Koenji Hyakkei
Dhorimviskha


5.0
classic

Review

by J.C. van Beekum USER (20 Reviews)
June 25th, 2020 | 17 replies


Release Date: 2018 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Koenji Hyakkei reach the pinnacle of musical absurdity.

When the commencing sequences of musical absurdity greet one at the start of Dhorimviskha’s opening track, ‘Vleztemtraiv’, it is made clear one is in for a bewildering sonic rollercoaster. See, this Japanese sextet isn’t particularly fond of anything remotely related to musical convention, not even the very aesthetic boundaries in accordance to which the group is often categorized. Generally Koenji Hyakkei plays a style of avant-garde progressive rock commonly described as Zeuhl, a term derived from an esoteric language construed by virtuoso drummer Christian Vander, the main creative force behind the genre’s most prolific outfit: Magma. The term itself translates to ‘Celestial’ in English, a characterisation that would certainly be appropriate to ascribe to Magma’s meandering, off-the-wall fusion of progressive rock, jazz fusion, modern classical music and odd-ball phonetic vocalisations. Similarly to Magma, the main creative force behind Koenji Hyakkei’s musical exploits is a percussionist: legendary, virtuoso drummer Yoshida Tatsuya. Although he is perhaps more known for his work with the drum-and-bass outfit Ruins, a group who helped pioneer the genre of Brutal Prog alongside outfits like The Flying Luttenbachers, Koenji Hyakkei is without a doubt Tatsuya’s most ambitious and impressive musical project.

Blending the aforementioned characteristics of Zeuhl and blending them with the musical madness and sonic aggressiveness more so on display in Tatsuya’s other projects, Koenji Hyakkei create a magnificent concoction of sheer sonic lunacy which envelops several musical domains, from jazz-fusion, avant-garde modern classical, avant-garde progressive rock, math rock and brutal prog. What sets Koenji Hyakkei apart from the standard Zeuhl propagated by outfits like the above mentioned Magma, is the sheer intensity and aggressiveness perpetually on display across their sound: the time signature and tempo permutations, the modulations, the chord schemes, the vocal melodies and harmonies are all executed with utmost precision and typified by this unerring sense of fluid dynamism. The sheer wealth of sonic variety each composition manages to touch upon within its given run time is nothing short of astounding. Although meticulous arranged, Koenji Hyakkei’s sound is anything but predictable, sterile or overly contrived, instead it’s totally unshackled, impulsively frenetic, often to an absurd degree, in short: it’s controlled chaos at its finest. In this sense, the music both possesses a tremendous emotive quality as well as an indisputable complexity and is simultaneously as typified by musical whimsy as by chaotic furore.

However, before we explore this music on an instrumental level, I would be remiss if I did not first touch upon the use of vocalisations on this record. The term that immediately came to my mind in relation to the use of vocals on Dhorimviskha is phonetic. Instead of using the vocals as, at least partially, a tool to impart a certain conceptual theme, vocalist Yamamoto Kyoko prefers to use her voice primarily as simply another instrument. Koenji Hyakkei’s lyrics, to the extent that they actually exist, are unintelligible mumbo-jumbo. Rather the singing on this album is exclusively used to add another layer of harmony to the record’s already harmonically dense compositions, or to add another strain of melody to an already sonorous musical progression. Far from being merely ornamental, Kyoko often works alongside Komori Keiko frenetic yet meticulous saxophone and clarinet playing, a musical combination that Koenji Hyakkei often amplify by situating both saxophone and vocals within the same tonal scheme. This allows the vocals and saxophone lines to form the harmonic backbone of the music, where each fulfils an equally important role in propelling the compositions forward. During the records most boisterous and cacophonic moments, which is saying something considering those terms could be applied to virtually every aural instance on this record, both Tatsuya, bass player Sakamoto Kengo and guitarist Koganemaru Kei join in to thicken the music’s harmonic layers even more. In this way, the band praticalyl turns itself into a small choir. The interplay between vocalisations and instrumentation on this record is nothing short of masterful, something displayed emphatically during the mid-section of album’s gargantuan eponymous closing piece or throughout the record’s equally impressive and absurdly eccentric opening track ‘Vleztemtraiv’.

Incredible interesting microtonal saxophone and vocal duets isn’t the only thing this record has to offer however. Firstly, it is clear Tatsuya is as formidable on drum kit as always has been, with his syncopated hi-hate work, his furious fill-heavy flurries, complex polyrhythmic and polymetric percussive barrages and his overall incredibly dynamic playing carelessly weaving a tapestry of percussive magnificence around the various peaks and valleys of every musical landscape found on Dhorimvishka. The extreme dexterity and precision with which Tatsuya manages to perform every single hyper-sophisticated drum part on this record is nothing short of masterful, and he does so with an intensity that almost gives the impression he is beating his drum kit into the ground. Secondly, Yabuki Taku performance on the keys is absolutely fantastic, glowing with the same virtuosic energy as all the performances on this record: from sweeping arpeggios, harmonically rich, unorthodox chord progression to percussive, syncopated staccato bursts, such as on the magnificent ‘Djebelaki Zomn’, are all ostensibly part of his musical arsenal. Lastly, Kengo’s hard-hitting yet scintillatingly mellifluous fusionesque bass lines and Kei highly dextrous, atonal riffs and occasional scorching progressive-metalesque solos merely serve as a testament to the fact that every track on this record is brimming with musical virtuosity, the likes of which have never been so ostentatiously on display before on any preceding Koenji Hyakkei record. Add to all of this the band’s ability to craft intricately arranged, highly dynamic, cohesive compositions and the capacity of each musician to immaculately fulfil their respective roles within each challenging musical sequence, and it becomes evidently clear Koenji Hyakkei has truly reached aa creative, instrumental and compositional pinnacle with this record.

The album’s composition completely forgo traditional structures and often rely upon continuous shifts in tempo, metrics, keys and instrumental interplay to glide their way through the record’s nigh-impenetrably complex compositional infrastructure. Nevertheless, they glide with an indisputable sense of elegance, which is both a testament to the skill of each musician involved as well as the fine attention to detail applied in constructing each of the records arrangements. Not only is there never a dull moment to be found and are the dynamics implemented in an unpredictable manner, the sonic permutations never feel hackneyed whatsoever. Koenji Hyakkei really know how to push a song forward and take you on a sonic journey, when to offer you a moment of reprieve from the musical madness on display, when to blend all of the aforementioned musical elements together into a pandemonium of cacophonous sonic miscellany, when it is time to initiate the intense crescendo that preceded such a moment of sonic climax and whether it’s time to carefully slide into a staccato breakdown or bombard the listener with a blistering fusillade of solos. That being said, it is certainly to aid of the records quality that Dhorimvishka has received a quite polished production job. Far from being a sterilised, quantized bore, each instrument is properly compartmentalized within the mix and every single note is decipherable and analysable, even during the records most boisterous and culminating moments, when the pressure bursts and a crescendo allows the music the reach a state of unfathomable musical absurdity. The pristine burst of saxophone and clarinet, the clear and incisive keyboard tones, the caramel-smooth bass tone, the incredible lead guitar sound and the fabulously snappy and tight snare sound serve to ratify the exceedingly admirable production job this record was blessed with, and a blessing it certainly is, especially as far as music so idiosyncratic and maximalist as this is concerned. When it comes to Koenji Hyakkei, a poor production job can transmogrify fantastic arrangements into an unintelligible blob of white noise. Thankfully, Dhorimvishka’s perfectly toes the line between overly pristine and just polished enough to properly highlight the album’s maximalist madness whilst not making it sound like a needless sanitized aural affair.

There is reason to suggest then, that Koenji Hyakkei has created their most formidable masterpiece yet, even surpassing their already masterful 2005 release, Angherr Shisspa, a highly impressive feat to achieve for a group which released their debut record in 1994. For those who are willing to tread the most exotic of musical waters, who are ready to plunge into Dhorimviskha’s sea of musical absurdity with its hyper-active lunacy, transdisciplinary insanity, undisguised, brimming virtuosity, unabashed experimentation, unrelenting intensity and unerring dynamism that have always been deeply infused in the eminently diverse and prodigiously elegant approach Koenji Hyakkei takes in order to reconstitute progressive music in their own image, you are doing yourself a disservice as a consumer of music: as far as progressive music, and music in general is concerned, there are few if any sonic achievements more forthrightly impressive as this one.



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user ratings (45)
4
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
MementoMori
June 25th 2020


910 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Hello Potential visitor:

- Any constructive feedback is always appreciated;

- Procure/stream: https://koenjihyakkei.bandcamp.com/album/dhorimviskha

AsleepInTheBack
Staff Reviewer
June 25th 2020


10036 Comments


my man you are on a roll

GhandhiLion
June 25th 2020


17641 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

"the drum and bass outfit Ruins"



hehe

MementoMori
June 25th 2020


910 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

@AsLeepInTheBlack: For now.

@GhandhiLion: You know that is pretty much spot on, although I'm sure you would have preferred experimental math-rock/avant-garde progressive rock outfit Ruins. Thanks for reminding me to add hyphens btw.

GhandhiLion
June 25th 2020


17641 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

np



brutal avant-prog hardcore outfits

MementoMori
June 25th 2020


910 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Hey, that's another fair description, but I didn't want to immediately scare off the more uninitiated you see.

hogan900
June 25th 2020


3313 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This was quite the treat, thanks for the review!

MementoMori
June 25th 2020


910 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

No problem. It's quite the treat indeed, one of acquired taste, but a delectable taste it is.

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
June 25th 2020


32015 Comments


Tatsuya is a god among men in my circle of friends, nice to see this reviewed!! Great job Mori!

Casavir
June 25th 2020


5644 Comments


Hundred Sights rules so I need to get to the rest of the discog.

MementoMori
June 26th 2020


910 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

@Dewinged: Thanks DW! He is indeed a percussion deity.

@Casavir: Absolutely, yes, certainly, yes.

FR33L0RD
June 27th 2020


6401 Comments


Impressive review Memento. Pos.v.
JazzProg rock/Experimental/idiosyncratic style. Nice. I might like this.
So much new great music to dig/jam. Overwhelmed.
An happy problem ;)

MementoMori
June 27th 2020


910 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

@FR33L0RD: Much appreciated my dude! You might very well like this indeed, especially considering your ratings up until this point. You have no clue how much incredible music lurks deep beneath of the surface even the periphery of the mainstream ;).

LeddSledd
June 29th 2020


7445 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

First found this by random rec a while ago, gem of an album. Definitely deserves some high praise. I haven't heard anything really like it since.



Great review, album deserves it.

MementoMori
June 29th 2020


910 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

@LeddSledd: Appreciate the compliment. It's pretty damn idionsyncratic, but pretty damn great nonetheless.

Zig
July 14th 2020


2747 Comments


nice album

MementoMori
August 10th 2020


910 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

@Zig: Yes. I concur.



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