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Mahoujin - Babylonia Suite CD (album) cover



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erik neuteboom
3 stars This is one of the lesser known Japanese progrock bands. The instrumental keyboard- oriented progrock (synthesizers, piano, organ and delicate Mellotron flights) is a bit similar to bands like Triumvirat (Germany) and Northstar (USA): the sound is tasteful and features not much solowork but remarkable is the very dynamic rhythm-section, especially the bassplayer blew me away.
Report this review (#36507)
Posted Tuesday, June 14, 2005 | Review Permalink
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars This album doesn’t really offer anything new or innovative in the area of symphonic, keyboard-driven progressive music, but it is an interesting period piece from the late seventies when symphonic rock was still being made quite a bit in Japan even though the style was in decline elsewhere. Mahoujin pretty much came and went with this release and didn’t leave too many remains behind besides this record.

My first impression on hearing the opening keyboard strains (Yamaha and mellotron mostly) was that this sounded an awful lot like game soundtrack music, which means there are a lot of polysynth progressions and extended instrumental passages (in fact the whole album is instrumental). One of my kids has informed me that the title track, or at least something sounding a lot like it, was the theme music for one of the Space Quest Roger Wilco games of the late eighties, so there you go.

The music owes a lot to ELP, and pretty much all of the few reviews you can find today for this album note the debt. The album consists of the side-length title track and three shorter but rather similar works, all of them presumably connected thematically (hence the album’s title), although the overall point of the album is somewhat lost on me. The band member’s names are in Japanese so they are difficult to decipher, although a couple web sites have listed them. One is drummer Shiro Sugano who would end up in the fusion band KBB a decade later, but I don’t know what happened to the keyboardists or the very talented bass player.

Other than the ambitious but unexceptional title track, the other mildly interesting number is the short but lively “Tower of Babel” which features heavy bass lines and a fusion-leaning rhythm. The mellotron is prominent here but not very complex, with some flute sounds and otherwise mostly just extended notes from that and the Yamaha.

The cover is a painting from the surrealist and somewhat tragic painter Remedios Varo. It is a tasteful touch but again I’m not clear on the relevance to the theme of the album.

This is a minor symphonic album from a mostly forgotten group who nevertheless are often seen mentioned as an influence in the biographies of later Japanese progressive musicians. The album makes for decent background mood music, but is not something that stands up all that well against the major innovators of this style of prog. I’ll go with three stars largely on the strength of the multilayered keyboards, and also for the bassist who outplays the rest of the group on most of the album. Recommended for people who are looking for something to push out of their speakers while playing RPGs on a dreary Saturday afternoon.


Report this review (#169585)
Posted Friday, May 2, 2008 | Review Permalink
Cesar Inca
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Mahoujin was a Japanese power-trio with a keyboard-based framework: now, this may sound as inherently inviting to the development of ELP-ish influences, but the fact is that this trio moved toward a less aggressive direction, more related to Novalis' spacey symphonic prog, Wakeman's stylish pomposity and Greenslade's warmth vibrations, with slight touches of "Spartacus"-era Triumvirat. "Babylonia Suite" is a very pleasant album, dominated by a sense of moderate energy and a delightful colorfulness (which perhaps may sound a bit underdeveloped in places). Obviously, keyboardsman Atsushi is in charge f providing the basic harmonies and dominant melodies, particularly featuring string ensemble and lead synthesizers. Meanwhile, the dynamic rhythmic foundation elaborated by Yasushi and Shiro states a proper balance of rocking sensibility and jazzy swings, in this way enhancing the enthusiastic moods that patently prevail in the repertoire's compositional dimensions. The sidelong namesake suite fills the album's first half in a definite attempt to expose the band's symphonic approach with no strings attached. That's how it goes, as simple as that, with the first section: pleasant melodies, global arrangements delivered in a reasonably constrained fashion, a vibrating rhythmic framework, a politely delivered epic feel. The suite's second section is slower and more ceremonious, providing partially a sense of cosmic mystery not unlike Eloy or Novalis. The third and fourth sections pretty much recreate the first part's mood, even enhancing it to a degree that would have made the guys of Triumvirat a bit jealous, since the overall sonic scheme happens to sound more vital and more technically accomplished. That's something you can easily notice when you pay attention to the jazz-rock-friendly rhythm duo. The suite's epilogue consists of a brief piano solo piece, melancholic and distant at the same time: it is clearly evocative of a memory for something that is long gone. the album's second half kicks off with 'Cariot', with an effective combination of "Criminal Record"- era Wakeman and a jazz-oriented Greenslade, plus some ounces of a guitar-less Camel from the "Moon Madness" days. 'Tower of Babel' gives room for a bigger expansion on the jazz-rock factor, with Yasushi and Shiro stating a Weather Report-like installment while Atsushi indulges in some exciting cosmic layers and phrases (imagine a mixture of Bardens on 'Lunar Sea' and Detlev Schmidtchen on 'Poseidon's Creation'). This track encapsulates a very interesting idea, but its 3 Ĺ minute span does not allow the ensemble to expand on it toward some sort of climax or powerful culmination. It is such a pity since this piece might as well be the album's apex had it come closer to the amazing grace of SFF's first album or Eloy's 2Ocean". Anyway, things are as they are and there is no way around it. But eventually there is a way around "Babylonia Suite", and that's when 'Festival' arrives to settle in the closure. This is the closest to ELP that Mahoujin ever gets, mostly due to the featured presence of the Hammond organ. But, all in all, this track mainly completes the symphonic vision that the band has delivered all throughout the album. Mahoujin is a name very much worthy of an addition in any symphonic prog lover's collection list, since their sole album "Babylonia Suite" displays a pleasant and melodically pristine exhibition of most of the genre's qualities. The only noticeable flaw is the flat, uneven sound production. The music itself is very good, no doubt about it in my mind - 3⅓ stars from my part
Report this review (#193475)
Posted Monday, December 15, 2008 | Review Permalink
Marty McFly
Errors and Omissions Team
4 stars Old, dated, but also nostalgic, perhaps even ancient. Hell, this album must have sound retro even at the time of its release, but this fortunately doesn't prevent me from enjoying it now in 2010/2012. The main track, something like title track (even not literary, as album's title have one more word) is clearly divided into parts, which doesn't exactly fit seamlessly into one another, but are more like divided track. Sound pattern is however clear to follow - and the suite (why didn't they call it like that after all) is simply mind-blowing. The rest of the songs are trying their best, but not many "rest songs" can stand to the epics on albums divided like that. Solid fourtie.
Report this review (#310211)
Posted Wednesday, November 10, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Before "Gerard", "Ars Nova", DeJa-Vu" and "Social Tension" there was "Mahoujin"(sometimes spelled as "Mahojin") - the first Japanese keyboards-driven symphonic power trio. However "Mahoujin"(oh man, I even don't know how to pronounce this name...) isn't as great as aforementioned formations, it still deserves bigger recognition than it usually receives in prog-rock community. This very obscure band was able to record only one album called "Babylonia Suite" in 1978, and soon after vanished from everybody's radars. Music presented on this disk is usually described as derivative to "Emerson, Lake & Palmer" style of prog, but I can't agree with such description. Of course "ELP"-influences are obvious here, but I can see many more similarities with German trio Triumvirat, especially they mid/late seventies period. One question arises: is it an obscure little gem unjustly forgotten by prog fans? Let's check four instrumental compositions included on the album to find out:

1. "Babylonia Suite" - disk begins with 21 minutes long, multi-part symphonic suite filled with hundreds of different keyboards sounds. Unfortunately this description promises much more than the epic really delivers. There are many problems with "Babylonia Suite" so I'll take note of the major ones. At first, construction of this suite is very patchy. Seems that few short instrumentals were just sticked together in the copy-paste fashion to create "an epic" track. At second, I'm not a big fan of polyphonic synthesizers used on this record, they seem to sound very artificial for me. Of course keyboardist plays also swirling Hammond organ, real Moog, acoustic piano and even one fragment is filled with glorious mellotron layers, but more modern gear often remains dominant. At third, many melodies for this suite were directly stolen from Trumvriat's epic called "The History of Mystery" ("Old Loves Die Hard" album). In general I also have to say that Mahoujin's Shiga Atsushi isn't as skilled as Emerson, Wakeman or Fritz, but he's surely not disastrous. I just have a feeling that he doesn't play as speedy-flashy as prog-rock keyboard wizard should. But don't get me wrong, overall "Babylonia Suite" isn't a total trash. In fact there are enough interesting moments which won't let you fall asleep. Especially bassist's work is tremendous, much louder and precise than for example Greg Lake's style. Okada Yasushi playin' reminds me Atsushi Hasegawa who used to show some great bass guitar skills on Gerard's and Motoi Sakuraba's albums. Sugano Shiro's drum work is also suitable, always dynamic & busy.

2. "Cariot" - I like this one more than the first track. Quite fast organ melodies, floating synthesizers and pulsating bass work seems to be more entertaining than overlong suite with uneven construction. I also like those occasional mellotron-created flute sections. Overall nice composition.

3. "Tower of Babel" - repetitive track with boring poly-synths layers. Sounds almost like Tangerine Dream or J.M. Jarre, but thankfully groovy bass lines and up-beat drums work redeem it a little. Nothing special.

4. "Festival" - the first part of this composition sounds like Eloy-ish space rock. We have some string-machine & mellotron work there, everything quite atmospheric and not bad at all. After that keyboardist switches to his trusty Hammond organ and "Festival" becomes even more beautiful. If not poor production, it could sound really impressive. But anyway it's still my favorite track of the album. It's good when closing number leaves with a good feeling.

To sum up: Mahoujin's only album is a symphonic prog album flawed by many serious issues, however most of Triumvirat/ELP/Trace/UK fans probably will enjoy discovering this music. But it's a pity that sound quality of this LP isn't as good as Mahoujin's European contemporaries (I think guy responsible for the mixing table should be fired for such work!). I recommend this album especially to people who like Japanese keyboard-prog bands: "Gerard", "Social Tension", DeJa-Vu" and "Ars Nova", they will find their roots on "Babylonia Suite" long-play. However Shiga Atsushi style isn't as bombastic/flashy as Toshio Egawa's or Kieko Kumagai's.

Best track: "Festival"

3,5 stars from ozzy_tom

Report this review (#434619)
Posted Saturday, April 16, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars "Babylonia Suite" is a single and very short albun of this Japanese trio MAHOUJIN, highly influenced by Symphonic Prog in the style of bands as TRIUNVIRAT (especially in only instrumental themes as the track "Dances on the Volcano" of the disk "Pompeii" and in disks as "Spartacus"). Their themes are quite pleasant of being heard, in spite of the "dej√°-vu" sensation that causes in the audience, as it emphasized ClemofNazareth in his review of Friday, May 02, 2008, it doesn't present innovations in relation to the that was already heard in bands that explored the same style of the symphonic prog. In spite of that, I cannot point this work as a mere copy, and I wish to highlight the musician's excellent quality. My rate is 3 stars !!!
Report this review (#497663)
Posted Friday, August 5, 2011 | Review Permalink

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