Submitted by HeadDino on Wed, 05/28/2008 - 22:38
Watch Akira Takasaki in Action at the bottom of this page!
Famous / Infamous for
Akira Takasaki is the Eddie Van Halen of Japan. Already a legend in his own country, he broke through to international attention in the glory days of 80s metal with Loudness' 1985 release, Thunder in the East — a riff-packed metal masterpiece that featured accented English lyrics and ferocious fretwork. Akira was probably the first person you ever saw with an ESP guitar. Akira is famous for looking like Jake E. Lee in the 80s, looking like Mr. Miagi in the 90s, and like a Japanese George Clinton these days. Akira has had a prolific career spanning over 25 years. Unfortunately, most of his releases are expensive Japanese imports.
Obvious: Ritchie Blackmore is the first, obvious influence. It's in Akira's riffs, songs, and neo-classical leanings. Next is Eddie Van Halen. Akira's tapping comes from Eddie. Randy Rhoads, Gary Moore, and Uli Roth are also apparent in large doses.
Not-so-obvious: Loudness is comprised of extremely high caliber musicians who can and do indulge in any stylistic influence that strikes their fancy. On Disillusion, I hear a Rush influence on Butterfly, and Revelation is almost a direct rip-off of Iron Maiden's Where Eagles Dare. On 1992's Loudness, Firestorm sounds very much like Megadeth, and Twisted sounds like Akira had been listening to Vernon Reid and Living Color. The song also has that Rush Roll the Bones attempt-at-rap breakdown. There was a point in the mid 90s where Akira did a short trip down Hendrix lane. None of this takes away from how good the music is. The point is, Akira and Loudness have been around a long time. They have been influenced by lots of stuff along the way including their heroes, their 80s metal peers, and the more alternative sounds of the 90s. They and Akria have the musical prowess to pull off anything.
Riffs. Great — and I do mean great metal riffs just pour from Akira Takasaki. The Crazy Nights (Thunder in the East) riff is the first example that comes to mind. Akira has been cranking out great metal riffs year after year, album after album for over 25 years! In this area, he is really more accomplished than most of his better known western peers such as Jake E. Lee or George Lynch. In fact, Akira would have been a fantastic guitarist for Ozzy in the 80s, but somehow, I can't picture them hanging out on the tour bus together.
Songwriting, composition. Along with the great riffs come excellent hooks and melodies. Akira comes up with very well-constructed, melodic songs.
Technique. Blistering speed and extremely high precision. Akira is faster than a speeding bullet train. When I first heard Takasaki, he was the fastest guy I'd heard whose playing still made some sense to me. And as stated above, his songs were good, riffy metal. They weren't grandiose neo-classical compositions or just vehicles to show off his lead prowess.
Attitude. Akira has gobs of Dino attitude and it comes through in his songs and his guitar style. He's all about flash, and definitely wants to lop your head off like an angry samurai every time he picks up the guitar.
Prolificacy and work ethic. When you count Lazy, Loudness, Takasaki solo albums, and Ji-zo, Akira has played on something like 40 albums over his 25+ year career. In the second half of Loudness' career, Akira took on the role of producing the band, and has maintained that role. His most recent side-project is called Ji-Zo. In Ji-Zo, Akira plays all of the music himself. He did the music for the anime movie, Odin and also for Gene Shaft. He's also had time to start Killer Guitars, a company founded and managed by Akira and George Azuma. Akira is responsible for several of the guitar designs.
Geography. Unlike the German bands who tapped their indigenous classical influences, and in doing so, sort of created their own sound, Loudness never really sounded original. It's a common Japanese cultural trait to take western ideas and hone them to a higher degree of proficiency. And that's exactly what Loudness did. Or put another way, the Scorpions, and Accept sound German. Loudness doesn't sound Japanese. They sound like an American or British band — who occasionally sing in Japanese.
But here's where being from Japan probably hurt: As talented and as prolific as Takasaki is, and has been, western fans — even those of Dino style guitarists — mostly know about Akira through the song Crazy Nights and the album Thunder in the East. Prior to that album, if you even knew about Loudness in the west, you had to accept Japanese lyrics. I remember hearing a buddy's copy of Disillusion and Live-Loud-Live, and thinking: wow, this is great stuff . . . . too bad the lyrics are in Japanese. How much are these records? (it was vinyl in those days) $35 bucks!! You're shitting me! It was too much. But if you were an Akira fan from Thunder in the East, you bought the domestic follow-up, Lightning Strikes. And if you were like me, you probably bailed on them after that because of two reasons. First, Lightning Strikes was a weak, poppy follow-up to Thunder. And second, Loudness lost their U.S. deal sometime in the late 80s, and what followed were more expensive, Japanese import albums. To this day, many Loudness releases still cost $35 or more. Fortunately, Akira's a superstar in his own country who doesn't have to rely on record sales in the west.
Taste and dynamics. Can Akira take a slow, meaningful solo, ala Blackmore on Waysted Sunsets? Apparently not. Can he start slow and build to a crescendo? He kind of tried that on Crazy Nights (Thunder in the East) and a few other tracks, but for the most part, Akira's always set on stun. A full-on kamikaze assault. He writes ballads — about one per album in the 80s metal days. Never Again (On the Prowl) has some slower moments, but he still shreds on it. Akira never felt any need to play slower on ballad. Banzai!
Akira's tone, like his guitar style, is pretty much a product of 80s metal. Despite the picture above and whatever else he endorsed, Akira has pretty much been a Marshall man throughout his career. Early on it was early 70s, non-master Marshall stacks, then Marshalls in stereo. His current rig is still a fairly straight-forward stereo, rack mounted rig with Roger Mayer Power amps, Marshall JMP-1 preamps and two vintage Marshall 4x12 bottoms.
Akira has tons of guitars. In the old days he was the first major ESP endorser and played Random Stars. He was most frequently seen with a red one adorned with pieces of broken mirror. He still plays these models but is now mostly associated with Killer Guitars and is most frequently seen with the KG-Prime (shown above).
In the 90s, when everyone was headed back to Gibsons and Fenders with non-locking tremolos, Akira dabbled very briefly with stock style Strats (or copies), but he got over it, and made a very Dino-like decision to go back to his 80s metal style axes — Floyd Roses and all. There'll be no 012s on Strats, Matchless' and Stevie Ray hats for our boy, Akira. He's still a metalhead at heart and his tone retains that 80s, super Strat-through Marshall quality. As bluesy as Godzilla driving a steamroller.
Most of Akira's guitars have ash bodies with maple necks and fingerboards. Some, like the Killer Sitar and Violator, have figured maple fingerboards. The combination of all that maple and a Floyd could easily sound too trebly. Fortunately, most of Akira's guitars are loaded with Duncan Alnico Pro IIs APH-1s in the front and SH-1 The '59s in the rear. These low output Alnico pickups don't have the nasty high end that's often characteristic of ceramic magnet pickups. So Akira's tone, while certainly bright, is not overbearingly so. If he had EMGs in his guitars, you'd be praying for death.
For effects, Takasaki's rack has a couple of multi effects processors and his pedalboard has one of those large floorboard guitar effects processors, a Digitech Whammy, a wah, and a few other odds and ends. Generally, Akira is one of those guys who plays so fast that he needs to retain definition on his notes, so his delay and reverb use is tastefully subtle. One exception was Disillusion, which featured a lot of ambience compared to what came later. Akira used a little bit of wah in the early 80s, but he used it lots more in his post 80s-metal career.
Guitar StyleThough he was slogging away in Japan with Lazy as early as 1977, Akira came to prominence with the explosion of young, talented, melodic metal players in the early to mid 80s. His closest contemporaries would be players like Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee, George Lynch, and to a certain extent, Wolf Hoffmann and Yngwie Malmsteen.
Rhythmically, Akira's roots are in revved up Blackmore-style riff-rock. It is very evident in his extensive use of diad fourth riffs. Think Dio-era Rainbow on speed, forged into metal. Crazy Nights and Clockwork Toy (both Thunder in the East) are great examples. But Akira's rhythm style is also rounded out with far more root-based rock chords and power chords than Ritchie uses.
Akira is particularly adept at creating fast, complicated riffs that really work on the rhythmic, melodic, and hook levels. Run For your Life and Get Away are great examples. We Could Be Together is reminiscent of several Randy Rhoads style riffs. He's less adept at the kind of heavy grinders you get from Sabbath, Judas Priest, or Accept, though on occasion, Akira borrows from all of those bands. Howling Rain has a Dio/Sabbath feel. Lazy's Express Trip sounds like Priest's Rapid Fire, and simpler repetitive riffs like 222 and Ghetto Machine sound influenced by Accept's Death Row-era.
Over the years, Akira and Loudness have tried to change with the times. Results have varied. The band's music fit perfectly with the melodic metal scene of the mid 80s. Like their contemporaries, they had their pop-metal period in the late 80s. Rock N Roll Gypsy (Hurricane Eyes) is as lame as can be, and the whole On the Prowl album sounds very LA Metal, ala Ratt or Dokken. By the early 90s, their sound began to change. In the last 15 years, you can hear influences from Soundgarden to the Chili Peppers — check out House of Freaks (Heavy Metal Hippies), to Rap-metal How Many More Times (Spiritual Canoe). Some of it you'd never recognize as Loudness, and when they indulge in these directions, it's unlikely they're bringing their core audience along for the ride.
Here are some milestones. 92's Loudness was an amazing slab of metal that, for me, retained enough of the original Loudness sound but added enough new ideas to sound fresh. But by the mid 90s, Loudness had been bitten by the Alternative bug. 94's Heavy Metal Hippies definitely has a different feel from the 80s metal. Still heavy, but looser. Less frantic, more atmospheric. More rhythmic, less melodic. A bit more purposely discordant. Still plenty of wailing guitar, but it's not all metal-style shred. Akira used different tones too. 97's Ghetto Machine is in a similar vein. For a brief moment, Akira even had a brief ALD scare when on 98's Dragon, he ditched guitar solos on a few songs. Fortunately, it didn't take, and Akira is back to taking full Dino solos. By 2001 the band reunited with the original singer, Minoru Niihara, and the result, Spiritual Canoe, recaptured a bit of the old Loudness energy. It's not 80s-ish, but it is a return toward tighter, more melodic metal.
Make no mistake, Akira made his name with his lead guitar prowess. As suggested in the influences, Takasaki's lead style stems primarily from Blackmore and Van Halen. This makes for an interesting stylistic marriage. Scale wise, you get the Pentatonics, a great deal of Aeolian, a bit of the Dorian, and Phrygian.
As a soloist, Akira's similar to Jake E. Lee, in that his solos tend to be flashy and interesting, rather than tasty or sexy. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of emotional content in them. Consequently, Akira's solos — while always impressive, aren't always memorable. His solos are clearly composed, he rarely starts slow and builds to a crescendo. Instead, he usually just jumps right onto the highway at 100 mph on things like You Shook Me (Soldier of Fortune), and Get Away (Thunder in the East). He's not big on creating melodic themes. There's a little one in Heavy Chains. Far From Mother Earth (Lazy) and We Could Be Together (Thunder in the East) feature a more melodic approach than Akira typically shows.
Akira has ridiculous alternate picking precision. Check out Running for Cover, and Demon Disease (both from Soldier of Fortune). He is also well versed in sweep picking. You'll get some blistering arpeggiated triads, pedal points, and other touches of neo-classical in his style, but the neo-classical is just one part of Takasaki's bag. And despite the shred-like precision with which Akira plays, his neo-classical influences come more from Blackmore and Uli Roth than from Yngwie. I don't think anyone would lump Akira in with the guys who define the neo-classical genre, like Yngwie or James Byrd. Good examples of Akira's neo-classical leanings are evident in Long After Midnight and Lost Without Your Love (both from Soldier of Fortune). Certainly compositionally, Lost Without Your Love shows a strong Uli Roth/Scorpions influence in both the composition and in the very Roth-like solo.
As we leave the neo-classical, en-route toward Van Halenville, we'll make a brief stop at Moore-town. Akira was clearly influenced by Gary Moore's rock metal period. The most blatant evidence is in his freestyle solo, Exploder (Disillusion) which is largely based on equal parts of Gary's End of the World, and Eddie's Eruption. Akira uses lots of those heavily muted flurries Gary made famous. Generally, when Akira's does Gary's licks, he's more precise, and less intense than Gary.
Like Steve Vai, Jeff Watson, and Steve Lynch, Akira was one of the guys who took what Eddie started with tapping, and went further to develop his own take on it. And aside from his incredible level of conventional chops, Akira's tapping is his most recognizable trademark. You can hear examples of his tapping style on the end of the solo in Like Hell (Thunder in the East), the last part of Faces in the Fire (Soldier of Fortune) and the clean intro on Lightning Strikes (Lightning Strikes).
Another Takasaki trademark is lots of harmonized lead lines that are used for quick emphasis rather than becoming a lasting part of the composition. A good example of this technique is the beginning of the Heavy Chains solo (Thunder in the East). This technique comes from Brian May by way of Steve Vai.
Akira is one of those guys who rarely plays slow enough to milk a vibrato. Since he's all about precision, what vibrato Akira has is perfectly controlled and precise, but it's really under-developed as a tool for expression. His vibrato is usually quick and narrow. Blink and you'll miss it. Sometimes he'll throw in a more medium width, quarter step vibrato, but it still usually quite fast. Akira will occasionally harmonize his lead lines and in these cases the harmonized vibratos are deliberately a bit more pronounced — slower, wider (maybe a half step). When he really wants to give you heavy vibrato, he grabs the Floyd.
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