NINGEN ISU — Mugen no Juunin (review)

NINGEN ISU — Mugen no Juunin album cover Album · 1996 · Heavy Psych Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
voila_la_scorie
After self-producing their previous album and releasing it on an indie label, Ningen Isu's Shinji Wajima and Ken'ichi Suzuki were wondering what their next move should be. They at least had a permanent member for a drummer now with Iwao Tsuchiya, who joined the band in time for 1995's 'Odoru Issun Boushi'. They still had their management office as well. But no label.

As luck would have it, manga artist Hiroaki Samura was a fan of the band and contacted them about doing a collaboration project. The deal was that Wajima and Suzuki were free to write any songs they liked so long as the lyrics could be imagined as being part of Japan's Edo Period. Lyrics mentioning cars, phones, and pachinko were out. Samura would illustrate the album cover and inner sleeve. The album would be released by Pony Canyon, a major label, with a one-time-release contract. The two song writers threw themselves into their work, relishing the new experience of writing for someone else. Commissioned work! Sort of.

Though they were given free rein over what kind of music to record, they naturally stuck with their early seventies heavy rock style with some exceptions. Wajima came up with the idea to feature a bit of traditional Japanese music included in 'Mokko no Komori-uta' as well as a dash in the title track. Of their 21 albums, this seems to be the only album to venture that far into traditional Japanese music territory. I think it's a nice touch, at least for one album, and a refreshing new sound in their catalogue which until this album had been a smorgasbord of seventies-influenced hard rock, heavy rock, heavy psych, and heavy prog with some eighties metal as well.

Song lyrics always had to be considered. How about 'Jigoku', a song about Hell? Well, the Japanese Buddhist concept of hell was around back then for certain. 'Baka-yoi Kurui' (Bacchus Drunk Crazy) was about alcohol, so they were safe there. 'Kuroneko' (Black Cat) with a Sabbath-worship heavy riff was also in the clear. The one song that needed justification was Suzuki's 'Uchu Yuei' (Spacewalk). Suzuki was heavily into Hawkwind at the time and couldn't resist writing a Hawkwind-influenced song complete with spacey sounds. Wajima's logic was that space has always been around so it was okay to include that song on the album.

A few cool tracks to mention for the music, "Sarashi Kubi" is a great opening to the album with a circa '79 NWoBHM riff. "Baka Yoi Kuruhi" has this great swaggering doom riff that breaks into a heavy chugger. This is quite typical of Ningen Isu's style. One of my favourite tracks is "Tsujigiri Kouta Mushuku-hen" which is just such a fun song with some lead guitar melody that sounds like some old hero/action movie theme music. And yeah, Uchuu Yuei has its spacey charms.

I feel is a very strong album and one that is at once unique in the Ningen Isu canon and also true enough to the band's style that it doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. Though not usually considered their absolute best work, 'Mugen no Juunin' is still rather highly regarded. It's unfortunate that this album is out of print and a physical copy is hard to track down without paying a steep price. However, it can be heard on iTunes and YouTube and I think also on Spotify. If you're interested in hearing some unique Japanese heavy rock / heavy prog or want to hear more from this phenomenal band, why not give this album a listen? I'm very thankful that I was able to get a hold of a used copy in very good condition from Yahoo Japan Auction.
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5 months ago
I think the album cover is actually a tattoo based on artwork by Hiroaki Samura.
Unitron wrote:
5 months ago
Love this album and the album cover. That Hawkwind-esque space metal song you mention is especially great.

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