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Tattooed women - part one: sonic psychedelics - 73%

kluseba, June 24th, 2016
Written based on this version: 1997, CD, Rooms Records

In the middle of the nineties, Loudness was on the verge of falling apart and had drifted into obscurity. Aside from founding member and guitarist Akira Takasaki, this record features singer Masaki Yamada who had joined the band five years earlier after the failed experiment with Mike Vescera, drummer Hirotsugu Homma who had joined the band for the controversially discussed previous transitional record ''Heavy Metal Hippies'' that had mixed psychedelic world music elements with a sinister grunge sound and new bassist Naoto Shibata. All band members were experienced veterans of a declining Japanese heavy metal scene and tried desperately to unite forces and reinvent themselves on this album. This type of midlife crisis even affected band leader Akira Takasaki who had traveled to India and converted to Buddhism to find new motivations for not simply disbanding his band. While it was obvious that this band wouldn't stay together for a long period of time and that this record wouldn't put them immediately back on the map in a time where younger generations mostly just cared for the Visual Kei movement, groove metal or alternative rock after the decline of the grunge spirit, one should be grateful that Loudness didn't call it quits back in those days since the band has nowadays rekindled the passionate heavy metal spirit that made it so appealing. Aside from this historic context, one must though admit that the band's three records with this line-up in the late nineties are among the hardest to digest in Loudness' extensive career with a whopping twenty-eight studio records so far. Most people will dislike this album here but, a minority like me might appreciate it for what it is and a few selected exceptions could really dig this output.

It might not be a coincidence that all those three controversial records of the late nineties feature cover artworks with barely dressed or undressed women with eye-catching tattoos hence the title of my review. I'm usually not a supporter of doodles scrapping sensitive skins but the three cover artworks and models portrayed on them are at least tolerable. This also represents my view on these records. They weren't a truly convincing idea in the first place but aren't horrid either and actually quite listenable at times.

What we get on ''Ghetto Machine'' is a mixture of sluggish alternative rock with a few psychedelic elements recalling the grunge spirit of the early nineties. The listener is also confronted with angrier vocals and some chugging riffs here and there that are clearly inspired by groove metal. What you get here might not be as emotionally intense as Nirvana but it isn't stupidly aggressive music in the key of Pantera for bullies and rednecks either. This record is somewhere in between and while Loudness' identity crisis is quite obvious on this output, I prefer the band's positive attitude to initiate some actual changes over other veteran bands that either disbanded or continued releasing the same type of music over and over again. This record has at least a rather clear guiding line in form of mid-paced alternative metal tracks with a modern touch and a few psychedelic experiments.

While the guitar play is often less enthusiastic than usual, the bass guitar sometimes takes the lead and adds some charisma to the song writing. ''San Francisco'' is dominated by a somewhat repetitive but powerful bass line combined with some simple riffs that almost recall punk music. If the song was a little bit faster and if the chorus wasn't so repetitive, this would actually be a great song that could also come from Rage Against The Machine. Despite its flaws, this song is somewhat catchy and has an addicting groovy vibe. ''Love and Hate'' even opens with a bass line supported by psychedelic guitar effects and slow spoken-word vocals before this cool tune varies between speedier and slower parts. With a different vocalist, this song could easily come from Jane's Addiction or Red Hot Chili Peppers which aren't bad references in my book. The experimental ''Hypnotized'' with its extremely diversified guitar work somewhere between punk-driven riffs, psychedelic soundscapes and endlessly ecstatic solo passages is in the same vein and offers a lot to discover. This is probably my favorite tune on the album. On the other side, the equally experimental ''Jasmine Sky'' is a little bit too plodding and smooth in my book and hard to sit through if you're sober but it's questionable if the band members were actually in a normal state of mind when they recorded this unusually numbing tune that has a certain charm despite its flaws.

While a first contact with this release might confuse or even repulse fans of Loudness' earlier and later works, the underestimated ''Ghetto Machine'' is a true grower that picks some interesting bits and pieces from then-popular rock genres, puts them into a blender and manages to pull of a rather coherent record that is occasionally enjoyable to listen to if one accepts the diversified influences. If you like a weird Japanese take on a sound somewhere between Nirvana, Pantera and Rage Against the Machine, you will adore this record. It's definitely a rare gem and surprising addition to an extended collection of alternative rock and metal releases of the nineties. Those who are expecting a heavy metal release or something that sticks to a more traditional type of song writing should ignore this record.

In the end, the lyrics of my favorite song on this album called ''Hypnotized'' summarize this output rather well: ''Endless end and nameless friends, I feel so strange and blue, Colours changing everywhere, Can't you feel that you are dreaming? And I'm hypnotized, I'm so confused, I'm wasting your time.'' But sometimes one needs to lose its way to come back stronger than ever and that's why ''Ghetto Machine'' is both an interesting and important record.