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Shingetsu - Zenshi CD (album) cover

ZENSHI

Shingetsu

 

Symphonic Prog

4.00 | 1 ratings

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ThulŽatan
Prog Reviewer
4 stars This is a very special boxed set by the short-lived but excellent Japanese band Shingetsu, compiling just about everything the band ever did in the studio along with material by the various solo and offshoot projects that came into being after the band dissolved. The result is something I would consider essential to all fans of the golden age of '70s progressive rock. Influenced by classic King Crimson, Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd, and particularly Genesis, Shingetsu did not appear on the scene until the late '70s but brought with them that pure, symphonic, cinematic sound shared by those other bands earlier in the decade, completely untainted by punk and the other commercial music which had now started to plague progressive music here in the west.

Their first, eponymously titled, album from 1979 is now a landmark of Japanese prog rock history: eight epic tracks of adventurous music, accompanied by abstract lyrics typical of the Japanese aesthetic delivered by Makoto Kitayama's beautiful, mournful, storyteller's voice. This album, which merits a dedicated review of its own, is included here in full as a remastered version. The remastering is light and very faithful to the original release - the body of the music has been brought closer to modern day loudness, and the acoustic guitars in particular have a slightly cleaner and more colourful sound compared to the previous CD issue.

Shingetsu embarked on a successful tour of their first album, and soon began work on a follow-up, 'From A Distant Star'. Unfortunately the band split before this second record could be completed, despite the warm reception of much of its material while on tour. One of the most promising chapters in prog was sadly over before it began. However, in 2005 when the band reunited to compile this anthology, they also took on the unusual task of completing the album they had started writing almost two decades earlier, and so disc two of 'Zenshi' presents Shingetsu's second album to the world at last. Having such a prolonged inception, 'From A Distant Star' bears the rare honour of sounding like a golden age album, containing all the energy and imagination of the time, but executed with today's technology. Crystal clear without sounding even remotely over-produced, this collection of tracks ranges from improvisational instrumental landscaping to full-on unclassifiable majesty, employing a diversity of keyboard and guitar sounds, and throughout there is that sense of melody being infused into every element which was so central to '70s prog. The strong stage numbers of old, 'Red Eyes On Mirror' and 'The Voyage For Killing Love' are revitalised, making up the bulk of the CD, and the latter in particular is a towering epic - Part One as gentle and grievous and aching a ballad you're ever likely to hear, and Part Two a blazing journey to oblivion, via infinity, then back again as Kitayama cries 'I will wait for you on a distant star'. Yes, this CD alone is worth the price of admission.

The remaining CDs cover the rehearsals and demos of Shingetsu as well as the bands that the members formed subsequent to the first break-up (HAL, Serenade and others) who also came up with some very interesting Shingetsu-esque material. These bands were equally short-lived, and this document allows us again to see what might have been. The final disc is a short DVD, featuring a few tracks from the original album set to footage of the band on stage (the music itself is not live) plus some encouraging scenes of the reunion rehearsals in 2005.

Naturally, some may find the Japanese lyrics an obstacle to fully enjoying Shingetsu. However, not only is the music on its own outstanding, but (as with songs in any language we don't speak) sometimes the sound of and emotion behind the words transcend their literal meaning - that is certainly the case here. But the meanings too once understood do add to the music, and as with early Yes, for example, Shingetsu's words are chosen not only for their sound but for their poetic effect. Suffice it to say, there are no love songs present here. 'Zenshi' is a testament to the flourishing of progressive rock music far away from where it was born. I can't help wondering what might have been if the band had stayed together at the end of the '70s... and wondering if we will ever hear from them again.

This lavish, unmissable set from 2005 is a limited edition, but at the time of writing there are still copies available at cdjapan.co.jp - so act fast!

ThulŽatan | 4/5 |

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