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A step in the right direction - 68%

kluseba, February 13th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2001, CD, Nippon Columbia (Japan)

One might have thought that the return of Loudness' classic line-up from the eighties should have put an end to the band's at times confusing experimental era with the previous line-up throughout the mid- to late nineties. However, that isn't quite the case here. Just a look at the odd album title and the ugly cover artwork should have been strong indicators that Loudness was still all over the place in the early years of the millennium.

Spiritual Canoe is still a quite experimental record but it has more consistency than the previous four albums. This is mostly due to a tighter rhythm section as opposed to meandering performances, the return of heavier riffs as opposed to psychedelic soundscapes and especially more focused songwriting with thirteen overall short and mostly concise tracks with a running time of about sixty-four minutes.

There are still a few quite odd moments on this record such as the nerve-firing vocal effects in the repetitive ''The Hate That Fills My Lonely Cells'', the rap passages in the bouncy ''How Many More Times'' and the endless guitar solos in the weak closer ''The Power of Love''.

Most of the experimental tracks however also have a few addicting and focused moments and don't go entirely berserk. ''The Seven Deadly Sins'' has a canny demo sound with an overtly present bass guitar and noisy drum sound and doesn't seem to blend in with the rest of the album but the song itself isn't too bad with its rawer note that meets a few nice guitar tones. The experimental guitar sounds in ''A Stroke of Lightning'' are once again over the top but the main riff is memorable and the vocals stay focused on Loudness' more traditional hard rock and heavy metal style.

There are also some entirely great tracks on this album which are mostly the half-ballads. ''Touch My Heart'' has an almost danceable touch thanks to its vivid bass tone and rhythmic drum passages that meet surprisingly mellow vocals and simple and efficient guitar riffs recalling the band's glorious years one and a half decades earlier with a more playful touch. ''Never Forget You'' has an airy guitar tone and melancholic vocals recalling the band's mellower successes of the mid-eighties and should please fans of old date since it's easily the most accessible track on this record.

An honorable mention goes to the fast, heavy and stressful ''Climaxxx'' which is indeed titled very appropriately. If you feel like going crazy for about four minutes, crank up the volume and unleash this monster somewhere between groove metal and punk rock. It will kick your ass and blow your mind even if it doesn't fit with the rest of the album at all.

In the end, Spiritual Canoe isn't a return to form yet but a step in the right direction. The album finds a good balance between experimental tracks, songs with focused and meandering parts and a few hits recalling the band's original sound from the eighties. This first record after the reunion of the classic line-up can be seen as a transitional effort. It would have been better for the band to take some more time to release its first record of the new millennium and combine this album's greatest cuts with the best songs from the successor that was already released a few months later for a more consistent effort. Still, Spiritual Canoe is an average release by Loudness' standards which was a positive thing back in those days. Faithful fans can grab this release without hesitation, occasional fans should buy this record as part of the excellent Columbia Years Selection but new fans should rather start with one of Loudness' classic albums.