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Ars Nova (JAP) - Seventh Hell CD (album) cover

SEVENTH HELL

Ars Nova (JAP)

Symphonic Prog


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Marty McFly
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Errors and Omissions Team
5 stars "Seventh Hell" sounds like perfect example of hell to me. I forgot which style this is, but I suspect symphonic. And indeed, what else could it be. She sings in Japan language, so I don't understand, but I don't mind, because at least is pleasant language to hear, nothing strong, hard. And except first unpleasant seconds, I'm satisfied as much as possible. Because this track has a gift to enhance your imagination, if you already have it working. Just thinking about images connected with these sounds (Futurama's hell? something my own?). When it's symphonic, or supposed to be, I expect, well, symphony. Beautiful and complex melody, better if structured quite difficult, synth or real synths, singing not so important. From what I could saw, Japan Bands have a lot of synth prog bands. In this track, there are two parts. One is ascending part, where music is in fast pace and trying to reach the top of the mountain, then second parts, when it jump from the edge and enjoys free fall. What about similar fall to depths of hell ? 7:22-8:30 is long example of second one. It contains beautiful and absolutely incredible blend of transitions from guitar solo to synth one (so masterskilledly edited that you will not see any bump) and then to both.

Keiko Kumagai is probably this gorgeous girl on cover. She's so pretty and not at all Japanese looking here + when you consider her keyboard skills, her giving a lot of band's ideas and this erotic style her own (Android Domina, various photos), you can't help but think that's a quite weird combination. Not bad, just strange. Babel Tower on her head, bird eating a man from Bosch's famous painting (one of two I have in my room, second one is Eden by him too, so every time I see something from it, connection between this artwork and this where I see it is stronger.

5(-) stars for almost masterpiece. Well, sad truth is that there are few worse parts which does not fit me aat all in overall composition. But as depiction of Hell (don't forget about it) it's flawless.

EDIT: + 1/2 stars, because of solid state of this record, which provides original element enough (through wild ideas) to be considered as master-class.

Report this review (#236350)
Posted Tuesday, September 1, 2009 | Review Permalink
Epignosis
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Eclectic Prog Team
2 stars This is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder progressive rock. It is ultimately technical skill without direction. Any given piece will change styles multiple times, all while retaining a frenzied pace and weirdness almost without exception. Despite their unquestionable talent, it's almost impossible for me to enjoy this, no matter how hard I've tried. Fans of Koenjihyakkei may find quite a bit to love here, however.

"Seventh Hell" After a maddening introduction, something akin to progressive metal ensues. The track is riddled with chugging guitar and powerful synthesizer leads. Jam packed with notes from almost every instrument, the arrangement is all over the place- frantic, chaotic, exasperating, and exhausting. Midway through, the piece completely stops, and something very different but no less sporadic takes over.

"La Venus Endormie" After the mind-boggling instrumental frenzy that came before, it's nice to have a more peaceful track, this one featuring vocals, coming from a female who can occasionally be shrill. The peace doesn't last- the band jumps back into full force progressive metal with several seemingly random sections patched in. The organ solo is the king here, though.

"Cazadora de Astos" Various synthetic instruments lead the charge on this brighter piece. Almost predictably, it becomes a migraine-inducing barrage of sounds.

"Voice of Wind" Following a bizarre opening, the band plows through a heavy guitar and bass segment, which is punctuated by irritating vocal stabs.

"Salvador Syndrome" The opening is really reminiscent of Gentle Giant. As expected, the music that follows is explosive, screaming, and unrelenting. Something I almost never care for is present here throughout- in lieu of transitions, there are several places where the music stops and then starts up again. With the weird, Japanese operatic vocal, however, my desire would be that the stops would come more often. Even the lead guitar is irritating in its screeching. The bass guitar solo is really cool, though. After yet another non-transition, there's a queer section of accordion, operatic vocals, and otherwise cabaret music. Sorry everyone, but this is worse than channel surfing on a drunken evening and trying to make a coherent story of everything on the screen...not that I've ever tried that sort of thing.

Report this review (#253334)
Posted Saturday, November 28, 2009 | Review Permalink
Nightfly
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Seventh Hell is the latest release from Japanese band Ars Nova, not to be mistaken for the Italian band of the same name. It's an album of highly proficient high tech symphonic prog. The music centres around the talented Keiko Kumagai's grandiose and powerful keyboard work. Guitarist Satoshi Handa comes from the Steve Vai school of playing, again a highly proficient player who can shred with the best of them but injects the occasional acoustic moment for colour. The rhythm section of drummer Hazime and bassist Shinko Panky Shibata lay a solid foundation but are able to follow the twists and turns of the complex musical structures with ease.

Ars Nova's brand of symphonic prog in the main is very bombastic, often veering into metal territory, constantly shifting with some inventive chord structures on the five compositions. It's mainly instrumental with only the occasional vocal or spoken voices to break the musical onslaught. However I could quite happily live without the Japanese operatics that appear on closing track Salvador Syndrome.

I found myself quite enjoying Seventh Hell, particularly the opening title track which captures them at their best but the music generally comes across as a little clinical and soulless. The constantly changing nature of the compositions whilst being technically impressive does sometimes frustrate a little as an enjoyable section appears and is gone, never to heard again. This in turn leaves them fairly unmemorable, even after half a dozen plays.

Whilst I doubt I'd want the entire Ars Nova back catalogue in my collection, Seventh Hell is an album I'll enjoy coming back to from time to time when I'm in the mood. Worth checking out if you like your prog on the in your face bombastic side.

Report this review (#253983)
Posted Wednesday, December 2, 2009 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Bombastic, heavy, chaotic, loud! Seventh hell indeed! I was drawn to this japanese outfit when I read some reviews here on PA, since I had never heard of them before. It was said they were a kind of ELP copycat but if they ever did that I don´t know. What I can say is nowadays their music resembles anything BUT ELP. Liking it or not, they have their own sound that is a mix of speed of light type of guitars, shifting rhythm patterns and very complicated musical structures. Most keyboards parts are really interesting and creative, but the overall music is just too shapeless and too changeable for me to enjoy it more fully. It sounds mostly like an exercise of virtuosity than really music for the ears or soul.

Don´t get me wrong. It is just my personal taste.Besides, there are some very nice and genuine unique sounds that could be a fine material for great songs if they were interested in writing ´straight´ songs, but it does not seem to be the case here. Their musical hability is beyond question, the musicians are all very skillful and the arrangements are quite demanding. So much I´ll have to hear at least some other of their works to give them a fair judgement. For now I can only recommend this album to the ones who love to hear an explicit display of great musical technique without much care for song structure or feeling. If you´re into that, jump right in!

Rating: 2,5 stars, that I´ll round up to 3, because of the terrific musicanship and some very good ideas.

Report this review (#254440)
Posted Saturday, December 5, 2009 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
4 stars When it comes to the controversy of women performing in progressive rock, there are plenty of examples of female vocalists of course but traditionally women composers and all-girl bands in prog are quite rare. Well, unless you go to Japan of course. It is that country that seems to have some of the most ambitious and talented women in the higher arts of music and the country pumps out its share of extremely talented classical, jazz and progressive rock female specimens and it doesn't get any more so than the hyperactive and estrogen soaked female dominated band ARS NOVA. While the band was founded all the way back in 1983 as an all female cover band of classic prog such as ELP and Trace, in 1986 Keiko Kumagai joined the band and took creative control as the keyboard player and composer in chief. She even played with Ayreon on the album "Universal Migrator Part 2: Flight Of The Migrator." If you're looking for some sensual feminine charm with a whole lotta bombastic heft then look no further than ARS NOVA.

ARS NOVA has gone through many line-up changes over there long career and on the band's eighth studio album SEVENTH HELL, the lineup changes once again with only Kumagai remaining. While "Biogenesis Project" was fortified with a healthy supply of guest musicians in addition to the double synth attack and drums, SEVENTH HELL is streamlined into a mere yet no less feisty quartet of Kumagai on sole keyboard duty, Satoshi Handa on guitars and vocals, Shinko Panky Shibata on bass and Hazime on drums. While not exclusively an girl's club any longer, Kumagai takes the reins and keeps the feminine charm on board through this energetic romp through a parade of tight melodic riff sessions that simultaneously create pleasing earworm potential commerciality with heavy and frenetic restlessness that creates a dynamic tension through a variety of changing thematic proses that dish out the best influences of ELP, Goblin, PFM, Rich Wakeman, Balletto di Bronzo and beyond.

Teetering on the borderline between heavy symphonic prog and progressive metal. SEVENTH HELL provides a mostly instrumental path through five well composed tracks that are drenched in synthesizer attacks, heavy guitar laden riffage and choppy time signature rich percussive drives. The tracks vary in theme and length ranging from the opening near twelve minute title track that pours out lush addictive melodic driven synthesizer attacks to the heavy as hell short metal rocker "Voice Of Wind" that displays a rather Dream Theater type of progressive metal drive only with more complexities and avant-garde features interwoven into the spaced out atmospheric accompaniments. The grand finale "Salvador Syndrome" swallows up almost half of the album with a seventeen minute plus track that sounds more like a European Renaissance type of track than anything remotely Japanese. Graced by exquisite piano and keyboard runs and a series of never-ending changes, the behemoth track really lets loose and shows that female composers are alive and well and exceed the talents of many male counterparts in virtually every way.

SEVENTH HELL is a beast of melodic prog that has a rather exotic soundtrack feel packed full of different sounds interacting with the keys, guitar, bass and drums. While mostly instrumental, when vocals do occur they are usually displayed in spoken work or operatic scat singing with seemingly meaningly vocalizations with a few exceptions. This is the same style of prog metal that Ayreon lovers would eat up in a heartbeat and makes it evident why she fit in so well on Arjen Lucassen's ever-changing busy sounding brand of prog and symphonic metal. While ARS NOVA hasn't officially called it quits, it is somewhat of a mystery as to why the last album released came out all the way back in 2009. Perhaps other projects have gotten in the way, maybe a decade long album in the making is inching ever closer. While i could speculate to infinity, one thing is for sure and that is that this is some top notch brilliant composing power by Kumagai with top notch tight and daring performances to match. ARS NOVA is yet another brilliant Japanese band who managed to take European influences to the next level.

Report this review (#1871343)
Posted Friday, February 2, 2018 | Review Permalink
3 stars Between 1992 and 2009 female Japanese formation Ars Nova made 7 studio albums, a live CD and a DVD. Most of their earlier albums are keyboard driven symphonic rock with strong hints from UK, ELP and Trace. But later Ars Nova invited guess musicians, like on their album entitled Biogenis Project (2003) featuring Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen on guitar and PFM legend Lucio Fabbri on violin. After these 7 albums Ars Nova disbanded but ... the story is not over (yet). The following years the management released two Official Bootlegs and a CD-DVD box entitled Divine Night (for details see the official website). Meanwhile keyboard player Keiko did a lot of Ars Nova interviews for foreign progrock magazines. This inspired her to re-found Ars Nova in 2015, with former members, but she is the only original member. The new version of Ars Nova started to play gigs, recently late 2017 on a Japanese progrock festival.

On their latest official studio album Seventh Hell the guest musicians are Zoltan Fabian (known from Nemesis) and Satoshi Handa. The theme on this CD is surrealism, the five compositions are based upon paintings by famous artists like Hieronymus Bosch, Magritte and Dali. I was very curious how Ars Nova would incorporate their ideas about these very creative and original legendary painters.

Ars Nova sounds very tight and driven, the fans of ultimate bombastic symphonic rock will enjoy the mindblowing interplay, the cascades of shifting moods and the frequent solos on keyboards and guitar. And also the many interesting musical ideas in the five compositions:.

Dreamy waves of violin-Mellotron and wonderful Grand piano along blistering guitar, dazzling keyboard flights and a swirling rhythm-section in the long opener Seventh Hell,

From orchestral keyboards and biting guitar to a virtuosic acoustic guitar solo in La Venus Endormie.

A surprising break with Spanish guitar and castagnettes in Cazadora De Astros.

And muddy fat guitar riffs with propulsive drums, fiery guitar and a very pleasant keyboard sound in Voice Of Wind.

And then the final track entitled Salvador Syndrome (with Robby Valentine as guest on vocals), never a dull moment, what a variety: a warm accordion sound with Nina Hagen-like opera vocals ... a break with latino bass and an acoustic guitar solo ... a Spanish inspired interlude with guitar and handclapping ... and a splendid final part featuring an ultimate bombastic keyboard sound, heavy guitar and a propulsive rhythm-section. Here we can enjoy the exciting contrast between the classically inspired keyboards and the harder-edged guitar sound, how sensational!

To the 'mainstream' proghead this CD will sound a bit 'over the top', and I also analyse that most tracks tend to sound more as jam-sessions than elaborate compositions. But if you like this kind of heavy and bombastic symphonic rock you will be delighted about Ars Nova, in my opinion this is one of their most exciting efforts (also available as a DVD-R)! My rating: 3,5 star.

Report this review (#1884920)
Posted Tuesday, February 13, 2018 | Review Permalink

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