Loudness: Japanese Heavy Metal Icons

Updated on October 11, 2017
FatFreddysCat profile image

I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and CD collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.

"Konichi-Wa, mother-@#$%'ers!" - Minoru Niihara onstage in the 1980s

Loudness' classic lineup, L-R: Masayoshi Yamashita (bass), Minoru Niihara (vox), Munetaka Higuchi (drums), Akira Takasaki (guitar)
Loudness' classic lineup, L-R: Masayoshi Yamashita (bass), Minoru Niihara (vox), Munetaka Higuchi (drums), Akira Takasaki (guitar) | Source

"Rock N Roll Crazy Night! You are the Hero tonight!"

Japan loves hard rock and heavy metal music... really, really loves it. England may be metal's birthplace and Germany may claim its most dedicated fans, but Japan is definitely a close second. Ever since KISS adorned the cover of 1974's Hotter Than Hell album with Japanese writing and Cheap Trick chose Tokyo's famed Budokan arena to record their breakthrough live album, hard rockers have enjoyed a special relationship with the Japanese audience. Just about any touring band that's spent time in Japan can tell you stories of sold-out Enormo-dome shows, with throngs of gift-bearing fans following them everywhere they go in the country. Even during the darkest days of the 1990s when depressing Grunge rock ruled the rest of the world and traditional heavy metal was on the run, many "old school" hard rock and metal bands still maintained a frenzied and receptive audience in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Japan is also home to its own thriving hard rock and metal scene, of course, and while local bands such as Sex Machineguns, X Japan, Vow Wow, 44 Magnum and Seikima-II (to name just a few) have all enjoyed long and successful careers in their homeland, very few Japanese bands have managed to break out internationally and become well known outside of Asia. Most would agree that the group that came closest to worldwide fame was Loudness.

Considered the "godfathers" of the Japanese metal scene, the quartet led by powerhouse vocalist Minoru Niihara and guitar wizard Akira Takasaki blazed a trail in the 1980s and scored a number of "firsts" for a Japanese band. They were the first commercially successful home-grown hard rock act in Japan, and the first to record songs in English, which led to them becoming the first Japanese metal act to sign a worldwide deal with a major American record label (Atco). Though they made a brief splash in the U.S. with the minor hit single "Crazy Nights" (off of 1985's international debut Thunder in the East), long term mega-stardom was unfortunately not in the cards for Loudness. However, more than three decades after their brief brush with fame, they continue to release new albums and tour relentlessly, cementing their position as Elder Statesmen of the Japanese metal movement.

Disillusion (1984), Thunder In The East (1985), Lightning Strikes (1986), Hurricane Eyes (1987)
Disillusion (1984), Thunder In The East (1985), Lightning Strikes (1986), Hurricane Eyes (1987) | Source

Humble Beginnings...

Guitar wizard Akira Takasaki and drummer Munetaka Higuchi formed Loudness in 1980 after quitting the popular late 70s pop-rock band Lazy. Drafting vocalist Minoru Niihara from rival band Earthshaker and hiring Takasaki's childhood friend Masayoshi Yamashita to fill the bassist position, the newly formed band signed with the Nippon Columbia record label and quickly made a name for themselves in their homeland with their first three albums - Devil Soldier (1981), The Birthday Eve (1982) and The Law of Devil's Land (1983) - all of which, naturally, were sung in Japanese. Despite the language barrier, Loudness soon began attracting international attention thanks to the flashy guitar work of Akira Takasaki, who was dubbed "Japan's answer to Eddie Van Halen" by guitar magazines. The Law of Devil's Land was released in Europe by RoadRunner Records, which gave Loudness their first touring opportunities outside of Japan. In order to broaden their appeal with non-Japanese listeners, Loudness released two different versions of 1984's Disillusion album - one sung in their native tongue for their homeland, and one sung in English for the rest of the world. Thanks to tracks like "Crazy Doctor" and "Milky Way" and positive reviews for Disillusion in metal magazines around the globe, Loudness began showing up on the radar of the major U.S. record labels. By 1985 they were about to step up to the big leagues - for better or for worse.

"Crazy Doctor" (1984)

The American Years: Thunder!

Loudness signed a worldwide deal with Atco Records (part of the Atlantic Records empire) and released their first "international" album, Thunder in the East, in 1985. Produced by Ozzy Osbourne knob-twiddler Max Norman, Thunder received positive reviews and enjoyed a massive promotional push from the major label, who took the unusual step of shooting music videos for nearly every song on the album. The best received track was the anthemic single "Crazy Nights," with its instantly-recognizable guitar riff and nonsensical but oh-so-damn-catchy chant of "M! Z! A!" Thunder in the East peaked at #74 on the Billboard charts in the U.S. and the band increased its notoriety in the "hair metal" scene by touring America as the opening act for such heavy hitters as Motley Crue and Stryper.

"Crazy Nights" (1985)

Lightning!

1986's Lightning Strikes, produced again by Norman, provided another minor hit with "Let It Go" and more U.S. touring opportunities with bands such as Cinderella and Ratt. The album was remixed and released under the alternate title Shadows of War in their homeland, and the track "Ashes in the Sky" - a song written from the perspective of a World War II kamikaze pilot about to take off on his suicidal mission - apparently caused some controversy in Japan, where the band were accused of "glorifying" the brutality of war. Lightning Strikes scored even better than Thunder on the U.S. Billboard charts, achieving a position of #64.

"Let It Go" (1986)

Hurricane!

Pop Metal was at its commercial height in 1987 so that year's Hurricane Eyes was Loudness' obvious "shot for the top" album, with less "metal" bite and slicker, glossier production than its two predecessors. The band collaborated with former KISS producer Eddie Kramer and members of American melodic rockers Giuffria (who provided backing vocals and "English lyric assistance" according to the liner notes) on Hurricane and hoped to score a major hit single with the track "This Lonely Heart," but the album performed poorly in the U.S., only reaching #190 on Billboard. Hurricane Eyes also marked the beginning of Loudness' ill-advised habit of cannibalizing their past goods for the American audience - the track "So Lonely" was merely a re-worked version of "Ares Lament" from Disillusion. When Hurricane faded from the charts, the band's U.S. handlers decided that a change was needed.

"This Lonely Heart" (1987)

Soldier Of Fortune (1989), On The Prowl (1990)
Soldier Of Fortune (1989), On The Prowl (1990) | Source

Enter...Michael Vescera

Following the release of the Japan-only EP Jealousy, Loudness' management convinced them that Minoru Niihara's lack of English proficiency was becoming an impediment to the band's chances for worldwide success, and suggested that they'd be better off with an American singer. Thus, Niihara was ousted and Michael Vescera, formerly of Obsession, was brought in. The change in singers did little to reverse Loudness' declining fortunes in the U.S., and naturally their Japanese fanbase considered it blasphemy. The band released two albums with Vescera on vocals - 1989's Soldier of Fortune and 1991's On The Prowl - both of which consisted mainly of newly recorded, English language versions of past songs from the band's early, Japan-only releases (a move that reeked of "contractual obligation"). Neither album set the charts afire on either side of the ocean. Most Loudness fans agreed that even though Niihara may never have been a great singer in the technical sense, he brought a certain "character" to Loudness with his odd phrasings and off-kilter wailing. When the smooth-voiced Vescera was brought in, Loudness suddenly sounded like any other generic "hair band." Atco Records dropped the band in 1992, citing lack of record sales and the fact that grunge had eclipsed hard rock's popularity in the U.S. Michael Vescera moved on to front Yngwie Malmsteen's band, and the rest of Loudness returned to Japan with their tails between their legs.

"You Shook Me" (1989)

Struggling in the 1990s

As the 1990s dawned, the only original members left in Loudness were guitarist Takasaki and drummer Higuchi. Their 1992 Japan-only release Loudness featured a heavier, almost thrash-oriented sound and marked the debut of new vocalist Masaki Yamada, formerly of EZO, and bassist Taiji Sawada of X Japan. No doubt spurred by interest in the "supergroup" all-star lineup, the album went to #2 on the Japanese charts, encouraging Takasaki to continue performing under the Loudness name.

Higuchi left after the Loudness album, but Takasaki carried on throughout the 1990s with a revolving door membership. Takasaki's version of "Loudness" went on to release a string of highly experimental, sometimes bizarre albums that deviated from the band's classic metal sound. Loudness and 1994's Heavy Metal Hippies are probably the most highly regarded albums from this era, but most fans agree that their late '90s discs like Dragon, Ghetto Machine and Engine are to be avoided at all costs due to their reliance on then-trendy nu-metal and groove metal stylings.

"Black Widow" (1992)

The Soldiers Just Came Back!!

By the early 2000s, Loudness' influence was waning even in their homeland. To re-ignite interest and celebrate their 20th anniversary, the "classic" lineup of Takasaki, Higuchi, Niihara, and Yamashita reunited in 2001, releasing the Spiritual Canoe album. The reunion was intended as a one-shot deal, but fan response was so positive that the band kept going. Loudness has been an amazingly prolific band since the reunion, averaging at least one new product (a new studio album, live album, single, compilation, or concert DVD) every other year. The majority of their reunion-era output has only been released in Asia, but several discs have made their way overseas, like 2004's Racing (released in Europe by the Drakkar label), 2004's Rockshocks (released in the US by Crash Music in 2006) and Eve To Dawn (released in the U.S. by FrostByte Media in 2012). While several post-"reunion" albums like Spiritual Canoe and Biosphere were criticized for continuing with the "nu-metal" sound, more recent discs like 2008's Metal Mad show a more balanced sound which satisfies their "traditional" metalhead following while still showing some experimental flourishes. No matter what era of Loudness you listen to, however, you can always count on absolutely shredding guitar acrobatics courtesy of Akira Takasaki, whose six string skills remain untouchable even after all these years!

Sadly, drummer Munetaka Higuchi passed away in late 2008 after a battle with liver cancer at the age of 49. He was replaced by Masayuki Suzuki, formerly of Hard Gear and RDX. Suzuki made his recording debut with Loudness on one track ("I Wonder") from 2009's The Everlasting, which was the last album Higuchi worked on prior to his death and is dedicated to his memory.

Loudness (1992), Spiritual Canoe (2001), Breaking The Taboo (2006), Metal Mad (2008)
Loudness (1992), Spiritual Canoe (2001), Breaking The Taboo (2006), Metal Mad (2008) | Source

"The Sun Will Rise Again" (2014)

Still Metal Mad!!

As Loudness approaches their 40th anniversary, they are showing no signs of slowing down. Their twenty-seventh (!) studio album, Rise to Glory, is scheduled to be released worldwide in January 2018, and they still maintain a loyal cult following in the U.S. and Europe, as evidenced by their presence at numerous European and American retro-rock festivals in recent years.

In addition to their vast amount of studio albums, Loudness has also released a dizzying array of live discs, compilation albums, concert videos/DVDs, and singles. Collecting the band's complete discography would be a daunting task indeed (not to mention prohibitively expensive, considering the cost of imported CDs from Japan!!), but thankfully their best stuff is still fairly easy to find in the U.S. at an affordable price. If the only song you remember from Loudness is "Crazy Nights," you owe it to yourself to start digging and rediscover one of the metal world's best kept secrets!!

Rock N Roll Crazy Nights!

Thunder in the East
Thunder in the East

Loudness' "Thunder in the East" was their biggest album in the U.S. and features their most well known track, "Crazy Nights."

 

Loudness Select discography:

The Birthday Eve - Nippon Columbia, 1981

Devil Soldier - Nippon Columbia, 1982

The Law of Devil's Land - Nippon Columbia, 1983

Live-Loud-Alive: Loudness in Tokyo (live) - Nippon Columbia, 1983

Disillusion (Japanese Version) - Nippon Columbia, 1984

Disillusion (English version) - Music For Nations, 1984

Thunder in the East - Atco, 1985

Lightning Strikes - Atco, 1986 (released in Japan as Shadows of War)

Hurricane Eyes - Atco, 1987

Jealousy (EP) - WEA Japan, 1988

Soldier of Fortune - Atco, 1989

On the Prowl - Atco, 1991

Loudness - Warner Japan, 1992

Once and For All (live) - Warner Japan, 1993

Heavy Metal Hippies - Warner Japan, 1994

Ghetto Machine - Rooms, 1997

Dragon - Rooms, 1998

Engine - Rooms, 1999

Spiritual Canoe - Columbia Japan, 2001

Pandemonium - Columbia Japan, 2001

Biosphere - Tokuma Japan, 2002

Terror - Tokuma Japan, 2004

Rockshocks - Tokuma Japan, 2004

Racing - Tokuma Japan, 2004

Breaking the Taboo - Tokuma Japan, 2006

Metal Mad - Tokuma Japan, 2008

The Everlasting - Tokuma Japan, 2009

King of Pain - Tokuma Japan, 2010

Eve To Dawn - Tokuma Japan, 2011

2-0-1-2 - Tokuma Japan, 2012

The Sun Will Rise Again - Universal Japan, 2014

Rise to Glory - Ward Records (Japan)/EARMusic (US/Europe), 2018

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Keith Abt

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image

        NYC Dude 

        7 months ago

        Saw them at L'Amour in Brooklyn in the mid eighties. Great band

      • FatFreddysCat profile imageAUTHOR

        Keith Abt 

        3 years ago from The Garden State

        Updated

      • FatFreddysCat profile imageAUTHOR

        Keith Abt 

        4 years ago from The Garden State

        Updated!!

      • FatFreddysCat profile imageAUTHOR

        Keith Abt 

        5 years ago from The Garden State

        Thank you for the kind words, Eric!!

      • profile image

        Eric c 

        5 years ago

        AS USUAL GREAT REVIEW.. YOU HAVE DONE A WONDERFUL JOB YOU'VE COVERED EVERYTHING AND IT WAS WELL WRITTEN I LOVE IT THANK YOU SO MUCH

      • FatFreddysCat profile imageAUTHOR

        Keith Abt 

        5 years ago from The Garden State

        Very cool, Freedom!

      • FreedomMetal profile image

        FreedomMetal 

        5 years ago from Somewhere In Time

        Loudness!!!!!!! Saw them in May of this year at the M3 Festival (and in 2012 at the same festival, and on their US tour a couple years back.) They still KILL it live - amazing live band and one not to be missed. I talked to some people I didn't know at the M3 Festival and they all agreed that Loudness was one of the highlights of the festival - they had no idea how great of a live band they are. Cool side note: they flew all the way from Japan just to play the M3 Festival.

      • FatFreddysCat profile imageAUTHOR

        Keith Abt 

        5 years ago from The Garden State

        Glad you liked it Cryptid... the "Thunder in the East" album is an easy Top Ten '80s Metal album for me, it still sounds great today. Thanx for stopping by!

      • cryptid profile image

        cryptid 

        5 years ago from Earth

        Loved Loudness, and Crazy Nights is a classic metal anthem! Man, that song takes me back to better days. Cool Hub!

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, spinditty.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://spinditty.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)