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29 Minutes of Brilliance - 100%

Dudemanguy, September 6th, 2015
Written based on this version: 1993, CD, East West Japan

X Japan is quite arguably the most important and most influential metal band for the entire Japanese metal scene. Their debut, Vanishing Visions, sold massively well and got them a major record deal to Sony. After that, the band launched Blue Blood which would sell even better and stay on the chart for weeks. In fact, the next album, Jealousy would be X Japan's best selling album at over a million copies. So after all this commercial success, what do you do? Write a 29 minute epic of course!

So here we have X Japan's 4th studio album, Art of Life. Whether or not Art of Life truly counts as an album is up for debate, but it is an extremely remarkable musical journey nonetheless. A crude glance of their previous history makes this release seemingly come completely out of nowhere, but that actually isn't the case. X Japan has experimented ever since Give Me the Pleasure off of their debut. Despite the western hard rock influences present on Blue Blood and Jealousy, you'll also find symphonic arrangements, ballads, power metal, and other such oddities. The point is that the band was always changing their sound, and Art of Life is another progression and to me, serves as the band's true magnum opus.

Featuring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (they're based in London and world-renowned for those who don't know), the recording process of Art of Life is just as ambitious as the music the music itself and this really shows in the production. The sound quality is downright gorgeous and breathtaking. Every instrument is perfectly audible and well-balanced to each other, there's tons of dynamics, the orchestra is spaced extremely well across the channels, and Toshi's voice soars on top just like it should. Quite frankly, Art of Life is the best production job I've ever heard in metal. I really find it just that stunning.

Gorgeous production is meaningless without interesting music, but thankfully Yoshiki delivers on this front as well. Make no mistake, Art of Life is an extremely ambitious and highly original, creative piece. The overall structure is very nonlinear and goes through multiple sections with little repetition making the progressive label well deserved.

The song starts off as a ballad with clean guitar and string accompaniment which may be worrying to some, but X Japan was always adept at writing quality ballads with interesting, moving music. Here, it's no different. Toshi is perhaps the band's weak point (the engrish doesn't help I suppose), but his vocal delivery on Art of Life is absolutely full of passion and emotion. His voice is very distinctive and the song simply wouldn't be the same without him.

Later on, the rest of the band comes in to bring the metal and with brilliant results. Yoshiki rips up his drum kit with energetic crazy fills. Hide and Pata play the X Japan-style, melodic, harmonizing neoclassical leads, and Heath does the bass counterpoint. Throughout the song, there are multiple displays of tasteful, skillfull playing from all members of the band. There's multiple guitar solos, excellent riffing, blazing-fast drumming, and neat little bass moments. Of course, the orchestra on top does an amazing job providing atmosphere and doing its own, interesting playing to add to the music. Despite the rather depressing tone of the lyrics, this part of the song feels quite uplifting, soaring and beautiful.

Around the 15 minute mark or so is where the magic happens, and where some listeners may be disgruntled. So after everything quiets down, Yoshiki is left playing an 8 minute solo on the piano. While the fact that the drummer can also play piano is interesting in and of itself (it was Yoshiki's first instrument actually), what really makes this part the standout of the song is the cacophonous roar in the middle. Starting out as a simple melody over a few chords; the solo builds up slowly (adding some additional piano tracks along the way), becomes more complex and eventually reaches the point where Yoshiki is quite literally bashing random notes. For some, this part just violently contrasts with the rest of the song and serves absolutely no purpose. But the contrast is the point, and it thematically fits.

In fact, this seemingly meaningless cacophony is really the highlight of this 29 minute epic. It's a remarkable symbolization of the struggle and trials of life, and in Yoshiki's case, it refers to his own suicidal feelings that he went through after his father took his own life. Honestly, I'm normally not one to look for deeper meaning in music, but it's definitely here. The random notes eventually end, and the orchestra returns to give the uplifting feeling back right before the rest of the band come in to play the last closing minutes. It finally ends on a hopeful note with Toshi passionately singing the last uplifting line: “A rose is breathing love in my life.” At the end, it's a confirmation to live life and move forward which is perhaps not the most original message, but it's executed in an absolutely genius and stunning way.

Art of Life is nothing short of an absolute masterpiece in my book. It's an extremely creative, ambitious song and a true, genuine raw expression of emotion. There's really just no flaws I can find. The melodies from all the instruments are gorgeous, there's blazing fast riffs and drumming, there's even good bass playing here. Hell, this album/song has sold over 600,000 copies to date and topped the Oricon charts when it was released. The fact that something like this was a commercial success still blows my mind, but it just goes to show the importance of X Japan. I immensely enjoy all of the band's studio albums, but this is the best. It's simply perfect in every way and deserves no less than a perfect score.

Originally written for my blog.

X Japan's Perfect Song - 100%

TadakatsuH0nda, August 9th, 2012
Written based on this version: 1993, CD, East West Japan

You won't see me give out 100% very often at all, but once in a blue moon there's that one release that you just can't point out a single flaw in, this is one of those releases. Now a little history behind Art Of Life; X Japan's 4th studio album, and though it's considered to be a full length release, it's more of a mini album as it's only 29 minutes, but those 29 minutes are all a single song. Anyhow, the 29 minute symphonic power/progressive metal epic was the first highly successful metal song spanning over 20 minutes in length, released shortly before the successful Dream Theater song "A Change Of Seasons", also a successful yet very long song, Art Of Life however sold half a million copies and topped Japan's music charts. Art of Life also reaches every aspect of what X Japan is about from strong vocals, lyricism, great guitar, originality and top notch musicianship. Another thing to take note of is that this song is one of X Japan's relatively few progressive metal songs.

Anyways on to the actual review. Art of Life being the lone track on the album covers every aspect of what X Japan is about from slow ballad like moments to blazing fast metal, skillful instrumentals, and incredibly strong lyricism, especially from a band like X Japan who in this case are writing and singing outside of their native language and doing it extremely well, which is a huge part of what makes this song what it is. The song opens with a slow piano bit for the first couple minutes, the usual you would find in one of X Japan's many ballads, slowly building into Toshi's singing of the first verse, which after continuing the X Japan ballad style for another couple minutes suddenly kicks into the metal side of their music, fast drums, perhaps some of the more powerful vocals you will hear from the band as well as competent guitar and bass to go with it, this builds ultimately to the first of Hide and Pata's guitar solos, this one very melodic and with more of a power metal feeling to it, leading to the end of the first verse, which spans over 6 minutes.

The second verse begins much the same just minus the ballad part, but again it's the lyrics that makes this song special, the fragility of human emotions, the struggles of life, lines like "I'm making the wall inside my heart - I don't wanna let my emotions get out - It scares me to look at the world" or other lines such as "Drive into the raging current of time - Swing your murderous weapon into the belly - "the earth" - Shout and start creating confusion - Shed your blood for pleasure - And what? For love?" these keep the song beautiful, but it still manages to uphold itself as very good metal. This verse also has a relatively long instrumental bit in it, consistently fast and dramatic, yet beautiful power metal which leads into the second solo; this time it's a much longer solo, more staccato than the first, but just as skilled, and more dramatic than the first as well, this leads the song back into the orchestral sound, with Toshi's vocals kicking in again, and then fading to a fitting and beautiful violin solo which shifts to spoken words. The song again picks up to full speed, much like in the first verse, but quickly fades to a piano solo.

This isn't an ordinary piano solo either, it's outright ridiculous, it spans over 9 minutes in length and builds from beautiful and slow to fast, and then slow again a few times, and eventually Yoshiki starts hitting random keys amidst the main piano riff; first listen this sounds stupid, why did he do that? He just ruined a wicked epic song! But upon another couple listens, it begins to show how incredible it actually is, it's big, it's hideous, it has flaws, it's imperfect. Just as human nature is, it's the art of life. It's also even more dramatic if you're fortunate enough to see a live performance of this song (I've only watched one online and it was still incredible). But in general it's definitely one of the weirdest piano solos you will hear, but potentially one of the most powerful.

But eventually, the piano fades back into violin with cello in the background, and then launches the song back into full speed with the third and final verse. The last verse comes off as faster paced, and more dramatic because of this huge build up to it being the piano solo and violin. And with the third and final guitar solo the orchestra keeps going in the background making it probably the most epic of the 3 guitar solos, and then it ends with the final line of the song fading silent signaling the end. I especially liked this verse as it was by far the most dramatic, emotional verse in the song, partly due to the ridiculous build up to it, and finishes the song leaving the listener completely satisfied.

A quick summary of highs and lows of the song:
The Good: The lyricism is some of the deepest I've seen from any band, let alone one from Japan where you usually get the language barrier messing up how a dramatic line is intended to sound, and turning out very Engrish more often than not. The piano solo is very skilled and beautiful even though it's very chaotic. All instruments are played to perfection, having an orchestra there is also a nice feature.
The Bad: The only thing I would even consider changing is the talking bits, they're just a little bit too quiet to hear exactly what the speaker is saying all the time, other than that I have no flaws to point out.

X Japan care about the music they make to an extent most metal bands wouldn't, one example is them hiring an orchestra for this album, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; one of London's most famous, this extra step to make sure the music turns out right is what X Japan is about and have always been about. These little things X Japan does to make their albums stand out are a major factor in what makes Art Of Life what it is and I would recommend this to absolutely any fan of X Japan, or people who like music with meaning, or songs that are extremely deep, dramatic and long as well as most fans of power and progressive metal. I give this album 100% as it's virtually unmatchable by most bands in terms of the effort and absolutely brilliant musicianship present in this song and represents everything you can expect from X Japan.

Japan's answer to Queen, Savatage and Guns N Roses - 88%

kluseba, November 14th, 2011

"Art Of Life" isn't actually a real album by X Japan but one single track that might not please that much to metal fans or those who adored the first more speed metal orientated records of the band. On the other side, fans of X Japan's calmer attitude and later works should consider thsi as their new bible.

As we talk about one single song, let's try to subdivide this track and rate each part of it to give you a good impression of what's waiting for you. Let me give you the advice that you really should take your time to listen to this track in a calm moment to focus on its high degree of details. After a first weird impression, you will get the combination of the music that fits the story about life, with its regular and easy parts and its ugly and desperate passages. This song will grow on you and the whole concept is about a very epic circle of life.

The song kicks off with calm keyboard melodies and some soft vocals. The track pretty much starts as any other standard ballad by the band. This part is more commercial but has a very emotional and especially romantic attitude. While this part is a good introduction, it is nothing special and only worth around seventy percent in my opinion.

After three minutes, some melodic guitars, a bass guitar and drums kick in and the track develops into a beautiful power hard rock ballad with some great harmonies. The track gets somewhat heavier and slightly faster and reminds me of an epic Guns 'N Roses ballad with a more Japanese feeling to it. The problem with this part is that it offers nothing really new and is not as heavy as it could have been. The vocals are still really pop orientated and somewhat cheesy at some points but this mixture of pop and metal has always made the charm of the band. There are some narrative passages that lead to a solid guitar solo which can be cited as the highlight of this part. Overall, this part is maybe worth eight percent or so.

After five minutes and a half, another guitar solo leads us to the third part that focuses on a slower rock opera passage with epic orchestrations, some piano melodies and some more cheesy vocals. The part finishes with a melodic metal solo that reminds of the power and heavy metal tracks of the band. The orchestra supports several solos and the speed is steadily risen. This is probably the most dynamic part of the track and one of my favourite ones of this epic song. This part is easily worth ninety-five percent and should please to anybody that likes a dynamic fusion of melodic rock and metal with classic and symphonic elements. This rat race only finds an end after four and a half minutes with a return to the slower main part with the romantic vocals.

The next break is dominated by some beautiful violin melodies and narrative passages. This part really creates a lot of images in your mind before the track goes once again back to the slower main part with the pop vocals. This short part of one and a half minute is quite well done and is worthy of around eighty percent for me.

Around fifteen minutes, the song calms rapidly down and is dominated by some calm piano melodies that remind of epic classic tracks and give us a sweet break. But slowly, the piano melodies get more engaging and slightly more discordant but they always come back to a calm main melody. With each circle, the piano solo gets weirder and more experimental. The melodies get more and more random and almost aggressive but there are still beautiful passages that represent both sides of life. While the melodies are random and discordant, they still have a very systematic chaos. This piano solo is surely impressive and not a pleasure for everyone to listen to but I really adored this part. This stunning and maybe one of the most unique piano solos in rock history goes on for about nine crazy minutes. I would honestly give about ninety-five to one hundred points to this part. This is where the song takes it or breaks it. Some people might hate this part and state that is overlong, weird and pointless but other people like me might say that it's unique, fascinating and very emotional. It's hard to be in between those two opinions you either like or hate this. I can understand both sides and this part of the song might provoke and justify a variation of as much as thirty or forty percent in the final rating.

The piano part leads to a short symphonic part that is an interlude to a faster part with great guitar solos. The heavy and power metal rat race is back. Even if this part repeats the previous rat race part, I would still give another ninety-five percent to this as the piano passages, guitar solos and heavy drum fills are what early X Japan have always stood for in my opinion. The vocals are once again very sweet, maybe too sweet for some.

After another three minutes, the track gets back to the slower and more commercial part which I would once again rate around eighty percent. This song closes the circle and finishes with a high vocal note and also ends the song and album at the same time.

Mathematically, considering all parts and their different lengths and proportions, this leads to a final rating around eighty-eight percent. It's the band's most unique release and while some passages are too cheesy and a little bit too long, it's despite its flaws an outstanding work of art that you should have listened to once in a lifetime. This song is X Japan's opus magnum. It's not their best track after all but their most ambitious and detailed one and a lot of creativity and passion has flown into the final result. Be sure to check this unique piece of music out. This is Japan's stunning answer to Queen, Savatage and Guns 'N Roses and fusions hard rock and melodic metal with classic elements and especially a lot of piano melodies. It's not so unique overall but still an exciting experience that is worth your time and your attention.

The bright flash that could have burned brighter - 80%

Metal_Detector, July 6th, 2011

So, what was the logical next move for a band slowly devolving into commercial tendencies? Apparently, they thought that coming out with a 29-minute song that would limit marketablilty and eradicate the chance of a popular single would be the way to go. Against all odds, the "album," Art of Life, was both a commercial success in Japan and a high quality piece of material. Unlike the American bands who seemed to degrade even further, X Japan realized that popular metal was dead and just decided to do this ambitious escapade on a whim. It certainly isn't the most accessable thing in the world; in fact, I'd say it's one of the hardest things to listen to while still managing to be so good, a factor influenced not only by its length, but also a couple of parts that make it a bumpier ride than it needs to be. It's a flawed masterpiece.

The structure is somewhat like (Edge of Sanity's) Crimson, if Crimson was shorter, had fewer choruses to repeat, and had a little less thought to it's composition. The song begins slowly with a balladic introduction. Although this is one of the few efforts on which the heavier parts outstage the balladry, the intro is rather nice. The first two things to notice are the pristine production and how good Toshi sounds this time around. He's sings extremely clean all the time here, and shows off how good his pure voice is. Once the guitar kicks in, we're introduced to the what the bulk of the song is made up of. All of the metal parts plain kill. If they dropped about ten minutes from Art of Life, we'd be left with one of the finest, most epic speed/power metal songs in history. The riffs are fire-powered, Toshi's singing his ass off, and when one of the finest choruses ever written comes, time seems to stand still.

"Through my eyes
Time goes by like tears
My emotion's losing the color of life
Kill my heart
Release all my pain
I'm shouting out loud
Insanity takes hold over me"

A spoken sample seems to separate the different parts from the first half, providing some of the darkest lyrical themes. This is a concept album, but it's more of an idea than it is an actual story. Things slow down for a magical postchorus, and it doesn't stop here. We get about eight more minutes of progressive metal wonder, a couple repeated parts for added enjoyment, and some nice orchestral elements before all fades but two pianos. For any fan of X Japan, this isn't a cause for concern, as some of their finest work has been accompanied by piano. All's well until about the eighteen minute mark, when a two minute chaotic cacophany of keys drowns everything and punctures your previously comfortable eardrums. I couldn't imagine a worse way to harsh a mood. Luckily, the actual song reprises for the last six minutes and we get to hear the end of that awesome speed metal song again. I don't know why they ever left it.

You've no doubt noticed that I've been strongly hesitant to call Art of Life an album, and that's probably its biggest obstacle. It feels more like a really long song than an actual full-length. Granted, it's a brilliant really long song, but that doesn't change what it is. It's no Crimson, but you know what? This came before Crimson. It was the longest song ever in metal at the time, so it has to gain some style points just for ambition and originality. Some parts could be tightened up (especially the vile piano "solo"), but you get what you get, and we still got a wealth of superb songwriting with this release. This is just the slightly violent calm before the storm.


But I can't heal this broken heart in pain - 91%

extremesymphony, April 5th, 2011

Who would have thought that a power metal band from Japan would sign a major label contract in the 90s, and leave aside the idea of releasing this, on their major label debut? Released in 1993, Art of Life was one of the first one song albums in entire heavy metal. It was later, that the likes of ‘Crimson’, ‘A Pleasant Shade of Gray’, took over, and this album was lost. At its release Art of Life (song) was the longest heavy metal song (29:00) beating Manowar’s ‘Achilles Agony and Ecstasy’ by 22 seconds.

The sound of this album is closer to traditional power metal with some progressive touches to it, something close to what Dream Theater was doing at this point. Addition of keyboards adds to a nice melodic touch to the album. Songwriting is excellent for most of the time. The individual performances are once again top notch, especially the lead and drum work, which is practically flawless. The riff work is splendid too rivaling the likes of Helloween. The vocals are an acquired taste and it is a love or hate thing. The production is super clean, the kind which was seen in ‘Images and Words’. All the instruments are heard excellently, with none of them overpowering the other.

The song opens with real orchestra, which plays for around 76 seconds. Then the vocals kick in with the orchestra still playing. This goes for a couple of minutes. Around the 3rd minute, the drums and the guitars enter. At around 3:35 we are treated with a cool riff and the song speeds up. This is excellent power metal, melodic, but having strong rhythm work and where the things are kept grounded unlike Dragonforce. The orchestra returns to back up the guitars but does not overpower them. The leads displayed around this part are tremendous. The song moves smoothly around till the 15th minute. The vocals are emotional and they do bring up the emotions in the lyrics quite effectively.

At the 15th minute the guys do something which normally no sane musician would dream of doing. They put a piano solo which is 9 minutes long. Not that I detest piano solos in heavy metal, bands like ‘Virgin Steele’ have achieved excellent results with them. But here the pianist just puts up random notes making no musical sense at all a la ‘Yngwie Malmsteen’. At times it appears as if the pianist just blindly was banging his fist on the keys hardly noticing what he was pressing.

Around the 23rd minute, the orchestra returns playing a soothing melody. By the 24th minute, the drums and guitar return for a final showdown. Once again we are treated to high quality power metal. The song slows towards the end but is still gripping enough. Whatever feeling they wanted to create through this song is achieved, and the band should be credited for it. It certainly feels like a grand tale concerning life, especially by the orchestra.

This was one of the most ambitious works in all of metal ever, though the album does not quite live up to it. Few departments like the vocals could have sounded better. Then there is the question of the piano solo. Had they cut that part and put along a couple of songs instead of it a la ‘At War With Satan’ this could have been much better. Concluding this is recommended to strict fans of Power Metal who could do with a bit of pianos and orchestra in their music.

Perfection - 100%

Hellstorm0S, November 5th, 2008

What happens when you find a song that so well represents life and all its eccentricities? Do you go around, advertising it to everyone you know, or do you keep it to yourself, making sure only you and your trusted circle of friends know about it? It’s a questionable topic in itself, because this would have to be an incredible song. And in this case, that it is.

Art of Life came out as an album in August of 1993 under Atlantic Records. Written by X Japan’s drummer, pianist, and main songwriter, Yoshiki Hayashi (Yoshiki), this is X Japan’s most unconventional and progressive song to date, as well as the only one-song album released by them. Unsurprisingly, this masterpiece was only played live a few times, both performances having also been released on DVD/VHS later that same year.

There are too many things about Art of Life that make it different from anything else out there. To listen to it, you really have to dissect it with your ears, absorb it, so to say. This, however, does not mean that you can listen to it in parts. Art of Life is, in every sense of the word, an incredibly connected and flowing piece of music.

Starting off with incredibly softly and mellow, the first 3 minutes of the song only feature the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with which the song was recorded, and a single track of acoustic guitar, accompanying vocalist Toshimitsu Deyama (Toshi) introducing the mood and overall feel of the song. Lines like those sang in the first few minutes really represent the rest of the song, and one can’t help but notice that they feel similar to the rest of the song, while the accompanying instrumentals are ever-changing. Themes that become apparent immediately are loneliness (“Desert Rose/why do you live alone?”) and despair (“if its all dreams/now wake me up/if its all real/just kill me”), while pain shows itself to be even more important (“how long have I been feeling endless hurt”, “in the pain I'm waiting for you”) and interweaves with the other themes to strengthen them even more.

After this short introduction, we are kicked in the back right into the main portion of the song, with the first thing we hear being Yoshiki’s outstanding drumming skills, which need no warm-up of any kind. He is accompanied by Hideto Matsumoto (Hide) and Tomoaki Ishizuka (Pata) on lead guitar and rhythm guitar, respectively, which are completely interwoven for a good half minute until Yoshiki starts to really kick things up and the lead and rhythm guitars also start to slowly take their own paths into the song. Toshi’s voice, starting up again just after the 4 minute mark, has also taken a new path. A new theme that appears here are fear (“it scares me to look at the world”), another mainstay for the rest of the song, and the increase in strength in his voice is also a blatant hint towards the other themes. The orchestra is a lot more suppressed by now, really to accentuate the beginning of the song, but when we listen closely, their presence can very well be felt, as well as the presence of Hiroshi Morie (Heath) on bass, the bass line ever evolving throughout the song.

As expected, the orchestra doesn’t stay suppressed for long, and just after the 5-minute mark they become just as loud as X Japan’s own instrumentals, really adding to the direct atmosphere of the song with lyrics like “my emotions losing the color of life” and “insanity takes hold over of me”, bringing up again the despair shown in the song.

6 minutes into the song we are introduced to the first of a series of spoken word inflicting eeriness upon the listener, of which we will be hearing even more throughout the song. These appear to be atmospheric, almost creepy at times, but they only help to bring up the other themes in the song (despair, hatred, and others).

The song continues on, even faster than before, after the female voice stops speaking, and the strings are ever more apparent in the background. After around the 8-minute mark, we are introduced to a keyboard part, after which the pseudo-chorus of the song starts, which for name’s sake we will call “Art of Life”. Variations of this segment repeat throughout the song, and they all repeat the first line “I believe in the madness called ‘Now’”, while also naming the themes for the ‘Art of Life’ (in this first case, “insane blade stabbing dreams”) and have Toshi singing lyrics like “but I can't heal this broken heart in pain/cannot start to live, cannot end my life/keep on crying”. In a typical ‘Art of Life’ fashion, the song speeds up again after the first pseudo-chorus, this time giving the stage to Hide and Pata while they exchange solos and riffs, the orchestra and Yoshiki playing in the background.

The game is up at 12:40, as we hear the typical lines leading to “all love and sadness melt in my heart”, despair kicking in again. The band leaves the stage, and all that is left is the orchestra, until at around 13:30 another spoken word sequence occurs, more eerie than ever before, and this time multi-layered, almost as if there is more than one woman speaking, and all these layers jump at you from different directions yet at the same time. The drums and guitar start up again in full force just in time so that the line “and you are trying to kill me” is almost completely drowned, and another chorus occurs, this time with the accompanying “Art of life/I try to stop myself” which will repeat itself again later in the song. The final lines here are “I want the meaning of my life/do I try to live/do I try to love/in my dream” while the word ‘dream’ is held onto by Toshi for a good few seconds, the orchestra accompanying him.

Just after the 15-minute mark now, Dream is what has symbolized half of the song, with the typical ups and downs of dreams (shown by the mix between the power drums, classical orchestra, fast guitars, and vocals), the sometimes uncanny nature of dreams (the strange spoken part sequences now and again), and mainstay themes for dreams (that is, people often dream about their fears, in this case, loneliness, despair, and lifelessness). At this point, the listener will wake up from the dream, even though it takes him all through the next part to wake up and recollect himself.

Then, the piano solo, starting up with a single note on the strings being held onto for the last few seconds, and then going on alone. This is no ordinary solo. This is unreal up to the point where it becomes impossible to describe on its own.

It starts off simple. A few notes played by the left hand, a few played by the right. Gradually, the left hand adds to the harmony more, and switches over to chords when the right hand is playing. A little over 16 minutes in, a foreshadowing of what is to happen starts up with quick fingers playing note after note, still retaining harmony. This becomes louder and louder, faster and faster, until just before 18 minutes it starts to become almost chaotic, shades of harmony are all that are keeping this from falling apart. One hand starts to go off in its own direction after this, the other desperately trying to keep up the harmony. Half a minute later, the sequence becomes almost impossible to follow and yet another half minute after this, it is more like a sledgehammer is hitting the keys and not the fingers of Yoshiki. At the 20-minute mark, for a few seconds, it seems like the chaos has settled, but the reality is far from it. This represents, in a way, the eye of the storm. Where we are situated, in the middle, we hear the start of the solo repeating itself, but it’s coming from a different piano. At the same time, the chaos continues, but it’s not coming from the same direction, more like it’s trying to break into the fortress the listener is in now, taking seemingly random stabs at the piano and sometimes trying to perform a sequence of notes.

Just past 21:40 comes salvation. What seemed like an eternity of torture is now coming to an end, as the strings of the orchestra suddenly start to play again, out of nowhere, unaffected by the chaos and despair of the piano. The piano takes a few last blind shots at 22 minutes, but it’s too late, as the poetic representation of the pianist is seemingly exhausted. Almost eight minutes of piano chaos is coming to an end, as the woodwinds join the strings and together drown the piano that, in harmony, brings itself away.

As much as the opposite seems true, the piano solo is one of the most important parts of Art of Life. Symbolic meanings aside, it is a chaotic sequence of a psychopathic pianist at best. However, it is when we start to assess it by poetic meaning that the true nature of it arises. This is hard to see at first, and takes a few listens to really be understood. The piano solo represents love and life and hate, indeed, the major emotions of life, the subtle and hidden ones as well as the blatantly obvious ones. In perfect harmony yet perfect chaos, they represent how life itself really is. The slow start shows a good life after birth, when an unnamed child is but a simple creature. Growing up, the child gains experience and knowledge of the world and in adolescence starts to learn about conflict (the lack of harmony, beginning of chaos, and random notes of the piano). As the dust settles on the teenage years, conflicts come up again, this time more powerful and more mature, but as the evil nature of life (through hate and anger) becomes more powerful, the piano strays off more and more into discord. In the end, when all seems like it has come to and end, another issue will come up, and it is this time up to a third party (the strings and later the rest of the orchestra) to bring it to a halt. It is only after this is done that life can continue as it was normally.

Life continuing normally, in this case, means the instrumentals starting again, and, like at the start of the song, they need no practice or warm-up whatsoever before they tackle the beast again. Not even Toshi starts off mellow, he continues like nothing ever happened. However, the orchestra now becomes even more powerful, and so do the vocals. Life is what this is, the presence of harmony and variation in people’s everyday lives. However, what makes the Life different from the Dream is that the Dream was really an illusion and, compared to the Life, seems almost bleak and unvaried, an exact representation of the reality in its own sense. Dream is confinement, Life is freedom.

A final chorus is sang, more slowly than all the others, at the end of the song. A previous Art of Life [I try to stop myself] is repeated, but it makes way for a last one, “an eternal bleeding heart”. The last chorus, with the most harmonic and peaceful instrumentals of the song, goes “Art of life/an Eternal Bleeding Heart/you never wanna breath your last/wanna live/can't let my heart kill myself/still I'm feeling for/a rose is breathing love/in my life”, with the last word, in a similar style to the utterance of “in my dream” right before the piano solo, being held onto for as long as possible, this time without the backing of instruments, showing the last symbolic meaning of the song – that at life’s end, every one of us will be alone (a similar quote was uttered in the 2001 movie Donnie Darko – “Every living creature on earth dies alone.”). The last word, like at the 15-minute mark, represents what this part of the song was about – Life.

In every sense of the word, Art of Life is perfect. If there is one song that you can listen to every day for the rest of your life and not be bored of, it would be this one. In every way, this song continues to impress time and again, simply because it is just what it is named: this is a musical representation of the Art of Life. If you claim to like music, you owe it to yourself to listen to this song a few times before you die, at the very least. You will not be disappointed.

Genius - 100%

Lunaray, June 22nd, 2004

This was the first taste i got of x japan, and it was the song that compelled me to waste a whole ton of money on their albums. Well, if that doesn't already tell you how good this 28 minute opus is, i hope this review will.

Firstly, this song is very well mixed by x japan standards. The orchestra is mixed just right and all the instruments can be heard clearly without problem. It provides a smooth and fluid listening experience.

Secondly, i must praise Yoshiki's performance in this one. Check out his drumming at the 9:30 section. He is, without question, the best drummer in Japan by far. All the rest plays their instruments well. You can hear the various guitar solos done by Hide and Pata throughout this song. Toshi does a great vocal performance in this song as well. He hits every note well with his unique vocals.

This song begins with a ballady singing, which shows Toshi's singing prowess. About 3 minutes into the song, the song begins to pick up with the band coming up, and this continues till the 14.30 mark, where the band ends their performance.... FOR A TEN MINUTE PIANO SOLO!!! I'm not kidding here, its ten full minutes of great piano playing. It starts slowly, and progresses into becoming more and more disjointed, until it practically degrades into a random playing fest half way through. Just when it starts to get boring, the orchestra fades into in the song, playing a dramatic melody. The band explodes into action when you least expected it, jamming faster and harder than before. The ending also shows that toshi has good lungs, or else i would be impossible to hold a note for so long.

In conclusion this song is a must have for non initiated x japan fan. If you are a initiated x japan fan, and you do not have this song, you should start to re-evaluate your life.

This song defines the word PERFECTION!!! - 100%

killerqueen, June 21st, 2004

Art Of Life is the song I knew it will change my life forever, from the first time I saw it's length. Hey, don't be fooled here, the song is everything BUT boring! It swings from one enotion to another, offering you a great, fluent ride. So, let's get into the core of the song/album...

First we have very simple chord pickouts on a clean guitar. Nice for getting into the mood. Then, the strings enter to make things more interesting, along with some flutes and stuff. This is rising up to the point where there should be a resolution of some kind. And there is - vocals. Toshi starts to sing in a very painful mood. The first verse ends around the third minute. And then...

Yoshiki enters along with hide and Pata on guitars, still in the same tempo. Great lead melody! And then, when you think it cannot get worse, Yo-san starts pounding away! I got blasted the first time I heard that speed. It's not that fast, but the complexity dazzled me. Now THAT'S the real mood!

Toshi gets back to do some more beautiful melodies, the ones only X can make! Thank you, Toshi!

After that, the first solo. It's fairly simple and every average guitarist can cover it, but the God, un-fucking-believable! I don't know how can someone do such grand stuff!

Just when you got accomodated to the fast mood of this part, again slowing down...for a harpsichord part! Ingenious and totally unexpected! The atmosphere rises to the point of a so-called "Chorus" of the song. "I believe in the madness called 'now'..." Awesome!

The second solo...7/4 measure, great riff! Weird, but great. Again nothing hard to cover by an average guitar player. Maybe the greatness of this song is just there, in simplicity.

Once again, Toshi sings out a verse, and then...a viola part, followed by some very tensive strings and a spoken part. Then again for the "Chorus".

"In my dream......................"

Silence. Not for too long. Piano enters! Just one simple musical phrase gets blown into heavens by its accumulating complexity, up to the point of dischordance and piano-clustering feet-playing or what...Pound away!!! In this 10-something minutes I went from heaven to hell to Earth again. It's like a catharsis of some kind. Some people even reached nirvana during shit! This piano solo definitely showcases Yoshiki's talent and musical strength.

Piano gets cleared away, lonely strings back in the line. Another sad melody flows...and then..............

POW! Pinched harmonics along with Yoshiki beating the hell out of his Tama Crystal drumkit. Back in THE mood! Another verse, accompanied by another excellent simple solo, returning us back to the "Chorus". This song is just it - Art Of Life!

"In my life..................................................................................."

A brilliant piece of fusion metal - 90%

michinoku, May 20th, 2004

Considering X-Japan's hit-or-miss versatility throughout their career, dabbling in speed and thrash metal, classical, industrial and hairmetal-esqe emotional balladry, a piece of music such as Art of Life should be no surprise: a nearly 30-minute epic with full orchestral backing almost throughout and a 9-minute piano solo that toes the lines of dissonance. And yet, it is a surprise, a wonderful surprise that provides a thrilling listen, provided one can make time to sit and enjoy the whole thing.

Beginning with a simple guitar arpeggio that gives way to an orchestral backing, vocalist Toshi, he of absurd range and power that has always, to me at least, been more appealing then a dozen American or British classicl metal vocalists, begins with a solemn verse, the conclusion of which leads into a furiously old-school speed metal section featuring extremely solid performances by all members of the band. The symphonic backing here is truly majestic, and its place in the mix is perfect. This section continues for another 8-10 minutes, thrashing out impressively before the breakdown into the aforementioned piano solo, performed by the drummer. This section begins simply, then builds upon the theme - Yoshiki experiments with some interestic dynamic shifts here, before the agonizing crescendo and decrescendo towards the end of the solo, during which he seems to cast off but the base structure of the original melody in favor of some dissonant, avant-garde styled improvisation that is, admittedly, a bit hard to listen to but certainly not out of place within the context of the song. The end of this solo is hauntingly met by the strings, during which the theme of the first section is revisited with all the same fury and splendor, before ending on a single, unaccompanied note by the vocalist.

I'm not the hugest fan of X-Japan's ballads, but even the softer sections of this piece sound amazing, especially when juxtaposed with the far superior upbeat sections and the piano solo. The transitions are fluid (far more so then another similarly ambitious epic, Green Carnation's Light of Day, Day of Darkness), and the music is well composed throughout. Like other epics, however, it is self-indulgent enough to get tiresome if listened to a few times in close succession - but heard sparingly and savored, it's absolute genius. Probably the best single piece of music the band has ever recorded, and considering their reasonably impressive discography (minus the endless, pointless series of anthologies and collections released to sate their EXTREMELY rabid fan-base, who often overpower or at least match Toshi on live recordings), that's saying something.

What the hell was that? - 32%

music_shadowsfall, April 20th, 2004

X Japan may be the most screwed up metal band I have ever heard. I don't quite know what it is... sometimes there's some kick ass power metal going on here, and the next it sounds like I'm listening to some shitty pop song off the radio.

The song starts off extremely slowly, with a shitload of crappy keyboard and a lot of terrible vocals.. I don't get the vocalist. He reminds me of Celine Dion or some other crappy female pop vocalist. At around the 3:00 minute mark, we actually hear from the guitars, who do give us a nice lead, and then a cool riff. Unfortunately, soon the vocalist kicks in, and as is his wont, he sucks. We get to another pretty good solo, then more shitty vocals, and they pretty much go like that until around 13:00 (there are a couple of nice solos in there). At this time, the guitars dissapear. Hugass mistake. We get treated to two minutes of bad keyboards and singing before going into the stupidest idea ever created by a metal band: A 9 minute piano solo. What the hell were they thinking? I have nothing against piano solos. However, this one sucks, and goes on for way too long. For example, there's one part where the pianist seems to be just hitting a bunch of notes together randomly. Brilliant. The piano solo ends, and then the vocalist manages to finish the song off badly for us with more Celine Dion vocals.

I don't know who would enjoy this. The only saving factor it has is that some of the guitar solos throughout are pretty good. I guess if you enjoy Celine Dion, stupid piano solos and terrible keyboards, you will enjoy this. The rest should stay clear.