I´ve never been a Japanese prog fan, at least I don’t consider myself an erudite. Although it´s true I have several albums of this sub genre, few bands have impressed me beyond my recognition because of their contribution to the genre. I know it´s a question of personal taste, because I appreciate their instrumental quality and their originality (obviously they drink from an exotic culture). But among all Japanese and non Japanese progressive rock, Ars Nova has always been one of my favorite bands because of its approach, without cloning, to my beloved ELP and darkest Italian progressive rock.
But this powerful trio of Japanese dolls has changed its style through the years. The band that released “Fear & Anxiety” (92), “Transi” (94), “The Goddess of Darkness” (96) and “Reu nu pert em hru” (98) exchanged its love for occultism for sci-fi, releasing a correct “Android Domina” (2001) and this conceptual album entitled “Biogenesi Project”. I suppose that the contribution of Keiko Kumagai (keyboardist, composer and Ars Nova´s alma mater) in Ayreon´s “Flight of the Migrator” and the influence of the Japanese producer and artist Numero Ueno (who wrote the concept and plays some acoustic guitars) encouraged her to create her own universe. So Captain Kumagai has created a sort of Space Metal “made in Japan” along with her habitual shipmates Akiko Takahashi (drums, vocals) and Mika (vocals) and choosing a crew of illustrious pilots from Planet Europe led by Arjen Lucassen (guitars), Gianni Leone (vocals, synths), Lucio Fabbri (violin), Claudio Simonetti (synths) and Alex Brunori (vocals), known by their deeds with the ships named Ayreon, Il Balleto di Bronzo, PFM, Daemonia and Leviathan. From Planet Japan we have Masuhiro Goto (drums, acoustic guitar and vocals) and Atsushi Hasegawa (bass), both from the ship named Gerard, one of the heaviest ships in the universe, Takeo Shimoda (drums) from the ship named Nuovo Immigrato, and Takehito Kimura (latin piano) from the ship Tiananogue. The narrator is a man named Robert Allen and even the name of the cover´s girl is listed in the booklet, Megumi. The album has a length of around 45 min with seven tracks that go from 3 until 15 minutes.
I think it´s a mistake that Ars Nova keep on collaborating with the band Gerard, a band who praises the cult of excess. Ars Nova became infected with that taste in rococo and baroque and releases an album very, very dense… one of those albums with an atmosphere that can be cut with a knife, one of those albums that, when it ends, a feeling of spiritual peace floats in the air, one of those neverending albums that seems to be eternal.
And the fact is that the album has really impressive moments. The opener “Intro: meltdown” (hey, six minutes… a real intro!) has lots of epic and good guitar solos played by Arjen Lucassen. Although the guitar solos are fast, they seem to be recorded in slow motion if we compare them to the keyboards. Second track “Escape” (8:17) is another epic composition with all kind of pompous keyboards. A blend of the main theme of “Logan´s Run” and ELP. Of course there´s no need to say that Keiko Kumagai is simply a keyboard virtuoso. I can´t believe her way of playing all kind of keyboards. But there are so much keyboards that, once the album ends, you won´t listen to keyboards for a long time. The last part of the track, from the sixth minute on and after a keyboard´s storm, gives us a moment´s peace. An atmospheric and spacey interlude is a balm for our ears... but this is a mirage because the track finished in the middle of cyber-chaos.
“Mother Earth” (2:27) is the first acid test for those who never listened to japanese progressive rock: the vocals. I won´t say if Mika is a good or bad singer, the only thing I´ll say is that she has a very peculiar voice… very “japanese”. The song is slow and I thank M. Goto´s acoustic guitar sounding over the floating keyboards. I´m getting nervous because I know that there will a storm after this calm.. the slow first notes of “Metamorphosis” (6:17) are a cage that leads us to an orgy of Hammond's, percussions and synths´ solos. To be honest the solo played from the third minute on is wonderful, as well as the following ones… but Goto and Shimuda are very nervous with the percussions and I have a feeling of saturation. “Humanoid´s breakfast” (3:12) is a funny track that begins with Grieg´s Morning (Peer Gynt) that fades into robotic cyber-voices asking for a breakfast and background puppet music and industrial rhythms. A track entitled “Against the meteors” (3:27) means an overdose of keyboards. As I listen to the background rhythm (similar to “Peter Gunn”) all the keyboards take me to any space oddity… from “Blade Runner” to “Mazinger Z”.
But the closing track “Trust to the future” (15:21) has no name. Here, twelve merciless musicians attack the listener. The first minutes are soft, with japanese voices, but the things become tight as the minutes pass by. All the cliches that put progressive music´s enemies´ nerves on edge are shown inside this track as if it was a showcase of excess. Do you like solos?, which ones?... here you´ll find all!. All kind of keyboards, synths, guitars, violins, latin pianos, etc… every instrument has its solo!; there are slow moments, atmospheric moments, heavy moments…. Throughout the whole album vocals are literally eaten by an instrumental avalanche (anyway none of them are great singers and they should improve their english pronunciation). Triumvirat or ELP are The Ramones if we compared them to Ars Nova... but Ars Nova would be The Rolling Stones in comparison with Gerard, the thickest band in the world and the less advisable if you have stress.
Well, what a spiel, isn´t it?... and only for two stars and a half. To be sincere the album has an amazing instrumental level that overwhelms, oppress, and makes you feel like a poor western defenseless mortal before a charge of keyboards and percussions. Lovers of excess, films of gladiators, Cecil B. De Mille, roman orgies, etc… will enjoy a lot with this album. Those who have to go to the neurologist or have problems with schizophrenia, please handle this album with care. It´s one of those albums that, after two or three listening's with your eyes wide opened by the instrumental level, won´t be listened again until you get recover. I prefer Ars Nova´s early albums.