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Ars Nova (JAP) - Seventh Hell CD (album) cover

SEVENTH HELL

Ars Nova (JAP)

 

Symphonic Prog

3.52 | 39 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars When it comes to the controversy of women performing in progressive rock, there are plenty of examples of female vocalists of course but traditionally women composers and all-girl bands in prog are quite rare. Well, unless you go to Japan of course. It is that country that seems to have some of the most ambitious and talented women in the higher arts of music and the country pumps out its share of extremely talented classical, jazz and progressive rock female specimens and it doesn't get any more so than the hyperactive and estrogen soaked female dominated band ARS NOVA. While the band was founded all the way back in 1983 as an all female cover band of classic prog such as ELP and Trace, in 1986 Keiko Kumagai joined the band and took creative control as the keyboard player and composer in chief. She even played with Ayreon on the album "Universal Migrator Part 2: Flight Of The Migrator." If you're looking for some sensual feminine charm with a whole lotta bombastic heft then look no further than ARS NOVA.

ARS NOVA has gone through many line-up changes over there long career and on the band's eighth studio album SEVENTH HELL, the lineup changes once again with only Kumagai remaining. While "Biogenesis Project" was fortified with a healthy supply of guest musicians in addition to the double synth attack and drums, SEVENTH HELL is streamlined into a mere yet no less feisty quartet of Kumagai on sole keyboard duty, Satoshi Handa on guitars and vocals, Shinko Panky Shibata on bass and Hazime on drums. While not exclusively an girl's club any longer, Kumagai takes the reins and keeps the feminine charm on board through this energetic romp through a parade of tight melodic riff sessions that simultaneously create pleasing earworm potential commerciality with heavy and frenetic restlessness that creates a dynamic tension through a variety of changing thematic proses that dish out the best influences of ELP, Goblin, PFM, Rich Wakeman, Balletto di Bronzo and beyond.

Teetering on the borderline between heavy symphonic prog and progressive metal. SEVENTH HELL provides a mostly instrumental path through five well composed tracks that are drenched in synthesizer attacks, heavy guitar laden riffage and choppy time signature rich percussive drives. The tracks vary in theme and length ranging from the opening near twelve minute title track that pours out lush addictive melodic driven synthesizer attacks to the heavy as hell short metal rocker "Voice Of Wind" that displays a rather Dream Theater type of progressive metal drive only with more complexities and avant-garde features interwoven into the spaced out atmospheric accompaniments. The grand finale "Salvador Syndrome" swallows up almost half of the album with a seventeen minute plus track that sounds more like a European Renaissance type of track than anything remotely Japanese. Graced by exquisite piano and keyboard runs and a series of never-ending changes, the behemoth track really lets loose and shows that female composers are alive and well and exceed the talents of many male counterparts in virtually every way.

SEVENTH HELL is a beast of melodic prog that has a rather exotic soundtrack feel packed full of different sounds interacting with the keys, guitar, bass and drums. While mostly instrumental, when vocals do occur they are usually displayed in spoken work or operatic scat singing with seemingly meaningly vocalizations with a few exceptions. This is the same style of prog metal that Ayreon lovers would eat up in a heartbeat and makes it evident why she fit in so well on Arjen Lucassen's ever-changing busy sounding brand of prog and symphonic metal. While ARS NOVA hasn't officially called it quits, it is somewhat of a mystery as to why the last album released came out all the way back in 2009. Perhaps other projects have gotten in the way, maybe a decade long album in the making is inching ever closer. While i could speculate to infinity, one thing is for sure and that is that this is some top notch brilliant composing power by Kumagai with top notch tight and daring performances to match. ARS NOVA is yet another brilliant Japanese band who managed to take European influences to the next level.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |

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