Thursday, December 24, 2015

人間椅子 - 無限の住人

Still Rocking Out

無限の住人 (Mugen no Juunin) is the 6th full length album by the Japanese rock gods. Active since the late 80s, everything these guys touch turns to gold, and it's no different here. Ningen-Isu's primary influence is the Sabbath school of heavy metal, and there's no doubt they graduated at the top of their class. Shinji and Kenichi are absolute masters at serving up those wonderful, old-school grooves and riffs. Although the basis of the band's sound has remained unchanged through all of these years, each Ningen-Isu has its own identity and has subtle (or occasionally more obvious) distinction from the rest. On Mugen no Juunin, the change in sound is actually fairly overt. In comparison to the previous 5 albums, the band sheds much of the metal and goes for a more hard rock/psychedelic rock approach. Of course even without the metal bite, Ningen-Isu remains a compelling group.

The opening track, 晒し首, is a fun, midpaced rocker that sets the tone for much of the album. As always, the interaction between Kenichi's bass lines and Shinji's guitar riffs serve as the primary attraction. This particular features drummer Iwao Tsuchiya who only drummed on a couple of albums, but nonetheless does a pretty good job providing nice rhythms in the back. Given their image and country of origin, it probably won't be much of a surprise to learn that the group often incorporates traditional folk into their music. Mugen no Juunin is quite possibly the most folkish album they ever released. The acoustic ballad, もっこの子守唄, is basically a short, sweet folk song with Shinji singing along in a campfire-esque way. The title track, 無限の住人, also makes extensive use of acoustic sections, some traditional sounding instruments, and folkish chants from Kenichi. One of the highlights of the album for sure.

But the biggest standout to me is easily the third track, 地獄, which is easily one of the most unique songs in Ningen-Isu's massive discography. It instantly slaps you in the face with this incredibly weird but ridiculously catchy riff from both Kenichi and Shinji. As icing on the cake, Kenichi makes a bunch of weird vocal noises and even does a madman laugh at some point. The middle section is a sharp contrast to all the madness and goes for a pretty spacey psychedelic vibe with a lot of weird guitar effects from Shinji. But really the main reason this song stands out so much is because of the aforementioned main riff. It's simple, but extremely unique, and I've not heard another band come up with anything that sounds like that.

There are plenty moments where the band pulls out a very fine metal riff, but most of the album is really more hard rock in character. Of course, this isn't a bad thing at all if you're as good as Ningen-Isu. What they do best is genuinely rock out. For a nice contrast, think of all of those bad stoner doom bands that spend all their time getting a fuzzy tone but only play derivative, second-rate music and have no sense of songwriting. Ningen-Isu is basically the polar opposite of that. They make great songs, have a huge passion of music, and continue to serve top class rock and metal. In terms of consistency, they're almost unparalleled, and at their peaks, they make some of most compelling 70s-style rock and metal out there.

Another song I really feel the need to commend is the monstrous doomy closer, 黒猫. Following the trend of past albums, Ningen-Isu decide to close the album with a long epic. Whenever you see a really long Ningen-Isu track (there's another on this album and it is indeed really good), you know you're in for a treat. The band doesn't usually come off as overtly prog rock in character to me, but I can definitely hear it in their longer songs. 黒猫 shares the characteristics of long Ningen-Isu in its long, extended structure and scope. While much of the previous material is lighter in tone and often psychedelic and spacey, there's a huge tone shift here to a much darker, ominous atmosphere. The main riff is very heavy, but still very catchy. The song itself goes through plenty of different sections and closes the album large, grand manner.

Mugen no Juunin is probably not their most accessible or immediate album (especially not if you're looking for hard hitting metal). But it's by no means bad, and my appreciation of it has grown a lot over time. It's a very interesting hard/psychedelic rock experience with a ton of great grooves. Out of their 18 great albums, this one is definitely one of the ones I like more.

Rating: 90/100

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