Lightning Strikes

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The 1985 album Thunder in the East may have introduced Japanese metalheads Loudness to America, but Lightning Strikes was the album that introduced America to Loudness. Their first album conceived specifically for the U.S. market, Lightning Strikes was overseen by veteran metal producer Max Norman (Ozzy Osbourne, Megadeth), who helped the band incorporate more commercial elements into their classic metal sound for the first time. In fact, except for a few badly translated lyrics (vocalist Minoru Niihara had only recently crash-coursed his way toward an admirable command of the English language), the band's transformation is a resounding success. And thanks to the phenomenal guitar acrobatics of the ever-reliable Akira Takasaki, Lightning Strikes rates as one of Loudness' best albums. The made-to-order first single "Let It Go" may sound a little forced, but heavier offerings like "Dark Desire" and the slightly overblown Hiroshima story "Ashes in the Sky" could sit quite comfortably alongside much of the band's best early material. "Face to Face" and "Black Star Oblivion" are both excellent, full-throttle rockers, and the more melodic "Street Life Dream" simply puts it all together perfectly (even the lyrics) while providing a jaw-dropping showcase for Takasaki's virtuosity. If anything, the greater problem is that Loudness' particular brand of classic metal has not aged all that well, and a few tracks ("1000 Eyes," "Complication") definitely sound rather awkward and dated. But all in all, Lightning Strikes remains Loudness' best American-made album.

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