Friday 28 January 2022

Loudness - Sunburst (2021)

Country: Japan
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 29 Dec 2021
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I started out my traditional January look back at the albums I'd missed in the previous year with a double album of heavy metal with a demon samurai on the cover and an eight letter S word for its title that was released by a long established band. As unlikely it might seem, I'm wrapping up my 2021 catch up with a double album of heavy metal with a demon samurai on the cover and an eight letter S word for its title that was released by a long established band. The first one was Senjutsu by Iron Maiden, who were formed in 1975 with their debut album released in 1980. This is Sunburst by Loudness, formed in 1981 with their debut album released that same year.

Amazingly, this is also their 31st studio album, if I'm counting correctly, and three quarters of the band are founding members, though two of them have left and returned over the years, just like key members of Iron Maiden. They've all been in place since 2001, though, except for the new fish drummer, Masayuki Suzuki, who joined in 2009, after the death of Munetaka Higuchi, the original drummer. Guitarist Akira Takasaki has been the single constant all the way through, meaning that he's now been with the band for over forty years and he's still doing good work.

I have to say that, while putting out a double album of new music at this point in their career does suggest that they're simply bursting with ideas, this one took quite a while to grab me. The intro is there but there's not much more to say about it or about OEOEO, the opening track proper. It isn't a bad song and there are good hooks and riffs and changes in it, but it's hardly the most engaging track on this album to kick it off. It's when we get to tracks entirely in Japanese that they begin to remind us why they're such a legend of Japanese metal.

What's interesting is that these are varied songs. 大和魂, which translates to Yamato Soul, is the epitome of Loudness's traditional heavy metal approach, with solid riffs over which a lively guitar dives in to liven things up. It also features a strong lead vocal from Minoru Niihara. 仮想現実, or Virtual Reality, is a slower, grungier song, but a neatly heavy one nonetheless. It's almost an '80s vocal over '90s instrumentation, but there's no clash between the styles and the vocals do update at points. It's a really interesting pairing.

And then things get seriously good. Crazy World is a peach of a Loudness song, the first standout on this album. It gets right down to business and stays there throughout. Stand or Fall has a real character to it, even it borrows rather obviously from Paint It Black for its intro and refrain. As if they wanted to look backwards and forwards at the same time, the vocals shift almost to harsh by the end, linking the '60s with the '00s. The Sanzu River is slower and softer, though it heavies up in a Black Sabbath way towards the end. And disc one wraps with 日本の心, or Japanese Heart, yet another impressive no nonsense heavy metal onslaught, like Crazy World, albeit not as catchy.

Frankly, it could have stopped there and it would have been a good album, forty minutes of heavy and solid metal, let down only by a lacklustre opening. But there's a second disc still to come, with another three quarters of an hour and it kicks off wonderfully with a set of more hard rock based songs that look back to the band's early years. 輝ける80’s, or Shining '80s, is just as eighties as it might seem from that name; 天国の扉, or Door of Heaven, has a Van Halen vibe to it; and there is more than a little Gary Moore in the excellent ballad All Will Be Fine with You.

What's telling is that the songs here are varied too, but the styles feel more consistent, even if it all heavies up again halfway through the second side with the superb Fire in the Sky. At this point, we're thirteen songs in and it seems like the album just keeps on getting better. Hunger for More certainly has one of the snappiest riffs anywhere here and The Nakigari adds a bit of psychedelic doom into proceedings for what might be the most interesting song on the album. I wouldn't call it the most immediate by a long shot, but it's arguably the best of the sixteen songs on offer, if we pay attention and let it grow.

It's great to see that the legends of Japanese metal that I discovered in the mid eighties are still around. Bow Wow (Vow Wow when I discovered them) have been around the longest, but they are apparently not putting out new material; their most recent album was in 2005. I missed the album that Earthshaker put out in 2018, but I should check that out. And here are Loudness, the newest of the three, but the busiest, it would seem. And it's even better to see a band on their 31st studio album do such a great job across what's almost an hour and a half of music. Even with that shaky start, this is easily an 8/10.

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