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The Luxury of Great Music - 90%

TheHumanChair, February 13th, 2020

Like my other Ningen Isu reviews, since the band's material is all Japanese, I will be using the English "Romaji" for the sake of ease during this review

After the mighty "Mandoro" comes Ningen Isu's eighteenth album "Burai Houjou." The most unfortunate thing about "Burai Houjou" is that it's sandwiched between two of the best albums of the band's career. Many times when I'm rattling off the band's discography to someone, I have to pause and make sure I don't skip over this one. That's not to say it's bad by ANY stretch of the imagination. It's still a great album that's definitely in the upper half of their entire career, and in a lot of ways, it uses "Mandoro" as a jumping off point to try some new ideas with.

I feel obligated to start by talking about "Namahage," which has become a Ningen Isu staple that they often close out shows with (they even closed with it when I saw them live in 2019). It's absolutely worth its reputation, too. Shinji Wajima showcases riff after doomy riff on it. His vocals are both strong and fitting of the song's spooky atmosphere, even though Kenichi Suzuki is generally the more theatrical of the two. Suzuki also has some vocal sections, before the two harmonize the fantastically catchy chorus. Where the first half of the song is spooky, the second half picks up the pace, and just becomes a true headbanger with yet another brilliant riff. It returns after some ghostly moans from all three members before kicking into high gear one more time before the close. "Garandou no Chikyuu" is another great, super heavy track on the album. Wajima's riffs are also top notch on this track, and Suzuki's vocals during the chorus are both melodic and aggressive. The entire track has a pissed off feel to it and a great grooving flow. The song is another example of Ningen Isu creating fantastic music even when they don't do anything particularly fancy.

"Guskou Budori" is a track that could easily have been on "Kaijin Nijuu Mensou." It definitely has a 'detective' journeying feel flowing through it in the riff, which is pretty fitting considering it's based off a children's story. It's another track that I think is just so much fun all around. The riff is energetic, Wajima's verse vocals are melodic, the chorus is SUPER catchy, and the backing vocals around the chorus flesh the track out with some atmosphere. It's a good time all around. The track right before it, "Miss Android," is another one that's just silly Ningen Isu fun. Suzuki's verse vocals tell a tale that almost seems 'bored,' until the chorus where he 'discovers' Miss Android, causing him to pick his energy up. The shining moment from this particular track is Wajima's solo in the middle, though. It's a killer solo that's both technical and really catchy. Wajima layers the melody behind it twice, and Suzuki's bass groove also matches it, which really gives the whole solo section SO much depth.

The album's sheer beauty takes form in "Ligeia." From the opening, Wajima starts with a mystical acoustic guitar piece, before the main melody of the song shines in pure brilliant beauty. The acoustic guitar is what is driving most of this song, but Wajima's sad lead vocals as well as the backing vocals from Nakajima and Suzuki support how pretty the entire song runs. The chorus is a brilliantly forlorn, but still very singable chorus that enhances the overall mood. Towards the end of the song, the drums and bass come in to give the track a little shot in the arm, that makes it just a little bit stronger while not forgoing one drop of the beauty of the track. "Shitsuu Busshou" is another song that's beautiful in a different way. Wajima's riff that starts when the song picks up after the intro is a super strong one, and this song has a lot of different influences to it. The vocal melodies definitely have a strong Japanese feel to them, but Wajima busts out a sitar for a lot of atmospheric background playing which gives it another cultural feel. Nakajima also keeps a very solid catchy drum beat going across his toms that shows what a brilliant feel he has as a drummer. It's a song that is both as uplifting and 'calming' as a metal song can be.

The crown jewel of the entire album might very well be "Jigoku no Ryourinin," however. This track is nearly everything I love about Ningen Isu. It starts heavy right from the get go with some really cool Wajima riffs, and Suzuki's vocals are dripping with his theatrical dark energy I love. His vocals really help make this song. He shows what a range of emotion he has all throughout the song, and not many singers can create a mood and atmosphere of a song in the same way he can. The chorus is both powerful and catchy, and despite the heavy mood the song has, it still remains great fun the whole way through. Suzuki is also the star on the opener "Hyouchou no Teikoku" to me as well, despite Wajima having lead vocals. It's his basswork that sells this entire song. The entire backbone of the track is fueled by the powerful groove he gives. Not that Wajima's riffs or vocals here are bad at all, but Suzuki's bass just has such a flow going here. The solo section that kicks it up a notch is a fantastic change of pace too. The harmonized vocals are strong, and it's another impressive Wajima riff.

Honestly, even the couple of weaker tracks on this album aren't even really 'weak.' Unfortunately, the song Nobu Nakajima takes lead vocals on for this album, "Uchuusen Mirokugou," is probably the worst of the whole album. Wajima's main riff is a pretty weak one, and it's a pretty repetitive song that doesn't really go anywhere special. All is not lost because of Nakajima's incredibly powerful and energetic vocals. Those vocals and Wajima's riff at the VERY end of the song help it out a lot. All in all, this one's a bit lackluster, but still solid enough. The closer "Reijuu no Sakebi" also just doesn't quite measure up to me. It's another Ningen Isu epic, and it definitely builds atmospherically extremely well, but it's a bit too lethargic to hold a candle to other epics that came before it. It takes a bit too long to make a point, and doesn't sell itself on atmosphere or mood quite well enough to make the point it gets to worth it. Wajima's riff is KILLER once it gets there, though. Again, definitely not a bad song, but one of the lower points on "Burai Houjou" for me.

"Burai Houjou" is a very strong release from Ningen Isu with some really standout moments, but it gets a bit lost in the shuffle of phenomenal albums around it at this point. When it was released, I definitely enjoyed it thoroughly, and still do of course, but I found myself going back to "Mandoro" more than I found myself repeating this one. Doubly so when their next release came out. This album is a HUGE fish, but unfortunately, it found itself swimming in an ocean with whales instead of a lake where it could flourish more. Don't let my comparisons deter you, though. There is still absolutely SO much to love about this album.