Koenji Hyakkei – Dhorimviskha

[Magaibutsu / Skin Graft Records, 2018]

Intro: Dimitris Kaltsas
15 / 12 / 2018

Thirteen years of waiting would be a lot, if there was indeed such a long wait. The truth is, however, that after Angherr Shisspa (2005) Tatsuya Yoshida’s involvement with his several other bands and projects and the passage of time had removed Koenji Hyakkei from the spotlight.

In recent years, the reactivation of the Japanese has brought them back to the forefront, and this year’s Dhorimviskha, the fifth album of the zeuhl band, 24 years after Hundred Sights Of Koenji (1994), gave great joy to all fans of avant-prog world-wide.


 

Beyond any expectation (no cliché)

Since we have been accustomed to wonderful album covers by Koenji Hyakkei, I could not but start from the wonderful collage that Yoshida himself made. This is probably more beautiful than the previous four covers, remaining loyal to the Japanese style that always dominates their cover artwork. However, even this beautiful cover cannot impress the listener enough, compared to what is felt after 61 minutes.

Vleztemtraiv starts off in the most awkward and energetic way one could imagine (if that is even possible). The pure zeuhl of Koenji Hyakkei blasts off the speakers majestically. Yoshida and Sakamoto’s classic rhythm section pushes the band to constantly changing rhythms, with Keiko Komori’s woodwinds delivering the avant-garde acrobatics in an apparently rock heavier environment. This is a decisive contribution to the two new members of the band: the exceptioanl Kei Koganemaru on the guitar and the enchantingly unstoppable Taku Yabuki on keyboards. The –so important for a zeuhl band- starring role on vocals belongs of course to Ah, and the overall result is skyrocketed to impossible heights. This epic opener is the ideal shocking introduction to Dhorimviskha with exciting melodies and breathtaking phrases. Nevertheless, these 10+ minutes were just the beginning …

Levhorm begins with similar avant-prog melodic phrasing, leading to a blues opening with Ah taking the lead with amazing soul vocalese -another surprise here- which peaks before returning to the pure zeuhl element before the speed reaches maximum in a magnificent closure. Zjindhaiq that follows is a more characteristic zeuhl / RIO song in which Ah once again stars with a classical performance this time. Phlessttighas continues on the same pattern, with the density of information remaining almost absurdly high. Here, avant-prog meets symphonic prog (mainly due to the keyboards) and Koenji Hyakkei’s (instrumental and vocal) orchestra once again displays unparalleled expressive pluralism.

After a second of silence, Komori’s clarinet introduces us to Djebelaki Zomn‘s wonderful disharmony, in a delirium of incredibly dense changes. Once again, Yabuki is the one who extends the range of the palette with his jazz touches and superb solo, while in the second half the two elements become completely indistinguishable in the avant-prog fusion delirium that follows.

The classical element returns in the thrilling Palbeth Tissilaq, with Ah’s enchanting voice over a repetitive, wonderful jazzy prog melodic motif that is pulverized by Koganemaru’s heavy guitar solo before the band’s brilliantly “crabby” zeuhl reigns again, this time with a very heavy background and almost all of the previously mentioned elements in a perfect balance. I know all this may sound impossible if you don’t actually listen to the song.

The album closes with the title-track epic which begins with a more libertarian jamming character with incompatible prog dominating here as well. This piece may sound prophetic for what we will listen to in the future. Zeuhl does not overlap everything and this time melodic 70s prog and secondarily jazz melodies dominate. The improvisation that follows with Ah’s impossible vocals lead to a prog geek frenzy that fades in the most zeuhl -and of course more Magma- moment of the album before a last outburst, as if there weren’t enough surprises…

The fact that all eight intriguing songs are compositions exclusively written by the leader and visionary Tatsuya Yoshida gives even greater prestige to a living legend of avant-prog. A single glance at Koenji Hyakkei’s history leads to inevitable conclusions. As great as the first four albums may be, Dhorimviskha is obviously the band’s best album in every respect and of course it’s not only that. This is one of the top zeuhl samples in general and one of the best progressive albums released after 2000. The only misfortune here is that the extreme, uncompromising and perfectionistic character of Dhorimviskha may sound repulsive to many. Such a pity…

9.5 / 10

Dimitris Kaltsas

 

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