X JAPAN — Art Of Life

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X JAPAN - Art Of Life cover
4.43 | 17 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 1993

Filed under Progressive Metal


1. Art Of Life (29:00)

Total Time: 29:00


- Toshimitsu Deyama / vocals
- Hideto Matsumoto / guitars
- Tomoaki Ishizuka / guitars
- Hiroshi Morie / bass
- Hayashi Yoshiki / drums

About this release

Release date: August 25th, 1993
Label: East West Japan

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If I had to pick one song, not as my personal favorite, but as the best piece of music – one that pulled from all aspects of what makes music such an mazing and beautiful art – it would be Art of Life. As pretentious as that sounds, and as pretentious as writing a 30 minute epic about life may be, this song can actually back up such a monumental title. Am I biased as a metalhead, a fan of X Japan? You bet. But I only love these things because of what they offer me. Metal, to me, is ultimately an incredibly raw, even bestial display of human art. The harshness and aggression of it feels like a death throe. When one is in a life-or-death situation, or pushed to their limit, or faced with overwhelming emotion or psychological trauma, the ugliest, yet purest expressions surface. This is what Metal is to me.

X Japan do a fantastic job of mixing into that Metal foundation the sonic embodiments of young love, of beach sunrises, city-lit snowfall, a tear of joy. They have mastered both the ugly aggression and the passionate beauty, each in excruciatingly pure form. “Art of Life” is their magnum opus that displays every talent they’ve mastered. At times the music gets insanely fast as the guitars and drums exercise every last shred of pain, and at others slows to let the piano and strings cover you like a gentle rain. The song goes to all extremes and everywhere in between.

The lyrics are poetic, evocative, and hold an immense amount of depth especially for a band writing in a second language. Band leader and main writer Yoshiki was going through the grief of losing his father, among other things in his life, and in his words, tried to draw from every emotion he had when writing the song. And yeah, he succeeded, without a doubt. This is conveyed both in the music and the words, which tell of an existential crisis of love, longing, and loss. The lyrics are not specific enough to pigeonhole the song, and therefore almost anyone could listen to this and attach a very personal meaning to it.

Lastly, I’ll talk about that piano solo. That god damned piano solo. Originally, I hated it. I didn’t get it, I didn’t respect it, I didn’t think it contributed to the rest of the song, nothing. I went out of my way to make an edit of the song that cut it out so I could listen without having to fast forward through it. I didn’t get it.

I do not like when people chalk someone’s dislike of something up to them “just not getting it.” As if a song is so transcendental that a human cannot understand it. As if one has to be “in” on something to judge it correctly. As much as I do not like that and do not think it is a good response to any sort of opinion, I will allow myself to say it just once, for this piano solo. I get it now. After going through a psychological and emotional low, I got it. It became so clear what Yoshiki was feeling as he hit that cacophony of keys, how it played into the rest of the song, what it represented, everything. And magically, I immediately started enjoying it. I absolutely cannot listen to the song without it now. It took an experience and a perspective I did not have before to grasp it. And while this is no fault of any listener and I would not wish it on anyone, if you haven’t had that sort of experience, you just might not get it.
Have you ever wondered about what would happen if we all had a soundtrack playing to our daily lives? Songs that represented our pain and sorrows, our triumphs and merriment, or the more complex thoughts in between? Think of the situation as a film; about 90% of the time, a wonderful soundtrack is capable of coloring a scene and making it feel larger than life, but slows down for the personal, intimate moments to balance things out.

X Japan (hailing from, you guessed it, Japan) had always been adept at capturing raw human emotional resonance in their songs, whether heavy or soft. Case in point: "I'll Kill You" from their first record Vanishing Vision was an exceptionally frenzied and violent affair a la Metallica's 80's thrash heyday, and yet "Crucify My Love" and "Tears" from their final (as of this review, but they're working on a new record) album Dahlia are quite possibly two of the most beautiful ballads to come out of their time. However, the crowning achievement in musicianship, lyrics, emotion, and just about everything else they've tapped into, is 1993's Art of Life.

First off, despite the record consisting of only the one titular song, that very song is 29 minutes, and goes through everything from speed metal, classical, symphonic music, progressive metal, power metal, pop, the works. The lyrics illustrate the vision of life and what it represents, its trials, love lost, love found, and continuing living even through any circumstance. The lyrics are impressive on their own, but mixed with Toshi's heartfelt wails, the experience feels downright cathartic. Even more impressive is how the song never loses focus; everything gels so wonderfully and nothing ever feels like extraneous baggage.

As the song begins with a longingly flowing piano line from Yoshiki, the symphonic backing grows and becomes grander by the second until Toshi belts out the first lines, and the song really gains momentum from that point on. What follows is a lightning-fast speed metal riff-fest reminiscent of Helloween's early days, and here the band start to really unfold their skills as musicians. Chaos ensues, with Toshi and everyone else engaging in a musical war; vocals fight against the blazing guitars, while the drums and bass guitar are cutting through the production cleanly and effectively.

The more intimate moments come in a few ways. One of these is the chorus, which sees several returns and lets Toshi show off his emotional side, coming close to resembling Journey's Steve Perry in quite a few of those spots. Also, in the middle of the tune, all the instruments fall out for an all-symphonic segment that could almost be expected from a grand fantasy movie like Lord of the Rings. The instruments come back in for the chorus, going for what you might think would be the end of the piece. But nope, we have a piano solo to listen to.

And holy fuck, it is amazing.

Not only is it a beautifully composed solo on its own, but the meaning behind the playing is perhaps what deserves a greater mention. The melody is simple enough; it's simple but sorrowful, a great way to inspire curiosity for what's to come. But then, as Yoshiki's playing becomes more complex, more dissonance starts to take place. The piano discord gets out of control as not one but TWO pianos are playing and overlapping one another. However, the main melody, while buried, still remains even as it takes so much heat from the rest of the madness attempting to crush it down.

To me, it's a symbol of how anything can be overcome, no matter what tragedy or pain strikes. No matter how tempting it may be to succumb to the lonesome darkness and give in, there's always that little glimmer hidden beneath the rubble, telling us we can carry on despite our past and our troubles. The solo fits that depiction so perfectly, especially when the symphonic backing fades in and takes over the discordant piano work completely. Think of the symphony as the redemption, the grand picture of promise unfolding before the listener's eyes.

After that, however, the frenzy sees a reprise as the assault of riffage bursts right in to carry the tune out. The singing is as triumphant as it can get, and the atmosphere of finality in the chorus is just, for lack of a better word, beautiful. Suddenly, the lyrics start to get even more meaningful and inspiring as the song comes to a close, and Toshi sings one last word in silence: life.

It's a sin that this album doesn't get the attention it deserves. It taps into what we think about everyday, what we feel, what appeals to us or drives us away. It's the essence of life itself and never lets the listener go until its thrilling finale. The musicianship is outstanding, the lyrics heartfelt and Toshi clearly took his time on them, and the message is brilliant and clear. I don't care if you have to buy this thing at a store, buy online, torrent it, whatever... just listen to it.
I have the feeling I've grown out of this release a bit since my younger days where I adored it greatly. Contrary to some opinions, I don't ever feel this 29 minute single track album/EP is overlong, even with that daunting 8 minute piano solo in the middle.

This was probably one of the first albums that kick started my infatuation with the epic length track, and by comparison with other epics, it's pretty short. Still, 29 minutes for most people is a very long track. The style of this album is power metal with a great emphasis on melodic elements. Though power metal is not my forte, I rather enjoyed the long form style which X Japan employed in this album. It has a cohesive, flowing nature and never feels like a bunch of unrelated songs slammed together.

The guitar playing is technical, but doesn't feel showy beyond reflecting the theme of the music, which is alienation and existential crisis; probably why the piano solo seems so fitting to the piece - it works with two pianos that form an opposition, playing off each other until the structure begins to crumble into dissonant noisy clangs. A brief respite through an ambient interlude leads us back to the power metal finale.

The band has the good sense to keep the epic flowing and always progressive, which ensures it doesn't stay static, even with the piano, it never outstays its welcome. Of course, it's a divisive album, and many would say overlong, but for me, despite somewhat growing out of it, is still a great journey that I'd recommend any power metal fan to take.

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