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Loudness (ラウドネス, Raudonesu) is a Japanese metal band formed in 1981 by guitarist Akira Takasaki and drummer Munetaka Higuchi. They were the first Japanese heavy metal act signed to a major label in the United States, releasing twenty-six studio albums (five in America) and nine live albums by 2014 and reaching the Billboard Top 100 in their moment of maximum international popularity, as well as charting on Oricon dozens of times. Despite numerous changes in their roster, the band continued their activities throughout the 1990s, finally reuniting the original line-up in 2001. On November 30, 2008 original drummer Munetaka Higuchi died from liver cancer at a hospital in Osaka at age 49. He was replaced with Masayuki Suzuki.
1980-1984: From Lazy to Loudness:
The band was started by guitarist Akira Takasaki, bassist Hiroyuki Tanaka and drummer Munetaka Higuchi, coming off the split-up of the rock band Lazy in February 1980. The three musicians, Takasaki in particular, were unsatisfied with the musical direction of their previous band and wanted to test their abilities in new areas. The rising movement of new Japanese heavy metal acts (Bow Wow, Anthem, etc.) fit the aspirations and musical tendencies of the young musicians. Nevertheless, bassist Tanaka soon renounced to be part of the new metal group, searching success in the anime soundtrack business with the band Neverland. Takasaki recruited his childhood friend Masayoshi Yamashita as bass player and, after a few auditions, the band found a singer in former Earthshaker member Minoru Niihara.
With this line-up, Loudness signed for the major label Nippon Columbia and recorded their Japanese-language debut album, The Birthday Eve. Despite the reduced presence of the heavy metal genre in the Japanese media at the time and the lack of a single to launch the album, The Birthday Eve and the concerts to support it were quite successful. The flashy shred guitar work of Takasaki and the solid musicianship of the other band members became soon a trademark of their performances in studio and on stage. The band, excited by the good sales response in Japan, produced four studio albums in rapid succession, while guitarist Takasaki found the time to start his solo career, releasing the album Tusk of Jaguar, which the other group members played in.
In 1983, after recording their third album The Law of Devil's Land, they embarked on their first United States tour, followed by a tour in Europe. They moved to Europe to record their fourth album Disillusion, performing several concerts there, as documented in their second video Eurobounds. As an attempt to break in the international scene, the band re-recorded the vocal tracks of the album Disillusion in English language, releasing their first album outside of Japan in 1984.
1985-1991: American years:
Finally in 1985, through the management of Twisted Sister co-manager Joe Gerber, they signed an international record deal with Atco Records. Such an achievement was the first in Japanese music history for a heavy metal band. Their fifth album, the Max Norman produced Thunder in the East, was recorded in the USA and was very successful. It was their first American release and it peaked at No. 74 in the Billboard album chart, relying much on the strength of the single "Crazy Nights".
Their sixth album, Lightning Strikes, was once again produced by Max Norman and charted at No. 64, receiving very good reviews and making Loudness a worldwide attraction. The album was released in Japan in a different version, under the name Shadows of War. Their success in the United States had pushed the group to write more commercial pop-metal tunes, like the single "Let It Go", which was quite different from what they had done in all their previous albums. Following this new and apparently chart-rewarding direction, the band lost some of their supportive Japanese fan base, which did not accept the homologation to the US glam metal sound.
Following the Jealousy EP in 1988, singer Niihara was fired from the band, after producer Max Norman's suggestion that an English speaking vocalist could help the band break through in the American market. The chosen American vocalist was former Obsession frontman Mike Vescera.Minoru Niihara continued his singing career in Japan as frontman of the metal bands Ded Chaplin, Sly and X.Y.Z.→A, besides releasing a solo album. The new Loudness' line-up recorded two studio albums, Soldier of Fortune in 1989 and On the Prowl in 1991. The latter included only three new songs among remakes of older material translated and sung by Vescera. Despite extensive tours and strong support from their label, the new albums did not improve the band's status in America and, on the contrary, reduced further the Japanese fanbase of Loudness. After the release of the single "Slap in the Face", Vescera left Loudness during their 1991 American tour, to join Yngwie J. Malmsteen's band. He was replaced by former Ezo vocalist Masaki Yamada to finish the tour. The change of personnel did not influence the success of the band, because the sudden predilection of the American audience for the gritty and aggressive sound of grunge and alternative rock bands at the beginning of the 90s, had already de facto put an end to the American adventure of Loudness, as well as to the careers of many other bands from the glam and heavy metal scene.
1992-1999: Back to the start:
Soon after their return to Japan, Masayoshi Yamashita also left the band and was replaced by former X bassist, Taiji Sawada. This line-up produced the self-titled album Loudness in 1992, charting in Japan at No. 2 becoming their highest charting album in Japan and the 1993 live album Once and for All. The sound and the music presented in these works is heavier and more aggressive than in the albums produced in America and marks the beginning of a new phase in the career of Akira Takasaki, main composer of the band.
In 1993, the band was again on the verge of falling apart, with the departure of both Higuchi, who went to play in Niihara's Sly, and Sawada, who founded D.T.R. Akira Takasaki remained the only founding member, with a band to reinvent. In this period he traveled to India and converted to Buddhism, somehow finding the right motivations to not disband Loudness. He convinced Yamada to stay as singer and, with his help, recruited former Ezo drummer Hirotsugu Homma to the band. The trio produced in 1994 Heavy Metal Hippies, a transitional studio album, where Takasaki tried to mix the old Loudness' sound with grunge and world music influences. To bring the band on tour, Takasaki completed the roster with Naoto Shibata, bassist and leader of the then disbanded Japanese heavy metal band Anthem. This new incarnation of Loudness released three other studio albums (Ghetto Machine, Dragon and Engine) and one live album (Loud 'n' Raw) between 1994 and 1999. The sound of these releases is quite different from the band's earlier works, with Takasaki's compositions veering strongly towards groove metal with heavy psychedelic and ethnic influences. Homma's double bass drum beat is another important difference from earlier Loudness' sound. The band toured regularly in Asia and went to Europe, where they participated to the 1999 edition of the Dynamo Open Air Festival.
In 2000, Yamada manifested his wish to quit Loudness and suggested a reunion with the original line-up to celebrate the band's 20th Anniversary. Takasaki agreed with him and dismissed Homma and Shibata, asking at the same time Higuchi, Niihara and Yamashita to rejoin the band for the event. The original members of the band reunited in 2001, releasing the album Spiritual Canoe and doing a celebratory tour. Although intended to be a one-time event, the popularity of the band's reunion in their native Japan was overwhelming and the band decided to continue recording and live activities. At least one studio album and one DVD release have followed every year since the 2001 reunion, in addition to one-off recordings, like 2005's theme song for famed K-1 fighter Musashi ("The Battleship Musashi").
In the new Loudness' studio albums, the band tries again the fusion of different musical influences with the melodic metal sound of the band from the 80s, adopting very different styles of composition. The result is often a rather inhomogeneous collection of songs, going from classic heavy metal sound to speed metal, thrash metal and grunge, with ethnic and even hip hop influences. The band's popularity remains very high in Japan, where they continued touring every year. Loudness even tried a new approach to the international market, with the reissue of the albums RockShocks and Racing in English language and an international tour that brought the band back to the USA, as documented in the DVD Loudness in America '06.
In April 2008, just two months after releasing the album Metal Mad, Loudness went on hiatus when drummer Munetaka Higuchi was diagnosed with liver cancer. They played with Mötley Crüe in October 2008 at the Greater Tokyo Area's Saitama Super Arena, with session drummer Kozo Suganuma (Fragile, Ded Chaplin) filling in for Higuchi. On November 30, 2008 Munetaka died from his illness at a hospital in Osaka at age 49. In December 2008, the band issued the following statement on their website about the death of original drummer Munetaka Higuchi:
"Munetaka Higuchi passed away from liver cancer at a hospital in Osaka city in the morning of 30 November 2008. With permission from his family, we are officially announcing his passing. We realize this announcement came late and we apologize for that. With his and his family's request, a wake and funeral will be held privately. For the press and the fans, we will make sure that you have an opportunity to say your goodbyes to him at later time. For the last eight months since he was diagnosed with liver cancer, he had been in and out of the hospital several times for the treatment. For the entire time, he was very positive and bravely fighting this disease. He had this strong desire to come back to the stage to play for the fans again. His death came very suddenly and was a very immature one. He lived his life to the fullest as a rock drummer who always gave us hopes and dreams. His heart and soul for music will be succeeded for a long time to come. Munetaka, we are grateful for all your hard work and the great 49 years you lived with us here in this world. We would like to express our appreciation for all your condolences sent here for him."
2009-present: New drummer:
The band confirmed through Takasaki that, despite the recent loss of drummer Munetaka Higuchi, they would be recording a new studio album titled The Everlasting, which was released in May 2009. The new material was based on drum tracks recorded by Higuchi before his death. Upon the album's release, they introduced their new drummer in Masayuki Suzuki. The band went on tour in 2009, presenting only material from their first four albums and announced their following album titled King of Pain, which was released in May 2010. Also in 2010, Loudness featured at the Bang Your Head!!! festival in Germany and did a brief European tour. Loudness returned to America for their 30th Anniversary tour in May and June 2011.
In 2010 they recorded "The Eternal Soldiers" to be the theme song for Mazinkaiser SKL, which was released as a single later that year.
In an interview with Guitar World and posted on YouTube on July 11, 2011, Akira Takasaki commented on King of Pain's lack of solos and speed. He said that the reason for this was the band's desire to introduce Masayuki Suzuki, their new drummer. Takasaki also stated that the next album's playing would be "much more speedy, much more aggressive" than King of Pain.
Loudness' released Eve to Dawn on September 14, 2011. Another album, 2012, followed on August 22, 2012.
The band released their 26th studio album titled The Sun Will Rise Again on June 4, 2014. Loudness played a song from the album called "Immortality" on the 2014 Monsters of Rock cruise.
Akira Takasaki - guitar, backing vocals (1981-present),
Masayoshi Yamashita - bass, backing vocals (1981-1991, 2000-present),
Minoru Niihara - lead vocals (1981-1988, 2000-present),
Masayuki Suzuki - drums (2009-present),
Mike Vescera - lead vocals (1989-1991),
Masaki Yamada - lead vocals (1991-2000),
Taiji Sawada - bass, backing vocals (1992-1993),
Hirotsugu Homma - drums (1994-2000),
Naoto Shibata - bass, backing vocals (1994-2000),
Munetaka Higuchi - drums (1981-1993, 2000-2008)