Seventh Seal were one of Asahito Nanjo’s projects in the 1990s. Rather than a separate band, Seventh Seal were a mutation of his ongoing project known as Ohkami no jikan (‘time for wolves’, or ‘wolf era’). This constellation’s variable line-up strayed on the more mystical side of Tokyo’s ‘psychedelic’ scene, an approach which would flourish when in the mid-1990s Makoto Kawabata joined the sessions. Around that time the two musicians also appeared in (perennially disappointing) organized noise-rock supergroup Musica Transonic.
Having grown up on the Fugs, Godz and European soundtracks, Asahito Nanjo first plunged into the anti-virtuosic punk scene in the late 1970s. After a stint at Kosoukuya, he co-founded the hyper-fast Psychedelic Speed Freaks, which later gained fame as High Rise. The heraldic band constituted an important chapter in the multi-linear history of spontaneous speed-noise, and is correlated with the rise of Ikeezumi’s PSF label in Mejiro. Nanjo continued the format later in Mainliner.
But it is his interest in the more spiritual, mantric side of rocking hysteresis that must have led to Seventh Seal’s sessions. Nanjo’s experience with Keiji Haino in Nijiumu could have been one of the contributing factors. Using very basic, circular guitar and organ structures, Seventh Seal successfully generated hallucinatory impressions of timelessness and spacelessness. Transposing the rhythm structures from sufi music onto aural afterimages created ruminative, yet enrapturing rituals. Nanjo and Kawabata continued the adventure in a more acoustic and admittedly ‘shamanistic’ vein as Toho Sara.
Meanwhile, Ohkami no jikan continued to perform, progressively moving towards heavier, darker realms, reminiscent of mid-period Fushitsusha.
Spiritual Spring’s Slavering with Circling
Anatolian guitar greets us with an update on John Weinzierl’s early Amon Düül II twang, whirling majestically upon a ritualistic Mevlevi dance. Earthy cymbals pinpoint the full closure of each circle, leaving the full pivot to thundering mallets. Mineko Itakura vocalizes from deep inside the well of truth. Her voice resounds ethereally, seeking that perfect Djong Yun moment, but never attempting to emulate that pristine coloratura. Rather, Mineko’s voice soars like an eagle swooning around with a lot of time on its claws. In a classic redshift, longer wavelengths ooze when her voice recedes – an auditory version of motion parallax… Kawabata’s weaving is fluent and appropriate, but never flashy. Itakura’s bass trots loyally when Nanjo commences his chant from deep inside the tunnel, with a 3-3-3-3 syllable structure – rather non-standard for a Japanese waka. The effect is mesmerizing nonetheless – as any circulating, hypnotic, homomorphic repetition would be.
Then all of a sudden, the band abandons the mantra and takes off on the back of a stilted, angular bass form almost directly lifted from Amon Düül II’s clumsy time signature transition. It is as charming as a child’s error in holophrastic stage, but you would politely suppress a chuckle if an adult committed it. Soon, Kawabata plunges into his pyrotechnic West Coast style, still miles away from his later Acid Mothers Temple exhibitionism. He guides us through the entire panoply of phrasing modules, allowing bass and drums to pick up speed until the freaking out band crashes against the wall of cymbals.
Undaunted, the caravan sets out again. In a reprise of the initial intro, the vocalize returns. Hajime Koizumi’s stately drumming conjures up images of the dervishes’ vertigo-less worship. Guitar and vocal now circle like two predators in search of a prey. Against the steady, periodic tempo, Kawabata sizzles and frizzles, splashing dirty overdrive on the way, but always remains melodic and measured. Finally, slowly, very slowly the band cools off.
A fast, uplifting track, where fuzz-less guitar (again that John Weinzierl or Conny Veit timbre) sews at ultra-speed a theme that could become a dance from some mountainous corner of the old continent sheltering a forgotten ethnic minority. It is impossible to tell if Kawabata had pre-cognitive visions of his Occitan experiences, or whether the beat owes more to the classic Munich band’s own borrowings. In any case, Koizumi and Itakura’s rhythm section barely catches up. Another transition appears to be, yet again, a dig to those charmingly clumsy, fractured bridges with which Amon Düül II shifted keys and tempos.
The Fifth Substance and Four Elements
Despite the apparent subdivision of this track into four elements (Air, Fire, Earth, Water), there is not much of Third Ear Band relevance here and those who seek a neoclassical (or orientalist) parallel, are better served by resorting to the first two Toho Sara records. “The Fifth Substance” sounds like a mere excerpt from a longer timbral exploration, opening with a meowing, somnambulant, bowed viola and beaded cymbal work. Deep echo and agonizing murmur send a salute to the venerable Taj Mahal Travellers school. Discrete, yet tonally effective organ envelops this intricate, ornamental embroidery of a highly resonant, pensive percussion, courtesy Nobuko Emi. Somewhere between the immanent shimmer of sarangi, viola and organ, gurgles underlie tensile squeals and groans crater under soggy splatter. Finally, unexpected plosive effects drag the band from this mind-blinding atmosphere, halfway between vintage Pink Floyd and early Sonde. But for several minutes at least, the quintet has successfully suspended temporality.
SEVENTH SEAL: “Live 1995” (1995)
SEVENTH SEAL: “Seventh Seal” (1997)
The material on the earlier recording partly overlaps with the LP described above. Several cassettes have also been issued but I have not heard them.
Many of Nanjo’s bands explored other musical pastures and do not have to be mentioned in the context Seventh Seal. The positions listed below bear at least some relevance to the sound of Seventh Seal, if not in orchestration and attitude, then certainly in an attempt to generate a mood of spiritual blissout. Splendor Mystic Solis was a simplified version of Seventh Seal and occasionally included Kawabata. The most Seventh Seal-like recordings of Ohkami no jikan were made in the early 1990s, as showcased on the compilation “Tokyo Flashback 2”, but could also be expected on some of the earlier cassettes, which I have not heard. Toho Sara’s third CD was a disappointment.
TOHO SARA: “Toho Sara” (1995)
TOHO SARA: “Meijou tansho, part 1-5” (1998)
SPLENDOR MYSTIC SOLIS: “Mystic 1 & 2” (1999)
SPLENDOR MYSTIC SOLIS: “Heavy Acid Blowout Tensions Live” (1999)
OHKAMI NO JIKAN: “Mort nuit” (2001)
TOHO SARA: “Horouurin” (2004)
NANJO, ASAHITO GROUP MUSICA: Contemporary Kagura-Metaphysics (2006)