Titles are arranged alphabetically with recent additions highlighted in yellow.
A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-T | U-Z
Asturias is a band from the first generation of the Japanese progressive rock scene, and their earlier studio albums are superb, in a style close to Mike Oldfield and Camel, with beautiful melodies and atmospheres. Acoustic Asturias is their acoustic alter-ego. Bird Eyes View (2004) offers five acoustic pieces with a line-up of piano, guitar, glockenspiel, violin, and clarinet, plus female voice on one track. It’s absolutely exquisite, delicate and refined music with joyful atmospheres. The musicians are skilled classical players, and their brand of chamber music sometimes recalls Debussy’s or Satie’s most melodious pieces, with a more modern rhythmic approach. The disc is only 25-minutes long, hence the lower price, but there is not one boring minute among the 25. Read the AllMusic review.
The Japanese band Ain Soph released their first album in 1980. They were originally a Camel and Canterbury-influenced band, though by the early 1990s they had become a progressive fusion band, playing sophisticated, melodic instrumental jazz-rock close to Kenso, if a tad mellower. Studio Live Tracks ’80s and ’05 was recorded live in the studio between 1985-1988, plus one new track recorded in 2005. Including the 2005 track, there are three tracks appearing for the first time as studio recordings, plus new versions of three songs appearing on the 1986 Hat and Field album and one from 1980’s A Story of Mysterious Forest. These are among Ain Soph’s best compositions.
The Japanese band Ars Nova was originally an all-female trio led by their keyboard virtuoso and composer Keiko Kumagai. They have certainly been influenced by ELP, but like the similar Japanese band Gerard, their progressive keyboard rock is heavier, darker, and more orchestral, closer to Italian bands such as Goblin and Il Balletto di Bronzo, but heavier than them as well. Ars Nova feature loads of bombastic keyboards and an aggressive energy that frankly could stand to get toned down a bit.
The Book of the Dead (1998) is their fourth studio album. On their fifth, Android Domina (2001), Kumagai chose to concentrate more on atmospheres and structures rather than high-speed solos and frantic rhythms. Android Domina is more ambitious than their previous albums, with more contrasts, subtle atmospheres, and dialogues between keyboards.
Seventh Hell (2009) contains five long pieces in the bombastic Ars Nova tradition, including a 17-minute suite. Hungarian guitarist Zoltan Fabian (Age of Nemesis) and Dutch keyboardist Robby Valentine guest. Even though the album opens with a bit of prog-metal, it ends up being arguably Ars Nova’s best work. Much of it is still frantically-paced -- Ars Nova often play as if they’re trying to finish the piece before the tape or hard disk space runs out. This is the European (Musea) edition. Read the Sea of Tranquility and Proggnosis reviews.
This is Musea’s 2013 CD reissue of Ataraxia’s 1986 sole album, from the heyday of Japanese symphonic prog. The music is in the Genesis and Camel veins. Listen to the song Low Value Counting Clock on YouTube.
Baraka are a Japanese guitar/bass/drums trio who released six albums previous to these and who have performed live many times. Baraka play fusion-flavored progressive hard rock, generally melodic, with the primary influences seemingly Rush, Allan Holdsworth (circa Metal Fatigue), and King Crimson. The musicians are technically skilled and constantly vary things to keep it more interesting than your average power trio. Lush synth pads are used at times to broaden the sound palette. On VII (2007), the 20-minute suite Bharmad is the highlight. Shade of Evolution (2008) is their eighth and Inner Resonance (2010) their ninth.
Trinity (2012) is their tenth album. Listen to the track 19-16 on YouTube.
“Being & Time is a Japanese duo consisting of Fuyuhiko Tani playing guitar, guitar synths and keyboards, and Hiroshi Tsukagoshi on bass guitar... This is fusion, very much along the lines of Bruford or the first UK album, both of whom are acknowledged as influences by the band. Perhaps the oddest thing about the band is, despite sounding like two bands for whom Bill Bruford was the drummer, this band has no drummer. That’s not to say there’s no drums, but these appear to be programmed drums, though whether on a fancy drum machine or using a computer is unknown. But I must say they’re some of the best programmed drums I’ve ever heard, and if I hadn’t seen their YouTube videos of just the two of them performing, I’m not sure I would have realized this wasn’t a band with a real (and real good) drummer. While this renders their live performances (which I’ve only seen on YouTube) a bit on the flat side, it doesn’t detract from the quality of their debut CD in the least. In fact, the CD is an album of excellent instrumental fusion, and deserves the attention of anyone who likes Bruford, UK or Allan Holdsworth.” [Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock (Fred Trafton)]
Cinema was formed by ex-members of Fromage, a famous Japanese band of the 1980s who released two albums before disbanding. Cinema are an excellent example of Japanese symphonic progressive rock, a survivor of a style prevalent in Japan in the late 1980s and early 1990s but less so now. They feature female vocals in an operatic style and a violin/viola player in addition to keys, guitar, bass, and drums. Mindscape (2005) is their third album and shows the greatest maturity. With an additional violin player and cellist as guests, this album is their most classical sounding. Sometimes it sounds as if Cinema are about to launch into Pachelbel’s Canon, but most of the material features lyrical electric guitar over mid-tempo symphonic chord progressions from the keyboards. Cinema’s neo-classical slant here is fairly unique among progressive rock bands. Lyrics are in Japanese, though the album is heavily instrumental.
Into the State of Flux (2000) is Cinema’s second album. On this album, they employ three potential keyboardists, female vocals in an operatic style, and a violin player in addition to guitar, bass, and drums. Lyrics are in Japanese with English translations in the booklet, though some of the vocals are wordless. The mini-LP edition is the 2010 limited edition released by the MALS label under license from Musea, which comes in a heavyweight gatefold cardboard sleeve.
This is the CD reissue of the 1988 album from a great Japanese prog band heavily influenced by UK (Danger Money lineup), with two bonus live tracks. The music is dominated by the keyboards of Motoi Sakuraba and has more instrumental passages than vocals (which are in English). The band became quite popular and the album sold well in Japan during what was the heyday of Japanese sympho-prog.
Tot Licht!, the second album by this Indonesian prog/fusion band, mixes so many disparate styles that everyone is guaranteed to find something incredible, and everyone is guaranteed to find something that annoys them. Discus’s music combines jazz, rock, progressive and symphonic rock, ethnic Indonesian music, and hard rock in a musical fusion never heard before. In the same song, you’ll think of Zappa, Dream Theater, Kansas, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Indonesian music, King Crimson, and Debussy, all skillfully structured and played. Sax, violin, flute, and ethnic instruments are mixed with traditional rock instruments. Tot Licht! features more heavy passages than their first album. Complex polyphonic female and male vocal parts complete this unique album. Read the AllMusic review.
This is the MALS label edition of 1st, the 1999 debut CD by Discus. “The first and last tracks are worth the price of the disc alone: true progressive rock with gamelan understructures, themes and instruments. Discus features no less than eight members: reeds, violin, two keyboardists, drums, bass, and multi-instrumentalist/leader Iwan Hasan, who plays guitars, 21-string harp-guitar, Balinese & electronic percussion and shares lead vocals with female vocalist Nonnie. Of course, not everyone plays on every track, which gives the disc a good sense of variety and balance... Overall, this is an extremely strong debut that proves there’s still plenty of fertile territory within the confines of progressive rock. Best of the year stuff; this one gets my highest recommendation.” [Exposé] Also read the Prog Archives, EER-Music, and Ground & Sky reviews.
East Wind Pot is a Japanese band led by the keyboardist from the band Theta and also including woodwinds, bass and drums. Their 2006 debut is instrumental progressive jazz-rock, no doubt influenced by Weather Report. The music is melodic, intricate, and further evidence that the Japanese are currently producing the best jazz-rock bands in the world.
Kagerou (2009, 73-minutes) is the follow-up to Flat122’s excellent 2005 debut The Waves. While The Waves was an energetic album close to Kenso, Kagerou is a less extroverted album but casts its net wider, somewhat along the lines of the later Isildurs Bane albums. On both of their albums, Flat122 show an avant-garde aspect similar to bands such as Cartoon, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, or Miriodor. Kagerou is still primarily instrumental symphonic fusion but is more strongly 20th century classical, with a chamber music element that overlaps with some of the RIO bands. The addition of some accordion is a welcome touch. It wasn’t the expected follow-up to The Waves but is perhaps even more impressive. Read the Proggnosis review.
Free Love is a primarily instrumental Japanese quartet (keys, guitar, bass, drums) playing heavy psychedelic progressive rock, influenced by Led Zeppelin (the album includes what is supposedly a cover of Kashmir), Deep Purple, and Uriah Heep. Except for the final track (which degenerates into noise), Apocalypse (2006, 61-minutes) is more progressive and spacey than that though, with keyboards playing a prominent role. It’s fortunate the album is mostly instrumental, as singer would not be our first choice of career for Hiroaki Shibata.
Fromage are a Japanese band from the heyday of Japanese symphonic prog, the 1980s. Three members went on to form the band Cinema. Fromage have flute in the lineup in addition to female vocals, keys, guitars, bass, and drums. If you’re familiar with Magdalena, Marge Litch, Mizukagami, Pageant, Pale Acute Moon, Providence, Starless, Teru’s Symphonia, or Wappa Gappa (to name just a few), you know more or less what to expect from Fromage. These are the 2014 Musea editions of Ondine (1984) and Ophelia (1988). They have the same bonus tracks as the (much more expensive) Belle Antique CD editions, a 9:30 bonus track on Ondine and two long live bonus tracks on Ophelia. Read reviews at Prog Archives.
Keyboards Triangle II (2002/2013) contains covers of 21st Century Schizoid Man, Danger Money, Knife Edge, Alaska / Time to Kill, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part Two, and In the Dead of Night, and if we have to tell you whose songs those are, you probably shouldn’t be buying this yet. Any question now who Gerard’s biggest influences are? This is the 2013 Musea edition; the 2002 first edition did not include In the Dead of Night. Read reviews at Prog Archives.
This trio (keyboards/bass/drums), formed in the early 1980s, is the oldest Japanese prog band still active. Gerard have often sounded like ELP playing hard rock, combining bombastic keyboards (sometimes employing an electric guitar sound), powerful bass occasionally used for lead lines, and a high-energy drummer.
On The Ruins of a Glass Fortress (2000), Gerard sound very much like Danger Money-era UK. They even allow themselves a few peaceful moments that contrast nicely with the power-sympho rock going on most of the time. Well-balanced and structured, these five instrumental pieces plus two songs with a new singer (lyrics in English) are the most mature the band has composed to date. Sighs of the Water (2002) uses guest vocalists and continues in a similar vein.
Ring of Eternity is from 2010. Listen to the title track on YouTube.
Visionary Dream is from 2011. Listen to the title track on YouTube.
Group Therapy is a six-man Japanese progressive fusion band. They use soprano sax and trombone in addition to a dual electric guitar, bass, and drums lineup. One guitarist adds guitar synth. It pretty much adheres to the unwritten rules of jazz-rock, emphasizing groove and taking turns at soloing, though the sax and trombone introduce an RIO element and the guitarists seem influenced by Frank Zappa. Melatomania is their 2002 studio album.
Interpose+ are one of the best Japanese progressive bands to appear since the 1980s (the peak years for progressive rock in Japan). These musicians have played together at regular intervals since the 1980s, but they didn’t release their self-titled debut CD until 2005. Interpose+ present a very symphonic progressive jazz-rock, blending the symphonic rock of Outer Limits and Pageant with the jazz-rock of Six-North and KBB. The music is highlighted by the virtuosity of guitarist Kenji Tanaka and the beautiful female vocals (in Japanese) of Sayuri Aruga. Dani from KBB is the bassist. Indifferent (2007) is their second CD. In addition to their symphonic influences (Genesis, ELP, Italian prog), Interpose+ show a strong Canterbury influence here, particularly Hatfield and the North. As has come to be expected of the Japanese bands, the level of musicianship is very high.
Interpose+ have a new bass player for Memories in the Wind (2015), Shinko Shibata from Ars Nova.
Spiral Dream (2004) is the debut by Kalo, a relative newcomer on the Japanese progressive rock scene. Like Wappa Gappa or Mizukagami, the band of guitarist/keyboardist Masahiro Uemura faithfully carries on the tradition and spirit of earlier Japanese progressive rock bands such as Novela, Outer Limits, or Magdalena. Female vocalist Miori Naritomi’s crystal-clear voice (lyrics in Japanese) beautifully enlivens three of the twelve tracks; the album is more instrumental than vocal. Unlike earlier Japanese symphonic bands such as Teru’s Symphonia or Marge Litch, Kalo is not over-the-top bombastic. This is much more tasteful and relaxed, full of romantic, classically-influenced keyboard parts, like a cross between Camel and Vangelis.
KBB, a Japanese band formed in 1992, released their first album Lost and Found in 2000. Seven instrumental pieces, ranging from 6 to 13 minutes, reveal a major band and an exceptional violin virtuoso. Think of Jean-Luc Ponty, UK, and Darryl Way’s Wolf, as KBB mix progressive rock, some jazz-rock, and even a bit of traditional Japanese inspiration in some of the melodies.
Four Corner’s Sky (2003) takes a big step in the direction of instrumental progressive jazz-rock. Think of Jean-Luc Ponty teaming with King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Some of this is reminiscent of violin-led instrumental Caravan, while the first track includes some of the most powerful Celtic folk-rock ever recorded. Powerful, dynamic, and enthusiastic, violin-led instrumental progressive rock and fusion doesn’t get much better than this.
The 72-minute Live 2004 CD captures KBB live at the Silver Elephant club in Tokyo, with excellent sound. Two tracks are from Lost and Found, four from Four Corner’s Sky, plus the unreleased track Inner Flames. Proof of Concept (2007) sees the band further expanding their repertoire and demonstrating that, in the realm of symphonic progressive jazz-rock, KBB have few peers.
1999 Japanese fusion-oriented progressive in the Kenso and Brand X veins, led by the former guitarist of Mr. Sirius.
Lu7 are a Japanese instrumental progressive jazz-rock band whose first album Efflorescence (2002) had previously been released only on the old mp3.com. Now it is available on CD with a 2006 bonus track. This is symphonic jazz-rock, on average lighter than their 2nd CD L’esprit de l’exil, with sophisticated and unconventional programmed drums/percussion. For the most part, the programmed percussion is not intended to mimic a drummer, and it gives the music a different feel than could be achieved with a drummer. The guitarist plays electric guitar in the Allan Holdsworth style but also jazz-tone guitar in the Pat Metheny style. This is what soft jazz-rock should be, and as the album progresses, it gets more energetic and more symphonic.
Midas is a Japanese symphonic prog band centered around keyboards and violin. 25th Anniversary Concert & Early Rare Tracks includes a live concert recording from October 2008 in Osaka plus four unreleased studio tracks recorded between 1983-1987.
P.P.A.C.K. (2011) is the third album for this mostly-instrumental Japanese band playing progressive and sometimes symphonic jazz-rock. The line-up is keyboards, tenor & soprano sax, bass & Chapman Stick, and drums, plus guests on violin, flute, and trumpet. The Japanese do this style extremely well, the music very intricate and highly structured. It’s not all fusion though, as one song features female vocals and Celtic melodies, while another has wordless female vocals, European folk melodies, and a tribal/ritualistic feel in the rhythm section. YouTube has the song Mummy’s Horn.
Though Mizukagami’s self-titled debut album is from 2003 and their second Yugake is from 2007, they operate in the same territory as the female-vocal Japanese symphonic bands of the 1980s and early 1990s such as Pageant and Providence. Influenced by the major British 1970s prog bands, Mizukagami’s symphonic rock balances tension and serenity and features female vocals in Japanese, vintage keyboards, excellent guitar work and flute. The female vocalist is more capable during the mellower passages where her voice can be beautiful, but is less suited to singing with power.
Doppler 444 (1997) is believed to be the only official album from Japanese prog band Mongol. This 2013 edition adds over 30 minutes of live bonus material. The music is instrumental, mostly in the high energy prog/fusion style, while the final long studio track is in the Zeuhl (Magma) style. Read the Under the Radar CDs and Prog Archives reviews. Listen to the song From the Beyond on YouTube.
Shell (2006) is the second CD for Japanese instrumental band Naikaku. On this album, they are primarily a quartet of electric guitar, flute, bass and drums. They often sound like Rush jamming with a flute player, with elements of jazz-rock, King Crimson, and prog-metal included. A guest musician adds some synths and Mellotron. If nothing else, this album is notable for having the longest song title known to man.
Netherland Dwarf is a one-man progressive rock project from Tokyo. The music is similar to classical symphonic keyboard rock such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Ekseption. Using the latest technology, Netherland Dwarf produces colorful, heavy, vintage 1970s prog that is actually quite unique. Kaipa’s Hans Lundin guests. “If you have ever asked yourself the question ‘I wonder what ELP would have sounded like if Keith Emerson had used Mellotron?’, then Netherland Dwarf’s debut album Moi Moi is definitely for you.” Read the full review and others at Prog Archives. Listen to the album montage on YouTube.
Misty Moon (1985) is the CD reissue of the best album from one of the top Japanese symphonic progressive bands of all time. Outer Limits are probably the most famous and influential of the 1980s Japanese progressive trend, as they succeeded in developing an original style while many others were just imitating the British and Italian 1970s bands. Outer Limits’ style is dominated by soaring violin parts and symphonic keyboards. They aren’t directly comparable to anyone, but if you crossbred UK (the tracks with Eddie Jobson on violin) and Renaissance (minus the female vocals), tossed in some King Crimson and PFM, you’d be in the ballpark. Their male vocals are respectable -- one can easily understand the English. They sometimes sound a bit John Wetton-ish.
Stromatolite should be the progressive musical event of 2007: the return of Outer Limits. The lineup is the original one except for a new bass player. After nearly two decades, it’s really exciting to once again hear the incredible violinist Takashi Kawaguchi, seemingly able to play anything: soft, wild, lyrical, quiet, tortured or enthusiastic. It’s not a typical comeback album, as these compositions are among their best ever, inspired and faithful to Outer Limits’ style. Yes, this album is on the same level as Misty Moon, but it doesn’t simply retread the same ground -- there is a definite progression.
Blinds (2008) is the second album by a Japanese band led by a female singer/composer/multi-instrumentalist. The music is in a progressive post-rock vein similar to Godspeed You Black Emperor, Sigur Ros, Mogwai, and Anekdoten, deliberately contrasting grungy, over-distorted guitar with delicate elements such as Mellotron and ethereal female vocals (in both Japanese and English). The music slowly evolves from mournful, quieter atmospheres into an intense, violent musical maelstrom.
This is the 2013 reissue of the 1996 second album by Japanese band Providence. With a new singer, guitarist, and bassist, only the keyboardist/composer and drummer remain from the lineup that recorded their 1989 debut. Providence could be filed alongside Pageant, who along with Vermilion Sands represented the best of the Japanese female-vocals symphonic prog bands of that era. Read the Exposé review. Listen to the song In the Moonlight on YouTube.
Percept From… (2013) is the debut CD by a Japanese band playing instrumental violin-led progressive rock with fusion aspects, perhaps inspired by KBB. No one does this style better than the Japanese now. Listen to the album montage on YouTube.
What Is Constant (2015) is their second, in the same style. Listen to Cloud 9 on YouTube.
The Japanese band Quaser traces its roots to 1976, but their first album appeared in 1994. Their fifth album Delta Flux was recorded between 2006-2009 though not released until 2011. A violinist guests. Always influenced by ELP and UK, on this album Quaser include an arrangement of Prokofiev’s The Enemy God, as Carl Palmer did on Works Volume One. That’s only part of their sound however, as Quaser cover much more prog ground, including some flowing, mellow songs (something bands such as Ars Nova or Gerard never could). Quaser feature male vocals in Japanese. While some Japanese vocals present a problem to western ears, there’s no issue here as the vocals are mellifluous, comparable to those of Outer Limits. There are some nods to modern tastes, but by and large this is a classy album of 1970s style symphonic prog. YouTube has the song Wild Ocean.
Qui are a Japanese progressive fusion quintet of guitar, flute, bass, drums and percussion. This self-titled 2008 CD is actually their second, another joint release of the Poseidon and Musea labels. The music is of course instrumental, beginning in a mellow jazzy vein and becoming more frenetic later on, with the lead work shared between flute and guitar.
“Quikion’s odd instrumentation pays off on Kaprico (2007), their third studio album... With an acoustic guitar, an accordion, a concertina, various hand percussion instruments, and Totoki Yukiko’s charming voice, Quikion is weaving a different kind of folk music. The timeless quality of this music is further enhanced by the presence of a few traditional songs: Chançonetta Tedescha is a 14th century piece, while Statt Opp Krestjan Støvelkraga comes from the Norwegian tradition. The album also includes two traditional Sephardic songs. However, most of Kaprico consists of original compositions... Even though the songs are sung in Japanese, this is not Japanese music. This is world music in its most basic definition, as Quikion draws from Sephardic, French, Scandinavian, and even Spanish traditions. The twin-accordions-and-guitar lineup takes some getting used to, but it quickly becomes the perfect instrumentation to carry the group’s delightful compositions.” [AllMusic]
This is the 2006 version of Hallelujah!!. The first version of Hallelujah!! was released in 1997 and included only the first six tracks of this 12-track 2006 version. Five of the additional tracks are previously-unreleased from 1993-95, while one is from the Quikion + Lithuma Qnombus DVD.
Ramadan is Quikion’s 2004 studio album. Listen to Moon and a Bride and Spellbound on YouTube.
Ring is one of the oldest Japanese progressive bands. This 2006 release contains a 1975 live-in-the-studio recording by Ring, followed by two tracks by the related band Kokubo Synthesizer Works recorded in 1977-78 with drum tracks added in 2006. Both bands are primarily instrumental, using a standard keys, guitars, bass & drums lineup. There are some male vocals in Japanese, though the reverb Ring used on the vocals was probably never intended to be used on vocals. Ring strikes us as being very close to certain spacey French progressive bands of the same period, especially Pulsar, as Ring was also influenced by the earlier, psychedelic Pink Floyd. Kokubo Synthesizer Works moves the style forward a few years, bursting out into energetic passages that remind us of the French band Tiemko, who KSW predates by many years. This is probably not for those who were born too late for the first generation of progressive rock bands, but for those who grew up with unusual sounds being coaxed out of organs, this is a valuable find.
This 2007 CD is by a Japanese band playing renaissance and baroque music, mostly instrumental, on early instruments such as lutes, viola de gamba, recorders, etc. The Japanese are able to take any western music it seems and reproduce it with near perfection. Read the Sea of Tranquility review.
Space-prog album of the year? Phoenix Rising (2013, digipack) is a collaboration between Japanese instrumental prog/jam band Rovo and Steve Hillage’s electronic band System 7. The album was performed and recorded live. Like most Japanese prog bands, Rovo have impressive instrumental skills, and they have an electric violinist. The dueling between Hillage’s electric guitar and Yuji Katsui’s violin are one highlight. The majority of tracks were written by Hillage and/or his partner Miquette Giraudy, while Rovo wrote some, and one is a cover of Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Meeting of the Spirits. Read the Get Ready to Rock! and Sea of Tranquility reviews. Watch the album trailer and another short video.
Motoi Sakuraba is the incredible keyboardist from Japanese progressive band Deja Vu. On What’s Up? (2013), he also plays acoustic drums and is no slouch. This is simply one of the best instrumental keyboard-centric symphonic prog albums you will ever hear, most of which sounds like instrumental Danger Money-era UK, just like Deja Vu’s sole album. If you like UK and Eddie Jobson even a little, this album is gold. Listen to the song Stand Still on YouTube.
The greatest activity in progressive rock in Japan occurred during the 1980s, represented by bands such as Gerard, Outer Limits, Pageant, etc. Just prior to that, there were a few lesser-known Japanese prog bands, and the best of them was Shingetsu. They released an early-Genesis influenced album (self-titled) in 1979 that still stands as one of the very best Japanese prog records ever. This live CD (digipack) allows the listener to hear Shingetsu on stage, a month after the release of their debut album.
This is the 2003 debut by a Japanese instrumental guitar/bass/drums trio. As you might expect, this is guitar-oriented progressive rock and progressive hard rock. Very competent, just nothing you haven’t heard before. Many, many times. Only you can decide whether you need another guitar/bass/drums album. 56-minutes.
This Japanese instrumental progressive jazz-rock band was formed in 1990 by its four current members (guitars/bass/keys/drums) and has released nine albums. We’ve said it elsewhere but it bears repeating: Japan is producing the best fusion bands in the world. Comparable to Kenso and Brand X, Side Steps play adrenaline-pumping melodic fusion with symphonic keyboards, blazing keyboard solos, soaring electric guitar lines with great tone, a top-notch rhythm section, and great production. They’re not quite as progressive as Kenso but they come close. These long, complex instrumental pieces are not demonstrative but rather make use of refined melodies and frequent rhythm and mood changes.
Steps on Edge is their fourth, initially released in 1994 and re-released in 2003. The musicians look so young in the 1993 photos in the booklet, you would never expect this level of compositional ability, let alone technical skill. Points of View is their 2001 release, while Out and Out is from 1997. Verge of Reality (2005) is another great one, very melodic and high-energy, blurring the distinction between progressive rock and jazz-rock. Side Steps often sound like a cross between Kenso and early Camel on this one.
Alive II (2007, 69-minutes) features eight tracks recorded live on three separate dates in 2006 and 2007. This is the best way to hear Side Steps. Their energy level live is incredible and the sound is studio quality. There are only about eight people in the audience and they’re kept from going near any microphones, so audience noise never intrudes. Kenso better start looking over their shoulders.
This is the CD reissue of a 1992 album plus a 1992 EP (77-minutes total) from this Japanese symphonic prog band with female vocals. Starless are similar to the other Japanese prog bands with female singers of that era such as Teru’s Symphonia, Marge Litch, etc., but Starless are not so over-the-top as those bands and so may be a better place to start for the uninitiated. Read the DPRP review. This is the MALS label edition.
Strings Arguments is three members of the Japanese band Six North (guitar, bass, drums), the violin player of the band KBB, and guitarist Hirofumi Okamoto. The Encounter was recorded live in 2002. This is instrumental fusion firmly in the Mahavishnu Orchestra style, a mix of improvised and composed music. 70-minutes.
Taika are an excellent Japanese symphonic jazz-prog band, somewhat Canterbury-ish, with female vocals (lyrics in Japanese). Pulsate (2012) is their first full-length album. Their members are Tae (ex-Ashada) on vocals and accordion, Dani on bass (also bassist of KBB), Zaiya Takahashi on piano, and Tomoyoku Tanimoto on drums. As has come to be expected from Japanese prog bands, the musicianship is first-rate. Given the many modern so-called prog bands who lack a true keyboardist, it’s really refreshing to hear a pianist like Takahashi at work. Next time, even more accordion please! Listen to the album montage.
Clockworked Earth is the 1993 album by this Japanese symphonic progressive band led by guitarist Terutsugu Hirayama, formerly of Novela. Teru’s Symphonia are very symphonic, with rock guitar and female vocals in Japanese. The singer has an excellent voice; if the Japanese lyrics are a stumbling block, don’t worry as there’s plenty of instrumental work. It’s larger-than-life orchestral bombast, loveably over-the-top, a guilty pleasure for the symphonic prog fan.
Theta is a Japanese band fronted by Yoko Royama, the female singer from Vermilion Sands. She also had a solo album released in Japan. She sings in both Japanese and English, and is joined by a keyboardist, bassist, and drummer, while adding flute herself. This 2000 album reveals a mature symphonic rock, in the same vein as Vermilion Sands (check for their CD below), who were in turn influenced primarily by Renaissance. In fact, Vermilion Sand’s keyboardist guests, as well as two violinists and two guitarists. The music is romantic and melodic, delicate and refined.
Tsuki-usagi are a Japanese band in the Genesis/Camel camp, playing bombastic symphonic prog with slightly operatic female vocals in Japanese. This is their 2011 debut CD, very much in the tradition of Pageant, Magdalena, Marge Litch, Pale Acute Moon, Starless, and Wappa Gappa, earlier Japanese bands with female vocals playing a similar symphonic style. While much of the music is centered on the vocals of singer Reina, the tracks are all long and feature numerous instrumental passages during which Reina plays flute. Listen to Tennkuu Heno Madrigal on YouTube.
Water Blue is the CD reissue of the 1989 first album from the Japanese Renaissance plus four bonus tracks. By ‘Japanese Renaissance’, we don’t simply mean that Vermilion Sands had a female lead singer, because a lot of Japanese symphonic bands did, and most of those singers were not exactly Annie Haslam clones. On the other hand, Vermilion Sands’ singer Yoko Royama is first-rate, and Water Blue is a beautiful progressive album in the Renaissance and Camel style, one of the best Japanese progressive albums ever. Read reviews at Prog Archives.
Unfortunately, Yoko Royama passed away in 2004 and the band broke up. Spirits of the Sun (2013) is a posthumous album finished by keyboardist/composer Masahiro Yamada, containing both studio and live tracks. The live tracks are not songs from Water Blue; they are previously-unreleased. There are a couple instrumentals, while the rest feature the voice of Royama. Akihisa Tsuboy of KBB guests on violin. A beautiful album that keeps Royama’s spirit alive. Listen to the song Innisfree on YouTube.
The golden age of progressive rock in Japan occurred during the 1980s, when prog rock was at its nadir in the west. Most of the Japanese symphonic bands then died out in the 1990s as the west was experiencing a renaissance in the genre, but another generation of bands followed. Wappa Gappa is one of the Japanese bands continuing the style of Outer Limits, Mr. Sirius, Pageant, and Providence. Their first Japanese release was in 1996, followed by A Myth in 1998 and Gappa in 2004. Wappa Gappa have a female singer with a beautiful, operatic voice. The lyrics are in Japanese with English translations in the booklet. The vocals function more as a lead instrument than as a singer of songs, so the fact the lyrics are in Japanese is less important than it might be. Wappa Gappa play the Japanese symphonic rock style but are not over-the-top like Teru’s Symphonia or Marge Litch. Gappa (69-minutes) and A Myth (61-minutes) present a very sophisticated and energetic progressive rock. Read reviews at Sea of Tranquility and Musical Discoveries.
Water Garden are a Japanese prog quintet who use the ancient legends of Japan as subject matter. Himiko: Prayer in the Land of the Rising Sun (2014) is based on the mythology of the oldest extant chronicle in Japan, The Kojiki. With female lead vocals in Japanese, the music is energetic symphonic prog reminiscent of Teru’s Symphonia and similar bands from the late 1980s heyday of Japanese sympho-prog. In fact, the keyboardist and the bassist are also female, the guitarist and the drummer male. Listen to the 16-minute album sampler on YouTube.
Yuka & Chronoship are a Japanese progressive rock band formed in 2009 by female keyboardist/vocalist/composer Yuka Funakoshi along with three leading Japanese studio musicians: bassist Shun Taguchi, guitarist Takashi Miyazawa, and drummer Ikko Tanaka. Their 2011 debut Water Reincarnation (currently out-of-print, at least outside Japan) is mostly instrumental but does have lovely (English-language and wordless) vocals and vocal harmonies. The Japanese symphonic prog scene has been relatively quiet of late, but Yuka & Chronoship are in the same league as Kenso and Mr. Sirius, though distinct from either. Their music is highly reminiscent of late 1970s progressive rock, very European-sounding, but not retro. The key (pun accidental) is that they are led by a keyboardist who can play and who can compose, who is versed in classical as well as jazz. There is technical virtuosity, but it isn’t about technical virtuosity. This is a fantastic album and a necessary one in an era where what passes for progressive rock often lacks the classical foundation, depth, and class of Yuka & Chronoship.
Dino Rocket Oxygen (2013) is Yuka & Chronoship’s outstanding follow-up. “Yuka & Chronoship have really hit one out of the park with Dino Rocket Oxygen. Finely crafted retro-prog for all to enjoy. I hope you dig it as much as I do.” Read the full Sea of Tranquility review and the Progressive Rock Central review.
With The 3rd Planetary Chronicles (2015), Yuka & Chronoship are making some of the best symphonic prog on the planet. Newcomers should start with this one and work backwards. “The music is melodic and powerful, with echoes of past progressive rock but with a fresh attitude. Yuka’s keyboards are in the forefront, with piano often at the core, augmented by organs, synthesizers, Mellotrons, and more; but the band is outstanding, whether supporting her or stepping forward to lead for a time. Takashi Miyazawa’s guitar is frequently an integral part of the arrangements, with some outstanding lead lines. Yuka’s vocals are a much more prominent presence than on previous releases, mostly in the form of lush choruses; this is most definitely not a case where vocals detract from great instrumental music. This third album continues the growth seen over the first two – they just keep getting better. The 3rd Planetary Chronicles is one of the highlights of 2015.” Read the full Exposé review. Be sure to listen to the album montages (mp3 icons above).
Zettaimu are a Japanese quartet led by guitarist Hisashi Furue, who is attracted to British progressive and psychedelic rock as much as he is to traditional Japanese music and rhythms. The band has three earlier albums dating back to 1989. The star of Miroque (2007) is female vocalist Kanako, who like many Japanese female vocalists is a great admirer of Kate Bush. Musically it’s mostly guitar, bass and drums. There is some use of keyboards, but this is not symphonic rock, as the tonal palette is more limited. This does however give the music more openness and space for Kanako’s voice. These nine tracks achieve a certain stylistic consistency, particularly through dark atmospheres, the best tracks being the more ethereal and surreal ones. Read the Sea of Tranquility review.