NINGEN ISU — Ningen Shikkaku (No Longer Human) (review)

NINGEN ISU — Ningen Shikkaku (No Longer Human) album cover Album · 1990 · Stoner Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
I probably wouldn't have watched the video had it not been for the name, Ningen Isu. I knew the name to be the title of a short story by the famous Japanese mystery and suspense writer, Edogawa Ranpo. The story of a furniture maker who wanted to be part of his creation and feel what it was like to be a chair. The Human Chair. I had opened up the YouTube app to watch a video, and at the top of my suggested video feed was a band called Ningen Isu. I watched the video and was floored. What a sound! Three members and with all the guts of Black Sabbath and Budgie plus a host of other influences throughout the early years of heavy metal delivered with a modern metal sound, and still daring enough to release as a single from their 21st album a song over eight minutes long with a middle section that goes off from the main song and explores that early seventies heavy rock/heavy prog territory that I love. I ordered two CDs. I ordered two more. I ordered eight more. Man, these guys are good!

"Ningen Shikkaku" is the band's debut release from 1990. There was an ep the year before, but it's out of print now and all the songs can be found either re-recorded on this album or on later compilation releases. The song title is from a book by Osamu Dazai and is translated as "No Longer Human" but more directly translated means "Human Disqualification" as in "disqualified as a human being". The band's love of early seventies heavy rock is undeniable. Think "Behind the Wall of Sleep", "Fairies Wear Boots" and "Children of the Grave" by Black Sabbath or "Guts", "Crash Course in Brain Surgery" and "Breadfan" by Budgie and you'll immediately understand where this band is coming from. In fact, the song "Hari no Yama" ("Needle Mountain" or translated on YouTube as "Spiny Mountain in Hell") is a Japanese lyric version of "Breadfan" with a different story but all the speed and bombast of the original that inspired a Metallica cover.

The album opens with an instrumental that is half guitar effects and half a grooving heavy riff before the Spiny Mountain in Hell song charges in. "Ringo no Namida" (Tears of the Apple - The band is from Japan's Aomori Prefecture, which is a major producer of apples) has a really grooving riff and beat. The title track takes us partway through the song before going of into a sparse guitar effects adventure backed with a steady pulsing bass, and then gradually builds until it erupts into a kind of part two with a different riff before finally returning to the original song. "Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita" (In the Woods Beneath the Cherry Blossoms in Full Bloom) is another mini- epic with a song within a song. It's also the title of their next album. This track has become my favourite simply for how fantastic the music replicates early 1970's heavy rock. The groove, the changes in the music, the drums, the bass! You could say that this is the best album of 1970/71 that was recorded in 1990! Incidentally, this song is inspired by a book of the same title by Ango Sakaguchi.

"Arnheim no Izumi" (The Spring of Arnheim) is the one major sidestep on the album as it's a simple clean guitar instrumental that sounds like someone left a present on the doorstep of Atom Heart Mother Pink Floyd but they missed it.

Without describing each of the other tracks in detail, the album is not only early seventies heavy rock in style but the sound is very closely duplicated, an homage to the period. Whether short ("Heavy Metal no Gyakushu", 3:00) or longer than five minutes, most of the songs include unexpected turns in the music, suddenly changing tempo and charging ahead or abruptly changing riffs or slowing down.

The vocal style is also worth mentioning. The two vocalists of Shinji Wajima (guitars) and Ken'ichi Suzuki (bass) don't sing in a usual Japanese rock or heavy metal way (think Loudness or Onmyo-Za). Their style is more like Japanese theater or like two story tellers singing the stories. They are from a part of Japan with a very distinctive dialect and they see no need to conform to what's popular. It gives Ningen Isu's sound something very Japanese and somehow leads itself perfectly to the British heavy rock playing style.

The music of Ningen Isu is described as stoner metal/doom metal/hard rock/progressive rock, but one point worthy of mentioning here though is that this album is not indicative of Ningen Isu's overall sound. Their recent albums feature a more modern metal sound. Check out songs like "Heartless Scat" or "Namahage" on YouTube to get an idea of their 2010's music. Still, heavy, doomy, and man do they know how to play this kind of music!
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Unitron wrote:
5 months ago
It really did, the doom metal, grunge, and stoner scenes were all based around reviving the early heavy metal sound.
5 months ago
I was just talking with someone on Quora about how doom metal seemed to take off in the nineties. It seems that the seventies became cool again in the nineties.
Unitron wrote:
5 months ago
Love these guys, recently discovered them as well through the recommended videos on Youtube. The 90's were definitely the peak of early metal revivalism.


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