(All Album Reviews by yanks2009)
I've been obsessing over this album since I got it a few days ago, so it's time for a review. It's been more than 5 years since the last album, some describe as overblown, Biogenesis. That one was more a project than a band effort, with lots of guests sometimes overshadowing the proceedings. It was the first Ars Nova album with guitar, played by Arjen Luccasen, obvious Ayreon comparisons, including a cheesy but morbid sci-fi story. English vocals by Gianni Leone? Nice hearing a more hard rock version of the band, and the violin work was nice, but overall this didn't work as well as I expected.
So years later, even after a dropped concept (a horror version of Alice In Wonderland), comes Seventh Hell. Now a steady lineup with Guitarist Satoshi Handa, and drummer Hazime, both with more of a metal background and bassist Shinko 'Panky' Shibata, and of course leader and mastermind Keiko Kumagai. This album features a few guests, especially some lead guitar from Age of Nemesis guitarist Zoltan Fabian. His playing reminds me of a cross between John Petrucci and Brian May. By now, the integration of guitar and even prog-metal into their sound is much more natural, as if Keiko has written music like this from the beginning. This is not a prog-metal album, but fans of that will find much to like. It's dark, nearly gothic sounding, keyboard heavy symphonic prog. Very busy, intense stuff, as is to be expected. On to the songs
This is the prog-metal tune, or at least the most influenced by that genre. The opening is more of an anthem feel, a real epic sound. We get some of that great, dirty organ sound that Keiko is known for, along with that chiming sound she's fond of, before some gothic sounding sections that dominate the song. And then is busy as hell prog, reminding me of a heavier Il Baletto di Bronzo. Still, a difference from past albums, despite all the mayhem, this time the music is allowed to breathe a little. A new idea isn't crammed into every millisecond. It's still very dense music, lots of changes for certain. An exciting 11 minutes, and a great start to the album!
”La Venus Endormie”
My favorite off this, maybe Keiko's best work. It's much more melodic and pretty than what I've come to expect from her. Nice guest vocals from former member Mika. It's in English, but hard to tell with her accent, but a pretty, high-pitched tone. Some heavy passages, but this is about brighter tones, and cool use of acoustic guitars mixed with piano and organ, and even a Spanish or Latin tinged section. This has less of the herky-jerky feel of a lot of Ars Nova, more a complete song. It's simply a gorgeous tune.
”Cazadora De Astros”
Starts off sounding like a traditional Ars Nova song, the first minute would fit right in on Goddess of Darkness. It's followed by a more mellow sound, even some soft guitar in the background and a surprising use of harmony on keys. The Latin sound returns, including more acoustic piano. But then it's more up tempo, heavy symphonic, even some metal drumming, before returning to that traditional sound, then closing with that mellow, melodic section played earlier. I would say this sounds closest to what people expect from this band, while incorporating the edgier aspects, and a more mature song writing style.
”Voice of Wind”
This is the experimental, weird track, hard to call it a song. It's the shortest song, just over 4 minutes. It's filled with odd background noises and voices followed by guitar driven hard rock, and some very well recorded drums. Definitely more a guitar piece, though written by the drummer! Strange, but it's growing on me.
Inspired by Dali, no surprise after hearing this. This song goes all over the place, it feels a bit like several songs or leftovers mixed together, though after several spins is making more musical sense to me. One jarring aspect are some operatic female vocals, maybe 90 seconds worth of a 17 minute piece, not a huge problem for me. In this case, very little if any breathing space, it's one intense section after another, maybe less cohesive than most of the album, but fine playing all around. I do notice some of that Middle Eastern vibe in spots, like on Book of the Dead. This is basically a kitchen sink approach, a bit of everything, including some layered vocals, and again that Latin tinged guitar and keyboard work. Mika returns for a bit of wordless vocals as well, but then it's some prog-metal, and well, you get the idea, a bit of everything. It's not the mess I'm making it out to be, and again, repeated listens are making this work more and more. The final section brings back the operatic vocals, but not as upfront, it works here layering in the mix.
All in all, a tremendous effort by Keiko Kumagai and company, I think it's her defining work. I can't take this out of the CD player, it's easily my favorite CD of the year so far.
I have to mention the CD packaging, it's top rate, and not just for those who find Keiko attractive. It's a glossy gatefold CD, with a booklet, and yeah, many pictures of Keiko in revealing outfits. Her angel wing picture is, well, rather appealing, to put it mildly. Oh, and photos of other band members...
(All Album Reviews by jlneudorf)
The Japanese quartet released their debut album in 1992 and have seven studio albums to their credit with their latest Seventh Hell hitting the shelves, a record over two years in the making. Band members include Keiko Kumagai (keyboards), Satoshi Handa (guitars), Panky (bass) and Hazime (drums). Making guest appearances are Age of Nemesis guitarist Zoltan Fabian and Dutch keyboardist Robby Valentine. In case you are not familiar with Ars Nova, they play a style of bombastic, in your face progressive rock that really cooks. Their sound is heavily influenced by the seventies, in particular their use of vintage keyboard sounds. And let me tell you, the keyboards come at you from all directions, swirling here and dancing there. It would be an understatement to say this is heavily orchestrated music. It will hit you in the face and knock you down if you are not careful.
Complex arrangements and virtuoso musicianship does not always necessitate a great listen and it has been stated the band has plenty of style and little substance since the over the top playing may be considered overly pretentious by some. I have never penalized a band for virtuoso playing and I am not going to start now. Besides, the band is able to slow things down occasionally reducing the bombast and there are some pretty melodies scattered throughout these five songs.
“Seventh Hell” is the first song and it is a sign of what is to come with dramatic orchestrations and a frenetic pace that rarely lets up. Be prepared to fasten your seat belt when listening to this one! So what if its over the top, its still oh so enjoyable to listen to. “La Venus Endormie” continues in a similar vein with crunchy guitars and a variety of keyboards, but this time there are female vocals added to the mix. The virtuosic acoustic guitar work is beautifully complex. The album’s epic is the seventeen minute “Salvador Syndrome” where flamenco style acoustic guitar, operatic vocals, moody atmospherics and a circus-style section all help to make for an absorbing listen. Loud and heavy, light and soft, this song is a satisfying ending to a very strong album.
To recap, if you enjoy the bombastic side of progressive rock you need to have this CD in your collection. Let the pomposity begin!