X JAPAN — Art Of Life (review)

X JAPAN — Art Of Life album cover Album · 1993 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
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.
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