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Hypnotic Underworld

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Album Review

Five years after releasing both Snuffbox Immanence and Tune In, Turn On, Free Tibet, Ghost returned with Hypnotic Underworld, and there were some changes in the band. Cellist Hiromichi Sakamoto and percussionist Setsuko Furuya (whose marimba gave those albums such a distinct sound) are gone, replaced by a great young rhythm section of Takuyuki Moriya (bass, conta bass, cello) and Junzo Tateiwa (drums, tabla, percussion). Also, Ghost co-founder Taishi Takizawa continues as producer but rejoins the group as a musician as well (he has served only as producer since the mid-'90s). Of course, Masaki Batoh is still here, along with longtime keyboard player Kazuo Ogino and guitar hero Michio Kurihara. With a brief U.S. tour (October 2002) under its belt, the band really jelled, and with Hypnotic Underworld, Ghost have released their most expansive set yet. The four-part title track starts somewhere near the Heliocentric Worlds, with Takizawa's sax playing over the sparest of bass figures and percussion as wisps of electronic ether float in and out. This morphs into a fuzzbass-led groove with great soprano sax that leads into a hard rock movement with a choir adding to Batoh's vocals and an ending so surprising I'll leave it for the listener. This epic track is followed by a glorious cover of Earth & Fire's "Hazy Paradise." The production here is amazing, with harpsichords, Mellotron, and sitar melting into each other and a majestic Kurihara guitar solo at the end. "Kiseichukan Nite" features a very pretty Celtic harp and recorder over a simple bass ostinato and Batoh speaking in Japanese with little washes of electronic treatment creeping in. This album is all over the place stylistically, yet it all sounds like Ghost, even with the electronic treatments and almost prog rock keyboards that hadn't been present on their prior albums. They turn in a version of Syd Barrett's "Dominoes" that is so completely personalized as to be virtually unrecognizable. "Piper" is a rocker featuring some blistering guitar work, and "Ganagmanag" is a classic Ghost-style instrumental trance jam, highlighted by Takizawa's flute and amazing production work. Batoh's vocals have never been stronger, and Ogino's various keyboards add a new dimension to the Ghost sound. Kurihara, as mentioned, is brilliant on electric guitar. The sound achieved by Takizawa and the band is a stunning mixture of ancient acoustic, hard electric, and electronic that Jimmy Page should be envious of. Hypnotic Underworld is a new high-water mark from one of rock's most interesting bands. Highly recommended.


Formed: 1988 in Tokyo, Japan

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

A collective of psychedelic-minded Japanese musicians headed by guitarist Masaki Batoh, Ghost records commune-minded free-range psychedelia with equal debts to the Can/Amon Düül axis of Krautrock, as well as West Coast psych units like Blue Cheer and Jefferson Airplane. Batoh grew up in Kyoto, where he attended a private school well-geared to spark his interest in rock music, from Dylan and Pink Floyd to the Velvet Underground. Later, he formed Ghost with a large and varying lineup, centered around...
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Hypnotic Underworld, Ghost
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