BONSAI BONUS: X Japan – The World (2014)

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X Japan – The World (2014) (Bonsai Bonus) – X Japan were the forerunners of a movement in Japan back in the eighties and nineties known as Visual Kei which combined elements of everything from pop to heavy metal and consisted of flamboyantly dressed characters, very much in the vein of KISS and eighties hair metal acts. KISS was one of the main influences that brought such an act together, which disbanded in 1992 to reunite in 2007. The World is not a new album, but rather one of many compilation releases that have come out since the band’s last disc Dahlia, back in 1996.

It contains eight of the band’s most notable tracks, in addition to three live tracks and a bonus disc that contains a thirty minute epic entitled “Art Of Life.” Judging by the track lengths on this recording, X-Japan were never one for creating short songs. But I’ll try to make this as thorough and brief a description of each as possible.

We start out with “Silent Jealousy 7:19” which begins with a calm piano intro before it launches into melodic speed-metal. Sounding like a speedster gliding down the freeway at 300mph, the frontman manages to approach it with a glassy tone on the verse, until he truly reaches to Mount Fuji with the chorus. The track seems to encapsulate neoclassical elements along with sprawling heavy metal that definitely could be seen as an influence to everyone from Galneryus to the Regnum Caelorum Et Gehenna that I reviewed earlier. 

“Rusty Nail 5:28” takes a different approach, as it mixes keyboards and rock riffs together in a fashion that I’ve heard later re-produced by literally dozens of J-Rock acts. But it all started here. The track later switches to soft rock with a piano backing, as it unloads a fantastic solo. They’re legends for a reason. “Scars 5:08” seems to pump electronic rock into the mix, which also later influenced tons of J-Rock acts. Do you see what I’m getting at here? 

The song is also infectiously catchy, especially during its chorus section. A little more modern than you might expect for X-Japan, but I’m quite impressed and can see how it influenced ten and twenty million other acts throughout Japan. “Endless Rain 6:36” is a piano backed rock ballad and it’s quite popular with longtime fans of the band. It definitely seems influenced by eighties hair metal, and like so many other tracks on this record, it also inspired several other J-Rock ballads to come. 

Remember that track I highlighted from the Vamps record? You know, the one that I said sounded like an absolutely fantastic ballad? Well, that would have its start here. In a way, “Endless Rain” is Japan’s version of GNR’s “November Rain.” The next track, “Week End 5:45” pumps a little more adrenaline into the formula, as it doubles over with guitar solos and offers a pulse-pounding soundtrack to an FI-Race. “Kurenai 6:19” comes next with sorrowful acoustics (this record really is an avalanche of different moods) and melancholy vocals. It eventually speeds down the track, picking up some strength as it barrels on towards the end. 

“Forever Love 8:37” marks another ballad, which has also been reproduced over the years by basically every Japanese rock or pop act in the musical history of the country. It’s essentially a soft rock track with a romantic chorus. Let’s not beat around the bush, folks – Japanese children were probably being made to this song. But hey, at least it has a really good solo. That’s something you wouldn’t hear in American pop ballad these days. 

I’m not even sure if they know what a guitar is anymore. The record ends with “Dahlia 7:57 and more of that “Highway Star” level Deep Purple worship. This time though, things sound a little more raw and X-Japan almost feels like a garage band of sorts, albeit with the same amount of keyboard elements that we might expect from them. It’s a very heavy and prog-laced end to the studio section of the album, which continues with three more live cuts. 

“Amethyst (Live) 6:20” serves as a movie-score style opening for the last two tracks, which are “The Last Live 10:08” and “Without You 8:33,” respectively. These two tracks are quite representative of the band’s shows, which begin with high energy metallic tracks that then dip down into more romantic territory. That is exactly what these two tracks capture and in depth-defying clarity at that.

On the second disc, we have “Art Of Life 29:00” which seems to mix the band’s heavy and romantic nature along with movie-score style orchestral fare and massive amounts of instrumentation and shredding. It also encapsulates a fantastic piano instrumental as well as a hearty ballad. In short, it’s a breathtaking wonder that definitely deserves its own disc. 

All in all, The World really does act as a sampler of sorts to the very best that X-Japan have to offer. Those of you who’ve never heard the band should fall in love with them here and perhaps it will convince you to pick up some of their studio albums – if you can even still find them. We don’t do compilations often, but as I’ve said; this is great if you haven’t been exposed to the work of these legends before. It’s definitely worth checking out.

(12 Tracks, 107:00)

9/10 

9.0

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