What makes Japan such an interesting musical environment is its ability to build on genres and styles explored in Western music and completely ‘Japonise’ it, giving it a unique twang and distinctive flair. However, unlike modern Korean music which has only really taken off in the past two decades, Japanese music — and in particular Japanese movements in rock and heavy metal — has become a unique phenomenon distinct from trends in the US and Europe but developing in tandem with them. No more is this true than for X Japan, the Japanese power/speed metal band who have been considered as one of the pioneering groups for visual kei and one of the few indie bands to achieve mainstream success.
On 3rd March 2017, X Japan released a soundtrack for their documentary film “We Are X” about X Japan’s co-founder, leader, and mastermind, Yoshiki. The documentary film in itself is an important view into Yoshiki’s tragic childhood and his movement to success despite various tribulations on the way. Here, we will review the soundtrack for this eminent Japanese metal band.
La Venus (acoustic version)
A track that has made the list of songs to be considered for the Oscar for Best Original Song, ‘La Venus’ is the acoustic version of the track that will be released later in 2017. This acoustic is fantastically emotive and gives us a flavor of X Japan’s rock ballad style. It’s a great opening track for the OST but served as the ending track for the documentary.
Kurenai (from The Last Live)
‘Kurenai’ is a track that I feel completely epitomises this Japanese-style rock’n’roll. ‘Kurenai’ is an 80’s-rock track, with a fast-paced drum beat and fantastic electric guitar solo. Played during their farewell show in 1997, ‘Kurenai’ still remains a fantastic track and one of the few X Japan tracks sung completely in Japanese.
‘Forever Love’ moves us into a softer and more romantic rock ballad. It, like ‘La Venus’, is highly emotive track, but with a very melancholic and lamenting tone. It’s a track with a lot of substance, and the vocals here are perfect and match the tone that the track is trying to convey.
Piano Strings in Es Dur
We move into an interlude track, ‘Piano Strings in Es Dur’: it’s a track completely written for piano, with the underlying strings eventually coming halfway through the track. It’s uplifting and hopeful, but may just be setting us up for far heavier metal and rock tracks.
‘Dahlia’ is one of X Japan’s most famous tracks. Originally released in 1996 and serving as the title track for the eponymous album, ‘Dahlia’ is a blend of speed and symphonic metal. It reached no.1 on the Oricon charts and charted for 8 weeks. It’s not as heavy as some of the more heavy metal tracks, but it’s a fantastic track and definitely stands out as one of their most important.
Crucify My Love
Opening with a church music-like strings rift, the track is supported solely by piano and strings as of course Yoshiki’s vocals. It’s a beautiful track, sung mostly in English, with a powerful and emotive arrangement. It’s refreshing to hear another ballad, which X Japan do do well!
‘Xclamation’ is the only track featured on this OST to be written by late members, hide and Taiji Sawada. It serves as another interlude, except on the electric guitar and drums, with support of other percussion. It’s a full length track, but instrumentally is highly focused and has a very different kind of energy than the other tracks.
Standing Sex (from X Japan Returns)
‘Standing Sex’ was a track released in 1991, but this live version of the track was played at Tokyo Dome on 30th December 1993. It’s a brilliant combination of power, speed, and heavy metal which is heavily demanding and hard to listen to, but nonetheless incredibly enjoyable.
We return back to another ballad track, again supported by strings and piano. A much longer track than the previous ballads, this allows the track to introduce the drums and electric guitar and support Yoshiki’s fantastic vocals. It’s a wonderful rock ballad and one that is far more appealing tonally and musically than the other tracks. Interestingly, it also features the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and become incredibly popular not just in Japan but also in Korea as well.
Originally a single and featured in the album “Dahlia”, this version of ‘Longing’ is completely instrumental, and is fully orchestrated. It moves from being highly melancholic, to being anxious and jumpy, to finally easing us into a feeling of hope but loss as well. It’s a beautifully executed track and one that eases in and out of the rock and heavy metal tracks of the OST.
Art of Life (3rd Movement)
‘Art of Life’ is a symphonic power metal track, orchestrated with strings and a typical orchestra, as well as with the heavy metal instruments as well. It’s a fantastic amalgam of different genres and musical styles but does not sound out of order and completely works. It’s a wonderfully executed track and probably one of my favourites on the OST.
Another longer track, this version of ‘Endless Rain’ was played at their ‘Last Live’ concert on 31st December 1997. The original track was released on 1st December 1989. It’s another fantastic ballad track and one that really communicates to the audience. What’s so wonderful to hear in the background of the track is the energy of the audience at Tokyo Dome. It adds a whole new level to the track and makes you realise just how loved X Japan truly are!
Another recording from their ‘The Last Live’ concert, ‘X’ goes a whole new route, being a speed metal track with a lot of energy and is in stark contrast to ‘Endless Rain’ and the other ballad tracks. It’s a great track and gives you a taste of both a uniquely Japanese heavy metal band as well as X Japan’s typical style.
Without You (Unplugged)
This acoustic version of ‘Without You’ is a wonderful conclusion to an otherwise brilliant soundtrack. Yoshiki’s vocals are brilliant here, and supported solely by the piano, this track proves that you can be both heavy metal and a fantastic ballad singer. It’s a wonderful concluding track and one that definitely will leave its mark in your mind.
CONCLUDING REMARKS: Overall, this soundtrack has a very distinctive sound that anyone who loves rock or heavy metal music will love and enjoy. For anyone who is interested in Japanese music and trends in music, this is an important soundtrack and one that, having reached 4th on Oricon Albums Chart and 1st on the UK Rock & Metal Albums Chart, will have a long-lasting effect on Japanese rock and metal.
Review written by Tariq