Bands start up each and every day. Some last a couple years, others maybe a decade. Some bands release a few albums, gain a cult following, but eventually fizzle out. They’ll get back for a reunion tour, play through the old hits and leave it at that. No new music or output. However, one band did everything differently. They’re known as essentially the proto-Jrock group — playing metal before metal was popular in Japan. That band is known as LOUDNESS.
Few bands, from any part of the world, have enjoyed the longevity and success that LOUDNESS has. Forming back in 1981, the band has kept a steady pace of releasing albums. In nearly 30 years, the band has released twenty-three studio albums and a bevy of EPs and compilations, with the most recent album having come out in May 2010.
The band has a storied past with line-up changes, American successes and genre flipping. The band’s beginning can be traced to the late ’70s when guitarist Akira Takasaki and drummer Munetaka Higuchi began playing in the pop/rock band Lazy. In 1981 the two left the band and formed LOUDNESS and recruited singer Minoru Niihara and later bassist Masayoshi Yamashita. This would become the classic lineup of the band, and a few months after forming their first studio album, “The Birthday Eye” was released to an overwhelming positive reception. Their debut concert was a sold out event with nearly 3,000 people in attendance — not too shabby at all for a band that had formed a half year prior.
They banged out their next two albums quickly, and it’s noteworthy that an American, Dan McClenden, produced these records because there were few Japanese engineers that had immersed themselves in the metal scene. This led to a very well produced record, strikingly different than the dynamics heard in LOUDNESS’ contemporaries. As early as 1983, the band began touring the U.S. and Europe and re-released their fourth album, “Disillusion,” in 1984 in the U.S. with English vocals.
With metal and glam on the rise over in the U.S., LOUDNESS made their biggest attempt at cracking the American market, and largely succeeded when they released their fifth studio album in 1985, “Thunder in the East” on an American label distributed through Warner Bros. The album peaked at number 74 on the Billboard 200 charts and stayed on the charts for 23 weeks.
While being at number 74 might seems like it’s far away from cracking the actual Top 40, keep in mind that no Japanese band before or since LOUDNESS has come anywhere close to “Thunder in the East’s” position on the American charts. This was a period of great success for the band, as they got to tour with Motley Crue during this era, and also became the first Japanese band to ever play in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
However, their record label thought that LOUDNESS could really tap that Top 40 market and thought it would be best if a native English singer was added to the group to make the band more accessible to the American market. Niihara was dismissed from the band in 1988 and replaced by Mike Vescera, formerly of the band Obsession. This incarnation of the band continued for a few years releasing only two studio albums largely consisting of self-covers of the band’s earlier work sung by Vescera.
In 1991, metal’s power began to wane and it could be seen that LOUDNESS’ time in America was almost done. Verasace left the band and LOUDNESS returned to its native shores, and went through another line-up change. Masaki Yamada of the band EZO took over vocal duties while Taiji Sawada, formerly of X Japan, replaced Yamashita on bass. These were tough times for the band as they almost broke up in 1993, but Takasaki, the only remaining original member of the band, held it together and was able to reinvent LOUDNESS as they began incorporating different sounds such as groove metal and even hip hop influences into their records.
Then, in 2001, the unimaginable happened when the original band reformed for a special celebration tour. While initially intended to only be in support of their latest album, “Spiritual Canoe”, the band continued to continue touring and making more records together. The classic lineup of the band released six more albums together, until drummer Higuchi passed away in 2008 after a fight with liver cancer. Despite this, the band continued on. 2009 saw the release of another new record, “The Everlasting,” featuring drum tracks Higuchi recorded before his death. Masayuki Suzuki was announced as the band’s new drummer upon the album’s release and continues with the band through the present.
So where is LOUDNESS at today? The band is still going strong, playing live shows and releasing new music. Their twenty-third studio album “King of Pain” was just released in May 2010, and the band is still touring on an international scale. They conducted a small European tour and also performed at Germany’s Bang Your Head!!! festival. LOUDNESS won’t be stopping anytime soon, and their dedication to their music, each other and their fanbase makes them one of the most legendary metal bands on either side of the world.
Article by: Nick L.