Posts Tagged ‘ J-metal ’

Album of the Week 14-2019: Jupiter – Zeus ~Legends Never Die~


Multiple times over the last few years, I had feared that Jupiter would disband. There have been several line-up changes and I thought the final nail in the coffin would be the reformation of Versailles, the hugely popular, but slightly inferior band that almost the entire original line-up came from. These developments alone would be enough reason to be happy with the release of their third album ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’. But it’s also really, really good. New kid and former Concerto Moon singer Atsushi Kuze fits the band amazingly well and the album is probably Jupiter’s most consistent to date.

Jupiter does not suddenly sound different on ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’. The music is still high octane symphonic power metal with prominent influences from progressive metal and melodic death metal, as well as plenty of room for the impressive dexterity of guitarists Hizaki and Teru. In fact, some might argue that the inclusion of two tracks from the spectacular single ‘Theory Of Evolution’ and two that were previously recorded with former singer Zin further diminishes the surprise impact of the album. Kuze’s somewhat husky hardrock voice further broadens the appeal of Jupiter outside of the visual kei scene, however, and the impact his voice had on Hizaki’s songwriting is significant.

Now, Hizaki has a way of making singers better. He managed to make Kamijo sound semi-acceptable in Versailles, Juka’s best vocal performance was on his ‘Dignity Of Crest’ album and he transformed Zin into one of the best singers in the visual kei scene. Anticipating what would happen if he worked with Kuze’s already impressive set of pipes was half the fun of waiting for ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’ to be released. And to be brief: the album contains Kuze’s best vocals to date. He does not do anything radically different from what he did in Concerto Moon and Screaming Symphony, but he’s like a fish in the water with the bombastic, theatrical material that Hizaki wrote for the album.

With Kuze being a hardrock singer first and foremost, it is notable that the songwriting plays to these strengths. ‘Drastic Night’ has a seventies hardrock vibe due to the simple, but brutally effective main riff and the inclusion of a Hammond organ, but manages to sound contemporary power metal enough to make perfect sense on the record. More dramatic tracks, like the highly dynamic ‘No Cry No More’ and the absolutely sensational ‘Straight Into The Fire’ could not have been written for any other singer. The most powerful choruses, such as the ones for ‘Theory Of Evolution’ and the long closing epic title track really profit from having a singer with significantly more power than the average visual kei frontman.

To those who were afraid that Zin’s departure would result in Jupiter shunning their melodic death metal songs: rest assured. In ‘Tempest’ and the previously released ‘Angel’s Wings’, the album contains two tracks that feature prominent melodeath influences. The former sounds a little like a mash-up of Galneryus’ neoclassical abandon and Jupiter’s own ‘Allegory Cave’, while the latter has a mind-blowing final chorus. Both rely heavily on aggressive, borderline thrash metal riffing. Kuze does not yet have the versatility in his growls that Zin had, but there is almost a hardcore-like quality to their blunt aggression. Something which also works surprisingly well on the last section of the lone Teru composition ‘Show Must Go On’, a powerful modern hardrock track.

Out of the songs that had already been recorded with Zin, ‘The Spirit Within Me’ really takes the cake. Not only does it have what is possibly the best riff of the album, the song fits Kuze’s voice so perfectly that it’s hard to imagine it had not orignally been written for him. It is kind of ironic that one works so well, as ‘Tears Of The Sun’ underwent a more significant change, being transposed to a different key. Relatively new drummer Daisuke played on the original versions of both of these tracks, but his contributions to ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’ should not be overlooked, as his playing is incredible. He has all the skills that his predecessor Yuki also had, but he appears to be a little more understated and serviceable, which does sound a little weird, given the fact that a track like ‘Theory Of Evolution’ is basically fifty percent blazing fills and ‘The Spirit Within Me’ has some of the most impressive double bass rolling I have heard in recent years.

As a whole, ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’ could be the start of a new era for Jupiter. People who liked their music before should have no issue with the record, but the inclusion of a singer with the type of voice that usually is not associated with visual kei really opens them up for people who generally stay away from the scene. In addition, every single song on the album is worth hearing. ‘Memories Of You’ goes on a bit long near the end, but the darker first half of the song is the best ballad-esque bit Hizaki has written to date. Everything else is a perfect blend of power metal, hardrock, progressive metal and melodeath. If that sounds right up your alley, you can’t go wrong with ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Spirit Within Me’, ‘Straight Into The Fire’, ‘No Cry No More’, ‘Theory Of Evolution’

Album of the Week 13-2019: NoGoD – Proof


With the visual kei scene being as full of rather faceless soundalikes as it is, it’s good to have bands like NoGoD pop up every once in a while. While the band does not use any elements that are all that different from what most bands in the scene are using – modern hardrock, melodic heavy metal, subtle hints of pop punk and J-rock aesthetics – they were always just a bit better than their peers. And with ‘Proof’ being probably the most consistent release NoGoD has released thus far, it rivals ‘V’ as the perfect album to get acquainted with them.

Stylistically, NoGoD is always at risk of being too little of multiple genres to appeal to fans of the respective genres. Approach them with an open mind, however, and you will find a lot to enjoy on ‘Proof’. Dancho is without a doubt one of the best and most unique singers in Japanese rock. Some people are apparently put off by the fact that he is always belting passionately, but I think that is one of his biggest assets. In addition, the rhythm section is rock solid and Kyrie is one of the more creative lead guitarists in the country.

‘Proof’ was preceded by two excellent singles. Selecting single was not always NoGoD’s forte, but they hit the nail on the head this time around. ‘Missing’ is very melodic and elegiac in atmosphere, but at the same time, the riffs are undeniably heavy, which pushes the song out of the power ballad territory it would have been in otherwise. Certainly one of the best songs in the band’s discography. ‘Arlequin’ is a little more uptempo and aggressive. It’s not quite heavy enough to be metal, but there’s a lot of metallic chugging on the lowest strings of the guitar, which is contrasted nicely with the open and catchy chorus.

That is hardly the only catchy moment on ‘Proof’. Opening track ‘Break Out!’ feels like a Japanese spin on the heaviest side of the Foo Fighters, ‘Dreamer’ is a little more aggressive in vocal approach, but just as memorable and ‘Tonight!’ will get stuck in your head no matter what. ‘Proof’ may sound even better when the band adopts a darker approach. The title track inverts NoGoD’s formula by making the verses more positive than its great chorus, ‘Shinkiro’ works its way through multiple climaxes and a wonderfully brooding middle section, while ‘Henrietta’ is surprisingly heavy with some inventive lead guitar work in its chorus. ‘Sendo’ is even the fastest, heaviest moment in the band’s history, bordering on thrash metal.

If you want to know what NoGoD is all about, ‘Proof’ may actually be the best place to start. It is generally slightly darker in tone than most of their other works, but every aspect that makes them the great band they are is here, right down to the fantastic instrumental ‘Kyoji to Tomoni’ and the awesome intro ‘In The Cage…’. Once, in the late seventies and early eighties, there was a time when hardrock and heavy metal weren’t two separate things yet. What NoGoD shows here is there is no need for that to be the case in the 21st century either.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sendo’, ‘Missing’, ‘Proof’

Album of the Week 11-2019: Kinniku Shojo Tai – Shinjin


Making a worthy comeback is one thing. Releasing a comeback album that is as good as your classic material is rare though. And yet, that is exactly what Kinniku Shojo Tai does on ‘Shinjin’. The band had broken up somewhat unceremoniously in the late nineties after a string of enjoyable, but highly inconsistent albums. A reunion was announced in late 2006 – without drummer Akira Ota but with original keyboard player Satoshi Mishiba helping out significantly as a session musician – and less than a year later, ‘Shinjin’ was released. Easily their best set of songs since their early nineties heyday, this is how comebacks should be.

With Kinniku Shojo Tai’s trademark bizarre mix of punk, metal, funk rock, prog and Queen-like theatricality being firmly in place, it would be tempting to say that nothing has changed since the split. There is a small, but notable change of direction to be found, however, as post-reunion Kinniku Shojo Tai has a notably stronger orientation towards melodic hard rock and power metal than before. And while some may argue that wild genre-hopping was an important part of the band’s sound, it does cause the overall sound of ‘Shinjin’ to be a little more consistent than before.

Of course, the band has not suddenly ditched all of its weirdness. There is some rather unique piano work underneath even the thickest guitar riffs and only very few western hard rock bands would dare to attempt a nervous, jangly sixties rocker like ‘Nukenin’. The fact that the first vocals on the album are some of the most aggressive “la-la-la” chants in music history (‘Nakanaori No Theme’) is quite telling as well. The campfire atmosphere of closer ‘Shinjin Band No Theme’ is one of the many moments evidencing the band’s sense of humor, but it’s surprisingly listenable as well.

Still, if you primarily want to hear Kinniku Shojo Tai rock out, ‘Shinjin’ is one of the best places to start. The blunt force of the band’s punk roots shines through on ‘Mishiyo Hikikaiken’, but there’s a surprising amount of class in their hardrockers too. Fumihiko Kitsutaka’s compositions, such as ‘Torifido No Hi Ga Kitemo Futaridake Ha Iki Nuku’ and the particularly neoclassical ‘Headbang Hatsudensho’, are renowned for that, but the powerful ‘Ai Wo Uchikorose!’ appears to be from the same mold, despite being written by his fellow guitarist Toshiaki Honjo. Also, letting a singer as shouty and unsubtle as Kenji Otsuki sing no less than three ballads seems like a bad idea, but they are fortunately quite good, the remarkably dynamic ‘Koshonin To Rosalia’ in particular.

Eclectic bands like Kinniku Shojo Tai usually have a couple of flaws on their albums, but they are quite limited in number on ‘Shinjin’. The sequencing could have been a little more effective and I am unsure about the necessity of the re-recordings of ‘Moretsu Ataro’ and the speed metal monster ‘Iwan No Baka’. Especially the latter does sound significantly better than the original version though. Having them on there does contribute to the album’s introductory value to the weird world of Kinniku Shojo Tai. ‘Shinjin’ is an album that plays to the band’s strengths, after all, and therefore worth a shot if you like any of the genres mentioned in this review.

Recommended tracks: ‘Headbang Hatsudensho’, ‘Ai Wo Uchikorose!’, ‘Iwan No Baka ’07’

Album of the Week 44-2018: Kinniku Shojo Tai – Za Shisa


Despite being somewhat unpredictable stylistically, Kinniku Shojo Tai has been experiencing a very solid run recently. More so than during the latter years of their original run, in fact. Some of their recent albums are slightly better than others, ‘Omake No Ichinichi (Tatakai No Hibi)’ in particular, but none of them is less than enjoyable. ‘Za Shisa’ is another convincing entry into their discography, which currently counts over twenty studio albums. The general vibe is slightly more relaxed and less crazy than on their previous records, but anyone who liked their melting pot of influences before will certainly enjoy ‘Za Shisa’.

Kinniku Shojo Tai’s unpredictability is a result of every band member bringing something different to the table. ‘Za Shisa’ features a relatively large amount of the playful funk rock riffs that guitarist Toshiaki Honjo specializes in. Everything muscular, classy and melodic is the work of Fumihiko Kitsutaka, who in my opinion is one of the world’s greatest guitarists and arrangers. Founding bassist Yuichiro Uchida usually is responsible for the weird progressive and psychedelic stuff, while his co-founder Kenji Otsuki yells, speaks and sings everything together. That sounds like it may not work, but ‘Za Shisa’ proves it does.

The first peak of ‘Za Shisa’ arrives quite early. The elegant melodic hardrock of ‘Shogeki No Outsider Art’ is Kitsutaka in its purest form with a gorgeous chorus, after which the darker, vaguely Middle Eastern tones of the climactic ‘Occult’ account for one of the album’s most atmospheric moments. What follows is the most metallic track of the album; the aggressive speed metal of ‘Zombie River ~ Row Your Boat’ would not have sounded out of place on one of the band’s earliest releases. And like on those albums, the creative use of piano and dynamics lends gravitas to the energetic aggression.

After that, the album takes a slight dip. Not that ‘Naze Hito Wo Koroshi Cha Ike Nai No Daro Ka?’ and ‘Uchu No Hosoku’ are bad songs, it’s just too much consecutive tranquillity. The pace is picked back up quite quickly though, with the subdued seventies rock feel with spoken verses of the awesome ‘Marilyn Monroe Returns’ bringing Thin Lizzy’s ‘Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed’ to mind. Uchida’s songs ‘Kenji No Zundoku Fushi’ and ‘Parallax No Shisa’ have the dynamic, haunting quality he excels at. The former has a pleasant stomp, while the way the guitar line and piano melody teasingly dance in unison on the latter is only the beginning of its ominous atmosphere. ‘Next Generation’ and ‘I, Toya’ are pleasant upbeat rockers.

Though ‘Za Shisa’ feels somewhat more laid-back, Kinniku Shojo Tai is still as weird and reluctant to stick to one genre as ever. As always, it may require some time to sink in, but it is a rewarding album for repeated spins. If you have not heard of the band before and need a western reference: imagine if Queen had embraced punk and further developed the metallic leanings of their first few albums. Now add a dash of Japanese weirdness to the mix. Sounds impossible? Tell that to them. They have been doing it for over thirty years.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shogeki No Outsider Art’, ‘Zombie River ~ Row Your Boat’, ‘Occult’

Interview – Lovebites’ international metal ambitions


Within Japan, but certainly also outside of the country, Lovebites has been doing well recently. After a couple of one-offs at festivals in England and Germany, the all-female metal band is about to embark on their first European tour. Not long after that, on December 5th to be exact, their second album ‘Clockwork Immortality’ will be released. Plenty of reason to catch up with guitarist Midori.

Performing outside of Japan has always been an ambition for Lovebites. Part of the reason for that is the European-tinged sound of the band. “We would like to play at places our style of metal originates from and is beloved at“, Midori explains. “Besides, there are many places in the world where metal is much more accepted than in Japan. We want to play at those places. These days, metal is not as big in Japan as some people think it is. We hope that our shows abroad will contribute to other bands from the Japanese scene being introduced to a more international audience.

We hope that metal fans all over the world want to listen to our music, regardless of if they have some special interest in Japanese culture or not. That is usually the type of audience you have to limit yourself to when your lyrics are all in Japanese. That’s why we thought it would be a better idea to write our lyrics in English. All our English lyrics are checked and corrected by native speakers or people who lived in English-speaking countries for a long time. They do not just pay attention to our choice of words and our grammar, but also the way the words are supposed to be pronounced. We want to do anything to improve and enhance our lyrics.

Prejudice

When I had just started playing guitar, my influences were mainly Japanese non-metal bands. Later on, I went to a music school and got involved with bands that played covers of modern metal bands, such as Pantera and Avenged Sevenfold. That created the basis for my current guitar style.

That guitar style is notably different than that of her fellow guitarist Miyako, though Midori points out that they are a bit looser with that than they used to be: “Generally, I play flashy and aggressive solos, while Miyako plays slower, more melodic solos. That division is not that strict though. Sometimes we switch if it feels right. When we had just started, we thought it was very important that the two of us had a completely different style or technique, but these days, we don’t really care about that anymore.

Midori is not the only Lovebites member that once started out playing different music. While she has been playing fairly aggressive metal for a while now, singer Asami never sang metal at all before joining Lovebites. “The best thing about that is that she had zero prejudice about which vocal lines were metal or not“, says Midori. “Her vocal lines are very natural and rooted in her own background, which is R&B and gospel. Her delicate, but powerful singing style really enhances the music of Lovebites. Her vocals have provided us with extra opportunities.

Confidence

And yet, Lovebites’ music is deeply rooted in the European heavy and power metal tradition of the likes of Helloween and Iron Maiden. With all the high tempos and technical antics that come along with that. “Lovebites’ songs are fairly difficult to play“, Midori admits. “Most of them are pretty close to the edges of our capacities. If we practice one of the more difficult songs, we always start playing them at a slightly lower tempo. After that, we gradually raise the tempo bit by bit, so we can play them at the normal tempo confidently. That is something I do when I practice by myself, but also when we all play together.

My favorite artists have a lot of songs that I would love to play, but that are a little difficult for me. Those songs, I also practice by first playing them slowly and increasing the tempo as I go along. I am always looking for new songs that I would like to play. Sometimes, I keep the live situation in the back of my mind when I’m arranging guitar parts for Lovebites. But whenever it is necessary, I don’t have any problems with altering the phrasing of certain pieces a little.

As for myself, I am always working on new ideas for licks and phrases. When the production of our albums starts up, we always write the type of song we need at that particular moment. For instance, when we already have a bunch of fast songs, we could decide that it is time for a slower one. We work with several production teams and for the compositions, we frequently work together with Mao, Light Bringer’s keyboard player. All the guitar solos are written by Miyako and myself.

Female-friendly

Save for their debut ‘The Lovebites EP’ (2017), all artworks of Lovebites’ releases have something in common. ‘Awakening From Abyss’ (2017), ‘Battle Against Damnation’ (2018) and the upcoming release ‘Clockwork Immortality’ all prominently feature a wolf on their covers. “Since metal is not a mainstream genre, the wolf symbolizes us being a ‘lone wolf’ in the music scene“, Midori explains. “We are planning to use the wolf on all of our releases. This way, he can become a character that belongs to the band, like Eddie from Iron Maiden, Vic Rattlehead from Megadeth or Johnny from Riot. That is why we are considering giving him a name.

That is not the only visual aspect that makes Lovebites stand out. Not only is the quintet an all-female band in a scene where male musicians have long been the norm, they also dress in white. “Most metal bands dress in black“, Midori smiles. “That is why we thought it would be a good idea to dress in white to give the band something unique. Male musicians are still the majority in Japan, but a lot of great female musicians have come to prominence in recent years. We have the feeling that the current generation of metal fans really gives the music a chance rather than just watching how the band members look. I think the scene has become a lot more female-friendly.

It is a trend among Japanese all-female metal bands to gradually drop metal elements from their sound and aim for something more pop-oriented. Midori reassures that this is not something to worry about in this case: “Our fan base consists of metal fans. They have supported us from day one. We are not planning to get off-track and have faith in the fact that we will continue to be a metal band.

Variation

As said before, there is a new Lovebites album about to be released. What can we expect from ‘Clockwork Immortality’? “The album will largely feature the same sound that we had on ‘Awakening From Abyss’ and ‘Battle Against Damnation’“, Midori promises. “Our sound will still be rooted in power metal and feature notable influences from thrash metal and speed metal. However, we did experiment with the use of acoustic guitars. In addition, we tried to adopt a different approach than we usually do for some songs. This way, we still try to add a little variation to our sound.

Remarkably, an international release date is yet to be announced for ‘Clockwork Immortality’. “We hope to be able to give this album an international release as well“, Midori says carefully. “Of course we are aware of the fact that hardcore fans import our cd’s from Japan, but we would at least like to offer the opportunity to buy the cd for a normal price. Fortunately, we have already received some positive feedback from a couple of labels outside of Japan.

Differences between Japanese and European shows are largely practical, says the guitarist: “When we tour in Japan, we always have a big group of roadies with us. Because of that, all we have to do is play. Everything else is done for us. When we go to Europe, we have to do everything ourselves. In terms of the audience, there is not much of a difference. Both of the audiences are very warm and welcoming. One thing I do notice is that people in Europe sing along to our choruses louder. Sometimes the audience sings louder than the band. That never happens in Japan.

We use the exact same equipment in Japan as abroad. I’m using a Kemper digital amplifier, but when we play outside of Japan, I unmount it, so I can travel lighter, but still have the same sound. For this European tour, we will also leave our wireless systems at home. Furthermore, I have an endorsement with E-II Guitars, of which I will bring two. Both of them will have a Floyd Rose tremolo system, but I use them for different tunings. If there ever is a Kemper at the venue already, I will just have to bring a USB stick with the data. That would be even better.

Lovebites will tour Europe in mid-November:

13 November: Haarlem, Netherlands – Patronaat
14 November: Essen, Germany – Zeche Carl
16 November: Hamburg, Germany – Logo
19 November: Aschaffenburg, Germany – Colos-Saal
20 November: Paris, France – Nouveau Casino
21 November: London, UK – O2 Academy Islington


There are two people who deserve extensive gratitude for this interview. First of all, Arlequin Photography for helping me set up the interview with Joël Heijda from the Patronaat crew. Also, a major “domo arigato” to Fubito Endo for translating Midori’s answers for me. This article is largely an English translation of the article published on The Sushi Times, albeit enhanced with some of the technical information on the Gitarist website.

Album of the Week 40-2018: Saber Tiger – Obscure Diversity


It is difficult for me to be objective about the new Saber Tiger album, having made a minor contribution to its production, but the fact is that ‘Obscure Diversity’ would have excited me regardless. Saber Tiger won me over with their intense combination of traditional heavy metal and contemporary progressive touches a long time ago. ‘Obscure Diversity’ miraculously manages to explore the possibilities of that trademark style more extensively than anything the band released since ‘Timystery’ whilst simultaneously sounding more streamlined than their previous efforts. This makes ‘Obscure Diversity’ an extremely pleasant listen that reveals several secrets over multiple spins.

Once the surprisingly theatrical intro ‘Daguerrotype Of Phineas Gage’ is over, ‘The Crowbar Case’ seems to suggest we are getting a more aggressive take on Saber Tiger’s sound here. The opening riff is thrashy, almost Bay Area-styled in character. When this type of riffing mixes with the band’s tried and tested sense of melody and drama later on, a winning combination is found. This type of high velocity meets supreme sense of melody metal can also be found in the pulsating ‘Permanent Rage’, the dense, stomping and climactic ‘Beat Of The War Drums’ and to a lesser extent the album’s first video ‘The Worst Enemy’.

Uptempo aggression is hardly the only thing the band goes for on ‘Obscure Diversity’, however. After all, its title delivers a promise to live up to. In that respect, the first contribution bassist hibiki made to the Saber Tiger canon is a real winner. ‘Distant Signals’ takes all the melodic and especially progressive influences people may expect from his history with Light Bringer and combines them with all of Saber Tiger’s trademark aspects to create a gorgeous dynamic metal track that truly allows singer Takenori Shimoyama to shine. ‘Distant Signals’ is a unique track, but it makes complete sense within the context of ‘Obscure Diversity’.

Dynamics are also key in ‘The Shade Of Holy Light’ and ‘The Forever Throne’. Technically, both of these tracks would qualify as semi-ballads, but they are much darker and more atmospheric than one would usually predict from that description. This approach provides all the room that guitarists Akihito Kinoshita and Yasuharu Tanaka need to play at their most passionate. Their spectacular guitar work is a main attraction of Saber Tiger anyway. ‘Stain’, for instance, is full of incredible lead guitar work even outside of the solos. Their trade-offs are incredible. The solo spots for hibiki are relatively limited in number, but when he does get them, it does not take long to realize he is one of the best bass players in Japan.

More than 35 years in the music business does not appear to be slowing down Saber Tiger. In fact, this decade has arguably been the most consistent of their career. Relative youngsters hibiki and Yasuhiro Mizuno form an incredible rhythm section that is both intense and complex, upon which Tanaka and Kinoshita can build their timeless riffs. Shimoyama is also as passionate as ever. But how can he not be with such an incredible set of songs to work with? ‘Obscure Diversity’ is a no-brainer for anyone who enjoyed Saber Tiger’s last few releases, but the more adventurous fans of the likes of Nevermore and Iced Earth  should certainly give this a chance as well.

Recommended tracks: ‘Distant Signals’, ‘Beat Of The War Drums’, ‘Permanent Rage’

Interview: Loudness and the Japanese hardrock scene


Loudness was one of the first Japanese bands that also had some success in Europe and North America. Partially due to the MTV success of ‘Crazy Night’ and Akira Takasaki’s status as a guitar hero, but according to singer Minoru Niihara, Loudness also was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. We spoke with Niihara prior to the concert in Alkmaar, at which Loudness promoted its 27th studio album ‘Rise To Glory’.

After the previous album ‘The Sun Will Rise Again’, we had to wait over three and a half years for ‘Rise To Glory’. And that is quite surprising, as the band has been releasing new albums just about every year since the original lineup of Niihara, Takasaki, bassist Masayoshi Yamashita and drummer Munetaka Higuchi reunited around the turn of the century. Even after Higuchi passed away in 2008, there were hardly any delays in their release schedule. “We needed the extra time“, Niihara confesses. “In addition, we needed to look for a new record label, because our previous contract expired. In the meantime, Akira kept on writing new songs. Because of that, we could select the best material.

For his lyrics, Niihara employs a rather unconventional approach: “I think of a theme and write down my thoughts about that, just some ideas and lines in Japanese. After that, three friends of mine help me turn it into a complete set of lyrics. They have been raised bilingual in California and live in Japan these days. They speak perfect Japanese and because of that, they know the weaknesses of Japanese people speaking English. You could say they fix it. Many Japanese people need someone to tell them what is wrong with their English. There hardly is any need to speak or write English when you live in Japan. Even at the universities, classes are in Japanese.

Timing

When Loudness was founded in 1981, there were no heavy metal bands in Japan. “Before us, you only had Bow Wow from Tokyo and Murasaki from Okinawa“, Niihara confirms. “And those bands weren’t really heavy metal, because we didn’t know that back then. They were hardrock bands. I’m from Osaka, where a lot of young British hardrock bands performed. I was in a school band with which we played covers of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. But professional hardrock bands? We didn’t have those in the seventies. There were lots of people who listened to western hardrock, but no one played the music themselves. I don’t actually know why either.

We were lucky. Around the time we released our debut album (‘The Birthday Eve’, 1981), the new wave of British heavy metal became really popular in Japan. Bands like Iron Maiden and Saxon were very popular. That made people curious about our music, because we were a Japanese band that also made this type of music. Our timing turned out to be perfect. Young rockers loved us and Akira became a guitar hero. He actually already was when he played with Lazy. That was a pop group, but his playing was amazing. When he was seventeen, he was already known as a great guitar player.

Sold out

Before I joined Loudness, I have talked to some people who worked for record labels. When they heard I wanted to play hardrock, all of them said: that’s old, no one will buy that. After we received a gold record for the first Loudness album, the same people suddenly told us that they knew our music would become big. Bullshit! Some of these guys even literally said we would never go anywhere.

Things went differently. Loudness became a big success in Japan. “Every place we played was sold out“, says Niihara. “And then we’re talking about two to three thousand capacity venues. While we only had one album out. After that, more and more bands that kind of sounded like Loudness popped up. Every record company tried to sign its own Loudness. The positive thing about that is that many Japanese hardrock bands got the chance to release an album. Two or three years after our debut album, Japanese metal was very popular.

San Francisco

After a while, the scene slowed down a little. Our sound engineer and friend Daniel McClendon, who is from San Francisco, asked us why we wouldn’t just go to the States for a couple of shows someday. In Japan, we had achieved just about everything we could achieve. In 1983 we went to California for a couple of concerts, just to see what the possibilities were for us. We did four shows in San Francisco and two in Los Angeles.

The audience in San Francisco was insane. There was a very active, hardcore underground heavy metal scene there. We met bands like Metallica and Slayer there when they weren’t much more than local bands. That kind of surprised me, because the image I had of music from San Francisco couldn’t be more different. I thought of relaxed rock music like The Doobie Brothers and the Eagles. Our shows were attended by young guys who were looking for new heavy metal, however. We didn’t even know how all these people knew about us, because we hadn’t released a single album in the States yet.

Later on, we found out that they traded tapes with each other. Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich was one of those fanatic tape traders. He also already knew Bow Wow, for instance. There was even a record store in San Francisco that imported our lp’s. Their owner really helped us simply by playing our music to people who might be interested in us. That way, Loudness could already build an audience before we ever played in the States.”

Identity crisis

Thanks to the presence of an A&R manager of the big Atlantic Records label, Loudness became the first Japanese metal band that signed with a major label in America. Initially, that was fruitful: ‘Crazy Nights’ and the accompanying album ‘Thunder In The East’ (1985) became a big success. When it turned out difficult to retain that success, friction developed within the band, which eventually lead to Niihara’s departure. A couple of years later, Yamashita left as well.

In the nineties, Loudness underwent a sizeable identity crisis. With the American singer Mike Vescera, the band recorded two albums that were obviously aimed toward the Californian glam metal scene, only to follow that up with the incredibly heavy ‘Loudness’ (1992) with singer Masaki Yamada (ex-EZO) and Taiji Sawada, who had just left X Japan at the time. After that, Loudness appeared to follow the alternative metal trend, though without Sawada. In the meantime, Niihara was occupied with bands like Ded Chaplin, Sly and X.Y.Z.→A.

Mature

The turning point arrived around the turn of the century, when Loudness’ classic line-up reunited, allegedly on the recommendation of Masaki Yamada. “Akira says that’s what happened“, Niihara says. “I think Akira had the idea to bring the original guys back together again himself as well. Around that time, Masaki told him the time was right for a reunion. Maybe it just had to happen. Our twentieth anniversary was upcoming and Akira wanted to do something special for that occasion.

It was supposed to be a reunion for maybe one or two years, but after our new album (‘Spiritual Canoe’, 2001) and the tour, the fans begged us to continue with the same line-up. We got together to talk about it and nobody actually wanted to quit. Everyone was curious to see where else we could go. And we wanted to play in Europe again, so we just tried it. And we’re still here! We’ve been around longer now than we were together in the eighties.

Niihara does have an explanation for that. “We are older and wiser“, he laughs. “We sometimes think back to those days and realize we were a bunch of idiots. We drank too much and we were acting really stupid sometimes. These days, we have families and children. We have become a lot more mature.

The singer did not listen to the albums he did not sing on until after the reunion. “In the nineties, I was too busy with my own music“, he explains. “And besides, I was trying to leave Loudness behind me. They kicked me out, after all. After the reunion, we had to play some songs from the albums recorded with Mike and Masaki. It wasn’t until then that I started listening to the material from those days. And I was really impressed! Mike Vescera sings great on those two records!

Recovery

During this tour, the drum stool is occupied by Ryuichi ‘Ryu’ Nishida, who worked as a session drummer with the likes of Gackt and Marty Friedman and is a part of the instrumental rock band Ra:IN with X Japan guitarist Pata. Earlier this year, Masayuki ‘Ampan’ Suzuki, who replaced Higuchi after his death, was hit by a stroke. “He is working hard on his recovery“, Niihara reassures. “There are some problems with the right side of his body. He has trouble talking and holding his drum sticks.

We are just happy that he’s still there. There are so many people who die from the same conditions. We hope he can play a couple of songs with us by the end of the year. More than a couple of songs is really too much for him at this point. We told him: please take your time, don’t rush. When he’s ready, we will go for it again. We are fortunate enough to have a fantastic drummer like Nishida helping us out.

A Dutch version of this interview can be read at The Sushi Times.