work of art. It could be because they’re Japanese, but let’s not forget that Loudness forged this sound for itself: Loudness has always been and still is the standard for heavy music from the east.

‘The Stronger’ is the perfect opener to this album, the palm-mute high-speed riffs of Takasaki and rolling bass drums of Masayuki Suzuki get your blood pumping. This is what made Heavy Metal so amazing in the early eighties and that hasn’t changed to these ears. In fact, Loudness has had a succession of amazing opening tracks (‘Hit The Rails’, ‘King Of Pain’, ‘The Power Of Truth’), but this one might be the best since the reunion of the original lineup around the turn of the century. And there’s more classic Heavy Metal where that came from. ‘Break New Ground’ is a mid tempo stomper reminiscent of Priest, ‘2012 – End Of The Age’ has many exciting tempo feel shifts and a thundering main riff and ‘Bang ‘Em Dead’ is another one of those classic Loudness anthems.

Like on ‘King Of Pain’ and ‘Eve To Dawn’ before it, the second half of ‘2012’ is a bit more experimental. Still instantly recognizable as Loudness, but just taking a different appraoch on things. The two instrumental tracks – the Middle Eastern tinged ‘Spirit From The East’ and the dark outro ‘Out Of The Space’ – are the most obvious examples of this, but there’s also ‘Who The Hell Cares’, arguably the most modern Metal track on here. And there’s the slightly more progressive ‘Memento Mori’, but then again, that one was written by bassist Masayoshi Yamashita, who usually writes the more progressive stuff. Highlighting that half of the album is the Ronnie James Dio tribute ‘The Voice Of Metal’, with its slower tempo that just drags you in mourning mode and a surprisingly slow and heartfelt solo – at least partially – by Takasaki. That clean break with brilliant bass accents around the 2 minute mark is the strongest goosebumps-inducing part on the album.

As always, Loudness is mostly a vehicle for Akira Takasaki’s impressive guitar histrionics. However, it seems like he’s found himself a new sparring partner in Masayuki Suzuki, who replaced the late Munetaka Higuchi after his demise in 2008. Suzuki is a virtuoso when it comes to using double bass drums and he and Takasaki obviously feed off of each other’s energy. ‘2012’ is definitely the first album where they truly utilize Suzuki’s drumming abilities, after getting a glimpse of it in the ridiculous drum intro to ‘King Of Pain’. Also, Masayoshi Yamashita is remarkably present on this album, impressively doubling Takasaki’s riffs in ‘Driving Force’ and giving them a Maiden-ish vibe with it and adding a nice touch to the riff in ‘Who The Hell Cares’ with his popping. Minoru Niihara’s vocals haven’t aged too well generally, but he still has a fairly good range and I like the edge that came to his voice with the years.

It’s really a shame no one in the west wants to release this and instead opt for brainless Metalcore bands. This is clearly better than a good 90 percent of every western release. It’s too bad you’re forced to lay down a lot of money to import this from Japan, but the truth is that it’s worth the money. I’m going to have to put a sort of buyer’s guide for all of you interested in Loudness on this weblog soon. I for one can’t wait for the band to return to Europe for some shows to promote (and sell!) this album.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Stronger’, ‘The Voice Of Metal’, ‘Behind The Scene’, ‘2012 – End Of The Age’

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