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Ningen Isu's Roar is as Strong as Ever - 95%

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.

With how amazing Ningen Isu's previous album was, one might think it'd be hard to compete with it, but their twentieth album "Ijigen no Houkou" comes VERY close to matching its predecessor. In fact, it might have even more variety and more to captivate your attention than the last album. Despite having just a few weak moments that weight it down a little bit, "Ijigen no Houkou" still remains in the top five for their entire career. It's an album that really goes to show what making music for thirty years can lead to.

"Fuujin" is a probably the biggest jumping off point from their previous album, and it's a more by-the-book great Ningen Isu track. It's a short track with a quick crushing riff behind it from Shinji Wajima. Kenichi Suzuki unleashes his story-telling ominous vocals as if preparing for a coming storm. It's definitely not their fanciest track, but it hardly needs to be. Ningen Isu's brand of metal just comes in, kills it with some fantastic riffing and theatrical vocals, and moves on to the next great track. "Taiyou ga Ippai" is a second track that isn't particularly fancy, but doesn't need to be. This one has a quicker tempo, and a more 'classic' feeling opening riff from them. The chorus is an insanely catchy one where Wajima and Nobu Nakajima harmonize. Wajima's solo is one of his more killer solos on the album. This quick, punchy, double-bass fueled track helps give a great breath of fresh air, and the stops and transitions keep it from getting stale. It's just great catchy Ningen Isu fun.

Shinji Wajima brings out a harmonica during "Mononoke Fever," which he hasn't used in a very long time prior to this. This track might be even catchier and even more fun than "Taiyou ga Ippai," albeit definitely in a less metal way. The verse and chorus riffs are both just so bouncy, and the aforementioned harmonica that underlines a ton of the song makes it an extremely unique Ningen Isu track. There's even a short refrain with some whistling to it that really hasn't been done by the band before. Unique tracks like this one show the group taking risks that, quite frankly, they don't really need to take after a 30 year career. But they always try fresh takes on their songs, and this one definitely pays off. However, in terms of sheer catchiness and unbridled energy, Nobu Nakajima steals the show again with "Akumu no Tenjouin," which is his lead vocal song on the album. I don't think there's anyone who is into metal or harder rock that can't listen to this track and have a great time with it. The song's main riff just makes me want to jump up and down from the get go. Nakajima's more raw voice and the passionate energy he brings is once again a perfect fit for this kind of track. Wajima is always adding little guitar flourishes behind him, too, which might slip by unnoticed if you're not paying attention. The chorus is just SO catchy and sing-able, and Wajima's solo is the same way. It's a solo that you can listen to a few times, and easily hum along to as he plays it. I could listen to this song anytime, anywhere.

All of this fun doesn't mean the album is without its incredible Ningen Isu heaviness, though. The track right before, "Akuma Kitousho," is probably my favorite on the album. It opens up with a rather deceptive very short acoustic intro that might lead you to believe the song will be a silly one, but after a few seconds, an insanely heavy and slowly suffocating Wajima riff rips through to quell all of that. This is a great track to just stomp along to. The chorus is also addicting to me, and shows off Wajima's great range as well. A little before the halfway point of the song, they turn the heat up, and pick up the pace a bit. This section is led by another monstrous riff, but during the vocal melodies here, Wajima brings the acoustic guitar back to play some rhythm work under his electric guitar; giving the song a ton of depth without betraying how powerful it is. The whole track is Ningen Isu providing their doom-y power that they've perfected over the years. Kenichi Suzuki leads the way on another of the album's heaviest tracks "Tsukiyo no Oni Odori." The song's main riff is another slow paced slamming and heavy one, but this time it has more of a groove than straight up power. Suzuki's voice dances all over this track, and drips with gruff, angry warnings. Nakajima's drum parts also help keep a great marching energy going under the heaviness. The final riff that ends this song isn't to be overlooked, either. It's a truly rage fueled riff with a great solo and incredible bass work over.

The album's closer "Itansha no Kanashimi" begins with a deeply sad sounding riff that helps carry the song. All of Wajima's vocals, especially the chorus, pound in the heavy sadness that this track represents. It's definitely a great song to pop on during a rainy night. The middle section of the song just prior to and also during the solo has some fantastic start and stop moments, and some pretty different beats from Nakajima that liven it up a bit. The opener "Kyomu no Koe" also is helmed very well by Wajima. He brings the melodies, and Suzuki brings the doom in his backing vocals. The chorus of this song is another that shows how beautiful and strong Wajima's vocals can be. The transition before the solo also has the same explosive kind of start and stop energy I spoke about for the closer. This track has a great, fresh spirit to open the album with a bang.

"Jigoku no Heavy Rider" is where the album's biggest problem comes in, though. Ningen Isu often has a short, super fast and energetic song as the second to last track on their albums, and this song definitely fits that. In fact, the really cool guitar effect Wajima uses to sound like a motorcycle revving up might be really exciting, but riffs all across this song are incredibly boring. Wajima's backing vocals are pretty annoying, and Suzuki's chorus vocals are insanely shrill and grating. They make me wince. On top of that, you can very clearly hear him running out of breath making the shrill calls, so this whole song just falls right on its face. Even though it's so short, it's still bad enough to be a wet blanket on the album. "Uchuu no Symphony" is another track that isn't really bad, but is incredibly forgettable. Unfortunately, an AWESOME Suzuki bassline is wasted on this song. Another thing about this album in general is that I personally feel Suzuki's bass parts are less prominent and magical than they normally are. This one really shows his chops, but it's truly a track that is otherwise going to fade away into your subconscious. It's another song that I entirely forget exists, so I listen to again to say "why don't I remember this song?" and then I remember why I forgot it. Not horrible, but far from their best.

In general, "Ijigen no Houkou" had some incredibly big shoes to fill, and for the most part, it's able to fill them. Despite having one bad and one forgettable track, it still remains to be one of the top five albums the band has ever released in my opinion. There's a lot of incredibly fresh ideas on this release, and there's definitely enough variety across it to remain enthralling all the way through. Above all, nothing brings me more joy than to see Ningen Isu not slowing down despite being in the game (and on top of it, in my opinion) for 30 years now. Definitely pick this one up!