Thursday 12 October 2023

Murasaki - Timeless (2023)

Country: Japan
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 16 Aug 2023
Sites: Facebook | Metal Archives | Official Website

Timeless is a highly appropriate name for this album, because it sounds good in 2023 but hearkens very clearly back to the early seventies, the primary inspirations obviously being British hard rock bands with the heavy organ sound, most obviously Deep Purple. In fact, their very name translates as "purple" and it was adopted by the band's founder George Higa to become George Murasaki. It should be mentioned that Purple and Murasaki are contemporaries, because this band was formed in 1970, pioneering rock music in Japan in the process. The reason they're not better known today outside their home nation is that they didn't release an album until 1976 and they only managed two before splitting up in 1978.

Well, four members of the band that released those two albums got back together in 2007, with a pair of new colleagues, JJ on lead vocals and Chris on bass, and this is their third album since then, following 2010's Purplessence and 2016's Quasar. Both have history with the Murasaki family, JJ the lead singer of George Murasaki & Mariner at the tail end of the seventies, and Chris also the bass player in another Japanese rock band, 8-Ball, which is led by two of Murasaki's sons, Leon and Ray, who both played for Murasaki during a brief earlier return in 2000.

I believe they've kept on with their old sound but added a slightly more metallic edge, as we might expect from a band that boasts two guitarists. And yes, I do mean "slightly" there, because there's a massive range from Younger Days to Don't Look Back! and only some of it would feel at home on a metal album. This is primarily hard rock and, wherever it goes musically, it never drifts far from that core Deep Purple inspired sound, which is led by Murasaki himself on keyboards with a swathe of glorious riffs and runs.

Younger Days features a tasty guitar solo, but it's primarily a piano-driven ballad laden down with plenty of orchestration. It's easily my least favourite song here, though I rather like Tears of Joy, a shorter song that does much the same thing but without the orchestration. I prefer the heavy end and that shouldn't surprise anyone, but Don't Look Back! is a strong song for other reasons too. It starts out symphonic, almost like an ELO song, then launches into prog metal with a strong guitar against a wonderfully prowling bass backdrop. It has a real doomy weight to it, sitting somewhere between Black Sabbath and Witchfynde, which isn't what I expected to say a few songs earlier.

I believe the prog aspect is relatively new too, though I've only dipped into their seventies albums. It was always there, I guess, but not as a focus. Now it often is, starting with Free Your Soul and Let It Be, which picks up from a weaker The Fire is Burnin' with a wonderful organ intro and some neat prog exploration. It's also a playful song, following a straight song and a belter, as Raise Your Voice opens up with power, barrelling along in the midsection like Space Truckin'. The Fire is Burnin' does little for me, but the bookends around it are both highlights of the album.

While Deep Purple are very much the obvious comparison, they're not the only one. There's some Uriah Heep dotted throughout but that influence really comes out to play on the second of a pair of bonus tracks. They're Starship Rock 'n' Rollers and Double Dealing Woman, both re-recordings with the current line-up of earlier material. It's Double Dealing Woman that's clearly inspired by Heep as much as Purple, and it features guest appearances by Kyoji Yamamoto of Bow Wow and a Japanese guitar hero who goes by Char.

Perhaps it's the British influences from the seventies that prompt them to sing in English, but that has always been their approach from the very beginning. Then again, their current singer doesn't appear to be Japanese even though he technically is, having been born in Japan. JJ stands for John Joseph and his surname is Patterson, perhaps explaining why there's no accent in his singing, even though his predecessor in the seventies, Masao Shiroma, certainly had one, as fluent as he seems to have been in English.

I liked this album a lot and found it hard to move on to another one. Perhaps most notably, it never feels long, even though the the two bonus tracks bump up the running time almost to an hour. This skips along effortlessly and feels a lot shorter than it is, possibly because it's broken up well with a pair of ballads and a more metallic song. Their regular sound therefore breaks down into a shorter set of chunks and it's all very accessible.

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