Ningen-Isu - New Youth
Tokuma Japan Communications
Progressive/Hard Rock
13 songs (1:05:18)
Release year: 2019
Reviewed by Goat

Their name translating as 'the human chair', Japanese trio Ningen-Isu (or 人間椅子 to use their untranslated name, although Japanese speakers will please forgive the basic translations used throughout this review!) have been around since the late eighties and have released a string of albums since, somewhere between 70s Rush and Black Sabbath with touches of stoner and psychedelic rock to round things out. It's deceptively straightforward especially in comparison with their proudly eccentric image, the trio dressing in kimono and standing out individually with guitarist Shinji Wajima's professorial look, bassist Kenichi Suzuki's demonic monk, and not to mention drummer Nobu Nakajima and his 50s rockabilly/gangster style. The Pink Floyd-esque cover art shows them off well; although New Youth is closer to modern stoner rock than 60s psychedelia, the sheer mix of influences going into their sound is remarkable and makes for a listen both deep and fun.

The main element is a hefty dose of classic rock and doom, giving the likes of Mirror Hell a dose of heaviness with the slow building ominous background contrasting with the plentiful hooks provided thanks to the vocals from all three members, despite the language barrier (apparently the 'Tsugaru dialect' used is divergent enough from regular Japanese to mean even native speakers have trouble understanding it). Yet aside from the vocals there's little to nothing that a Western listener would describe as particularly exotic or typically 'Eastern'; any fan of rock or metal will appreciate the groovy rocking God with plenty of lead guitar even before it kicks up into a fast, almost thrashy pace towards the end, for example. At over an hour long the album packs a lot in, probably too much although there's nothing that you could point to as obvious filler. The likes of Iroha Niho Beto or Hell Kid are catchy enough to warrant radio play with that tight and infectious guitar/bass interplay, touches of traditional shamisen twangs here and there in the background almost solely there to remind you that Ningen-Isu are from an entirely different rock tradition despite, say, the rollicking The World You Do Not Know being virtually power metal as played by King Crimson.

If the album has a flaw it's that Ningen-Isu are almost too comfortable in their skins, there being little real variety between songs, all constructed from the basic rock building blocks of guitar, bass, and drums. But the band are natural songwriters, making each song a self-contained macrocosm of rock goodness, and by the time you've reached the album's end it's difficult not to be wildly impressed. Ningen-Isu are just as good at the ballad-esque Apenin of the Moon as the downright Black Label Society grooving of A Dark Night Road, and closing eight-minute epic Heartless Scat is one of the most impressive pieces on the album, building from a proggy opening to a stoner-tinged rumble with easily the most infectious chorus present and some of the best lead guitar. Wajima names everyone from Fripp and Page to Iommi and Schenker as influences, and you can hear all of them in his playing if you listen hard; truly a band constructed by fans, for fans. And so this is an easy recommendation even if you're not the sort to seek out obscure (to us) Japanese bands; so universal is Ningen-Isu's appeal. A more than recommended entry point into what promises to be a solid back catalogue.

Killing Songs :
Mirror Hell, The King of the Caves, The World You Do Not Know, A Dark Night Road, Heartless Scat
Goat quoted 80 / 100
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