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Koenji Hyakkei - Angherr Shisspa CD (album) cover


Koenji Hyakkei



3.99 | 153 ratings

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3 stars Koenjihyakkei is a great zeuhl band following closely in step with Magma. At least on this album, Koenjihyakkei sounds like Magma turned up a few notches. While the band is Japanese and I admittedly know little about Japanese music, it seems as though any Asian influence on the music is non-existent. That's not necessarily a bad thing; I just would have liked a new spin on Zeuhl from one of the more popular acts in the genre. One of the things that makes Koenjihyakkei so great is that their music is always changing. It's not uncommon for them to pick up a completely new idea, run with it for only 20 seconds, then either drop it completely or come back to it a few minutes later. I have, however, come to find this particular style to be a double-edged sword which manifests itself once most of the wonderful ideas have been burnt through early on in the album.

"Tziidall Raszhisst" begins with a 45 second atmosphere before erupting into fantastically bizarre music. Every instrument seems to go in every direction at once but somehow it manages to stay together. It's also extremely dense. Either time passes slowly while listening to Tziidall Raszhisst or my mind speeds up to try to comprehend everything that's going on. The vocals cut out at 3:30 and we are transported to a completely different place with a somewhat less "out there" keyboard passage and drums which let a distorted crazy bass solo shine for about 40 seconds. By the beginning of this part I feel like the three and a half minutes took at least eight minutes to get through. The frantic music resumes and we follow it another few minutes to the end. A great start to the album and it definitely sets the mood. 8.5/10

"Rattims Friezz" is up next and is without a doubt my favorite Zeuhl song (out of only 5 or so albums, mind you). The first hundred seconds are absolutely transcendent. It's the only time I have ever really gotten the feeling of "zeuhl" meaning "celestial music." It starts with some xylophone-sounding keys. A bassoon, bass and some light cymbal work come in shortly and each add their own individual layer to the music that blends in one of the most beautiful ways possible. Full use of the drum kit, some spacey-sounding keys and tame female vocals join the fray around 40 seconds. All 7 or 8 layers continue acting somewhat independently in one of the most bizarre rhythms I have ever heard while slowly building. After that we have a breakdown into the frantic craziness that populates the previous song and the songs to come. The abrasive vocals make their only appearance at the beginning of the breakdown and after that all vocals are far more melodic. The rest of the song is sort of a fast-paced rollercoaster on the spectrum of craziness on a Koenjihyakkei scale (meaning it never crosses into the realm of "normal"). It's a fast-paced ride not because of an abnormally high tempo but rather because the same musical idea is never carried for more than 30 or so seconds and the broader musical concepts get changed every couple minutes. This makes it seem a whole heck of a lot longer than it is. I'm always amazed after listening to it to discover only 7 minutes have elapsed. 9/10

While still an incredibly dense song that makes apparent time slow down, this is probably the best Koenjihyakkei could do to give us a break. "Grahbem Jorgazz" has a really fun swingy groove that manifests itself only briefly in the beginning and at the end. The bassoon adds a jazzy feel to the song on a whole. Anyway, the tempo picks up with some shrieking within the first minute which avalanches into all out frantic playing. Halfway through, the song shifts to a subdued feeling while still maintaining the fast pace of earlier. That eventually gives way to something that seems like it could have been lifted off one of the jazzier moments of King Crimson's Lizard which crescendos then drops off for a return to the swinginess of before. 8.5/10

Alas, we finally reach our fist misstep of the album. "Fettim Paillu" opens with a mildly operatic minute which gives way to slow-tempo heavy-ish march-type music (although the rhythm would make any group of people marching to this song a hilarious spectacle). 2 minutes in and we see another change to something that sounds exactly like Magma. This is the point where the music really picks up. The tempo and franticness of all instruments really give it a scary feeling. There's a minute of buildup that is similar to the Magma music that takes us to 4:30. This minute is like a 10 step section of an escalator that magically goes seamlessly from step 10 to step 1. The escalator breaks down and falls apart at the 4:30 mark and drops us into a playground with the piano and sax reminiscent of King Crimson's "Moonchild." The last minute and a half brings us back to the beginning of the song. 6/10

"Quivem Vrostarr" is a complete change of mood from the previous song. It starts out light (well, some strange mutation of light as a result of the nature of Koenjihyakkei) with a female accompanied by a (maybe?) clarinet singing one line. Then a male voice sings another line while accompanied by a bass and drums. They take turns doing the same thing until the male part keeps repeating without any female counterpoint. Instruments (including the female vocals) gradually get added to this repeated line until there is a joyous-sounding climax. This pattern goes on for the first 80 seconds then rough mutations of this idea take place for the rest of the song. "Quivem Vrostarr" gets along just fine without a constant change in musical ideas. 8/10

Everything so far has been anchored in the realm of sanity (or at least somewhere on the border). I assure you that "Mibingvahre" bucks that trend by venturing into the RIO/Avant subgenre. There's about 3 minutes worth of the entire band "singing" on this song. A bit over a minute of the "singing" in the foreground happens at the beginning then almost all the rest comes at the end in the background. You may be thinking "why did he put quotes around the word 'singing'?" and that is a fair question to ask. They produce a sound with their mouths that changes tone, but it's as if they lost all control of their jaw and gravity forces their mouth to be open. Anyway, this is a fast-paced bass-driven song with plenty of cool grooves and a huge improve feel to it. It's also the craziest frakking song I have ever heard. After 4 minutes of music, your jaw is left agape while your mind is trying to form some construct that allows you to understand what just happened. Every other song on this album can be said to have something of a melody but "Mibingvahre" only produces tenuous grasps at the concept at best. This is not noise in the same vein as Captain Beefheart or someone similar but if you aren't at least a casual listener to RIO/Avant then don't be surprised if you don't like this song. There are a few good moments and I'm still not entirely sure what to think. 5/10

The seventh track on the album is the title track "Angherr Shisspa" and it is the lowest point of the album. The first minute of this song is filled with some more of the usual Koenjihyakkei craziness which gives way to a pleasant short and mellow jazzy interlude of piano, sax and drums. More of the same rounds out the first 4 minutes of the song then we are left with two and a half minutes of boring jazzy improv. 4/10

This album ends on a high(ish) note with "Wammilica Iffirom." It has the warmest feel on the album and is mildly celebratory in its tone. The two or three main themes are great while all being different. Unfortunately, as is the standard problem for Koenjihyakkei, they either don't understand the concept of running with a good idea for more than a minute or they don't want to. I'd be fine with this if all of the ideas were great, but when you're coming up with dozens of new ideas for an album while walking in the world of Zeuhl and taking vacations to the world of RIO/Avant then you're bound to stumble a few times. Anyway, they finish off the last half of the song with something reminiscent of Magma's MDK. 6/10

Normally I would complain about a CD being a mere 50 minutes but I'm actually kind of glad Angherr Shisspa doesn't go on any longer. I find myself getting weary as the last couple songs roll around. Some of the goods are great but this is far too inconsistent of an album to earn 4 stars. I don't think it's a good entry point into Zeuhl, but it might be great for someone looking to crossover from Zeuhl to RIO/Avant or vice versa.

TheCaptain | 3/5 |


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