Koenji Hyakkei

II

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For all of his musical activity thinly stretched over dozens of bands, no one can ever say that Tatsuya Yoshida isn't capable of focusing his energies on one incredible thing at a time. Best known as leader and co-founder of Ruins, the drummer's ultimate accomplishment is the second release by his avant-progressive ensemble Koenji-Hyakkei. All of his trademarks are here: speedy, impossibly convoluted bass and drum patterns; kinetic vocals bordering on chaotic war cries; and the apex of his development of Magma's "zeuhl" legacy. Unlike the relatively Spartan Ruins, however, Koenji-Hyakkei presents his visions in brilliant Technicolor: tight, powerful, group singing; majestic keyboard arrangements; and a massive rock mix give II a vital kick unmatched in Yoshida's catalog.

Fittingly, II (sometimes known as Viva Koenji) begins with "Grembo Zavia," arguably Yoshida's finest composition. Beginning as a breakneck choral workout and jagged, drum-led flight of odd-meter ferocity, the song works through several sections of saturated intensity, highlighting one laser-beam riff after another. The band navigates these themes as if performing an apocalyptic opera for their lives. (Truthfully, if you aren't up for an intense ride, it may well be too much to take.) And then it gets interesting: Stripping away all but barely audible bass and drums, soprano Aki Kubota coos ominously, as if forecasting impending doom. Indeed, the sudden onslaught of chaos soon afterwards will probably shock anyone foolish enough to have turned the volume up during the break. Likewise, "Guoth Dahha" manages to sustain perpetually manic intensity via death metal guitar licks and vocals that go from classic zeuhl-operatic grandeur to angry howls to all-out screams of horror. Although not every moment on II is so extreme (see Kubota's comparatively soothing Middle Eastern trance-rock "Cembell Rotta"), anyone not ready for a full helping of unrepentant bombast and super-human prog should beware of this album. Along with Koenji-Hyakkei's first release, however, it is one of the best Japanese progressive releases of the '90s.

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