Japan’s Loud Park is a festival with a serious history behind it. The first was held in 2006 and the inaugural lineup set the standard for the subsequent years, featuring bands from abroad like Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Napalm Death and Arch Enemy with local bands like Dir En Grey, United and Mucc. This mixture of big time bands from the domestic and Western scenes would be a mainstay in Loud Park’s festival programming.
Come 2017 and the lineup for Loud Park felt like something that couldn’t be missed. The story is the same when it comes to me and these retrospectives – I was living in China at the time and none of the bands playing Loud Park would be touring the Middle Kingdom. So plans were made and plane tickets were bought for an autumn visit to Tokyo to catch up with Emperor, Slayer, Meshuggah, Alice Cooper and others in the land of the rising sun.
I had already been to Tokyo before, so did have an understanding of how to navigate the city, including its rather intimidating subway system, though had never been to a music festival in the city nor to the Saitama Super Arena.
When I arrived at Haneda Airport, I immediately sought out a 7-Eleven. Why? Because tickets for Loud Park (and other events) could be bought at a 7-Eleven. I wasn’t even sure if it was sold out or not, but asked the clerk to help me with purchasing one. The price came to 27, 500 yen ($183 US at this time) for tickets for both days – “Wow, that’s expensive…you sure?” he said to me. I was relieved that I was actually able to purchase the tickets – there was no way I wasn’t sure.
Saturday October 14, 2017 – Saitama Super Arena, Tokyo, Japan
The Saitama Super Arena was located pretty far north in the Saitama Prefecture, beyond Tokyo. Getting there via train would vary in price and time spent travelling based on which station in Tokyo you were departing from. Luckily, I was able to find a place to stay in the northern part of Tokyo, so the trip to Saitama Shintoshin took roughly 30 minutes and wouldn’t bruise my wallet from the trips there and back.
My first impression of the arena was that the name “super” was earned. At the entrance there were bagpipe players and different activity booths, with big boards showcasing the posters of past Loud Park events. They all looked worth attending and there were probably fans there who had been to every one. Inside, two hulking stages were set side by side – the Ultimate Stage and the Big Rock Stage. One band would perform while the next band’s equipment was set up on the other. The maximum capacity for the arena is 36, 500. I am uncertain of how many metal fans packed into the arena for those two days, but it felt similar to a squashed subway car at times.
The day started early, with bands starting at 9:30 AM. I arrived a bit after that as Aldious were already performing on stage. At the time, I knew nothing about Aldious but was just happy to be there – being in Japan, seeing a Japanese metal band on stage and soaking in the initial atmosphere of the event. Aldious are worth seeking out, though, being an all-girl metal band that doesn’t get enough attention or coverage compared to their contemporaries.
The thing about Japanese concerts is that they always give you a drink ticket included in the fees. I have wondered if anyone has opposed this, like say for instance they don’t want to drink. Well, I did want to drink and ordered a big can of Asahi after Aldious finished up their set.
When Skindred hit the stage, I felt, and it wouldn’t be the first time this was felt, a strange feeling of cross-cultural harmony. Me, a Canadian, in a mostly Japanese crowd, watching a reggae-influenced Welsh metal band. I looked forward to more of these mashups as the festival went on.
German symphonic metal band Beyond the Black were the next to perform. I watched about half of their set and then set out to take a look at the merchandise. The lines were still long at this time, and I had no real intention of buying anything, though probably would have picked the Devin Townsend mid-tier prog metal shirt if I hadn’t spent to much on the Loud Park tickets.
Loud Park are always conscious about booking metal bands from every genre and era, and L.A. Guns represented the community of rockers in Japan who were throwing horns at Club Citta Kawasaki when the band came through in 1988. I did notice a lot of elder rockers in the crowd at this moment, knowing they were getting flashbacks from that time. From my perspective, it was novel and enjoyable as this band was not one of my “must-sees” though they did amp up the energy in the place.
Anthem were the first instance in which I felt I was seeing something special – a band in which opportunities to see them are low unless you actually live in Japan. The same sentiment will be expressed for Outrage and LOUDNESS, who performed the next day. Anthem had old and new heads alike fixated on the stage and performed eight songs, starting with “Bound to Break” and ending the set with “Onslaught.”
There would be a “secret act” playing the next day, and when Brujeria took the stage with Napalm Death’s Shane Embury on bass, I felt for sure that the secret band would be Napalm Death (check day two for the reveal). Brujeria were another instance of feeling like multiple cultures were coming together in this one arena. I know the band have been influential on some Japanese gore grind bands, who have adapted Mexican-style grind while wearing similar stage clothing like ski masks. The band crushed it, with aggressive pits forming as the band went through songs about mushrooms, marijuana and (at the time) President Trump. I wondered how much the Japanese crowd could actually relate to these subjects, and judging by the few Brujeria shirts in the crowd with Trump’s face on them, they seemed to.
While the Japanese attendees were really passionate and into the sets, I then realized that after each band played, there was a thick silence which hung over the arena, as compared to Western concerts where drunks are shouting everything and everything. I assume that the people reserve concert antics for the right moments, like when a band is playing, and feel that kind of over-enthusiasm is needless when nobody is on stage.
I apologize to Winger and any Winger fans who might be offended by this, but for Winger I had to take a break and sit down at the back to save my strength for the upcoming bands.
As Opeth were performing, a person next to me held up a sign saying “Mikael, I want to propose to my girlfriend on stage!” He was obviously a big Opeth fan who wanted to use this opportunity to create a pivotal moment in his life. Unfortunately, Mikael didn’t see or maybe did see but didn’t acknowledge the sign. It could have been because the band only hand about an hour to play and didn’t want to waste a second on silly marriage proposals. Nonetheless, this set turned me from a passive Opeth listener into a true Opeth admirer. The last notes of “Deliverance” felt like a classic song that we were all lucky enough to be alive at the same time to be able to witness live.
Overkill, along with Outrage who played the next day, were the bands that represented the old guard of unadulterated, non-commercial ‘80s thrash at Loud Park. They came out swinging, with “Mean, Green, Killing Machine” and “Rotten to the Core” kicking off the set. Vocalist Bobby Blitz proved that he will be a ferocious front man – when it comes to thrash, he is of the highest caliber – until the day they have to peel his sweaty carcass off of the stage. The set ended with a cover of The Subhuman’s “Fuck You” and after that energy blast, only one man could dare meet this hyped up crowd.
The man’s name was Alice Cooper. Although I’d been an Alice Cooper fan for pretty much my whole life, I strangely had never seen him live until this night. As it was a festival set, I wasn’t expecting many deep cuts, and frankly, there weren’t, however, the festival sets Cooper puts on are all the kills with none of the needless exposition. “Brutal Planet” opened the set in the heaviest way he could, with the usual hits and stage antics following. “Poison” in particular brought a tear to this eye – strangely, because it’s not really a song that has any emotional resonance with me. It was simply the power of being there in that moment which evoked a little waterworks.
The year prior, I managed to see Ihsahn play a solo gig in Tokyo (where I am pretty certain I saw Jared Leto watching the show – I wonder if it influenced any 30 Seconds to Mars songs), so it felt fitting to catch Emperor here. The band brought that sense of “Oh, this one is worth the ticket price” with them. I haven’t seen Emperor since and who knows if I ever will, so the fact that I saw both Ihsahn and Emperor in Japan is a nice piece of mental memorabilia. Emperor performed an Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk set which was followed by three songs from their other releases. “Curse You All Men!” was a rampaging highlight here.
It felt as if the lava had truly rose to the tipping point of the volcano, and only one band could represent the eruption, the headliners of Loud Park 2017 night one, Slayer. The crowd was at its densest during this performance, with the floor being so packed that I was denied entry into the pit area after going to the washroom and had to stand near the bar in the back for them (I made up for this by being close to the stage for Slayer’s final performance in Japan at the inaugural Download Festival Japan). I will say that the two sets were pretty similar – each supporting Repentless and each seeming like the band should have many more years ahead of them. The final barrage of songs here were perfect in their order, rising to a hellish crescendo – “Seasons in the Abyss,” “Hell Awaits,” “South of Heaven,” “Raining Blood,” Chemical Warfare,” and “Angel of Death.”
Sunday October 15, 2017 – Saitama Super Arena, Tokyo, Japan
The problem with multi-day festivals is that staying up late one night makes it hard to get up early to see absolutely everything the next. I peeled myself out of bed to make the trip to the Saitama Super Arena a little late for the second day of the fest, but did make it to the venue in time to at least catch a few songs from Cry Venom, which when writing this now I’m sorry to say I remember nothing about.
I speculated the secret act of the festival being Napalm Death due to Shane Embury joining Brujeria on stage the day before. As the black curtain rose and the words “Black Earth” were unveiled, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. It’s not that I don’t respect Arch Enemy, I’m just not really a big fan. Funnily enough, Arch Enemy played Japan’s Download Festival a few years later and I had the exact same thoughts – good, but not something I could really relate to.
Outrage brought out day two’s wave of ‘80s thrashers, who were eager to pit it up for the heaviest Japanese band at the festival. A simple eight-song set was all beef and no veggies, with “Doomsday Machine” and “Megalomania” being storm-starters.
Apocalyptica are another one of those bands I felt was lucky to even witness. Of course, their claim to fame was doing Metallica covers with cellos, and this set was full of familiar Bay Area songs like “Enter Sandman,” “Fight Fire With Fire” and “Seek and Destroy.” The verdict: nearly as satisfying as actually having Metallica perform Loud Park.
LOUDNESS would sadly be the final Japanese band of this festival, though they did reserve the most classic band for last. The band opened with “Fire of Spirit” from their 2008 album Metal Mad. It would have been impossible to do songs from their entire catalogue, but a lot was represented here, with tracks from albums Biosphere, Thunder in the East and Hurricane Eyes.
The Canadians unite in Tokyo – I cannot understate the anticipation I had for seeing the Devin Townsend Project at Loud Park. The SYL song “Japan” would always make me dream of coming to the country, and when it was announced Devin would be playing at Loud Park, his set was one of the main factors in my deciding to go. He was also touring behind an album I felt was very strong, Transcendence. His set seemed to begin late, though, and only seven songs were performed. “Rejoice” opened the set, followed by the usual numbers “Deadhead” and “Kingdom” which were typically awe-inspiring, but it was the final song “Higher” which really resonated with everyone in that arena. If there was a bomb scare and the festival ended right then, I would have been okay with it.
I apologize to Black Star Riders and any Black Star Riders fans who might be offended by this, but for Black Star Riders I had to take a break and sit down at the back to save my strength for the upcoming bands.
Cradle of Filth are a band I hadn’t seen in a while, and also represented Canada via keyboard player Lindsay Schoolcraft, who was with the band for a few albums. Their set was fiery, opening with “Gilded Cunt” and going through classics like “Nymphetamine,” “Born in a Burial Gown” and the immortal “Her Ghost in the Fog” which always brings me back to watching the video for the first time as a teenager, taping it off of MuchMusic’s LOUD to see it on repeat via VHS before I had the Internet.
If Meshuggah and Devin Townsend had played back to back, I’m not sure my head could have handled it. Thankfully, there was time with the two bands in between to prepare for my second-most anticipated band of the festival. The audience was ready – I saw a lot of Meshuggah shirts worn by Japanese girls, proving that the band had a strong following in the country. As they were touring behind The Violent Sleep of Reason, these songs were mostly represented and live they absolutely crushed. With a stage set that resembled Tool’s from when Meshuggah opened for them back in 2002, the band put the audience into a true state of obzen, with “Clockworks” starting up the machine before going into a song that should get more credit than it does, “Born in Dissonance.” A song that is so punishing live that it cannot be ignored is “Demiurge,” which Meshuggah closed with. Another short, but unforgettable seven-song set at Loud Park.
Sabaton are another band I didn’t really listen to before seeing them at Loud Park. I knew they were war-themed, and that listening to them would be the equivalent to watching 10 hours of History Channel documentaries set to metal music, and that is the feeling I got from their set. I took a few mental notes and went on to explore more of the arena as the played, while also using my second free drink ticket.
Like Alice Cooper, KISS are another band I had been listening to for most of my life but never actually got to see live. So, this wasn’t KISS – it was the Gene Simmons Band, but he did play KISS songs. The elder rockers in Japan came out in full force for this set – maybe some of the same ones talked about in Global Metal who felt drawn to KISS due to their kabuki-style makeup. The KISS-Revenge-style leather-clad Gene Simmons Band went through some serious KISS favorites like “Deuce,” “Cold Gin,” “Parasite” and “She” before Gene called up all the ladies in the place to dance on stage for “Rock and Roll All Nite.” It wasn’t KISS in name, but it was truly the next best thing.
After two full days of metal, I knew I couldn’t make it through the entirety of Michael Schenker Fest (again, no disrespect). The UFO/Scorpions guitarist I felt was a strange headlining act for a festival that included Slayer, Emperor and Alice Cooper, and after a few songs I felt no regrets about leaving a little early. Those who stayed the whole set can describe it for you. According to setlist.fm, he played 19 songs, ending with “Rock Bottom” and “Doctor Doctor” by UFO.
I understand my review is a bit biased and that I recalled and focused on the bands I liked more so than others. For that, I apologize. Still, I will always remember Loud Park 2017 as one of the best festivals I’ve been to. Two days was the perfect amount for a festival like this. I think three would have been overkill (pun intended). There seemed to be a lot of thought that went into the band order and organization wise, much like a 12-course meal presented each day. The audience were also dedicated, with the arena already looking nearly full in the early morning when the bands first started playing. After Loud Park 2017, the festival went on hiatus for a few years before coming back with a vengeance in 2023 with Pantera headlining.