X Japan [Japan]
Art of Life Live
X Japan has personally always been one of the bands that I respect the most. While they have always dressed in an extreme manner (like how most Visual Kei bands nowadays do), they were undoubtedly one of the pioneers. However, they challenged the notion of extremity that metal bands have to indulge in by including sappy ballads on each and every one of their albums, and even dare to display more emotions than any band ever dares to while performing live.
Art of Life was first released in 1993, and 5 years later the band decided to release a live version of the song, and this is perhaps the most epic power metal song that I have ever come across. They have pushed their limits to the edge by releasing a single track, 34:08 minutes long (the original song clocks at just under 30 minutes). However, fortunately, while most “epic”s tend to get boring within, say, the first 5 minutes, Art of Life is perhaps the only one that can exceed 30 minutes yet keep me interested and mesmerised throughout the entire duration. Yes, even with my short attention span.
The song, as per the studio version, starts off with a soft piano driven ballad, as Toshi’s vocals, filled with emotions [Desert rose, why do you live alone...?] comes into the picture. Lyrics full of agony and sadness makes the entire experience even more emotional. With a bang on the piano, Yoshiki ends the introduction to the song, leaving the audience in suspense before finally at the 3:20 mark the entire band comes into the picture with their full glory. The sorrowful tone of Pata’s Les Paul, coupled with the wailing of Hide’s Mockingbird are all instantaneously familiar. Not forgetting Heath’s bassline. Where most bassists would simply duplicate the guitar riffs on their bass guitars, Heath here plays with his notes and complement the leading instruments nicely and also ensures that the entire experience is full bodied. Listening to the speedy passages also bring the image of Yoshiki wildly headbanging throughout the entire duration to mind as well. Hide’s solos while nothing technically challenging (at least not by today’s standards), show him picking out all the right notes, emphasising the emotionally charged lyrics sung by Toshi.
As the second part of the song comes to an end (15:30), Yoshiki once again goes back to his piano. This is the part where fans begin to disagree with each other. While some claim that it’s a masterpiece, others dismiss it as utter rubbish. I’m going to admit that while I don’t particularly enjoy this portion of the song, it certainly has established itself as a vital part of the art that is Art of Life. Halfway through the now-famous 9 minute piano solo, things start to get messy as random keys are hit (yes, HIT) by Yoshiki, transforming a beautiful piece into seemingly utter chaos, yet maintaining the main notes in the background. According to Yoshiki the mess in the middle of the song onwards symbolises the troubles and ripples that one has to go through during their lives, or as some people put it, “the internal conflict that occurs within a person”. At the 27:00 mark, the piano solo ends and fades out to soft strings at the background.
X Japan also has a knack at building up the climax, where the audience somehow knows when the song is about to end. It’s not about the speed they play at, the notes they pluck, but rather the entire atmosphere. As the finale of the song begins with a guitar dive by Hide and Toshi’s vocals once again comes in, the entire atmosphere is crushing (think of the first time you saw your all time favourite time band performing live, yes, that feeling!).
While most bands fail at including orchestral parts and spoken parts on their songs, X Japan utilises them smartly, in that the orchestra does not drown out the band yet is present enough to boost the atmosphere. The spoken bits are also added at the right time, at the background as the two guitarists take the front.
I chose to review the live version instead of the studio version simply because I prefer the entire atmosphere that X Japan has created on the live version, compared to the studio version where everything was too… Polished? Also, it is during live performances where a band gets to display whether they have the talent in them like their studio recordings, and X Japan has sufficiently proven that point and more.
Now with the announcement of the reformation of the band, I honestly have no idea what to feel about it. After all, X Japan can never be X Japan again without the classic lineup that was on this release: Hide, Yoshiki, Toshi, Pata and Heath.