Album of the Week 42-2016: Loudness – Loudness

After Loudness’ failed attempt at broadening their western appeal by recording two albums with American singer Michael Vescera, guitarist and bandleader Akira Takasaki must have had a few demons to exorcise. There’s no other way to explain how he moved from the softest Loudness record to what was at the time their heaviest. Takasaki’s guitar riffs dominate their self-titled, but the all-star cast of Japanese metal musicians all bring something to the table to make this a memorable, vicious slab of heavy metal. Despite being released in a period where turmoil affected their input negatively, ‘Loudness’ is a must-have record.

Takasaki and drummer Munetaka Higuchi are joined here by former EZO singer Masaki Yamada, whose raw, passionate howls occasionally add a slightly sleazy edge to the songs, which especially works well in slower songs where Takasaki’s riffs have a somewhat bluesy feel. Also, bassist Masayoshi Yamashita left and the amazing Taiji Sawada – formerly of X Japan – took his place. Especially his tone works wonders here. Yamashita did still contribute the fine composition ‘Everyone Lies’, which is quite typically his somewhat unpredictable writing style. Speaking of tone: Takasaki has a nice, clear crunch to his guitar and Higuchi’s drums sound nice and ballsy.

Often this record is mistaken for a groove metal record, because most of the singles are midtempo tracks. But even the slower material here – the brooding, doomy stomp of opening track ‘Pray For The Dead’, the playful blues metal of ‘Black Widow’, the highly Black Sabbath-ish ‘Love Kills’ – is classic heavy metal that is more imaginative than the average mid-nineties American band. There’s always a few cool unexpected twists and in typical Takasaki style, there’s more notes in the riff than you can think of. Yamada’s raw vibrato is a thing you either love or hate, but I think it adds a great deal of power to the songs.

But the true highlights are the faster songs. ‘Waking The Dead’ combines a triplet feel with the bluesy approach of early heavy metal, ‘Hell Bites (From The Edge Of Insanity)’ is a little work of art which starts with a killer riff and from there on keeps on building up in tension and ‘Racing The Wind’ is classic Loudness heavy metal with a slightly more aggressive edge. But the song that really gets my blood boiling is closing track ‘Firestorm’, which builds from a midtempo intro to a borderline thrash stomper in the vein of ‘S.D.I’. Rhythmically, there’s a few interesting surprises and in the end, the song annihilates all that’s in its path. ‘Slaughter House’ is a combination of both extremes.

Some records get ignored simply because they’ve been released in an unfortunate era of a band’s career. I’m afraid ‘Loudness’ is one of those records. For me, it’s the Loudness album that I revisit most. I love the combination of Takasaki’s most aggressive riff work and the rough vocal cords of Yamada, who I tend to prefer over original singer Minoru Niihara. It’s too bad that both Sawada and Higuchi left the band after this record and Loudness started a period of simply being lost, because the magic heard on this record is excellent.

Recommended tracks: ‘Firestorm’, ‘Hell Bites (From The Edge Of Insanity)’, ‘Racing The Wind’

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