Friday, November 19, 2010

Review: Koenjihyakkei - Angherr Shisspa (2005, Magaibutsu, Skin Graft)


Chris (Syzygy) at Prog Archives, said it in the opening of his review – the Japanese Magma; I agree. Koenjihyakkei is a Japanese Zeuhl band has the characteristics of the genre – the operatic-style and theatrical vocals, the drum insanity, and the apparent chaotic like song structure (which is only an appearance that diminishes after several listens).

All the musical parts are performed with brilliant precision and most notably are the keyboards and drums. I find this to be pretty close to, if not, “classic” Zeuhl. The operatic vocals, the theatrical presentation of the songs as can be heard in the different instruments playing style. The only difference I find is that the bass part is not as prominent and heard as on other Zeuhl albums. It does show a higher level of presence in several parts of different tracks, but I find it to be a disappointing aspect in this release. It’s not that the bass play lousy or something of that sort, not at all. They do a very good job and you should concentrate on their part when listening to this album. It’s just that they have been “put backwards” in the mixing and they are not given the chance to impress the listener as they could have, had they been given the opportunity to do so. What replaces the bass in the lead role are, surprise surprise, the drums performed by Tatsuya. It seems to me as a free-from style of playing with brilliant moves. Apart from the obvious Zeuhl characteristics, there are some obvious jazz rhythms/time signatures (call them what you will), and some free-jazz improvisations occasionally, which are performed by the drums and keyboards (with a wind instrument sound).

Each song has its main theme in which they display an array of sounds emanating from the surprisingly not so many instruments. It is the drums and piano sounding keyboards that give the extra flavour to each one, the first with its insanity fierceness and the second with its contrast effect (as I will mention later as well). Kyoko’s voice envelops the music very well and the backing vocals only emphasize her well-performed role. The tracks do give room for the players to go about in their personal route meaning that they can maybe show their skills a bit more and even improvise a bit. Even though you can clearly hear the pattern of most songs, and understand their organizations, it is not a simplistic arrangement at all. The tracks have a complexity and intensity that avoids this danger of becoming boring or too repetitive. Several tracks go even further and “loosen up” more and give rise to some “spontaneous” sounding bursts of energy (as in track 5 Quivem Vrastorr). On other tracks they seem to go insane like on track 6 - Mibingvahre. On that one, every member of the group seems to have permission to do as he wishes. But while doing so, they still, somehow, remain together in coherence. This is surprising, given that it sound as free improvisation hour at Koenji and company. These sorts of tracks show their avant-garde tendencies which are mostly heard on other Tatsuya projects. Then you have the tracks that seem to mingle those two approaches (Zeuhl and Avant-garde) like the title track Angherr Shisspa. Several times at the end of this album, I felt a bit drained out of power, as if merely listening to the album has its toll on your energy levels. This is not a bad thing. It just goes to show how involved one might be when listening to music and how this particular album can affect you while listening to it.

I don’t find much point in going over the whole tracks giving a tedious description of them one by one, so I will just focus on the first one. Starting off with the female vocals singing alone a nice simple tune, she ends up soaring upwards and the band joins in along with the backing vocals. The drums are the first thing I noticed, due to their fierce intensity and all-over-the-place style of playing. The piano sounding keyboards is a nice contradiction in sound, though it does play along with the music and not against it. It’s just that the sound of it works like a contrasting effect for the rest of the instruments and vocals, giving a great effect. The rhythm is spectacular and does not leave you to rest for a minute. And when they leave for a minute the track’s main theme, enter the guitar with its freaky playing and the distorted keyboards.


If you are not into Zeuhl, then perhaps this is a good time to do so. This album might not be the best entry point, but it does have the hallmmarks of the genre. However, if you have tried and disliked it, if you are not into operatic style of vocals and dislike a theatrical style of music, then you should avoid this. But as far as Zeuhl goes, I personally find this to be a brilliant display of music. I am particularly taken by the drums part and the overall rich sound of this album. This was my intro to Koenjihyakkei and it has persuaded me to go further on and listen to their other efforts. So this is perhaps another good argument for obtaining this.

I find this to be an excellent addition to my colletion and pretty much essential to a Zeuhl collection. 4 out of 5 stars is therefore an appropriate rating for this wonderful album.

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