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X Japan - Art of Life (1993)

Discussion in 'Album Reviews' started by Cosmic Harmony, Mar 5, 2010.

  1. Cosmic Harmony

    Cosmic Harmony Senior Member

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    Recorded over nearly a two year period X Japan's forth studio album, "Art Of Life", was released on August 28, 1993 where it debuted at #1 on the Japan charts and by year's end the album sold well over half a million units, becoming not only the highest selling Japanese release of that year but was also in the top 30 highest selling albums worldwide that year.
    Now that all is well and good for a "normal" album but "Art of Life" isn't a conventional release. Unlike most hit albums (particularly in the 90's and on) they are fueled by at least one hit single. Now while the members of X Japan are no strangers to hit singles none of them came off this particular release. That is because the entire album (in true prog fashion) consists of the 29 minute long title track.
    A heavily orchestrated piece, with such parts played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, it was written entirly by drummer, pianist, and primary songwriter Yoshiki Hayashi (usually only refereed to by his first name). With small, core parts based on Franz Schubert's famous "Unfinished Symphony" the song, despite it's length, has no set chorus, many complex passages of varying speed, instrumentation, and intensity, numerous verses (all in English, which is not something commonly found in X Japan's songs as they usually incorporate at least some Japanese if not are written primarily in their native tongue), many harmonized guitar solos that (along with the driving pace of the drums) weave metal elements in with the orchestra, and leading up to the climax of the song there are over 8 minutes written solely on piano.
    The lyrics of the song tell the story of someone traveling through a land of "cold, gray, sand" and uses extensive imagery to describe the landscape that is the setting of their journey though utter madness and internal conflict.



    Desert Rose (0:00 - 2:58)

    The song opens with very gentle guitar fading in, with piano following soon after. The strings of the orchestra enter at 25 seconds, softly at first but gradually building in volume until singer, Toshi's first vocals. The first lyrics speak of a Desert Rose that grows all alone. The narrator can't tell what color it is as it only seems gray to him. The lyrics in this section talk about how the narrator feels hopeless and seems to have lost his identity. He has reached a point of no return where he has "no place to go back to", and how if this isn't a dream and is actually reality, then he wants to die.

    Faster Tempo (2:59 - 4:10)

    With one drum beat Yoshiki's piano is now traded for drums (as he would do live during this song and others). Two guitars enter immediately following that hit, playing a twin solo to create the harmonies that will appear at several different points in the song. At 3:34 the tempo is sped up with a third guitar coming in to play the heavier riff that drives this, and similar, sections of the song.

    Voices (4:11 - 8:14)

    Vocals and the orchestra re-enter as the band continues. The narrator is now making a wall inside his heart so that his emotions do not get out. He tells how scared he is to look at the world, that he is trying to leave his past behind, how color seems to be leaving his world, and describes how he is slipping into insanity and cries out for death. This is followed by the first of three female spoken word entries in the song, that are schizophrenic like voices in the narrator's mind. She says:

    " Turning away from the wall, nothing I can see. The scream deep inside, reflecting another person in my heart. He calls me from within 'All existence you see before you must be wiped out: Dream, Reality, Memories, and Yourself.' "


    Following this is another harmonized guitar solo. The narrator speaks of how he is losing control over his actions from lust, even though they only want love, and how "[he doesn't] know the meaning of hatred". The voice answers this by telling him to:

    " Stab the dolls filled with hate, wash yourself with their blood, drive into the raging current of time, swing your murderous weapon into the belly of the Earth, shout and start creating confusion, shed your blood for pleasure, and for what? For love? What am I supposed to do? "

    Interlude (8:15 - 8:43)

    With the conclusion of the second spoken word, there is an interlude where all guitar, drums, and most of the orchestra, with the exception of a several cellos, drop out. This represents the confused state of the narrator.

    Return (8:44 - 12:43)

    A single chord effectively ends the interlude, and a flurry of drums brings the song back into a powerful state. The narrator believes that "now" is madness and that his heart is trapped in the hopes of the future and pain of the past. It is also here where we are told of the narrator's broken heart, which has only been hinted at until this point. We also see that he doesn't truly wish to die, but "cannot start to live", which leaves them tormented in a personal purgatory. This is followed by another harmonized guitar solo; however, this one differs from the others thus far as it is significantly longer and very staccato in nature to represent the back and forth going on inside the narrator's mind.

    Glimpse (12:44 - 13:38)

    There is some resolution and we see signs of hope as the narrator tells us how he wants to live his life outside the walls that he built around his heart and can hear both love and sadness outside of them. The tone of the band and orchestra has shifted as well into a more wishful section layered beneath Toshi's vocals. Upon completion of this verse, there is a slow guitar solo that flows into a violin solo that is very optimistic in nature.

    Hope (13:39 - 15:06)

    The tone of the violin shifts and there is another spoken word verse. It says:

    " You can't draw a picture of yesterday, so you paint on your heart with your blood. You can't say "no". You're only turning the wheel of time with a rope around your neck. You build a wall of morality and take a breath from between the bricks. You make up imaginary enemies and are chased by them. You're trying to commit suicide, you're satisfied with your prologue; now, you're painting your first chapter black. You are putting the scraps of life together and trying to make an asylum for yourself. You are hitting a bell at the edge of the stage, and you are trying to kill me. "


    This verse seems to differ from the other two as it is telling the narrator what he has been doing, as opposed to giving sinister ideas, and ends with how the voice knows that if the narrator manages to bring his life back from the blackness, then it will die.

    There is another explosive note and flurry of drums, identical to earlier, during the closing lines of the verse that brings the song back around to another intense section. The fact that it happens during the spoken word is signify that the narrator growing stronger. He then says that he wants the meaning of his life and that he isn't sure if he is to try living or if he should still try to love. Toshi's voice then fades out with his last note along with the band and entire orchestra.

    Piano Solo: Internal Conflict (15:07 - 24:18)

    The next eight minutes are performed solely on piano. It starts out as a soft, simple riff that builds up and dies back down several times. A second piano is added, and there is a clash of notes as the first continues to play the same riff and the second has bursts of madness. This is to symbolize the internal battle of the narrator. Eventually, the string section joins, and the chaos dwindles away to the soft riff, and that too fades out as the strings replace the piano completely.

    Finale (24:19 - 29:00)

    An explosive guitar dive dismisses the strings and brings the faster tempo and band back in. As the driving riff returns to push the song on, the narrator talks of his new found life. How he is "breaking the wall inside [his] heart" to feel his emotions again, running out of the world inside his mind and escaping to freedom, that he has been keeping himself chained to the past and sacrificing the present for the sake of the future, and that he now wants to live. As the band drives the song on to the finish, the narrator now can hear the breathing of the desert rose first mentioned at the beginning of the song. He learns that the "Art of Life" is the beauty in living and that the desert rose is really his heart and that it is now breathing love into his life.​
     
  2. Cosmic Harmony

    Cosmic Harmony Senior Member

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    Re: Art Of Life ~~~ X Japan

    Because of it's incredible length and the strain that it puts on Yoshiki "Art Of Life" is rarely performed live. It's been played in it's entirety only twice, December 30 and 31, 1993, at the Tokyo Dome. There was an early, incomplete version played over a year before the song was released at Budokan and it was also played live at X Japan's reunion concert on March 28, 2008 (again) at the Tokyo Dome with Yoshiki collapsing of exhaustion right before the piano solo. The piano solo and conclusion of the song were played at the final show of their reunion concerts two days later. The latter version is notable for a hologram of late X Japan guitarist, hide, playing the song with them on stage using footage from their "Art of Life 1993.12.31 Tokyo Dome" concert.









    (I love how the person who uploaded these videos used my breakdown briefly in the description section :grinthumb)
     
  3. Magic

    Magic Woman of the World

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    Re: Art Of Life ~~~ X Japan

    Awesome write up, Cosmic! You know how I feel about X Japan, they are a very complicated set of musicians with a helluva lot of talent. I love the way they mix their lyrics with English. This is a great album, too :bow:
     
  4. Cosmic Harmony

    Cosmic Harmony Senior Member

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    Re: Art Of Life ~~~ X Japan

    Thank you Magic. I've been meaning to get more into writing album reviews and this seemed like a really good album to start with. I've always thought the fact that this album is made up of only a single song was really interesting. I know it's not the only or even first album to do so ("Thick as a Brick" comes to mind), but I just feel like it's done so masterfully that I believe this is one of the most perfect and the absolute most epic song ever written.
     

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