Ars Nova - Android Domina

Year of Release: 2001
Label: Musea Records
Catalog Number: FGBG 4347.AR
Format: CD
Total Time: 51:22:00

Ars Nova have released another impressive gem with Android Domina, though I am not quite as bowled over by it as with their The Book Of The Dead. There's still the wow factor, however, and the amazement at the tremendous power this trio has. While one might expect it from burly, street-hardened tuffs (Pantera, Henry Rollins...that speed metal punk stuff), from slighter frames, one might not. ELP influenced they are, but head to head, I think Keiko Kumogai would out muscle Emerson. The difference, one might say, between stabbing your organ and totally obliterating it. That's the impression at least -- my impression (which isn't to suggest Emerson's a wimp).

The interplay between this trio -- Akiko Takahashi on drums and percussion; Mika Nakojima on synths, piano, and organs; and Kumogai on Hammond organ, synths, and programming (aided by Ken Ishita on bass on "Horla Rising," Noboru Nakajima on "Bizzarro Ballo In Maschera," Numero Uno and Reina on vocalizations on "Mother") -- is spectacular. With Android Domina being their fifth studio album, one isn't surprised that they are a tightly integrated unit, and yet one does still marvel at how talented they are. I mean, there are folks who have the chops, but play too technical; there are folks that play warmly, but just don't have the chops. Ars Nova are one those that have both the technical chops and the ability to make it sound very warm. Certainly, there is a bit of coldness to this album in the first track, and throughout the album, but has to do with underscoring the theme of the first track. What you get on this album is some terrific, classical inspired prog played with almost unprecedented ferocity and subtlety.

The standout track is "Horla Rising," which is lyrical and swirling, light, open, and very controlled. The centerpiece is Kumogai's organ solo that, despite what I said above, doesn't try to over power you, but echoes and leads you back to the orchestrated symphonics that opened the track. It is a stunning piece of music, quite dramatic. In fact, there are passages on this track that are so beautiful that it'll just about make you cry. The piece is cinematic in scope, with large, epic sweeps of sound.

"Bizzarro Ballo In Maschera" is another stunning track, with brief baroque passages that balance out some of the heavier passages. Like "Horla Rising" there are cinematic moments to the music as well. There's one passage that instantly made me think of Greek statuary ... I don't know why exactly, but there's some reverential element in the passages. There's nothing Greek about the music necessarily, though, with this on my mind, there is a passage that does remind me of "If I Were A Rich Man" (from Zorba The Greek... later we get a militaristic percussion over an Italian like phrase... If the title of this track translates into something like "bizarre masquerade ball" then it is a very apt title, indeed. It is a ball orchestrated by Fellini, as there is, among the "straight lines" just as many that are "askew." There is a reedy keyboard solo that I don't particularly like, which leads into a bubbly, digital, sci-fi like keyboard passage, back to reedy keys... almost like a toy keyboard... but then we get back to the main theme, which is the selling point here. At the end of the track are a few classical, waltz phrases that sound very much like Strauss (they echo "The Blue Danube Waltz," and may, in fact, be passages from, but not the "famous" passages). These fade out before being fully developed.

The album begins with the almost-eleven minute title piece, a five movement suite that is very much Emerson Lake and Palmer influenced, to the point of borrowing riffs from both the E and P of that equation. The opening percussion and keyboard intro builds the tension nicely ... you know they are going to explode, soon ... Sonically, the sound here is more latter day ELP, as the drums have a slight digital feel (think Black Moon). It doesn't quite manage to explode as one expects, but it does open up with some nice keyboards from Kumogai and Nakajima. There are references to Brain Salad Surgery both in terms of keys, and the brief bit of vocals here (Nakajima) -- I thought of "Jerusalem." "Part 5: Resurrection" is the most cold and harsh section of the suite with a metallic feel to it. A little too metallic for my taste, but the interplay and the effect they are going for is spot on.

"Mother" is the bonus track on the Musea Records version. It begins with a child-like voice over a simple (as in unadorned) piano, which gives way to a deep bass sound, synths, and programmed drums. It's at once dark and reverential, at times ominous. This is leavened by lighter flute-like tones (keys), which lead into the synth solo from Kumogai.

"All Hallow's Eve" is, for this band, fairly routine. It is still a stunning track, expertly played, with some very nice keyboard work. Maybe what makes it seem like the band are taking it easy with this track is that is much less angular than the other pieces. It is lighter, happier and upbeat. That is until the last two minutes or so when the angular Ars Nova we're familiar with kicks in. This is preceded by the sound of someone knocking on the door -- well, "trick or treat" you know. It ends in a fairytale like fashion, very light. "Succubus" isn't to be overlooked. Here again the band's ELP influences are very much in evidence, where keys and drums are attacked with that ferocity I mentioned, though they add in a moment of calm with ethereal voices and lighter symphonic keyboard passages here and there.

So, I may not have been flabbergasted, but I'm putting that down to more familiarity with this band now then I had then, rather than any fault in the album because this band still is overwhelmingly impressive, and this album comes highly recommended.

Also released by Made In Japan (MJC1022)

Android Domina: Part 1. Transformer - Part 2. Desire - Part 3. Hypnosis - Part 4. Instinct - Part 5. Resurrection (10:57) / All Hallow's Eve (7:54) / Horla Rising (9:26) / Mother (7:54) / Succubus (5:34) / Bizzarro Ballo in Maschera (9:24)
[Made In Japan version substitutes "In The Cube" for "Mother"; Total Time: 48:47]

Keiko Kumagai - Hammond, synthesizers, and synth programming
Mika - voices, synthesizers, piano, organ
Akiko Takahashi - drums, percussions


Ken Ishita - bass (3)
Noboru Nakajima - bass (6)
Numero Uno - voice (2)

Fear And Anxiety (1992)
Transi (1994)
Goddess Of Darkness (1996)
Reu Nu Pert Em Hru / The Book of The Dead (1998)
Android Domina (2001)
Lacrimaria (EP) (2001)
Biogenesis Project (2003)
Force For The Fourth - Chrysalis (2005)
Altavoz Masterpiece Series 2006 (6CD box) (2006)
Seventh Hell (2009)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin JP

Added: June 26th 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 950
Language: english


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