Monday, January 21, 2013

Meister's "Views of the Cruise" - Volume #4 - Discovering New Music/Bands

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MEISTER'S "VIEWS OF THE CRUISE" - VOLUME #4 - DISCOVERING NEW BANDS

Hello and welcome to volume #4 of my weekly blog articles concerning the Monsters of Rock Cruise.  Welcome back to those who have been following along, but for those just joining me, I am The Meister and I'm from the Great White North of Canada.  Last year I set out on a trip to take part in the inaugural Monsters of Rock Cruise (see the link below to read "Volume #1 - The 2012 Recap").  This year I am again venturing to sail the high seas aboard the MSC Poesia for the now sold out Monsters of Rock: The Lost Weekend (although I suspect it may turn into "The Lost Week"!).  Being from a smaller town situated north of Toronto there are very few friends that share my musical interests and therefore I set out on these rock n' roll adventures (the passion of my life) as a solo crusader and this year is no different, although I do look forward to meeting some of the folks from last year's cruise and from my recent adventure to Memphis, Tennessee for Tora Tora's 25th anniversary in November.

One of the great things about this cruise aside from the up close and personal intimate shows and interactive settings (it's not uncommon to realise that the guy standing next to you in the audience is from another band) is the discovery of new artists and music.  Being from this smaller town it is sometimes hard to find and get exposed to this genre of music, although the internet has infinitely assisted in the rectification of this problem.  For last year's cruise there were a couple of artists on board that I was unfamiliar with and in learning their music and catching their live sets I discovered some great bands.  This years excursion is no exception.  While I had certainly heard of some of these bands I was unfamiliar with their music, so after some research and music purchasing I am eagerly awaiting their shows aboard ship.

Here are some of my discoveries or "awakenings" for this year.

CAN YOU HEAR THE THUNDER? (LOUDNESS)
Japan is an island nation in East Asia located in the Pacific Ocean, called Nippon or Nihon in the native language.  In Japanese the words Nippon (which appears on the postage stamps and currency of Japan) and Nihon refer to the suns origin and are often translated as the Land of the Rising Sun. (Nichi) means sun or day and (hon) means base or origin and compounded means base of the sun or sunrise.  Japan is actually a collection of over 6000 islands, but four of them make up 97% of the land area, with Tokyo being the capital and also the largest city.  Japan is a major economic power, has the world’s third largest economy and is the fourth largest importer and exporter.  This article, however, is not about Japan, but one of it’s major exports…….the band Loudness and the thunder in the east they created.

Akira Takasaki (guitarist), Munetaka Higuchi (drums) and Hiroyuki Tanaka (bass) all played in the band Lazy, but were unhappy with it’s musical direction and wanting to try their hand in new avenues, they set out on their own.  Tanaka soon moved on leaving the band and Takasaki’s childhood friend Masayoshi Yamashita stepped in.  Auditions took place and they found vocalist Minoru Niihara forming the original line-up of the Japanese metal band in 1980. 

Loudness are a band that I was severely unfamiliar with.  They did not receive much airplay treatment up here in the Great White North.  In my quest to discover new music and to familiarise myself with as many bands aboard the MSC Poesia as I can, I ventured into the land of the rising sun, beginning with a compilation called The Days of Glory: The Very Best of Loudness.  I liked what I heard and after spinning it a few times was hooked on several of the tracks.  I decided to search out more of their ridiculously immense discography choosing to purchase two albums (from download, which I don't like to do, but it's often cheaper than having  hard copy shipped from all over the world and at least the artist still gets the revenue), one old, Thunder In The East and one new, King Of Pain.  Thunder In The East, helmed by heavy hitter Max Norman, starts off grinding with Crazy Night, arguably the band's biggest hit followed by one of my favourite Loudness tracks, the catchy Like Hell.....if I find myself absently singing a song's chorus in my head throughout the day it must be catchy!  How had I missed the boat (no pun intended) on these guys before, I'll never know, but I'm aboard now.

King of Pain from 2010, twenty-five years after Thunder In The East and Loudness' astounding 23rd studio album started off with the eerie instrumental prelude track, Requiem and then into the title track.  The King of Pain was a much heavier sound than my previous listen still enjoyable but understandably different from twenty-five years prior.  I learned that this album featured a new drummer, Masayuki Suzuki and was said by original guitarist Akira Takasaki to be meant to focus on featuring Suzuki.  Overall I much preferred the earlier work and spun Thunder more regularly than this disc.  I was not deterred and continued my foray into Loudness, but concentrating on the earlier work.

I picked up the discs after Thunder called Lightning Strikes from 1986 produced again by Max Norman and Hurricane Eyes from 1987 produced by Eddie Kramer.  These both again were great albums and I won't go into details here in order to keep this article to a reasonable length.  After these releases the band was still struggling to really break through in America, so at the urging of Max Norman singer Minoru Niihara was fired and Loudness moved forward with the American voice of Mike Vescera leading the way.  While the two albums, Soldier of Fortune and On The Prowl, that this line-up produced are fine recordings holding up the standards set on Thunder, Lightning and Hurricane, they still failed to achieve the success they sought.  Vescera left in 1991, moving on to Yngwie Malmsteen's (a former member of the third band featured in this blog)  band and Loudness brought in Japanese singer Masaki Yamada from the band  EZO (who's first album had been produced by Gene Simmons).

Not wanting to give up on the newer version of Loudness and spurned on by the great music I had discovered in their back catalogue I jumped forward again and picked up the 2012 release of 2-0-1-2.  After several listens and struggling to get into it, I have found that there are some great songs on this disc, but once again, overall I prefer the older works.

After 1992's heavier and more aggressive sounding Loudness self titled release, 1993 saw Akira Takasaki as the only remaining original member and he went to India and converted to Buddhism.  Upon his return he soldiered forth with the band retaining former EZO vocalist Yamada and recruiting former EZO drummer Hirotsugu Homma.  The trio put forth 1994's Heavy Metal Hippies which attempted to infuse a psychedelic grunge sound with the Loudness of old.......aha, now I'm starting to understand the differences in the band's sound from new to old.....we're on some sort of a musical journey with Takasaki.

Adding bassist Naoto Shibata (from fellow Japanese band, Anthem) they released three studio albums in rapid succession, Ghetto Machine in 1997, Dragon in 1998 and Engine in 1999.  All three have a psychedelic alternative groove metal sound and are actually quite good listens for the most part.  In 2001 for the 20th anniversary, the original members reunited for what was intended to be a one time event, but the excitement among the fan base in Japan was overwhelming and they decided to continue writing and recording.  2001 saw them give us Spiritual Canoe and also Pandemonium later the same year followed by Biosphere (2002), Terror (2004), Racing (2005), Breaking The Taboo (2006) and Metal Mad (2008).  Shortly after the release of Metal Mad drummer Munetaka Higuchi was diagnosed with liver cancer and he succumbed to his illness seven short months after diagnosis.

The Everlasting was released in 2009 and was based on drum tracks that were recorded by Higuchi prior to his demise.  They put out the aforementioned King of Pain in 2010, followed it with 2011's Eve to Dawn and then their latest effort 2-0-1-2.  The recordings since the reunion in 2001 all encompass various different music styles and you're not quite sure just what you'll get from the next track on the album.  It's more of a smorgasbord of styles including the classic sound, speed metal, thrash metal, grunge, alternative, psychedelic and hip hop, making an odd collection of songs for the most part and sometimes a difficult listen.  There are listening samples of Loudness' music at www.loudness.jp

Overall, I'm glad that I've delved into the Loudness catalogue and there are a ton of great tunes here, I just prefer the earlier works and hope to hear that for the majority of the cruise performance.  I can hear a thunder in the east, can you?

CAUGHT BETWEEN THE TIGERS (TNT)
From the land of the rising sun we travel to the land of the midnight sun...the Scandinavian country of Norway.

Because of Norway's high latitude, from late May to late in July the sun never completely descends below the horizon in areas above the Arctic Circle resulting in the moniker.  Norway contains some dramatic scenery and landscapes with breathtaking coastlines.  The Norwegian Fjords have been cited by National Geographic as one of the top tourist attractions in the world.  Norway is also rich in reserves of petroleum, natural gas and is the world's largest producer of oil and natural gas outside of the middle east.  Norway also contains minerals, lumber, seafood, fresh water and hydro power.   From a town called Trondheim, the third largest in Norway comes the band TNT.

Guitarist Ronni Le Tekro, drummer Diesel Dhal, vocalist/guitarist Dag Ingebrigtsen and bassist Steinar Eikum formed a band in 1982 and called it TNT.  Quickly securing a contract, they released their self titled début shortly after that same year, spawning the hit Harley Davidson.  Eikum departed and Morty Black took over bass duties in 1983, but 1984 saw American vocalist Tony Harnell signing up for the release of Knights of the New Thunder as Ingebrigsten moved on.  With the success of Knights of the New Thunder in Scandinavia they were offered a world wide deal and the song Seven Seas found it's way into heavy rotation on MTV.  The same line-up produced Tell No Tales in 1987 creating their biggest hit to date in 10,000 Lovers in One and also Everyone's a Star.  Diesel Dhal departed after recording this album and was replaced by Kenneth Odiin for 1989's Intuition.

Intuition saw success in Scandinavia and Japan and sent the boys on a headlining tour of small theatres and large clubs across the USA, breaking attendance records.  Odiin left after the tour and was replaced by John Macaluso for 1992's Realised Fantasies, which received poor promotion from the record label and the band entered a hiatus concentrating on various solo efforts.  Ronni Le Tekro, Tony Harnell and Morty Black reformed and released Firefly in 1997 and Transistor in 1999 with session drummer Frode Lamoy.

The return of the original line up after 13 years in 2000 saw the release of My Religion in 2004.  All The Way To The Sun came in 2005, but without Morty Black who had left prior to it's recording.  Citing personal and professional differences, Tony Harnell left in 2006 and for his last performance with TNT at Polar Rock Fest in Norway he brought the new singer, British Tony Mills up on stage and as an introduction they sang the song from the first TNT record Harley Davidson.  There is some controversy and discrepancies between Harnell and Le Tekro on when he actually departed the band (during mid-tour or not) and I've seen reports that Harnell has spoken out in criticism against the re-recording of one of the older songs as a duet with a hip hop artist.

Le Tekro and company moved forward in 2007 with The New Territory which brought with it mixed reviews and controversy among the fans.  The Beatles and Queen inspired Atlantis followed in 2008 and is a great album as I easily heard the influences throughout the recording.  In what has been said was an attempt to recapture the old TNT sound the band released A Farewell To Arms in 2011.  It certainly is a return to form and an excellent album.  Tony Mills does a great job here finally showing that he is a fitting replacement for Harnell and Le Tekro has said that it may possibly be the last record.  He has said that "this album is an honourable end to albums from the band."  While The Knights of the New Thunder remains my all time favourite TNT record, this latest effort runs a close second!

Tony Harnell has continued in the music business on such projects as Westworld which includes Danger, Danger bassist Bruno Ravel.  Westworld was originally intended as a one-off project, but the popularity of the act has assisted them in releasing three studio albums and a live recording.  Starbreaker is another of his projects releasing albums in 2005 and 2008.  Harnell has also released Tony Harnell & The Mercury Train's Round Trip album in 2010 and also a solo EP entitled Cinematic in 2008.  Tony Harnell also appears in the ship's registry for The Lost Weekend Cruise as a duet (partnership) act with Stryper's Michael Sweet.  One has to wonder if everything has somewhat settled down regarding any past issues and perhaps we'll see Harnell hit the stage with TNT for a song or two, or maybe Le Tekro will grace the stage of Harnell/Sweet.......I sure hope so anyway!

Check out TNT's official website for all information on the band www.tnttheband.com or Ronni Le Tekro's website www.ronniletekro.com and Tony Harnell's website is still under some construction www.tonyharnell.com

The lead off song on The Knights of the New Thunder is Seven Seas rather fitting methinks as we prepare to set sail in March.

HEADING FOR THE ISLAND IN THE SUN (ALCATRAZZ)

Last year I discovered another great record that I'd never heard of.  Veteran cruiser from last year's Monsters of Rock voyage, Ron Keel  had a band prior to Keel called Steeler who released one album in 1983.  An awesome album if ever there was one and once again this had totally escaped my detection in my little Canadian town.  After coming across the information while researching Keel in preparation for last year's cruise, I was able to purchase a copy.  The band and album featured a young Swedish guitar player by the name of Yngwie Malmsteen who would depart after the record and join another American band with former Rainbow vocalist Graham Bonnet, Jimmy Waldo (keyboards), Gary Shea (bass) and drummer Jan Uvena (who replaced Clive Burr) called Alcatrazz.

Alcatrazz pumped out their first record, No Parole From Rock N' Roll in 1983.  The lead track and single Island in the Sun was awarded videoplay on MTV and with the commercial nature of the sound, should have been a bigger hit.  The guys went out on a tour which took them to Japan on the strength of the second single Hiroshima Mon Amour.  It was during this tour that differences between Graham Bonnet and Malmsteen began to surface along with Yngwie's desire to start his own band.  As a result Malmsteen left in 1984 and he was replaced with........wait for this.......Steve Vai!!


With Vai in the group they returned to Japan on tour and released Disturbing the Peace in 1985.  The record was produced by Eddie Kramer (who also worked with Loudness and maybe best know for his association with KISS) with God Blessed Video being released as a single and video and it can also be found in a Grand Theft Auto game as well.  Sadly the album did not receive much radio play and Alcatrazz still failed to break through.  Steve Vai got the call presenting him an offer that he couldn't refuse and he left in 1986 to join David Lee Roth's band.  Now if Vai had been replaced with Joe Satrianni that would have been an amazing feat, three albums with three première guitar virtuoso's!

Dangerous Games came out in 1986 and would serve as the final Alcatrazz record.  For their revolving door of guitarists, Danny Johnson handles the guitar for this outing and I believe the band was being managed by Wendy Dio at this time as well.  For this one they decided to include some cover tunes and the whole album appeared to have a heavy Japanese influence on the style, perhaps in an attempt to capitalise on their popularity in Japan after the previous tours.  Whatever the case, the album failed to chart and Johnson quit and Alcatrazz disbanded in 1987.


In recent years Graham Bonnet has reformed a version of Alcatrazz with himself being the only former member.  Joining him are Howie Simon (guitars), Bobby Rock (drums and also a member of shipmates Nelson) and Tim Luce (bass) for a tour of Japan and also several shows in support of shipmates Y&T.  A band that once housed Malmsteen and then Vai certainly bares seeing live even though Bonnet is the only original member.  Bonnet himself was around the music scene prior to Alcatrazz including recording a hit single with The Marbles in 1976 and releasing two solo efforts in 1977 (self titled) and 1978 (No Bad Habits), but in 1979 Ritchie Blackmore chose Bonnet as the replacement for Ronnie James Dio in Rainbow.  Dio had chosen to move on and joined Black Sabbath filling Ozzy's vacated shoes.  Bonnet recorded the Down to Earth record with Rainbow which produced the hits All Night Long and Since You've Been Gone.  Rainbow played the original Monsters of Rock Festival at Castle Donnington with shipmates Saxon in 1980.  It has been reported that Bonnet was fired from Rainbow after this album and tour due to a drunken performance on stage.

He released the solo album Line Up in 1981.  This album contained two singles and was recorded using several well-known rock musicians.  He then joined forces with another guitar virtuoso in Michael Schenker's MSG for the Assault Attack record.  Unfortunately it was a short lived partnership as Bonnet succeeded in insulting Schenker and the rest of the band in front of the audience during a drunken warm up performance.  Graham has been involved in numerous other bands including Blackthorne, Forcefield, Impellitteri and most notably to this article the Japanese band Anthem.  Naoto Shibata of Anthem also spent a brief period with Loudness. Visit the websites for more information: www.alcatrazz.org and www.grahambonnet.com

SCREAMIN' SOS (ARCADE)

Arcade began life in 1992 as Stephen Pearcy left Ratt and Fred Coury had departed Cinderella.  They joined forces with Guitarist Frankie Wilsex from the Sea Hags as well as Donny Syracuse and Michael Andrews to bring us this strong 1993 début album which understandably with Pearcy's piercing vocals sounds a lot like Ratt CD.  The front cover of the record featured the face of Mimi Miyagi as the cover model who was a popular porn star of Filipino descent  at the time.  The album was produced by David Prater from Firehouse and Dream Theatre fame.  Three singles were released in Cry No More, Nothin' To Lose and Messed Up World and a tour supporting Bon Jovi ensued, but the album did not reach the mainstream success it sought.  The CD starts off with Dancin' With the Angels and in my opinion is a stand out track along with the excellent Screamin' SOS on which Pearcy plays rhythm guitar.

Arcade followed up with A/2 in 1994.  This sequel included an emotional tune called Kidnapped which was written for Polly Klauss who had been kidnapped and murdered in 1993.  The singles released from this record were Angry and So What, but alas the music scene had totally shifted into grunge overdrive by this time and the album received even less attention than the first one and went largely unnoticed.  It was produced by Audie Bauw and was a much heavier sounding issue that it's predecessor.  In looking at the album cover, I wonder who the cover model is for this one?  It could be someone's shoulder until you fold it out as shown below.

A/3: Live & Unreleased came out in 2000 and contained as the title would suggest, demo recordings and live performances and can be found on line for decent pricing.

Well there you have it, some of my most exciting discoveries for The Lost Weekend 2013.  While you may not love every song from these bands there's certainly enough great tracks here to make it worth your while getting into this catalogue of music.

****************************************************************************************************
"CRUISE NEWS"
To catch up on your cruise reading check out the previous volumes of Meister's "Views of the Cruise" with the links below:
Volume #1 – 2012 Recap

Volume #2 – Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys) Interview

Volume #3 – Heavy Metal Maidens of the Voyage

*****As an addition to last week's volume #3.....Lorraine Lewis and Femme Fatale have now announced the all female band that will accompany her on the Cruise: Nita Strauss (guitar-plays in Iron Maidens), Courtney Cox (Iron Maidens), Rachel Rine (drummer with Mannequins With Kill Appeal), Katt Scarlett (keys for Kill Slowly), Janis Tanaka (bass with L7, Pink and Witherall) and Athena Lee (from Ex-Wives of Rock)*****



*****The Monsters of Rock: The Lost Weekend Cruise is now sold out, but you still may be able to find a cabin on this rock & roll party boat through Facebook's find a cabinmate page.  Check it out and join me aboard the MSC Poesia in March 2013*****


*****In other "Cruise News" - Shipmates, veteran cruisers and pool party players Ted Poley (of Danger Danger) and Joe Leste (of Bang Tango) played together in Lima, Peru last week.*****


*****Keep your eyes and ears open in Fort Lauderdale and surrounding areas as cruise bands roll into town and play gigs before and after the voyage.  Faster Pussycat is playing in Cape Coral at the Dixie Roadhouse on March 13th and also on March 13th in Daytona for Daytona Bikeweek, L.A. Guns will be at Dirty Harry's.  L.A. Guns website lists them as playing on March 15th at Jake's Tavern in Sarasota.....which means that they will not be our official pre-party rockers on that day.*****


*****You can also catch L.A. Guns on March 14th at the Rockerz Gone Wild Pool Party at the Bahia Cabana along with Bang Tango, Ted Poley, Glitter Boys, Pretty Little Suicide and just announced Liberty Lush, who are currently touring with L.A. Guns.  Tickets are still available for the pool party with this link: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=FFNRDHYN887MY *****

*****Join "The Militia Guard" next week for Volume #5 as I talk about NWOBH's Saxon including an interview with long-time drummer NIGEL GLOCKLER!*****

Cheers,
The Meister





2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Some of your information in your Alcatrazz write up are incorrect. You should contact the band thru their Facebook page and they can give you facts. www.Facebook.com/AlcatrazzOfficial

Meri Ben said...

After reading some nice stuff in your article I really feel speechlesslate cruise deals

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