In 1984, riding off the high of their recent albums Disillusion and The Law of Devil’s Land with subsequent successful tours in Europe and America, it was with good reason that Loudness thought they had a shot at a breakthrough in the States. Under the management of Joe Gerber, Loudness’ dream was set in motion when the band landed a deal with Atco records after which the quattro began work on their fifth full-length record and in January 1985, Loudness unleashed Thunder in the East, an album that quite simply revolutionized Japanese heavy metal.
Loudness were already well known on their home soil, with Takasaki and Higuchi famous even earlier when they were in the band Lazy, but nothing Loudness or any other Japanese band had made previously were quite as much of a game changer for Japanese metal as the success that Thunder in the East was. To put it in the perspective of the bands around Loudness back in Japan, all of a sudden here was this band from their own country cracking the American charts, getting their music played on MTV and performing alongside big names like Mötley Crüe and Stryper at venues such as Madison Square Garden (sorry X Japan, they were first), and better yet, they were experiencing this success without a forced change of musical style, Loudness were still pure, proud heavy metal, so why couldn’t these other bands try it too? Of course nobody from there ever “made it” out west to the extent Loudness did, but for a portion of the 80s metal was a big deal in Japan, and it was in large part due to Loudness’ effort right here on this album.
Thunder in the East springs into action with perhaps the band’s most famous song in America, “Crazy Nights”, an infectiously catchy, thumping rocker with that will have you shouting along with the band “M-Z-A! M-Z-A!“, and gives you an ear-full of what Loudness were all about, chock full of ridiculous little riffs, licks, and solos, you name it, courtesy of Akira Takasaki. “Crazy Nights” is followed immediately by what are to me two of the very finest songs Loudness ever penned, “Like Hell” and “Heavy Chains”, both very different tracks. “Like Hell” is a highly energetic metal track with a superb introductory riff setting the tone for the whole song, which is a rather fast-paced one, and is about as 80s as heavy metal can possibly get, without being cheesy. It also features riffing reminiscent of the main riff of “Crazy Doctor” from Disillusion, which I thought to be a cool touch. “Heavy Chains” is brilliant in its own right, starting as a slow semi-ballad, then exploding into a galloping, pounding heavy metal riff, with vocals as passionate as Minoru Niihara could possibly sing, and the song continues gradually picking up more and more, leading into an absolutely incredible guitar solo before winding to a close.
Also featured on Thunder in the East is a diverse selection of other songs, all of which are excellent, “The Lines are Down”, “Clockwork Toy”, “No Way Out” and “Get Away” are more signature Loudness tracks, with the expected mind blowing guitar of Takasaki and some excellent bass from Masayoshi Yamashita, especially his work on “The Lines are Down”. “Run For Your Life” is a very slow and very heavy song which has a really odd but good and somewhat funky opening riff and a pleasant chorus. Even the songs that aren’t necessarily as well liked by many people as others on the album are very far from being bad, “We Could Be Together” I find to be ultra catchy and the solo section of the song is superb, due to the combined work of both Takasaki and Higuchi, and then “Never Change Your Mind” being one of the band’s very rare ballads is probably the best one they ever attempted, despite it perhaps not being the greatest choice as album closer.
For a Japanese import band looking to make a statement overseas, they could have picked no better artwork to do so, the cover is very eye catching with the red and white of the Rising Sun flag in the background and Loudness’ logo front and center with Thunder in the East spelled out in big bold metal studded letters. I also think the band’s attempt at English is very respectable too, despite funny little instances where Niihara would blurt out goofy lines such as the many found in “Get Away”, gems like “Without switchblades you could die!” or “Without leather you could die!”. It’s really all just part of Loudness’ charm though, as they’re all superbly talented men outside minor linguistic difficulties.
Minoru Niihara has always been to me the weakest link in Loudness, but when he truly got going as he was on this album, he was a perfectly fine vocalist, and his sheer energy was vital to Loudness’ sound during this era (they would regret losing him in the late 80s big time). Masayoshi Yamashita does a great job on bass, he doesn’t do anything super fancy, but is very steady and reliable, and most importantly audible, not hidden in the back as many bassists tend to be. If you want an album to best demonstrate the abilities of guitarist Akira Takasaki though, this album is a great choice as it features many of his most iconic riffs and complex solos, and he’s supported beautifully at all key moments by the drumming of the late great Munetaka Higuchi.
It goes without saying that this is pretty easily the most internationally famous heavy metal album to ever come from a Japanese band, and very deservingly so, Loudness showed they were more than ready to take a stab at the North American metal scene at this point in their careers and Thunder in the East was an incredibly respectable effort in doing so, aging gracefully in the many years since its release. If I were asked to name the one album that best embodies Japanese metal as a whole, this is it, without question. Very highly recommended to all fans of traditional heavy metal.
Favorite Track: The Lines are Down