If you were there in the mid-eighties, you couldn't help but root for LOUDNESS. To an American heavy metal audience of the day, LOUDNESS, EZO, ANTHEM and EARTHSHAKER were a novelty. In Japan, however, these bands and a slew of others formed an entire movement centered around the "Kansai" and "Kanto" hard rock scenes. By the time LOUDNESS infiltrated Western shores, the band was already on its fifth album, "Thunder in the East", one of the decade's more enjoyable recordings. Shouts of "MZA! " became nearly as fun as TWISTED SISTER's "SMF".
Then "Hurricane Eyes" happened. "This Lonely Heart" became a fleeting attraction on "Headbangers Ball", marking a downward spiral in the band's favor. LOUDNESS has nevertheless soldiered on with three-fourths of the original lineup reinstated (drummer Munetaka Higuchi passed away from liver cancer in 2008). Now, the band releases its first album in four years and 28th (!) overall, "Rise to Glory".
Guitar wizard Akira Takasaki has fielded every position in LOUDNESS, save for drums, and he diligently kept his machine rolling until longtime comrades Minoru Niihara and Masayoshi Yamashita returned in 2000. Current drummer Masayuki Suzuki has been here since 2009 and his hard hitting helps "Rise to Glory"'s cause, since there's a lot to overcome.
The globby keyboards on the opening instrumental "8118" are goofy and not much of a set-up to the pedestrian "Soul on Fire". With no intended disrespect, LOUDNESS sounds wrung out on this number as it clings to the hope that a melodic retro rocker is the way to go. It's heavier than the group's late eighties output, but not by much. A good bass line from Masayoshi Yamashita and Akira Takasaki's scruffy guitar solo provides the song's steam, but it's hardly the heat-seeker it wants to be. Akira, who's engineered a gazillion solos at this point, still gives any guitar savant all he can handle. The band does get it together with energetic thrash bursts on the insistent and entertaining "I'm Still Alive", "Massive Tornado" and the title track.
The ACCEPT-driven "Go for Broke" hums well, but Minoru Niihara is hit and miss here—and throughout the album, sorry to say—and it becomes a distraction. "Until I See the Light" opens with a gorgeous acoustic intro, but it lumbers almost drunkenly from that point, never really catching fire despite its best intentions to rise to power prog. A good riff and a ZEPPELIN slide on the choruses still can't save the barrenness of the "The Voice".
The prog-chopped instrumental "Kama Sutra", one of the album's brighter spots, and the title track carry LOUDNESS's expected combustion, this tells the tale of "Rise to Glory". The album finishes stronger than it begins despite the doom-driven "Rain" slogging past six minutes. It wraps with "Let's All Rock" as a would-be SCORPIONS thumper, hijacking "The Zoo" with zero shame.
This band has been admired for such a long time that it's painful to hear it struggle between two identities: the fast and flashy LOUDNESS, which still has muscle, and the pop-minded LOUDNESS, which works incrementally at best. "Why and For Whom", a hearty power metal ripper, posits a peculiar question, since LOUDNESS still fields a respectable sales presence in Japan. They have to seethe in wonderment how BABYMETAL managed to breach that fine line between aggression and pop which has tormented LOUDNESS for its entire career.