Soldier of Fortune

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You can't blame Loudness vocalist Minoru Niihara for leaving the band after the abysmal Hurricane Eyes, but it's a shame he wasn't around for Soldier of Fortune, a far more potent and focused affair than its muddled predecessor. Reunited with producer Max Norman, Loudness thankfully stripped away the superfluous production gloss that sunk the band's last album and crafted a tight, lean set of toothy rockers. And truth be told, new American shouter Mike Vescera -- while lacking Niihara's warmth and personality -- is quite a formidable successor, stepping into his new role with admirable chops and conviction on tunes like "You Shook Me." Guitarist Akira Takasaki, meanwhile, appears to be reinvigorated by the new singer, as he unleashes his most ferocious performances to date.

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