Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Ningen-Isu - Ougon No Yoake (1992) | 92%

人間椅子 - 黄金の夜明け

Ningen-Isu – Ougon No Yoake (1992)

The Golden Dawn of Magic Japanese Steel

Tony's note : During this review, I'll use romanized Japanese because it's way easier than having to copy the Japanese alphabet, that's very complicated for us mere westerners. It will also make things easier for you, the readers. Furthermore, the page of the album on the Metal Archives has the romaji translations of the songs in the additional notes. I must thank the wonderful Crick for his tremendous help and his support, this review is also a bit for him. Thanks Jackson, you fucking brat.

Here's some songs of the album:

Japan, the land of mysterious Kit Kat flavors  weird tentacle anime and Marty Friedman shredding solos in advertisement, has always been a surprise pack for metal. You could find the most asinine Visual Kei that's very hit and miss and full of pretentious eight minutes piano interludes or weird ass thrash metal such as the amazing Gargoyle. Ningen-Isu on the other hand is a strange beast in its own right, they're an original act and they're not a tributary to the Japanese sound conventions. They've been doing what they want for ages. Ougon No Yoake, their third album is definitely one of my favorite from the trio as it's a pretty damn good example of how their sound is diverse and rich.

What I'd like to underline before continuing is the fucking awesome musicianship of this band. The core of Ningen-Isu, Kenich Suzuki (bass, vocals) and Shinji Wajima (guitars, vocals) are Japan's Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson. The band changed their drummer 4 times and this one do the job but the percussion aren't really the focus on this album even though there's totally nothing wrong with them. The bass is as loud as it can be without being obnoxious and it's pretty damn awesome and the guitarist is a total riff Samurai. The songs are all pretty long and intricate, there's many songs around seven and eight minutes and the album is almost seventy minutes. While I usually appreciate long songs, the album is a bit too long and it's hard to fully grasp all at once but so is the band and their whole discography is an arduous task to listen to. Nevertheless, they are truly gratifying and it was hard for me to pick an album to review since I wanted there's so many and they're all excellent.

Ningen-Isu's original line-up, notice the Geddy Lee look?!
Like the eternal sushi, the power trio is mixing tasty ingredients to cook a very special meal. Imagine a Japanese restaurant menu, it's classy and full of terms you don't understand and similar to the famous Sriracha sauce, there's plenty of foreign influences despite the clear and apparent will to stay rooted in their native culture. That's the thing I really about this band, they have assimilated many influences and when I say many, I mean it. They took the fuzzy and riff based approach of Black Sabbath and made it weirder. It's like if Iommi spent 12 years in Kyoto learning how to fight with a katana, that's way more interesting than Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai  right ? It's the best kind of worship, really, You can definitely feel the love for Sabbath but it's never a carbon copy and the other influences are also quite vivid. There's also some Deep Purple such as in ''Heisei Asaborake'', the riff at the start reminds me of their classic song ''Smoke on the Water'' but à la Japonais. They're mixing the hard rocking approach found in these seminal bands with a ton of different metal genres. There's some stoner elements (in 1992 too, that's very early) and even some thrashy elements. It's also not as progressive as some of their later albums like Taihai Geijutsu Ten but there's some important prog elements to be found. Especially in the bass playing, the third song ''Wa, Gan Denebega'' reminds of the instrumental side of early 80s Rush with these groovy and prominent bass licks. The proggy side of the band is made obvious with the talented musicianship and the sophisticated songwriting but also with the tempo changes such as the one in the longest track ''Suibotsu Toshi''. Mixing slow doom riffs with a vocal atmosphere akin to a ballad leads to an amazing track.

There's some really cool slower and softer moments bringing a sorrowful side to their groovy and almost joyous music. The short instrumental acoustic track ''Subarashiki Nichiyoubi'' is a great interlude with a beautiful guitar melody and some folky Japanese influences. It means ''fantastic sunday'', weird since the track has a sad atmosphere while being soothing and relaxing. That's probably what a Sunday should be, I guess... The music is as melodic as it's technical. That's often the case for Japanese bands, they're masters of their instruments and when they focus on the songwriting, it can create a perfect combination, such as this album ! There's nice leads, while there's not a lot of them, Wajima is a very skilled player and he's never overplaying.His solo in ''Mugon Denwa'' is full of emotions and his one in the epic title track is rocking. We shouldn't forget the heavy/speed metal influences, while present here, they're much more obvious in their next shorter and faster album ''Rashoumon''. ''Ougon No Yoake'' is not their best to get into them, but if you feel adventurous and if you like the styles they're showcasing here, delve into it !

Suzuki and Wajima are sharing vocal duties and since I usually focus more on the instrumental side, it was hard to differentiate them at first. Suzuki has a deeper voice and he's using it for the folksier side of Ningen-Isu. Wajima's voice is higher and a bit more metallic. They're both pretty good and the mix of their voices is natural and creates a nice chemistry. It wasn't quite obvious to me that the band had no lead singers at once so you know it works well. The lyrics are in Japanese so their meaning is lost to me and I don't really feel like reading ridiculous Google translations. I do know that the band sings about literature  be it Japanese legends or Lovecraft (the last song is literally The Mountains of Madness in their mother tongue). While the singers aren't singing in your usual Visual Kei style (the one where it's hard to differentiate women from men both with their vocals and their clothing style !). Nonetheless, the vocal intonations are still pretty damn Japanese. If you're a Westerner like me, it can take a while to cross the language barrier. The vocals, while good, are not omnipresent and I liked them well enough. But the highlight of the album is the bass guitar and the electric guitar interplay, they're creating an intercourse of riffs in your face. I know some people find the vocals to be obnoxious and I'd admit they can be an acquired taste as they're pretty unique and weird but they're definitely an important part of the band's identity.

Although it's not their catchier nor heavier release, ''Ougon No Yoake'' or ''The Golden Dawn'' is an awesome album. Unlike the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the album is truly magic. Rest assured, it has nothing to do with the racist Greek party ! The songs are rich, full of nuances and different emotions and pure bliss. Their brand of progressive hard rock/doom metal is pretty unique and original and stands as a strong but lonely fortress in the Japanese musical scenery. While I'd like to understand what they say, it's really not necessary.I don't even need to understand the words, it would be like watching a silent movie with subtitles. Japan has great metal outside of Sigh and their kawaii silly abominations, do yourself a favour and explore their scene. Start with Gargoyle, Metalucifer, Sabbat but never forget the mighty Ningen-Isu. The music is as bright as the album art giving us some hope for the Orient metal scene. Yes, this is from 1992 but their current albums are as good and you can't make a mistake by choosing one randomly, plunge in their music.

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