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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars After a 4 year break, Yoshida Tatsuya's Koenjihyakkei (the Japanese Magma) return with an excellent new album, a new line up and a different sound. Bassist Sakamoto Kengo remains, but the female front line is all new. Yamamoto Kyoko is the main vocalist and sounds like an operatically trained soprano. Kanazawa Miyako plays keyboards, and where her predecessor used mainly 70s sounding electric keyboards, she concentrates mostly on piano with a few synth flourishes here and there. Komori Keiko plays soprano sax and clarinet, and possibly also also some other reed instruments. Underpinning it all is the relentless, virtuosic drumming of Yoshida Tatsuya, who is still the main composer. All members of the band sing, which allows for some stunning vocal arrangements. Where the sound of Nivrayam called the later Magma of Udu Wudu and Attahk to mind, Angherr Shisspa recalls the instrumental backing of 1001Degrees Centigrade (particularly the interplay between piano and reeds) and the massed vocals of Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh.

The album opens withTziidall Raszhisst, the celestial soprano of Kyoko floating over a delicate piano/synth backing before the rhythm section crash in and voice and soprano sax chase each other over an impossibly tight piano/bass/drums backing, interspersed with the occasional chorale. Kengo's bass takes the lead during a brief Ruins style interlude before the band return to the main theme and the album is still less than 4 minutes into its playing time. This pretty much sets the scene for what is to follow - pieces in complex time signatures which change every 12 - 16 bars, the whole thing played with near mathematical precision but also with great feeling.

Rattims Friezz, the album's second track, was composed by Kengo but complements Yoshida's compositional style beautifully. If anything there is a more overt jazz influence here, but it's very much in keeping with the album as a whole.

Grahbem Jorgazz is a contribution from keyboard player Miyako, and moves more towards the austere modernism of Art Zoyd or Henry Cow and which pushes Kyoko's voice towards the to of its range.

The real gem on the album is Fettim Paillu, the fourth track. It opens with a lengthy (by Yoshida's standards) voice/piano duet which shows just how much he has matured as a composer. The entry of bass, drums and sax pushes us back into familiar Zeuhl territory, especially when Yoshida delivers a Christian Vander style lead vocal which is a highly effective contrast to the soaring soprano, while the arrangement recalls some of Shub Niggurath's wilder moments. About half way through there is a beautiful piano/clarinet interlude which veers between jazz and contemporary classicism. A brief reprise of the opening piano/vocal interlude follows, before the manic frenzy makes a brief return. This could be Yoshida's finest composition to date.

Qivem Vrasstor opens with a highly effective call and response of the main theme, with female voice and soprano sax being echoed by male voice, bass and drums. The relative simplicity and clarity of this track is on a par with Christian Vander's Wurdah Itah, although the arrangement is slightly more fleshed out.

The only below par track is Mbingvahre, another contribution from Kengo which starts out with some massed chanting and rudimentary percussion before veering off in to an Acid Mother's Temple style freak out. As a stand alone track it's highly effective, but it disrupts the flow of an otherwise seamlessly sequenced album.

The title track is a return to the style of the earlier pieces, with Keiko switching to what sounds like tenor sax to produce some Coltrane like squalls, and with Miyako adding rather more synth to the sound. This track contains perhaps the best sax/vocal interplay on the album, punctuated with Yoshida's ride cymbal. There's also a nicely judged jazzy interlude which is allowed to run its course and showcases Kengo's bass playing.

Wammilica Iffirom closes the album, and by this stage there are no more surprises in store. Keiko uses an echo unit to build up a more meaty sax sound, and each band member gets a turn in the spotlight. The tempo slows down dramatically towards the end, and the band play what sounds suspiciously like Kreuhn Kohrmann Iss De Hundin (the end of Magma's MDK) before returning to the main theme.

This album falls just short of being a masterpiece - the inclusion of Mbinvahre causes the album to lose direction, but otherwise it's a near flawless piece of work. There are a few nods towards Magma, but as ever Koenjihyakkei have their own take on Zeuhl. This album also sees a maturing of their musical style - while there are plenty of sudden twists and turns, they're also prepared to let the quieter, more melodic interludes unfold and develop at their own pace. 4.5 stars - if you're only going to buy one Japanese Zeuhl album, this is the one to get.

Report this review (#54877)
Posted Sunday, November 6, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars Hyper-active, highly stylistic Japanese Zeuhl.

Thanks to the kind recommendations of Assaf, I have found this odd and peculiar album. Wild and eccentric vocals combine with often colorful instrumental combinations that may initially leave you perplexed. Gears are switched frequently as if the band were race car drivers. We go from intense, off the wall sections to a more laid back jazz approach almost instantaneously with no sign of a transition coming.

Despite all this, there are some melodies which can be followed and are intriguing in their own right. Perhaps one of the more interesting tracks is Grabhem Jorgazz, which sounds at some parts like part of a Japanese video game, but it is extremely interesting nonetheless, especially with the heavy jazz sections and multitude of instruments.

Qivem Vrastorr starts out more folksy, and is much "calmer" than what else is found here, yet it's anything but. The next track begins with tribal chants and a start/stop bass solo, the bass is strongest and most accented here. The end is extremely wild as well, and the wailing becomes even more pronounced, now often with no words but just emotion. We also have lots of cohesion between the piano and the sax which is done well to show the band members talents.

Overall the compositional choices are extremely odd, to say the least, but if you can get through it a few times, you will be able to have a very unique listening experience. I enjoy this quite a bit, but often the "weirdness" is just too much for me. Too many parts going all at once, and while some are extremely captivating, others are just a bit off the mark. If you are open-minded musically, you might give this a try. Better than sticking in Relayer for the thousandth time.

Report this review (#98689)
Posted Monday, November 13, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars JapaneZe(uhl)

Chris (Syzygy) said it in the opening of his review - the Japanese Magma. I agree. This Zeuhl band has the characteristics of the genre - the semi operatic and theatrical vocals, the drum insanity, and the apparent chaotic like song structure (which is only an appearance that diminishes after several listens).

All the musical parts are performed with brilliant precision and most notably are the keyboards and drums. I find this to be pretty close to, if not, "classic" Zeuhl. The operatic vocals, the theatrical presentation of the songs as can be heard in the different instruments playing style. The only difference I find is that the bass part is not as prominent and heard as on other Zeuhl albums. It does show a higher level of presence in several parts of different tracks, but I find it to be a disappointing aspect in this release. It's not that the bass play lousy or something of that sort, not at all. They do a very good job and you should concentrate on their part when listening to this album. It's just that they have been "put backwards" in the mixing and they are not given the chance to impress the listener as they could have, had they been given the opportunity to do so. What replaces the bass in the lead role are, surprise surprise, the drums performed by Tatsuya. It seems to me as a free-from style of playing with brilliant moves. Apart from the obvious Zeuhl characteristics, there are some obvious jazz rhythms/time signatures (call them what you will), and some free-jazz improvisations occasionally, which are performed by the drums and keyboards (with a wind instrument sound).

Each song has its main theme in which they display an array of sounds emanating from the surprisingly not so many instruments. It is the drums and piano sounding keyboards that give the extra flavour to each one, the first with its insanity fierceness and the second with its contrast effect (as I will mention later as well). Kyoko's voice envelops the music very well and the backing vocals only emphasize her well-performed role. The tracks do give room for the players to go about in their personal route meaning that they can maybe show their skills a bit more and even improvise a bit. Even though you can clearly hear the pattern of most songs, and understand their organizations, it is not a simplistic arrangement at all. The tracks have a complexity and intensity that avoids this danger of becoming boring or too repetitive. Several tracks go even further and "loosen up" more and give rise to some "spontaneous" sounding bursts of energy (as in track 5 Quivem Vrastorr). On other tracks they seem to go insane like on track 6 - Mibingvahre. On that one, every member of the group seems to have permission to do as he wishes. But while doing so, they still, somehow, remain together in coherence. This is surprising, given that it sound as free improvisation hour at Koenji and company. These sorts of tracks show their avant-garde tendencies which are mostly heard on other Tatsuya projects. Then you have the tracks that seem to mingle those two approaches (Zeuhl and Avant-garde) like the title track Angherr Shisspa. Several times at the end of this album, I felt a bit drained out of power, as if merely listening to the album has its toll on your energy levels. This is not a bad thing. It just goes to show how involved one might be when listening to music and how this particular album can affect you while listening to it.

I don't find much point in going over the whole tracks giving a tedious description of them one by one, so I will just focus on the first one. Starting off with the female vocals singing alone a nice simple tune, she ends up soaring upwards and the band joins in along with the backing vocals. The drums are the first thing I noticed, due to their fierce intensity and all-over-the-place style of playing. The piano sounding keyboards is a nice contradiction in sound, though it does play along with the music and not against it. It's just that the sound of it works like a contrasting effect for the rest of the instruments and vocals, giving a great effect. The rhythm is spectacular and does not leave you to rest for a minute. And when they leave for a minute the track's main theme, enter the guitar with its freaky playing and the distorted keyboards.


If you are not into Zeuhl, then perhaps this is a good time to do so. This album might not be the best entry point, but it does have the hallmmarks of the genre. However, if you have tried and disliked it, if you are not into operatic style of vocals and dislike a theatrical style of music, then you should avoid this. But as far as Zeuhl goes, I personally find this to be a brilliant display of music. I am particularly taken by the drums part and the overall rich sound of this album. This was my intro to Koenjihyakkei and it has persuaded me to go further on and listen to their other efforts. So this is perhaps another good argument for obtaining this.

I find this to be an excellent addition to my colletion and pretty much essential to a Zeuhl collection. 4 stars is therefore an appropriate rating for this wonderful album.

Report this review (#98707)
Posted Tuesday, November 14, 2006 | Review Permalink
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars Well now I can say I’ve properly explored a Zeuhl album. So that's that. Interesting to say the least. I’ve been meaning to seek out something in the Zeuhl world for quite a while, and although I have heard several Magma albums from the seventies (most notably ‘Üdü Wüdü’), I’ve never actually set down and actively listened to an entire album, and in this case – several times. I have to say that I find Koenjihyakkei much more approachable than anything I’ve heard from Magma, or at least as approachable as anything in this genre can possibly be.

And after hearing this I find myself now wondering what the connections are between some of the weirder RIO bands like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and their ilk, and Zeuhl. I guess one has to be a serious student of music to understand, which of course I’m not. Just a fan with too much discretionary time.

Vocals are the dominant instruments here, with everyone getting in their chops, but all of them overshadowed by the soaring and angelic (though usually strident) vocals of Yamamoto Kyoko. Like the other Zeuhl records I’ve heard the drums are all over the place, and trying to discern the timing is both futile and unnecessary. Rhythm per se does not seem to be a priority for this type of music. The brass is cacophonic and shrill at first, but after a while it starts to become more comfortable to the ear and a somewhat logical pattern begins to emerge. I have to say that if I had heard this album or anything like it twenty or thirty years ago I would have kept moving and not made eye contact. But with time and age comes a more tolerant attitude toward the unfamiliar, and in this case that’s a good thing. Henry Cow was about as far as I strayed from palatable music up to the past few years, so the timing of this release worked well for me. Not that anyone cares about that but me – I just thought I’d mention it.

The album starts off with plenty of towering vocal bellowing that captures one’s attention but can be a bit disconcerting if you’re not expecting it. By around the middle of the album (“Fettim Paillu” to be exact), the lyrical gibberish and deadly brass seems to become a bit more focused, and all throughout the piano is the one stabilizing bit of instrumentation while the rest of the music seems barely restrained for the most part.

I won’t try and dissect this thing down to its basic elements, mostly because I don’t have the technical knowledge to do so. Suffice to say that if you haven’t tried Zeuhl before, this seems to be a bit more accessible than a lot of the heavier, primal and more foreboding stuff like Magma and Ruins that I’ve heard before. The piano and clarinet give this a lighter feel, and the Japanese female vocalists can’t really pull off dirge-like vocals, so it’s a good thing they don’t try.

Tough to assign a rating to something when I have so little to compare it to, so I’m going to break with my usual standards and just say this is a four star effort. I have no doubt I’ll revisit that once I have a better understanding of Zuehl music and have had a chance to compare it to some of the more established standards, but for now I’m intrigued by the vocals, interested in the various keyboard repetitions, and not at all put off by the comparatively bizarre arrangements. So that’s probably a good thing. If you’re a Zeuhl fan you probably already have this since it appears to be a well-known record of that genre. If you don’t then you are probably a neophyte like me, in which case try your luck but don’t put much stock in my opinion – I really don’t know enough to make an objective judgment.


Report this review (#131454)
Posted Thursday, August 2, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars In Japan, there is a growing progressive scene that can now be accessed by all, thanks to this little invention that also lets you read this review. (It's the internet for those of you who were stymied by the riddles in The Hobbit, and just riddles in general I suppose) One of the things I was able to encounter was the band Koenjihyakkei. The band is spearheaded by Tatsuya Yoshida, of Ruins's fame. Angherr Shisspa, their latest effort, is a enchanting album that grows on me more with each listen.

The album carries two very distinct influences. One is of Yoshida's other famous band, Ruins, and the other is French Zeuhl pioneers Magma. Both are very noticeable throughout the album, such as the language spoken, which sounds very much like Magma, and the music which is reminiscient of Ruins. I also just love the vocals, which can be beautiful or haunting, or whatever they need be.

Everything on the album is masterfully crafted, even to the point where the album art seems apropos. Overall, I highly recommend this album, and think it is a great way for someone to be introduced to Zeuhl. One of the best of the genre.

Report this review (#134043)
Posted Tuesday, August 21, 2007 | Review Permalink
Fight Club
4 stars Warning: May frighten small children

I first heard the term "Zeuhl" on a little, very unpopular website called Prog Archives. Its label read "Zeuhl is an adjective in Kobaďan, the language written by Christian Vander, drummer and founder of the French band Magma."

"Interesting..." I thought, "I've heard of the band, Magma before, but never a style of music called Zeuhl!" I remember hearing the name Magma on the forum at, a long long time ago. I think it was Micky who mentioned the name (who's actually now a reviewer here!). Supposedly they were very weird, and weird they were. I listened to probably only a minute of M.D.K. before coming to the conclusion that this genre just wasn't for me.

What made me decide to give Zeuhl another chance. Well, sadly this time I have no inspiring stories about experiencing an epiphany. Unlike Anglagard or Opeth, I didn't keep persisting and suddenly understand all the beauties that were to be found in the music. I just happened to find a band called Koenjijyakkei on my computer one day. Honestly, I haven't the slightest idea of how they got here. Their name looked to be very Japanese, and my sister happens to be into all this Japanese stuff, so at first I thought that maybe she put their CD on here. So I went over to my ever-so-grumpy sister and asked her about the band. She gave me the dirty look I expected, God forbid she had to look away from Facebook for two seconds. She simply said "No" and went back to ignoring me. Well I'm used to her lying when I find bands such as Dir En Grey or Despair's Ray in my iTunes library, and she says she doesn't know how they got there, but now I know there's no way she was responsible for Koenjihyakkei. These guys are way too weird for her tastes!

Well, I sure was in for a surprise when I clicked the play button. Operatic Japanese Avant-Fusion? That's what it seemed like I was playing, but man was it great! Their turbulent piano lines leaped around my cranium like maggots being fried in hot grease. These guys were all over the place! And those drums.... my God, I'd never heard such a unique combination of jazz, prog, and opera!

One of the first things that stood out to me was the vocal usage. The singer's voice was highly operatic, and I couldn't understand a single word she was uttering, but that did not matter. It was so unique! The vocals were harnessed as if they were a completely independent instrument, using them to form textures rather than for lyrical purposes. Her voice is even synced with brass instrumentation at times. Who the hell thinks of that, anyway?

As disorderly as all this seems to be, the band never seems to suffer from a bad case of ADD. They clearly know where each section is heading and rarely ever spiral out of control. This is a problem I usually find in a lot of Avant-Garde; bands either overdo weirdness just for the sake of being weird or become too involved in their own abilities as they throw too much focus into technicality. Koenjihyakkei does neither. The music is weird, but not too weird for the average progger, and there is only a moderate amount of focus put on technical skill. Even though each member is highly talented (especially that drummer and vocalist), it's all displayed very subtly. Imagine if Sleepytime Gorilla Museum was playing jazz and you'll get somewhat of an idea.

Even with the joy I receive listening to such bizarreness and virtuosity, I still find this album lacking. The most obvious problem seems to be the overall lack of emotion and melody. If you're in a really strange and ridiculous state of mind this album is perfect, but on the other hand, if you want to sit down and really enjoy some thought provoking music, this album isn't for you. It's fun to analyze with some of the most unconventional structures and songwriting techniques to be found in modern music, but it just doesn't stick with you. In the end it feels like purely improvisation and that the musicians had no idea what they wanted to do before writing this. One day they just went into the studio and said "screw it, let's just record whatever!" and jammed out weirdness for an hour.

That's not to say it's bad at all, there's just a couple weaknesses that stops this album from being a genuinely rewarding experience. In my opinion the best albums touch the deepest regions of our souls, leaving an impression that cannot easily be copied. While expanding my tastes into the genre known as Zeuhl, and overall allowing me to understand an even wider range of music, Koenjihyakkei just didn't leave that impression. To a progger or a Zeuhl fan, they will prove to be an excellent listen though. Fun, technically impressive, and incredibly insane, but no masterpiece. And I'm still not exactly sure how they got on my hard drive...

My rating: 8/10

Report this review (#155160)
Posted Tuesday, December 11, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is in my opinion the most interesting recording released during the last years; the evolution which KH have had since their previous effort is astouding but still consistent with the past; of course, people who find Zeuhl music grotesque and ridicolous would not find anything interesting into this album, but on the other hand it can capture the attention of trained ears who are looking for new kind of expressions in music.

if there was an album I would recommend to anyone in order to understand what Zeuhl music is about, it would definitely be this one: Yoshida and his band keep the listener caged in their intricate net until the end of the disc, after listening to which you will probably find any other song in the world to be boring for almost a week.

Zeuhl fans simply MUST have this disc.

Report this review (#172080)
Posted Saturday, May 24, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
3 stars 3.5 stars. I would say of all their albums this is the most accessible. Having sax and clarinet helps in that regard somewhat although they can get pretty dissonant at times. Before I even listened to it I looked at the liner notes and was surprised at all the lyrics, and if I have any complaints it's that by the end of the album i'm just worn out by all the vocals. This feels like KOENJIHYAKKEI's "MDK" album to me, and unlike most people "MDK" is down the list for me as far as favourite MAGMA albums go. There's no guitar on this one either.

"Tziidall Raszhisst" is my favourite, it opens with these calming female vocal melodies and spacey synths for a minute, then it kicks into gear. Drums, piano and vocals stand out. Deep bass 2 1/2 minutes in, and check out the monster bass a minute later ! "Rattims Friezz" opens with oriental sounding percussion and sax. Vocal melodies join in and drums. The drumming is fantastic. This is so uplifting. Chunky bass before 2 minutes as vocals come in. The bass, sax, piano, vocals and drums shine bright on this one. "Grahbem Jorgazz" opens dramatically with theatrical vocals and piano leading the way. Dissonant sax before 2 minutes as vocals get crazy. A nice instrumental interlude 3 minutes in with prominant sax.

"Fettim Paillu" opens with serious vocals and piano. Some heaviness after a minute. It gets a little chaotic 2 1/2 minutes in. Soprano vocals a minute later. A calm 5 minutes in with piano and clarinet. Vocals follow as the sound builds. "Quivem Vrastorr" opens with very Zeuhl-like vocals as male and female vocals trade off. Sax and drums are great before 3 minutes. "Mibingvahre" is listed as an instrumental but there is chanting on it to go along with the clapping and percussion. Dissonant horns and fat bass join in. Vocals get out of control as organ and drums amaze.Great track. "Angherr Shisspa" is dominated early by vocals and dissonant sax. It becomes very melodic 1 1/2 minutes in. The tempo picks up. Check out the vocals before 4 minutes. It becomes melodic and smooth again for 2 minutes. "Wammilica Iffirom" features vocal melodies and some great drumming with bass. Piano and sax join in too. Big bass after 4 minutes. An intense vocal section after 7 minutes.

A good album but too much of a focus on the vocals for my tastes.

Report this review (#176321)
Posted Tuesday, July 8, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Another amazing album of this Japanese band. Great stuff my friends, because this band made a Zheul style in a limit of insane atmosphere. Great musicians interpretation, because in the chaos they manage to create harmony with all instruments. The graeat female voice made the fantastic Zheul atmosfere that made this band unique, and to me one of the best bands play Zheul in this days. I had the privilege to see them, in Gouveia Festival and they play a fantastic concert that for me , it was unforgettable because was a high quality concert with a high quality musicians. They play some musics of this album and it was a fantastic performance. Great harmony in all musicians, great sax, great drums, great keiboards, great bass, great female voice, great concert. Great album, great music to all Zheul fans. All that love Magma, love Koenjihyakkey. I give 5 stars because is one of the best bands I heard. Thank you Koenjii
Report this review (#213944)
Posted Tuesday, May 5, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Absolutely bizzarre; and that still doesn't fully state the nature...

A weird pick for my first try into the Zeuhl world, but it worked well and made me curious about Koenjihyakkei's other works. Let me say right now that there is EXTREMELY little about this album that is anywhere close to conventional. Every composition seems to purposely branch out into the most complex of territories and the most avant-garde of structures. This is not an easy listen and there's a novelty to this that can wear out easily.

Here's what to keep in mind when putting on ANGHERR SHISSPA: there's rarely a spot where the ''safe'' 4/4 time shows up, the lead vocalist (Kyoko Yamamoto) has a very opera-like quality to her voice, the drumming is crazy, the sax is crazier, and the words make no sense. The music has the qualities of jazz (keep that in mind when listening to ''Rattims Friezz''), avant- gard, zeuhl and opera amongst other styles not aforementioned.

There's a definite novelty behind ANGHERR SHISSPA; it's complex for the sake of complexity. I remember getting so involved with the album that during some of my classes, I'd write bizzarre looking words off to the side of my notebook based on rearranging letters from my notes. (Yes, I was that obsessed) If you're interested in Zeuhl, Magma ought to be the first band investigated, and if Koenjihyakkei happens to strike your fancy at some point, get NIVRAYM first as that album to me has a greater sense of melody with less avant thingys. Don't get me wrong, this is still great stuff here.

Report this review (#219098)
Posted Sunday, May 31, 2009 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#253728)
Posted Monday, November 30, 2009 | Review Permalink
Eclectic Prog Team
2 stars Consider an artistic masterpiece- the ceiling of the Sistine chapel perhaps. Now imagine a kindergartner with markers and crayons in her hands got on a scaffold and began marking on the ceiling. Avant-garde enthusiasts might consider that some manner of artistic improvement, or perhaps something academic, commendable, or even ironic; others will likely shake their heads and comment on what a shame it is. Such is nature of this album. While the music itself is incredible, even masterful in many places, the frenetic, operatic, and cringe-inducing female lead vocal completely ruins it. The most commendable aspect of this album lies in the rhythm section. Both the drumming and the bass are superb, and the tone of the latter genuinely appeals to me. However, as I mentioned, there's the matter of the vocals- one of the shrillest and most off-putting things I've ever heard. Her doubling nearly every melody is not only superfluous, but it's distracting and downright annoying. It's like being in the car with someone who sings gibberish at loud levels to a pleasant song on the radio because he doesn't know the words. I think I need some acetaminophen.

"Tziidall Raszhisst" Peculiar and frantic melodies run through the course of this first piece, extrapolated further with a tight rhythm section and emphatic piano chords. However, I would be a liar if I said this first piece was not memorable to me, or if I claimed it lacked clear melody, direction, and charm. The woman's voice easing up through the piano makes me wince- it's like preparing for a very painful shot from a physician. In that masochistic way, it's rather appealing.

"Rattims Friezz" I quite like the reed-and-percussion-led jazzy introduction. Long sustained vocal notes make it harder to enjoy though, almost as much as the bizarre synthesizer. The rambling male vocals are just as irritating. This is unfortunate, because the music is extremely good. The conclusion to the piece is far more peaceful and enjoyable though (the vocals at the very end notwithstanding).

"Grahbem Jorgazz" A barrage of vocals, piano and grandiose silliness, almost like a horrid version of the famous section from Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," begins the third work. This time the music is not good- it's loud, insufferable, all over the place, and discordant to a fault. The terrible vocals only exacerbate this.

"Fettim Paillu" Light piano and vocals bring in a change of pace. It does get faster and louder unexpectedly, and as expected, it's in the most ear-wilting way possible. The shrieking vocals paired with the cacophonic music only make me want to run screaming from the room. When it becomes quiet and jazzy, I'm happy to come back in, but it will only be but a minute.

"Qivem Vrastorr" With a slightly Medieval European series of melodies, this one contrasts high-pitched tones (the female vocal and woodwinds) with the lower ones (male vocals with bass and percussion), eventually blending them. The whole work is a mélange of aggravation- might as well stand in a preschool room when the children all find out that recess is cancelled forever.

"Mibingvahre" With chanting and percussion, this track begins more akin to some wild tribal ritual. While the rhythm section solos, the vocalists scream and shout in some discordant orgy that undermines what the other musicians are doing. This is one of the worst "things" I've ever heard.

"Angherr Shisspa" The title track is full of nonsense. Push a band and an opera singer down a flight of stairs and it may very well sound like this. After some clamorous shrieking, the piece becomes, without much of a transition (perhaps a good thing in this case) something far more accessible and actually a bit pleasant. After that, it's time for another trip down the stairs.

"Wammilica Iffirom" The last track features a hellish chorus of vocals. The keyboard work is interesting but lacks the context of the rest of the sound to back it up in any coherent manner. The bassist stands out a bit more, which is a welcome consolation, but still those damned voices haunt the hell out of the composition. Angst-ridden male vocals underlie some of the worst operatic screeching this album has to offer, like the queen of the harpies herself has come to entertain mere man.

Report this review (#260876)
Posted Thursday, January 14, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Koenjihyakkei is one of those bands I really don't feel it's fair for me to review. I'm such a big fan of everything I've heard from them (and from Yoshida Tatsuya's other projects, such as Ruins, Korekyojinn, The World Heritage, Daimonji, etc). This was the first album I listened to the whole way through by these guys (though if I remember right I ordered them all at once, so I'm about equally familiar with all four). It's one of their three which I would rate at the very least a 4.5/5. This album starts off with two of what I consider to be the best songs the band has ever recorded, "Tziidall Raszhisst" and "Rattims Freizz". There are a couple tracks on their earlier albums which trump those two, but this is probably my favorite album overall. The bass on this album is generally incredible, and Komori Keiko's reeds playing is wonderful. No need really to mention Yoshida's drumming - it's a pretty widely known fact that I'm a big fanboy of his sound/style, which is probably one of the first things that drew me to the band.

A word of warning here for the uninitiated, though; if you're not a fan of the two sample tracks currently available here on the band's PA page, I'd advise you to stay away from the band. The vocals are a big turnoff for a lot of listeners, as they're not exactly the most conventional in the world. If you do enjoy those two tracks, though (especially "Rattims Freizz") I definitely recommend checking this album out, and eventually the band's other three as well.

Not to be missed by fans of crazy instrumental interplay and bizarre vocals. As of right now, I'd tentatively call this one of the best albums of the Japanese Zeuhl scene.

Report this review (#291046)
Posted Sunday, July 18, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars I originally posted this review on my blog, Styrofoam Boots. Send me a private message if you want the url.

Take a heaping scoop of Mr. Bungle, a dash of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and just the slightest hint of Steve Reich and what do you get? Something that is at least as crazy as that description sounds. But while Angherr Shisspa is indeed one of the most insane albums you're ever likely to hear, it's also far more than the sum of its parts, transcending its own inherent wackiness to become a wholly thought provoking and, at times, even beautiful piece of music.

The instrument work, while spastic, is incredibly complex and very tight, and it sustains interest even during Koenjihyakkei's lengthier pieces. You're as likely to hear a fuzz bass pop up as a flute or mellotron, but it never feels disjointed, as the band has extraordinary chemistry: As fast as the time signatures and styles change, you'll never feel jarred mid song.

What truly sets this band apart from others, however, is the vocals. To put it bluntly, I've never heard anything like them in the context of rock music. The women who sing are opera singers. I do not mean that they have an operatic, theatrical style, like Bruce Dickinson or Ronnie James Dio, I mean that they literally, actually sing opera. As in, these women wouldn't be out of place providing backing vocals for Pavarotti. They're immensely captivating and at points downright awe inspiring, and why they've chosen to use their talents to sing in an inscrutable nonsense language for a band that probably sells around 4 albums a year is completely beyond me.

But God bless them for it. We need more music like this: Smart, talented people taking unbelievable risks. When the drums suddenly completely flip out, or a bit of jazz improv steals the scene for a minute or so, or when, completely without warning, the keyboardist starts channeling Rick Wakeman, you may become confused, or even slightly uncomfortable. But here's the thing: It is impossible to be bored while listening to this music because, as I stated earlier, the vast, vast majority of you have never heard anything like this(I'm counting myself in this-I had no experience with zeuhl before this album). Maybe you've heard something crazier, maybe you've heard something more technically proficient, maybe you've heard something that's more fun, but I'll bet you've never heard anything that manages to be all three and make it seem so effortless.

Angherr Shisspa has all the makings of an unprecedented catastrophe: It could have turned pretentious, it could have taken itself too seriously, it could have chosen to be weird for weirdness' sake, it could have chosen to be relentlessly abrasive and drive away anyone who would've taken a chance on it...all of these things could have happened so easily. But Koenjihyakkei is too talented, too musically savvy and just too damn psyched to be doing what they do to let any of that stuff happen. Angherr Shisspa is like the fever dream of an 8 year old given a script by David Lynch and the animators of Studio Ghibli to make it come to life. It's condensed imagination brought to life by men and women who are masters of their craft.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: This album is the musical equivalent of Axe Cop. Be psyched, world. Be psyched that this is real, and that somebody made this. God knows none of us would have.

Report this review (#296846)
Posted Tuesday, August 31, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars I've heard this album described as random, I've heard it described as hyper, but from my first listen of the album, neither of these were adequate descriptions of the music contained herein. What we have here is controlled chaos.

Much like my experience with Magma, Koenjihyakkei's music is very disciplined, but where my experience with Magma demonstrated that discipline being used to create a very controlled, dramatic experience, here that same discipline is used to allow the band to pull of things that seem utterly insane.

Take the first track, Tziidall Raszhisst, for example. It builds slow with operatic female vocals before seeming to explode into fast paced, energetic music. The music is marked more by sharp changes than the slow, repetitious progression of Magma. Yet, upon repeated listens, one can hear how the band subtly prepares for the next bombastic change, adjusting the rhythm or holding a note every so slightly longer so that when the change happens, it moulds perfectly into the song. It's much like jamming a triangle block into a circle shaped hole, only to find that the hole was triangle shaped all along.

Music this full of contrast will take several listens to be fully understood, but luckily the music is so high energy (thus where the term "hyper" probably emerges) that from the very first listen, you can't help but be swept away by it. Furthermore, some of the music is just plain catchy (although you'll never be able to convince a pop music listener of this); Quievem Vrastorr gets stuck in my head for hours after listening.

Overall, a very accomplished Zeuhl release, and much more in line with what I hope to hear from the genre in the future.

Report this review (#298425)
Posted Friday, September 10, 2010 | Review Permalink
Post/Math Rock Team
4 stars I've heard Koenjihyakkei described as many things: Magma on crack, Magma on speed, Magma on PCP. But in reality although they are without a doubt greatly influenced by Vander & co., this band is much more intense and complex. They also sing in their own made-up language, unnamed, which is even crazier than Kobian(which really just sounds like German with a Russian accent). Koenjihyakkei add the energy of punk and metal to Zeuhl, but on this album there is no guitar and the piano is much more prominent than on earlier albums. Also they have a reeds player who adds another dimension to their music. It also seems that the operatic vocals stand out more than previously.

For an album recorded in 2005, the sound is not too bad. By that I mean that unlike most music released since the mid-90s this doesn't sound too loud or too *perfect*. Although the synths used here seem to be *modern*, they don't sound as annoying or cheesy as most synths you hear in modern music. The drumming of bandleader Yoshida is completely crazy as usual; I think this guy is incapable of playing a *beat*, judging by his work with this band and his work in Ruins. The only thing keeping me from giving this 5 stars is the song "Mibingvahre", which is a bit too repetitive for this band; it also sounds much closer to Japanese avant bands like Wha-Ha-Ha, Boredoms and OOIOO than Koenjihyakkei. Unlike most Zeuhl the bass here isn't thick and chunky for the most part.

So what do the best moments sound like? Well, the vocals aren't always operatic wailing, sometimes they can be very chant-like. The piano playing is very jazzy at times but can also be almost classical sounding at other times. The reeds and synths don't jump out at you but mix in well with the drums, bass and vocals. If you aren't allergic to metal or punk you may enjoy the intensity of the music. If the vocals of Christian Vander or Dagmar Krause don't turn you off, you may at least tolerate the vocals here. There are two female vocalists here and they generally don't sound as crazy as the male vocals do. Overall, a solid 4 stars.

Report this review (#303765)
Posted Wednesday, October 13, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars This album, Angherr Shisspa was my introduction to zeuhl, and it was an awful choice. I purchased this album because I had never heard of zeuhl before, and I decided to just dive right in - plus, I have a genuine interest in all things Japanese. One thing I've always admired about Japanese culture is their tendency to take anything bizarre and amplify the bizarreness quality tenfold. That is absolutely the case here. Since this purchase, I've listened to much more zeuhl, and I can now comparatively say that this album is nuts, of course I already kind of knew that upon first listen.

In a genre defined by its weirdness, this album takes top prize. Featured are operatic female vocals with extremely dramatic vibrato and pseudo-ethinic sounding instrumentation dominated by Yoshida Tatsuya's infamous powerful drumming, with hints of jazz and avant- garde. All of this combined with super-speed musicianship makes for a difficult listen at first, but it eventually starts to make sense, if "sense" is truly an applicable word here. Other elements, like saxophone, occasionally fit into the picture, adding more variety to the mania. The overall feel of this album is zany, and the musicianship and composition is eccentricity in its top form. The only thing that I don't enjoy so much about this album, compared to some of my favorite zeuhl, is the lack of repetitive funk-jazz-like bass playing, but of course, that isn't really important. Koenjihyakkei have their own, unique voice (and language) in the zeuhl world, and they do it very professionally.

I highly recommend this highly eccentric, highly progressive album to anyone willing to lose their mind adrift on a sea of frantic Japanese mania.

Report this review (#439538)
Posted Tuesday, April 26, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars 3.5/5 - An uncompromising, brilliant piece of work, but only consumable in small doses.

This album is insane. Pretty much from the first few suspenseful notes on 'Tziidall Raszhisst' you sense you're in for a bit of an ear-bashing. Koenjihyakkei's style of eclectic musicianship really is a wonder to behold and if they're as good on stage really they'd be the best band in the world, and this album is a testament to how good they are at playing. The relentless noise, perfect musicianship and sophisticated rhythms constantly phasing in and out really stand out. And the vocals! Impossible to describe. Try to imagine a female soprano in a washing machine, that's the best analogy I can think of. Has to be heard to be believed.

The title track deserves a special mention as it seems to take the whole album to another level, raising the tempo of the album and really waking you up to what music can be! Should be played in schools and public forums (Although when I've tried it I've been overwhelmed by angry responses.)

However, it's brilliance at cornering this utterly mental end of the market is it's downfall for me. I find it too stressful to listen to the whole album from start to finish so I've mostly only heard it in a fragmented form. It's gone full circle. It's so good it's bad.

It's essential, but only in small doses.

3.5, rounded up because I'm nice.

Report this review (#602540)
Posted Tuesday, January 3, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars When Magma Isn't Crazy Enough For You

You took the plunge and tried Zeuhl. It was a little bitter. There were some spices you didn't recognize. The texture made you just slightly nauseous at first but now you want a little of it with every meal. You've digested MDK, dug the modern versions, even sampled some of the more casual stylings like Udu Wudu. After some months or eons, your brain is actually comfortable with the style. How do you possible challenge yourself now?

For many of us, the next stage was ANGHERR SHISSPA. Koenjihyakkei's masterwork is unmistakebly Zeuhl, totally indebted to Magma. At the same time, the band has clearly explored the sound well enough to now place their own stamp on the land of Kobaia. Most obviously, this music is even more intense, chaotic, and somewhat harsh. The orchestration is also a little more immediate, feeling more like a rock band than a classical orchestra. The mix is a bit drier in accords with modern standards. At the same time, the big fuzz bass is still here, the gang vocals, the intense drumming. Even if the music might be a little too much even for some Magma fans, you can't deny that this band totally tearing it up.

There is also a bit less of the throbbing repetition that I associate with Magma, and I appreciate that. The sense of occasional composition is more chamber rock than the free- form jazz, another contrast to the parent band. The musicianship is top notch, and much tighter than the looser 70's jazz ethic as well. The melodic forms are remarkably the same, and you may catch yourself trying to place a phrase or section in the Magma classic catalog. As such, this is the perfect next step after Magma.

There are times that I put this on and I can't finish it. It's just too much. But when I have a taste for intense, complex, quirky, and crazy. This hits the spot.

Report this review (#635117)
Posted Friday, February 17, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars 'Koenjihyakkei' go 'Bela Bartok' crazy. At times this album is so annoying that it's funny, with its furious percussion, drumming and helter skelter vocals by females who sound like they've got a red hot poker up the jacksie.

'Angherr Shisspa' is as disordered and bonkers as their previous outings, but once again is somehow prevented from disintegrating into a puddle of sludge due to the precise drumming and confrontational bass which throbs at the forefront. The whole recording is as hard as nails, so don't expect an easy laid back affair here.

I much prefer 'Koenjihyakkei' to their other current running band 'Ruins' who sound far more stripped down and minimal unlike this cacophony.

This is definitely not one to play on a first date, that's for sure! 'Koenjihyakkei' are one of the most extreme bands you'll read about on the prog archives. They're loud, brash, concise and batter their instruments with real intention. This is one of those cd's you'll play that makes you laugh out loud or burst out crying in frustration.

Thankfully I'm of the former and I'm still laughing with eyes bulging out, like two white snooker balls protruding from my face.

Report this review (#635157)
Posted Friday, February 17, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars Koenjihyakkei's latest studio album finds the band angling to a more fusion-oriented variety of Zeuhl - appropriately enough given the jazzy origins of the genre's founder band Magma, but in this case the move to fusion seems to be a deliberate attempt to evolve the band's sound in a somewhat more sedate direction than the absolutely frenzied Koenji albums of the past. Far from sounding like the completely out of control maniacs of previous albums, this time around the performers provide tight, disciplined performances which yield the most accessible album from the group so far. New listeners should definitely consider starting here.
Report this review (#684056)
Posted Sunday, March 25, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars If this is your first exposure to the controlled mayhem of Koenjihyakkei, brace yourself. Progressive rock doesn't often cut this close to the jugular vein, or do so with such dispassionate madness. Imagine a serial rampage by an Asian Jack the Ripper, with a surgical degree to match his mental instability. Now put that image to music, and turn up the volume.

Christian Vander's MAGMA is the obvious inspiration, right down to the arcane invented vocabulary. But the Japanese translation was made with a near-lethal jolt of added voltage: lightning-fast RIO phrases, repeated and swapped for the next one on a never ending musical treadmill, all with crazed operatic vocalizing (not singing) and pinpoint instrumental virtuosity. The entire assembly was then set to the cadence and rhythm of a Dr. Seuss story as imagined under the influence of acid, amphetamines, and a red-hot cattle prod up the stern.

The effect is equally amazing and irritating, usually at the same time. The collective rigor, stamina, and mathematical precision of the quintet can be awe-inspiring, but the effort also leaches much of the life out of the music. There's something cold, almost mechanical, in the band's affectionate embezzlement of the classic Magma style, at times reducing it to an academic exercise in dot-to-dot Zeuhl tracery: the Prog Rock equivalent of Andy Warhol's soup can reproductions. A couple of flubs might have warmed the music up, and made it a little more human.

On the other side of the coin: secondhand weirdness can sometimes be even more attractively weird than the original. That's a good thing for those of us who enjoy a musical challenge, and here's an album that certainly qualifies: a musical double-dare to meet at your own peril.

Report this review (#1514089)
Posted Monday, January 18, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars Like 7 years ago i discovered Koenji through this site. So many thanks. This is their only album i could listen many times since then, because it's their most accesible one. It is unstoppable, original, and challenging. No more guitars in the instrumentation; sounds softer (but it is still crazy anyways). Try to find something as crazy as this, i dare you! In fact, it's so eccentric that it tired me after repeated listens. However, i keep coming back every now and then, because it's quality is undeniable. The arrangements have many sharp edges that may hurt some people, be careful with the volume and your state of mind if you are going to play this album. Almost 4 stars, rounded up. It may surprise you at first, but then it's too much for repeated listens. Remarkable anyways.
Report this review (#1590092)
Posted Saturday, July 23, 2016 | Review Permalink

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