From the moment they launched their debut album Fear & Anxiety in 1992, I followed the Japanese formation Ars Nova. Thanks to Musea and Harmonie, I still can remember how thrilled I was when I witnessed a gig during their mini-European tour. I enjoyed their keyboard drenched symphonic rock, inspired by ELP, Trace and U.K. After all those years Ars Nova still makes symphonic rock, but their sound evaluated a lot. The ELP, Trace and U.K.-hints are less obvious and the band use guitarists with a heavy sound on their latest albums. On Seventh Hell, these guitarists are Zoltan Fabian, known from Age Of Nemesis (Hungary) , and Satoshi Handa. The theme of this album is surrealism based upon paintings by famous artists like Jeroen Bosch, René Magritte and Salvador Dali. I was very curious how Ars Nova would sound after their pleasant, but a bit ‘cold sounding’ previous effort Crysalis, Force The Fourth.
Well, I’m sure the surrealists have inspired Ars Nova. I think both fantasy and the subconscious were stimulated in a positive way! On this album, Ars Nova sounds very tight and driven. The fans of bombastic symphonic rock will enjoy the mind-blowing interplay, the cascades of shifting moods, the frequent solos on keyboards and guitar and the many interesting musical ideas in the five compositions. In the long opener Seventh Hell, you can enjoy dreamy waves of mellotron violins, wonderful grand piano alongside fiery guitar, dazzling keyboard flights and a swirling rhythm-section. In La Venus Endormie, you hear orchestral keyboards and biting guitar, but also a virtuosic acoustic guitar solo and in Cazadora De Astros, a surprising break with Spanish guitar and castanets and fat guitar riffs with protrusive drums. In Voice Of Wind, we hear fiery guitars and a very pleasant keyboard sound. However, the ultimate excitement is the final epic track Salvador Syndrome with Dutchman Robby Valentine as a guest singer. You never suffer a dull moment with the excellent interplay, exciting solo work and warm accordion sounds with Nina Hagen-like opera vocals. Then suddenly, there’s a break with an acoustic guitar solo, a Spanish inspired interlude with guitar and hand clapping and a splendid final part featuring the ultimate bombastic keyboard sound, heavy guitar and a protrusive rhythm-section. Here you can enjoy the exciting contrast between the classical inspired keyboards and the hard-edged guitar sound. It all sounds very sensational!
I can imagine that prog heads analyze this album as being a bit ‘over the top’. I must admit that most tracks sound as jam sessions rather than elaborate compositions, but if you like, this kind of heavy and bombastic symphonic rock in the vein of the other Japanese formation Gerard, you will be delighted about Ars Nova. In my opinion, this is one of their best albums ever!
**** Erik Neuteboom (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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