Saturday, December 19, 2015

人間椅子 - 二十世紀葬送曲

Doomy Goodness

人間椅子 (Ningen-Isu) is actually quite out of place in my collection. Yeah sure, there's a bunch of obi strips on my CDs and in that regard Ningen-Isu fits right in. But stylistically speaking, the band is actually completely out of my comfort zone. In general, I'm more of a fan of flashy technical acrobatics whether it is in math rock, power metal, prog rock, etc. Despite my unfamilarity with the scene, it's really easy to tell that Ningen-Isu is something special. They're often accurately described as the "Japanese Black Sabbath" due to the way the power trio delivers mid tempo, heavy riffs in the style pioneered by the much beloved forefathers of heavy and doom metal. But make no mistake, Ningen-Isu isn't just some half-baked derivative group that can only ape a style without any creativity of their own. In fact, these veterans have been consistently serving up high quality metal for decades with their own unique character and vision.

The band has released a whopping 18 albums to date (with another on the way) and none are duds. Firmly picking a single favorite Ningen-Isu album is an impossible task, but the 1999 album, 二十世紀葬送曲 (Nijuu Seiki Sousoukyoku), is easily among the top albums the band has ever released. The previous album in 1998 is mostly rooted in psychedelic rock, but this album has Ningen-Isu returning to their doom and heavy metal roots. As with any Ningen-Isu album, the primary attraction is the incredible interaction of the dynamic duo of Kenichi on bass and Shinji on guitars. Both men are simply masters of the art of riffing. Right after the opening bluesy notes reminiscent of a train whistle (appropriate given the title of the first song), the album's very first riff is an absolute winner. Your ears are greeted with this midtempo catchy, twisty riff that gives you that much desired authentic classic heavy metal feel.

Much of the album relies on a "money moment" type of songwriting, and it actually works quite well. Many songs flow incredibly smoothly with great verses and choruses, but then the band throws in a flashy moment where everyone jams really hard and it's awesome. For instance, take the 5th track, 曉の断頭台. Most of this song is slow and foreboding in feeling with an absolutely haunting guitar lead from Shinji over a rhythmic, marching bassline. But in the middle lies this incredible section. Suddenly there's a slight tempo increase, heavy power chords are strummed, Goto flies all over the drum kit, and Shinji ends up whipping out a great solo. This small moment is also a good example of why I earlier said that Ningen-Isu is out of place in my music collection. That brief section I just described is actually incredibly simple in the guitar and bass and consists of 2 power chords that a 5 year old could play.

Now don't get me wrong, Shinji can shred like a monster, and Kenichi easily outclasses most bassists. But truthfully in contrast to most of their countrymen and my own personal taste, their riffs are generally quite simple. And yet they're crafted with the utmost care and delivered at just the right time. However, this album doesn't actually lack at all in the technical department for me. While the core of Ningen-Isu is the unchanging duo of Kenichi and Shinji, they've also rotated through four different drummers in their career. None of them were anywhere near bland or boring drummers and all brought plenty to the music, but hands down, my favorite Ningen-Isu drummer is the one that contributed his incredible skill to this album, Masuhiro Goto.

His performance is paradoxically subtle and flashy, but once you notice it, you have to just marvel at this guy's skills. He also drummed for the famous Japanese prog rock band, Gerard, and you can definitely hear a proggy influence in his drumming. To put it simply, his control of the beat and rhythm is absolutely top class. There's a ton of incredibly precise and intricate drum work that would completely stumble lesser drummers. And the man's fills are really nothing short of mindblowing. While plenty of my favorite Ningen-Isu albums do not have Goto as a drummer, the albums in the "Goto-era" all feature his insane drum work that quite frankly, none of the other drummers for the band could quite match. Furthermore, I find this album in particular to have one of his strongest performances.

Vocally speaking, both Shinji and Kenichi handle the duties. Their voices may sort of blend together to the casual listener, but there's certainly a notable difference. Kenichi has the lower, gruffer voice and also is the one that makes most of the weird noises and eccentric singing (not too much of that on this album though). Shinji is higher pitched and sings in a more typical rock style. While neither vocalists are anything to write home about, they both work well together with some harmonization and give their unmistakable, unique character to the music.

This is Ningen-Isu at the top of their game. As always, the band showcases much diversity in their material. Bluesy heavy metal vibes, crushing doom, and even thrashy moments are all handled masterfully by the group. Additionally, the absolutely stellar drum performance is always a sweet treat to hear. Consequently, this is one of my most visited Ningen-Isu albums. It's top-notch quality from top to bottom.

Rating: 90/100

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