Titles are arranged alphabetically.
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.
Baraka are a Japanese guitar/bass/drums trio who released seven 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. Shade of Evolution (2008) is their eighth album, Inner Resonance (2010) their ninth, Trinity (2012) their tenth.
“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.
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) 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. This is the 2014 Musea edition of Fromage’s second album Ophelia (1988). It has the same two long live bonus tracks as the (much more expensive) Belle Antique CD edition. 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.
Visionary Dream is from 2011. Listen to the title track.
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.
Tokusen Burari Tabi (2003, 64-mintues) is the only known release by this Japanese fusion-y prog band. “This Japanese band simply amazes me, and their Tokusen Burari Tabi is one the best and the most unique symphonic art-rock and related albums I have heard this year. I am sure that this wonderful masterpiece will be highly appreciated by all the connoisseurs of profound symphonic progressive who get it, including the most fastidious ones.” Read the full Progressor review, also the DPRP review.
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.
Lu7 are a Japanese instrumental progressive jazz-rock band whose first album Efflorescence (2002) was first released on the defunct mp3.com, later on this CD with a 2006 bonus track added. This is symphonic jazz-rock, on average lighter than their second 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. Listen to Sonatine I (Modere), Sonatine II (Mouvement de Menuet), and Sonatine III (Anime). Out-of-print, last copies.
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. Listen to Mummy’s Horn.
Though Mizukagami’s self-titled debut album is from 2003 and their second Yugake 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 From the Beyond.
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. Out-of-print.
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.
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. Listen to Tightrope and Lost.
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.
What Is Constant (2015) is the second 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.
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. Listen to 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.
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.
This Japanese instrumental progressive jazz-rock band was formed in 1990 by its four current members (guitars/bass/keys/drums) and has released at least 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.
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.
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.
Vermilion Sands released their classic album Water Blue in 1989 and were hailed as the Japanese Renaissance. 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.
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.
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.