Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Ningen-Isu - Taihai Geijutsu Ten (1998) | 95%

                                               人間椅子 – 頽廃芸術展

*Decadent Art Exhibition* - Pinkish Spherical Elaboration

Check out my review for "Ougon no Yoake" (1992): CLICK ME

Tony's notes: My second review for Ningen-Isu, this weird Japanese band exploring rock, progressive, stoner, doom metal and traditional Japanese music. The song titles will be in the romaji translations since it's easier like that, the Metal Archives page has the titles in their real Japanese form.. I'd like to review all their albums but it's obviously a very daring task, I'll try to cover most of their eras at least! I have to thank the ex-moderator Crick who convinced me to check this band, your obsession has driven you insane. He gave me the whole discography but I definitely will spend at least one grand to get all their albums one day, it's one of the best discographies in metal and it needs to be better known outside their country. "Decadent Art Exhibition" is the translated title of the album, truly justified.

Well, this cover art is weirder that the last time my grand-mother accidentally smoked weed with my dad. “Try my cigar, mom” said my father. It was like being in a movie directed by Wes Anderson with David Cronenberg. The artwork was commissioned by the band and I'm not really sure what it is. At first, I thought it was a giant pink elephant flowing in the sky like the pig on Pink Floyd's “Animals”. The sphere-like animal is surrounded by a naked woman tied to a tree with tentacle roots and a pensive man. There's trees and the ocean in the background, indicating that the location is indeed one of the numerous japanese islands. Maybe it's an allegory about the creation of art and the fact the woman is tied showcases the misogynistic culture of Japan. The man thinks and the woman is a barrier to the thought development. Ningen-Isu always had peculiar artwork but this one takes the cake and so is the music included here.

In my review for “Ougon No Yoake”, I mentioned that it wasn't the best album to get into this band. Well, this one is an even worse entry point. It's perhaps their most fucked up full length. Located midway through their career, it serves as a good demarcation between the later days which and the previous releases which were pretty fast paced and rock and roll for their standards (albums like “Odoru Issunboushi” or “Rashoumon”). “Taihai Geijutsu Ten” is one of their most psychedelic album (a simpl look at the cover again would support that argument).

The progressive rock influence is quite obvious on this album, it always has been an integral part of their sound but it's fully developed here. I feel like the progressive ate some of the doom and metal influences (they were definitely not in the belly for a long time though). Nonetheless, there's fast, metallic tracks like the excellent & catchy “Excite” with its speed metal approach. The bulk of the album remains the six and seven minutes epic numbers like the doom monster “Dunwich No Kai”. The sound found here is basically a mix of weird progressive rock, blues (“Mura No Hazure De Big Bang” or “ED45” are influenced by Physical Graffiti), hard rock and doom. Don't worry though, the band still has a metal edge, it's just mixed up in their sushi recipe alongside other tasty ingredients.

Each of their albums are exploring the lush landscape of Japan, unravelling the multiple facets of the complex former feudal identity of Japan. This record is exploring the deep and mystic spiritual philosophy of existence. Twelve songs of unparallelled vision, travelling at light speed between the eras while borrowing everything it needs. The power trio’s biggest homage is perhaps to the seminal and timeless force of Rush. Akin to the Canadian band, Ningen-Isu is technically strong but never emotionally shallow. The main feat of strength of the band is their solos, expertly crafted and full of blues influence, in perfect synchronicity with their rich songwriting.

Ningen-Isu has of course always played their music with a very tight approach, they’re Japanese after all and outside the realms of Abigail and Metalucifer, sloppiness is to be laughed at. Nonetheless, “Taihai Geijutsu Ten” feels more laid back and it's playing with a lot of atmospheres. Despite their restrained line-up, it's quite varied and that's the best proof you can get to confirm the genius creative process of Kenichi Suzuki (bass, vocals) and Shinji Wajima (guitars, vocals), they drive the sound with ease and care and by this point in their career, they were very oiled machines of riffs and groove. It was an era of their sound that still was refractory to the groovy stoner influence found in later albums.

The vocal approach is not that much of an acquired taste here or maybe I'm just getting used to it. The dual approach of the aforementioned duo works very well. I can understand the reservations concerning this aspect of their music but the cleans vocals nourished by the quite tremendous Japanese accent are simply so original and fresh for a westerner that it gives this band an additional and idiosyncratic modus operandi.

Their albums are usually pretty long, full of intricate songs and perhaps a little hard to get into but it's very rewarding at the end of the process. They have this uncanny ability to develop a true identity, although you can hear their influences, it's so perfectly mixed within their Japanese sound such as in “Chinurareta Hinamatsuri” with its use of traditional instruments. Even though their lyrics always had been in Japanese, their music is thoroughly anchored to their roots.

It's never painfully cheesy opposed to these androgynous Visual Kei/jpop bands popping everywhere. These bands like Versailles are the creative antithesis of Gaahl, they both act like divas underneath the thick makeup or “corpsepaint”. These bands discovered how to write music while watching an hentai version of “Beauty and the Beast. Ningen-Isu, on the other hand, found their voice by diving into inventive tales and deep literature (the last track's title can be translated to “The Dunwich Horror” and it's indeed a dark and ominous song). They're mixing subtle theatricality alongside a solid, musical background that is really the main feature of this band. Music should be the number one priority, caring about something else than the content is hollow.

Japan is a world of its own, building a personality outside the kingdom of trite white metalheads building the churches of their heritage. Ningen-Isu, who's nonetheless evolving into this kawaii empire, is living in their own, perhaps seclusive but oh so creative bubbles protected of these shitty, modern, saccharine influences. They're all about delivering the goods transposed as solids riffs, they'll always rule and it was no different in 1998.

1 comment:

Apteronotus said...

Cool review, it is really nice to read something nice about this criminally under-publicized band. I still have no idea why they don't have wider distribution or why it is so hard to find their stuff when they are so damn good.