Rise to glory
In 1985, right in hair metal’s best years, Loudness released its first album on an American label, it’s fifth album overall. Until then, the band from Osaka was really known only in Japan. I was sixteen, fascinated by the genre, and frustrated by my awareness of artists I had no way of checking out. There were all these bands in metal mags and in the bins at Tower Records, but there was no way for me to hear them without gambling on stuff I didn’t know anything about.
It was a lonely passion in those days before the web.
Then suddenly there was Loudness, one of those bands in the imports rack, releasing an awesomely titled album in America, Thunder in the East, and featuring the Rising Sun as its cover art. I bought it on cassette, sound unheard. I mostly liked it, sorta, and tried to convert my friends.
“C’mon guys. It rocks. And these guys are Japanese.” I got an acknowledgment from them that the lead guitarist, Akira Takasaki, was a total shredder, but at my little private school in Honolulu, I was the only person wearing a Loudness tee. Man, I had to skip lunches for a week to save up for that.
It’s thirty-three years later, and the band is still at it. Loudness has been through multiple lineup changes, but since 2001 or so has recorded with the original group, which continues today minus original drummer Munetaka Higuchi, who died ten years ago.
Rise to Glory is the group’s twenty-eighth or thirtieth studio album, depending on how you count them (two of their albums have separate, Japanese-sung and English-sung versions), and it’s a pretty good return to the sound that thundered in the east all those years ago.*
I’m still alive
Masayoshi Yamashita: bass
Akira Takasaki: guitar, keyboards, synthesizers
Minoru Niihara: vocals
Masayuki Suzuki: drums
Released January 26, 2018 on earMUSIC
Produced by Loudness
Why and for whom
Rise to Glory is accessible the way all pop metal is, but its appeal is mostly to middle-aged fans like me who still pay attention to Ratt and Def Leppard all these years later. It’s heavily riff-driven, melodic, catchy, and mostly a showcase for shredmaster Akira Takasaki’s guitar chops, which are considerable and almost always interesting. The album reminds me most of early-80s Scorpions with a little bit of Ratt thrown in. It’s mostly riff riff riff riff, but with occasional slow grooves and some thoughtful composition.
Listeners inclined to give it more than five spins will appreciate some of the musically mature flavor the band throws into the mix, something completely absent the efforts of their twenty-something selves nearly forty years ago, which tended to skim the ocean’s surface. Bass lines go dark and heavy. Brief acoustic guitar fills, often mixed way back, are little treats for the attentive listener. And always there are Takasaki’s varied, mostly classical-influenced solos and fills with dashes of funk, pop, and Japanese folk, the heart and soul of the Loudness experience.
The vocals are an acquired taste. There’s nothing wrong with the quality of singer Minoru Niihara’s singing; there’s just a Japanese-accented English that non-Japanese listeners have to find some way to deal with, combined with the band’s writing lyrics in its second language. Niihara is kind of a dork on stage, and it comes through more than a little in his singing. But this is true of a lot of great metal bands from Germany, Italy, and Scandinavia. My advice is to get used to the voice, tolerate the weird lyrics, and enjoy the whole picture, because Rise to Glory is mostly a fun, interesting ride.
Best song: “Kama Sutra,” an instrumental. Sorry, Minoru.
Second-best song: “Until I See the Light.”
Most singable: “Go for Broke,” although what it’s about I have no idea.
Headbang to: “Massive Tornado” and “Why and for Whom.”
Meh: “Rise to Glory.”
Song to make you wanna get the band back together (don’t do it!): “The Voice.”
Best lyric: “Reach the sky / You’re a brave samurai / There ain’t nothing than can stand in your way” (“Until I See the Light”)
Best moment: The spacy guitar fills beginning at about 2:30 in “Kama Sutra.”
Go for broke
“We’re gonna do our best!”
This is video from one of the 2016 Monsters of Rock cruises. It’s a nice example of how the band still rocks live, despite Minoru Niihara being kind of a doofus. Sure, it’s weird seeing men pushing 60 dressing and playing like this, but the music is still great! “Crazy Nights” is the first track off Thunder in the East, and therefore my very first exposure to this band (and many others’ first exposure), who will always have a special place in my heart. Akira still shreds!
* The band explained in an interview in Hit Parader in the 80s that when you’re a Japanese band, the whole album-tour-rest cycle is really short. An album takes the same amount of time to write and record, but touring the country only takes a month or so, and this is why the group is so prolific.