X Japan
Art of Life


5.0
classic

Review

by Nick Butler EMERITUS
February 5th, 2005 | 272 replies


Release Date: 1993 | Tracklist


Never heard of X Japan? Well, if you live in the Western world, I don't blame you. They never so much as made a dent in Europe or the Americas. In Japan, however, it could not be more different. I'll let someone else explain why.

"It would even be an understatement to call this band legendary. It is safe to declare X Japan has been the most influential band in Japan's history and a major landmark in general music history. No, I am not crazy; they are that big."

Yup, that's right - X Japan were pretty much Japan's answer to Led Zeppelin. They were absolutely huge, defining the current state of Japanese rock and metal, and pretty much inventing the visual kei movement to boot.

So why should you care? Most people, sadly, equate Japanese music with disposable pop, so cheesy you can smell it before you hear it (as found on most Anime soundtracks). I won't deny that there's a lot of that, but then again, there's just as much in America, and there's WAY more in Europe. Well, either that, or they think of music from video games. In which case, two words - Nobuo Uematsu.

Like any urbanized country's music industry, though, there is a distinct difference between 'rock' and 'pop'. X Japan definitely fall into the first of the two categories.

The band are the brainchild of Yoshiki, the band's drummer and pianist. He formed X Japan - originally named X, and later changed before an American tour to avoid confusion with the LA punk band - when he was just 12, in 1976. They would eventually split in 1997, after leaving their indelible imprint on both Japanese music, and Japanese culture. Yoshiki would go on to work with artists as diverse as KISS, George Martin (yes, THAT George Martin, Beatles fans), and Roger Taylor (yes, THAT Roger Taylor, Queen fans). Their defining moment came in 1993, with the release of this album, Art Of Life.

Even if you ignore X Japan's cultural relevance, Art Of Life is an extraordinary album. It contains only one song; a song that weaves its way through 29 minutes of classical strings, avant-garde piano and speed metal guitars. It is, as one website claims, Japan's Stairway To Heaven - a multi-layered song with a near-mythical reputation, that crytallizes everything that made the band so great.

By the time Yoshiki wrote Art of Life, he'd been writing music for 17 years. With that sort of experience comes maturity, and maturity is the one thing you really need when attempting a song that almost tips the scales at half an hour. The song never outstays its welcome during that period, nor does it show any evidence of a lack of ideas. Suggesting the song could be seperated is silly and redundant, so well does it work as a complete piece.

The obvious comparison when talking about Art Of Life is Dream Theater's A Change Of Seasons. Both are songs that attempt to deal with the meaning of life and a person's passage throughout life, and take on the other weight themes of death and love. Both deal with these themes in suitably a epic manner, running a full gauntlet of moods and textures. And both bands have players with almost scary technical ability (in fact, although Yoshiki never fully stretches his talons here, he is capable of outplaying both Mike Portnoy and Jordan Rudess at their respective instruments - and I don't even feel I need to mention that Toshi is a far better vocalist than LaBrie).

Well, now that the comparison is made, I'll tell you that Art of Life is A Change Of Seasons, times two. Don't get me wrong - A Change Of Seasons was my favourite song of all time for a very long while - but Art of Life is more emotional, diverse, intense, impressive, and epic than Dream Theater's masterpiece. And, as an aside, X Japan don't ruin this album with a bunch of tacky cover versions as bonus tracks.

So, to the song itself.

It begins with clean guitar and piano, before Toshi comes in with the opening lines. "Desert rose....why do you live alone?" At around 3.30, the song appears to blossom out, as harmonized guitars reach outward. A mere 10 seconds later, the song powers itself into a speed-metal frenzy, complete with plenty of Iron Maiden-esque harmonized leads.

The first of many voice-overs starts at 5.30. It's a female voice, seemingly responding to the song's protagonist. It's hard to make out what she's saying. This character re-appears several times during the song.

Just after the 8-minute mark, proggy keyboards appear, backed by what sounds like a string quartet. This segues into a melodic respite from the metal riffing. This might be considered the 'chorus', as it re-appears later to close the song. Toshi's voice trails off as more harmonized leads enter, this time more epic in nature, and sounding a little more like In Flames. For the next two minutes, the two guitars trade lead licks, before another thrashy riff comes in at the 11 miute mark. Yoshiki's drums really pick up in this section, giving a hint of what he's capable of. A string section behind the guitarists gathers in intensity and volume, playing a call-and-response role. It's the musical equivalent of storm clouds gathering.

This breaks down at around 12.30, as circular string passages and more basic instrumentation from the band themselves back another great melody.

After this, the band drops away altogether, leaving the orchestra to play. Another female voiceover comes in, this time mutli-layered, sounding like several conflicting voices pulling your mind in different directions. The chorus reappears again.

And then, the piano solo.

I feel daunted by the very task of describing this piano solo. It's....unreal. Nearly 7 minutes in length, it's without a doubt one of the greatest things I've ever heard. Beginning simply enough, with a plaintive, uneasy melody in the right hand part, the left hand part gradually becomes more and more complex, adding more and more harmony, before it becomes an urgent, jumpy set of chord stabs. The melody returns, and then the chords again. It seems to hinting at a desire to do something, but a simultaneous unwillingness....a dischord appears. Then another. Then another. The beautiful melody gradually dies away, conquered by a series of "wrong" notes. Eventually all sense of key and meter disappears too. We are left with an immense piece, spawned from the world of Penderecki and Xenakis, yet never feeling derivative or contrived. How many rock or metal bands can geuinely count 20th century avant-garde composer such as these as influences? Yoshiki does, and here, he proves it.

The melody reappears 3 minutes later. Again, dischords run over the top of it, but now they seem almost futile. The melody is fighting back, bubbling again to the surface.

This is your first love, set to music. It is your first ever taste of how beautiful love can be, it is your struggle to come to terms with your emtoions, it is your constant self-doubt as you wonder whether to act upon them....it is conceived perfectly. The first time I heard this solo, I felt nostaliga. And that feeling only gets stronger every time I hear it subsequently. That is how powerful this passage is. It is executed and concieved perfectly.

The piano falls back, seemingly exhausted, at around the 23.30 mark. Another string passage comes in, giving the listener a chance to recover from what they've just heard.

How do you follow that? A nuts-out riff fest, that's how!! Returning to earlier passages of the song, Toshi sings with a renewed purpose, beginning to draw the song to its conclusion. A final trimphant comes in just before the 28 minute mark, the piano driving the band forwards.

Quote:
Art of life
I try to stop myself
But my heart goes to destroy the truth
Tell me why
I want the meaning of my life
Do I try to live?
Do I try to love?

Art of life
An eternal bleeding heart
You never wanna breathe your last
Wanna live, can't let my heart kill myself
Still I'm feeling for
A rose that's breathing love
In my life.....
The band dies away, leaving Toshi to bellow the final line. His voice fades away, leaving a stunned silence.

I've had this album for 2 and a half months now. I've listened to this song, in its entirety, every day since I got it, and I am not sick of it. Not in the slightest. I haven't listened to it so much because I want to decipher the hidden meanings in the lyrics, or because I'm trying to learn the guitar parts - I've listened to it because I've wanted to. It is, undoubtedly, the best song I have ever heard. I'm not the only one, either - this album has the highest score in the whole database of http://www.metalreviews.com/ .

Fuck genres. If you like music, you owe it to yourself to hear this.

5/5

As an aside, Yoshiki should soon be releasing a trip-hop influenced solo project under the name Violet UK. How sweet is THAT gonna be?
On this record, X-Japan are Yoshiki (pinao, drums), hide (guitars), Toshi (vocals), Pata (guitars), and Heath (bass). This album was released in 1993.




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Comments:Add a Comment 
el doctor
February 5th 2005


83 Comments


I absolutely love this album and your review is equal in quality to Art of Life. You really covered everything, that is, everything that one can actually express in words.

Aside from listening to it over and over and not getting tired of it, I think the song even holds up throughout. If you take a look at many longer songs, you'll undoubtedly find sections that bore you to death. With this though, never do I find myself thinking "Wow, still 10 minutes left of this drivel?"

I really agree that this is an album for all music fans. It takes a step into metal, prog, classical, and pop, and does a masterful job in each. 5/5

The Ashtray Girl
February 6th 2005


108 Comments


Oh my God - that review was amazing, I have to listen to this right now!

Iai
Emeritus
February 6th 2005


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Here's a couple of websites I quoted.

http://www.projectj.net/xjapan.htm

http://www.chaoticempire.org/artoflife.html

W00t for having the featured review.

Med57
Moderator
February 6th 2005


1001 Comments


I'm willing to admit that I've never heard of this, but due to your taste in music, I'm forced to admit that I need to get it. Absolutely incredible review, as well.

Shadows
Moderator
February 6th 2005


2530 Comments


Excellent review. I have high hopes for it being as good as you say. Soulseek will be busy tonight.

Distorted Vision
February 6th 2005


184 Comments


Well holy shit.

A Change Of Seasons is my favourite song ever. I think you and me share the same feelings for ACOS, or you used to at least. Your review just made it urgent for me to hear this! It sounds amazing (Yoshiki can seriously outplay Rudess??), but I can't find it anywhere, even Soulseek.

Any chance you can send it to me, Iai?

el doctor
February 6th 2005


83 Comments


I just hope all you guys don't get your hopes up too much. I mean, it's an incredible song, but very different in my eyes from ACOS. Don't expect a shred fest or tons of double bass drum. In fact, if I were to have on criticism of the review, it's that it makes the song seem too much like ACOS, when it's in fact very different.

Iai
Emeritus
February 7th 2005


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Well, there's not exactly tons of double-bass in A Change Of Seasons either.

Or at least I don't remember there being any.

The two songs do have a lot of similarities, but I concede, I probably made too much of them.

Distorted Vision
February 7th 2005


184 Comments


Trust me, it's not the 'shred fest or tons of double bass' that make me love ACOS, so I think I'm safe. The comparisons just made it seem like something I'd really enjoy.

Yoshiki
February 7th 2005


3 Comments


Hey Mate, Did'nt know anyone in europe knew Xjapan, I thought i was one of the minority, but hell yea they ROCK, I've been a "hardcore Fan Of them for about 2 years now" Yoshiki has influenced most of my drum playing for the [ast year!! Good To see they are Getting the credit they deserve, THey are my fav. rock band of all time!!

Yoshiki
February 7th 2005


3 Comments


Soz My "Tag (name I use on mxtabx forum is Yoshiki Also lol!!! i just forgot to sign in so it showd up blank

Yoshiki
February 7th 2005


3 Comments


O Yea, By the way, got to congrat. you on your briliant review

Raijo
February 9th 2005


24 Comments


Yo, Distorted Vision, if you want to download this album get bit torrent and go to www.bi-torrent.com and look for the torrent of it. After reading this review I too was inspired to download this album to see what Iai was speaking so fondly about. I've just started listening to it so I don't think I can honestly give any sort of judgment on it as of yet however judging by what I have already heard, I can honestly say that I much prefer Labrie's voice to the voice of X Japan's singer -- maybe that's just me though *shrugs*.

Great review by the way Iai.

Robert Crumb
Emeritus
February 9th 2005


165 Comments


I'll have to look into this but no way I'd try to download this on my wimpy 56k. Brilliant review but you knew that, right? ;)

el doctor
February 9th 2005


83 Comments


"I much prefer Labrie's voice to the voice of X Japan's singer -- maybe that's just me though *shrugs*."

I agree. Art of Life is the only thing I've heard from them, but I'm interested in hearing some vocals in Japanese.

Distorted Vision
February 10th 2005


184 Comments


Raijo, thanks but there's no need, I got it off Iai on Soulseek.

Well, to be honest, it is really good but I'm not loving all of it. I have a strong feeling that it's one of those things that will really grow on me over time, and one day I'll probably be knocked out.

My favourite parts are the heavier bits, pretty standard prog-metal playing but it's pulled off really well, and the whole thing flows nicely. The thing that put me off is Toshi's voice, he seems like a good enough singer aurally, but because he's Japanese singing in English, it's very hard to understand him because his words aren't very articulate. I think it would have worked better with a singer who is better at simply SAYING the words in English, because Toshi sounds like he's saying nothing in particular.

Otherwise, it's really really good. My first reaction to the piano solo was 'OK, you can stop with the wrong notes now' , but I'm 'getting' it now after a few listens. Thanks for recommending it.

Iai
Emeritus
February 11th 2005


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

I think Art Of Life is one of only 2 songs they did entirely in English.

Rusty Nail and Silent Jealousy are two good songs to check out that are mainly in Japanese.

br3ad_man
Emeritus
February 13th 2005


2125 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is pretty decent.

3.8/5

alsy333
March 8th 2005


1 Comments


I just recently got into X Japan. I think they're cool. Art of Life sounds like a really good song. Unfortunately soulseek has shit. You can never find anything on there. That would be cool if you could send it. Maybe I'll buy it. Who knows.

Iai
Emeritus
March 8th 2005


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

I found it fine on Soulseek, personally.

Try adding a guy called nagini to your list - I found him randomly on a search once. He has tons of Japanese stuff.



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