Ars Nova's lineup seems fated to a state of flux; since 1991's Fear & Anxiety, keyboardist Keiko Kumagai has high-fived at least two fulltime and one or two session bass players, and at least as many drummers: in fact, Masuhiro Goto, who left Gerard to drum for Ars Nova, left right after banging things out for Force to join Triton — which happens to be Mika's trio (Mika was also a member of Ars Nova for a bit; see the review of Across The World for more background on Triton). An interim drummer by the name of Hazime was quickly auditioned and will perform with the band in the near future. Rewind to 2003: enter Shinko Shibata, who goes by "Panky," happens to play bass, has been absent from the progressive music scene for a decade, and knows Keiko from her early days in Ars Nova. How convenient! [To save time, we will bypass Biogenesis Project.] Fast-forward back to the present: Keiko decides to mix things up by bringing in a guitarist and rerecording several Ars Nova classics — a fresh start, so to speak.
Force For The Fourth –Chrysalis– is no mere retread; the half-dozen live-in-studio performances here are nearing incendiary, each composition experiencing a complete reinvigoration. In fact, proponents of the band's grittier sound as found on Fear & Anxiety, Transi, and Goddess Of Darkness will be elated to hear the return of that edge. The guitarist in question, Satoshi Handa, plays on three tracks; Handa's axe and Keiko's arsenal work quite well together. Keiko's well-known for her vigorous keyboard work, jamming on digital & analog synths and her ever-present Hammond XB2, the latter which often assumes a central role. With all respect to former drummers Yumiko Saito and Akiko Takahashi, Masuhiro Goto's manic style is uniformly "metal" and conforms to the music as a fitted glove.
Shreddin' stuff: "Succubus" finds Handa's aggressive chordings replacing Mika's synths with savory results. "Transi" has long been one of my favorite Ars Nova tracks (since 1995, matter-of-factly), and any attempts to improve on it could very well be in vain, but this new version complements if not matches it — Panky comes off as more experienced than her predecessor, Kyoko Kanazawa. "Horla Rising" is arguably the best rendition on the CD, significantly more potent than the original and quite the rocker! "The 42 Gods," "Metamorphosis" and "Nova" assert themselves as three more examples why Ars Nova remains Japan's leading symphonic progressive band. I must add that it would have been nice to get another track or two, as Fear & Anxiety and Goddess Of Darkness both go untapped.
Force For The Fourth –Chrysalis– isn't a Made In Japan release, it's on Ars Nova's private label, Transi; it will no doubt turn up in the inventories of vendors stateside. If one can't wait (and who can?), the website has instructions on where to send your hard-earned dough for a copy — which will make a fine entry for the uninitiated, to boot. After all, Keiko's not the queen of prog keyboards fer nuthin'!
1. Succubus ¤
2. Transi ×
3. Horla Rising ¤
4. The 42 Gods ř
5. Metamorphosis †
6. Nova ×
† – original version on Biogenesis Project (2003)
¤ – original version on Android Domina (2001)
ř – original version on Reu Nu Pert Em Hru (1998)
× – original version on Transi (1994)