Carl Begai

Tag: Akira Takasaki

JAPANESE METAL – Life With The Beast From The East

by on Jul.13, 2014, under From There To Here...

I was recently asked to contribute to a book known as The Dig showcasing Japanese metal. I was initially approached by veteran journalist Takashi Kanazawa for an interview offering up one person’s western world view on Japanese bands, but he decided to take it up a level and asked me to compose an actual article. Published exclusively in Japan by Shinko Music, the issue came out at the end of June. The original English text is below.

Die-hard Japanese metal fans may be put off by the fact that I only mention some of the most popular / best known bands. Note that if I’d been given the space the story would have been a lot longer, and I would have paid worthy attention to many of the Japanese bands that fly below international radar a lot of the time. Fact is that Loudness, Anthem, EZO and X Japan were the building blocks for my interest in the Japanese metal scene; this is a story about that.

I am by no means an authority on Japanese metal, so take this as one fan’s tribute to that scene.

By Carl Begai

My love affair with Japanese heavy metal began as it did for the vast majority of western world metalheads: Loudness.

It was 1986, and during an episode of the weekly Power Hour on MuchMusic (Canada’s answer to MTV) the band’s video for their new song ‘Let It Go’ was aired for the first time. I was immediately enthralled. Everything about the song was magic – the guitar riff, the vocals, the melodies, the solos – and I wanted more. The next day I bought the cassette version of the Lightning Strikes album from Sam The Record Man in downtown Toronto and, during the drive home, I was introduced to a band that captivates me to this day.

loudness

Hell, it was because of ‘Let It Go’ that I decided I wanted to learn how to play guitar. After over 25 years of practice I can almost play the whole song. Almost.

It was the purchase of Loudness’ Disillusion album several weeks later, however, that made me a Japanese metal addict for life. I found the vinyl LP at the Record Peddler import store, unaware the band’s label Music For Nations had pressed Japanese and English language versions of the record. I didn’t realize until I put it on at home that I’d picked up the Japanese version. It was the strangest and most amazing thing I’d ever heard. As a Canadian I come from one of the most culturally enriched countries in the world, yet the exposure I’d had to Japanese at that point in my life never prepared me for the metal blasting out of my stereo. Everything about it was unique to my ears, and so damn heavy. Even the ballad. I was amazed, and I must have played it 100 times in the first month.

From the moment I dropped the needle on the record I was hooked, and the hunt began… (continue reading…)

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XYZ-A – Living Loud (Who Needs Sleep?)

by on Jul.29, 2013, under The Interviews

By Carl Begai

Niihara1“Back in 1999, I thought I didn’t have any demand as a singer and I seriously considered retiring. It was the guys from XYZ-A who saved me. If it wasn’t for XYZ-A, the current lineup of Loudness would not exist.”

It’s an unexpected admission from vocalist Minoru Niihara, who is best known as the vocalist for the legendary Loudness the world over, but perhaps not that surprising looking back on his career. As the voice of the very first Japanese metal band to make a serious international impact in the early ’80s, Niihara was living the dream, only to have it snuffed out when he was invited to leave the band in 1988 in the interest of cornering the Western market with an American singer (Obsession’s Michael Vescera). Stints as a solo artist (1989) and with Ded Chaplin and SLY through the ’90s followed and were only moderately sucessful. It wasn’t until he hooked up with XYZ-A for their 1999 debut, Asian Typhoon, that things took a turn for the better. The album was a smoker, putting Niihara back on the map and rejuvenating his career. Two years later he reunited with the original Loudness line-up, reclaiming his original post which he owns to this day. Rather than sacrifice one band for the other, however, Niihara has been going strong with both Loudness and XYZ-A ever since.

Unlike Loudness, XYZ-A has never achieved the same level of success, but Niihara is far from discouraged. Settling in to discuss the band’s new record, Seventh Heaven, he knows XYZ-A has hit the sweet spot with their fans following its oddly named but highly praised predecessor, Learn From Yesterday! Live For Today! Hope For Tomorrow!. A pleasant surprise, particularly since the two albums prior to it (IV and Wings) were rather dull and uninspired in comparison.

“When YTT was released, it was recognized by our fans as the best album of our career,” says Niihara. “Every process including songwriting, arrangement, performing, recording worked successfully. I strongly feel that we as a band have gotten so much experience throughout years and it finally paid off.” (continue reading…)

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LOUDNESS Featuring Minoru Niihara And Michael Vescera – “And The Band Played On…”

by on Mar.01, 2013, under On The Inside

By Carl Begai

Vescera 1Word began circulating recently that Obsession / ex-Loudness vocalist Michael Vescera – who fronted the band in the late ’80s for two studio albums – will be performing with Loudness as a guest vocalist on April 14th at the Live N’ Louder Festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I caught up with Vescera to discuss the planned show, which is going to be a one-off performance with him up front.

“I’m actually singing the whole set with Loudness,” says Vescera. “I was contacted by the US representation a few weeks ago, they asked if I would be interested in doing this festival with Loudness. We all felt that this would be awesome to make happen, so it’s all been put together. It will be great to play with the guys again, I’m sure it’ll be killer. As far as set list, we’re not sure as of yet. We’re discussing this and should know soon.”

As for original Loudness vocalist Minoru Niihara and his status in Loudness, “he’s still in the band and still the vocalist for Loudness,” says Vescera. “I haven’t heard anything to the contrary.”

A day later I spoke with Niihara about the Loudness situation and he filled in the blanks:

“First of all, I am still Loudness’ vocalist and actually I am working on the new album now,” says Niihara. “When Loudness was offered the South America rock festival show a few weeks ago, my side project X.Y.Z.→A’s Japan tour had been booked already on the same week and the same day, so I won’t be able to go to South America. MinoruAkira2_2Akira (Takasaki/guitars) wanted to play in South America so badly and he asked me, ‘You can’t go there because of your schedule; can we have a special guest for that show?’ and I said ‘It is just my schedule-wise thing happening and I’m sorry about that, so please don’t hesitate having a someone for the show, I understand it.’ However, I didn’t know until you told me now that Mike would sing for me, though (laughs).”

“Who can sing for me but Mike?” Niihara adds. “I think he’s the right choice in such a situation. I believe Loudness and Mike will kick some ass in South America show. I’d love to go to sing in South America some day, in the near future.”

Up to this point Vescera has been busy with Animetal USA and enjoying the success of Obsession’s new album, Order Of Chaos, which has struck a chord the world over much the same way the band’s early albums did.

“On the Obsession front, we have a few shows booked for late April,” he reveals. “Still speaking with promoters for Europe, Japan, and the rest of the world. Hopefully some things will surface soon with that. We just finished re-mixing Carnival Of Lies for the re-release with Inner Wound; it sounds awesome and we’re real excited to have a proper release with this. The back catalogue is almost finished as well. Everything has been re-mastered, there will some cool unreleased stuff, never released photos and some video clips.” (continue reading…)

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MICHAEL VESCERA – … And Maybe A Little More LOUDNESS

by on Dec.26, 2011, under On The Inside

By Carl Begai

I recently caught up with Obsession vocalist Michael Vescera to discuss his latest career move as the frontman of the Japanese anime-inspired band, Animetal USA. We quite naturally touched on his stint with Loudness from ’89 – ’91, when guitarist Akira Takasaki fired original singer Minoru Niihara in the interest of gaining attention on the North American market. The change didn’t go over well with the majority of Loudness fans, and it was dubbed a failed experiment by some, but Vescera is still regarded as an important part of the band’s history. That said, when Loudness toured the US in May / June 2011 – with Niihara up front – the internet was abuzz with claims that Vescera would join the band on stage when they hit Nashville. The May 23rd gig came and went, but there was no follow-up on YouTube or anywhere else to suggest the highly anticipated reunion ever took place or had even been planned. Until now…

“That was absolutely true,” Vescera confirms. “We’ve been talking quite a bit, actually, me and the Loudness guys. I see their manager George (Azuma) quite often; when he’s in Nashville we hang out. When Munetaka (Higuchi/drums) died in 2008 (following an eight month battle with liver cancer) I issued a statement and Akira contacted me. We’ve been talking back and forth for a few years, and Akira’s mentioned a couple times that he’d like to do something again. So, when they were touring the States this summer they called me from San Francisco and mentioned they were coming to Nashville; would I come out and perform a couple songs with them? I told them I’d love to. I even talked to Minoru, who was totally into the idea. But, the night before the show we had tornados come through and they did so much fucking damage. I think the guys were in Chicago, and they couldn’t risk the possibility of driving through that, so they had to cancel the show.”

“The gig was at the Mercy Lounge, and everyone was going to come out to see them. The guys from Cinderella, Slaughter… basically anyone who was in a metal band in Nashville was going to come out. It was so sad that they had to smoke it. So yeah, it was definitely a true story.” (continue reading…)

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LOUDNESS – King Of Pain

by on Jun.08, 2010, under Reviews

It seems that not even death is capable of slowing Loudness down. King Of Pain marks the band’s second album since the passing of original drummer Munetaka Higuchi in November 2008 – a victim of liver cancer – their first with new man Masayuki “Ampan” Suzuki behind the kit. It’s a fitting tribute to Higuchi’s characteristic push (according to frontman Minoru Niihara) to make things louder and heavier with every new record. Having regained their footing since previous outing The Everlasting – a cold album overall featuring songs pieced together using archive Higuchi recordings – Loudness unleash a surprising ‘80s flavoured rip and tear on King Of Pain. It’s not the step back into the realms of nostalgia so many fans are clamouring for but it definitely pays tribute to the past here and there, making it the band’s strongest album since the 2001 reunion record, Spiritual Canoe. Lead-off track ‘The King Of Pain, ‘Power Of Death’ and ‘Rule The World’ feature classic ‘80s Akira Takasaki riffs and tones alongside Niihara’s much improved and grittier vocals, the first song swiping a page from the band’s Shadows Of War / Lightning Strikes era, the others a tip of the hat to Loudness staples ‘Crazy Doctor’ and ‘Esper’. (continue reading…)

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GEORGE LYNCH – Soul Food (Part 1)

by on Nov.03, 2009, under The Interviews

Lynch 1By Carl Begai

George Lynch will always be known first and foremost as the guitarist for Dokken.

A simple point of fact, taking nothing away from his ongoing work with Lynch Mob, a catalogue of solo albums, and his latest project Souls Of We. Nor is it a shot at the guitarists that have taken Lynch’s place in Dokken’s ranks since his final departure in 1997. Rather than whine about how his post-Dokken work may not receive the recognition it deserves, however, Lynch continues to move forward at a steady pace without disrespecting the fans and the band that gave him a name. The new Lynch Mob record, Smoke And Mirrors, picks up where he and vocalist Oni Logan left off 17 years ago, while Souls Of We explores the more off-the-cuff hippie side of Lynch’s songwriting, and within it all there are hints of the the old shredhead George coming full circle.

“Well, maybe not a circle; I would say the trajectory would be more in line with an obtuse triangle or a dodecahedron (laughs). So many things affect that the way your creativity evolves, or devolves. That’s the reason I love doing this. It’s really an adventure and every time I sit down to write or form a band I’m not sure what’s going to happen. To just try and recreate a past event or state of mind is an exercise in re-animation. I have no interest in bringing back the dead unless I’m getting paid a butt-load of cash to do so.”
(continue reading…)

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