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Soundtrack to the real “Tokyo nights” - 86%

Nightlock, May 25th, 2008

“Point to the midnight moon, it’s still too far...!”

Since the earliest days of heavy metal bands have been using vast amounts of Japanese culture and art as a strong driving influence to deliver cutting edge music. Earliest examples I know come from N.W.O.B.H.M. bands like Tokyo Blade, Chinatown (and their “Run to Japan”), Tokyo Rose (Perhaps named after Riot’s 1977 Nippon-inspired rocker?) and the slightly “kooler” Tok-io Rose. Japan’s Navel Ensign has to be tied as the most adorned flag-shirt design along with the Union Jack in heavy metal. It seems there’s always been a human fascination with the distant foreign land of the rising sun, whether it be their spiritual history and cultural attributes from the past or the attractions to their mass-populated cities of the future. In my opinion it’s more likely a combination of the two.

Making my point I’ve always loved that “big city metal” (No I’m not trying to pass this off as a genre) atmosphere portrayed in songs about night time escapades and travel to distant lands. Loudness back from their highly successful Thunder in the East with more commercialized intentions proves with a collection of great melodic metal tracks that natives really do it (songs about big city nights) with more conviction than foreigners.

This album is very commercialized but in a neon nights, misty alleyway, looking out of a skyscraper window from the 9th floor while it rains (Is this specific enough for you?) fashion rather than your usual glam Pretty Boy Floyd styled fellatio-fest. Let It Go their MTV effort is a bit of a toothless monster, really not hitting heavy enough bordering on a glam sound, But that aside the rest of the album is pretty consistent. Black Star Oblivion and Complication sound like they were written in the Thunder in the East song writing sessions, with that same energetic almost frantic style of riffing. Ashes in the Sky (A.K.A: Shadows of War) and Street Life Dream are the album highlights though. Both complex “ballad-esque” songs with mesmerizing both lead and clean guitar (Or best yet a combination of both; see Street Life Dream chorus). Speaking of which Akira Takasaki is defiantly at the best of his game here, focusing a little less on frantic riff work in favour for more atmosphere and original chord progressions. The lead guitar however is out of this world, Less Van Halen attitude more Malmsteen straight out shredding played in a controlled mix of style and speed, Comparable to Yngwie’s 1988 Odyssey but without the synth. The other members of Loudness all play pretty career-best stuff but Akira Takasaki is really in the spotlight. Who Knows (Time To Time A Stand) also deserves a mention as possibly the most un-even song writing in history, The song features seriously the best chorus Loudness have ever written. Catchy hooks, heavy, great finger gymnastics, melodic guitar-work it’s pretty much perfect for Loudness standards. But the rest of the song is just so soft and wimpy. It’s like the song was made up from leftover un-used riffs and they just put it together anyway. Great lead and backing vocal work, Minoru’s screaming emotional, aggressive vocals are so great here, by far his standout performance on the album.

After Lightning Strikes Loudness became too much about media attention releasing fairly hit or miss albums before changing direction and moving away from the traditional metal sound they were founded on. Out of the commercial melodic metal era of Loudness (’86 – ’91) Lightning Strikes is the only album that deserved to really make it commercially, which is pretty much what they strived for.

I should also mention Shadows of War and Lightning Strikes are the same album. Apart from the rearranged track-list and one song (Ashes in the Sky) titled differently (Shadows of War). Maybe Lightning Strikes is for the American market and Shadows of War for the Japanese (As was release around a month before Lightning Strikes). Anyway Lightning Strikes has a cover art more fitting to the general feel of the album and I know the track arrangements better.