Loudness – The Sun Will Rise Again – Album Review

SunWillRise

I first discovered Loudness with the purchase of “Lightning Strikes” in 1986 and since that day they have easily remained my #1 favorite Japanese heavy metal band (and in my top 10 all time bands overall), and are easily in my top 5 live bands, most recently blowing me away in 2013 at the M3 Festival. The guitar playing of Akira Takasaki has always been like watching fret board fireworks and that statement is just as valid today in the middle of 2014, just as it was the first time I heard “Lightning Strikes” and everything that followed since then.

The release of “The Sun Will Rise Again” brings the album count for the band to a pretty staggering count of 29 studio albums… boy, do I have some catching up to do! Given they are currently in their 33rd year as a band, and have remained active throughout this time; they are one of a few bands that have survived without some kind of hiatus during this time, unlike the majority of their contemporaries.

Despite some line-up changes in the very-late 80’s and 90’s, the band is back with the original line up, except for original drummer, Munetaka Higuchi, who passed away after a brave fight to cancer in 2008. So we have Akira Takasaki on guitar, Masayoshi Yamashita on bass, Minoru Niihara on vocals and new-boy Masayuki Suzuki completing the line-up on drums. I had the fortune to see this line-up up close and personal at Empire (Springfield, VA) on June 3rd, 2011 and that concert will remain one of my most enduring heavy metal memories – we were front row, 3 or 4 feet from one of my favorite bands of all time, while they ripped through a set of classic and more recent killer tracks. It would be almost impossible to forget the mastery that Akira presented during his spotlight guitar solo that night.

So turning to recent releases from Loudness, most have been Japan-only releases and this includes “The Sun Will Rise Again”, so I have resorted to devious means to get each one shortly after release via import. If you want a recommendation I have been using http://www.yesasia.com/us/en/home.html who offer free international shipping and have been reliable.

I have seen comment that some find the heavier, more thrash oriented, direction that Loudness sometimes edges toward lately doesn’t sit quite as well as the more mainstream melodic metal numbers, but to be honest I really like the edgy mix that the band is currently experimenting with. Don’t get me wrong – those melodic riff-oriented numbers are still up front and center (check out the track “The King Of Pain” from the album of the same name for a classic riff-driven killer), but there is definitely a hint of heavier to many of the more recent tracks.

A final word for any guitar players that might be reading this, before I get to the review proper… I was most interested to learn that Akira is a big fan of the Marshall JMP-1 rack-mount preamp. Why? Just because it happens to by my favorite and current preamp to this day, as it has been since 1992, just as it was and still is for Akira. Perhaps this is why I am such an Akira fan-boy! If anyone knows what external effects he is using, particularly how he gets that deeply modulated, “not quite a flanger” sound he uses for a lot of his rhythm playing please drop me a note.

“The Sun Will Rise Again” opens with a short two-minute intro-piece, which certainly seems to be the ‘de rigueur’ these days. I’m now loosing count of how many bands have done this recently. I suppose it makes sense, but it sort of irks me when a band claims there are 10 tracks on their album, but in fact it’s really 9 tracks and a 2 minute intro… I’m not mad at Loudness because they put 11 tracks on this record – 10 tracks and an intro!

The album for real kicks off with “Got To Be Strong” and this is Loudness firing on all 12-cylinders, with a monster riff, that just washes over you and pins you to your seat (assuming you are sitting… otherwise you are going to be pummeled into the wall behind you)! Sure, it’s a pacey double-kick drum driven number, but I challenge anyone who claims to like heavy metal to not like this track. The bridge that leads to the solo is a thing of beauty with Akira tearing some crazy runs off the guitar neck.

Next up is “Never Ending Fire” and I remember sitting at home the first time I heard this record sitting with a slightly insane grin on my head, when this track blasted out of the way too loud stereo system – I seem to remember yelling “Loudness are killing it”, which got an enthusiastic nod from Michelle. Track 3, “The Metal Man”, is from the “short, but sweet”, school of song writing, clocking in at 2 minutes 45 seconds, and is the perfect vehicle for one of my favorite solos from Akira, who backs off the overdrive and delivers a master-class in hammer-on tapping. His guitar tone is just magic here.

One, thought before I loose it: one of my subconscious thoughts every time I listen to this record is that Akira’s guitar playing here is exactly what Joe Satriani would deliver if he simply let his heavy metal demons loose. I might seem like an odd statement, but technically Akira is right up there with the guitar-playing elite, but with a hard and heavy edge that seems missing from many that achieve technical supremacy.

Skipping forward to track 6, we are greeted with an intro that is a little different and definitely has a bit of a Rage Against The Machine vibe I think. Certainly there is a 90’s groove running through this whole track, which also clocks in as the longest on the album at 8 minutes 20 seconds. Often I find longer songs, end up dragging, but Loudness manage to avoid this, and this is perhaps a function of the funk-infused bridge section that pops up around the 6 minute point.

The title track, despite drawing out an intro that keeps you in suspense for tad over a minute, has one of those classic Loudness riffs and is one of those songs you just want to hear blasted at you live. The same can be said for the next track, “Rock You Wild” which is another that just punches you in the head with the opening riff. Smack! Listen to this sucker… At this point I must mention the perfect combo of Yamashita on bass and Suzuki on drums – these two are so tightly locked together it’s easy to take them for granted, but totally unfair.

Track 9, “Greatest Ever Heavy Metal” doesn’t pull any punches with the title now does it? And, neither does it with the riff that drives this song forward, which just incites you to crank the volume. To be honest this is quite a complex song, since it ties together about four distinctive riffs, which sometimes isn’t the easiest thing to do, but Loudness has both technique and vision that allows them to pull-off things that lesser bands would probably stumble over. Again this is a longer track, clocking 8 minutes and 13 seconds, but I am surprised to write that down, since it doesn’t seem that long when I’m cranking it in the car for example.

The album draws toward a close strongly with track 10, “Shout” which is just about the only slower paced song on the record, followed by “Not Alone”, a mid-paced number, which has a melody that seems to worm into your head and forces you to play the entire album over again. At least it works that way for me… This is the perfect moment to mention the excellent vocal performance from Minoru Niihara, who continues with his imperfectly accented English – without which Loudness looses a key characteristic that in itself is a critical part this makes this all so perfect.

So far I have lived with this record for a couple of months and it is showing not sign of loosing it’s magic with me. From the very first play I had a heavy metal grin on my face and that is still there every time I hit the play button. At this point I might have to award this album of the year? My score: 10/10

 

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