July 7, 2015 Vamps – Bloodsuckers (Album Review)
Japanese Rock, or J-Rock, is nothing new. It’s popularity started with the Anime scene, creating music for video games. It then progressed quickly to bands, female as well as male, rocking away with a totally different, progressive sound. It included Hard Rock, Alternative, and Metal with the undertones of traditional Japanese music blended in. Crazy popular in Japan, it soon became very popular with Westerners. Having a Bowie-like appearance, the bands wear outrageous clothes, hair, and mostly androgynous or ambiguous looks; very over the top and now fairly common. The freedom to be one’s self is very important, and this genre of music is allowing that in a big way.
With all that said, Vamps is J-rock at its best. The duo consists of Hideto “Hyde” Takarai (vocals, rhythm guitar) and Kazuhito “K.A.Z.” Iwaiki (lead guitar, backing vocals) backed by Ju-ken (support bass, backing vocals), Arimatsu (support drums), and Jin (support keyboards). Both Hyde and K.A.Z. are songwriters while Hyde is a lyricist. Their sound is so superior in technique, quality, and creativity, it is amazing they do not consist of many more members. Although working together since 2003, the duo formed Vamps in 2008. Both are in their own groups, K.A.Z in Oblivion Dust and Hyde in L’Arc-en-Ciel, yet they still manage to perform incessantly with Vamps and earn accolades.
Since 2008, Vamps has performed more than three-hundred fifty live shows. Their first nationwide tour was early on in 2008. They kicked off their Vamps Live tour, starting at Zepp Tokyo, and played sold out shows from August 1st to October 28th. They also teamed up with Live Nation; a big leap toward their global notoriety. Many singles were released and their first album dropped in June 2009. In total, they have released eight DVD’s from 2009 to 2015, ten singles from 2008 to 2014, and four albums from 2009 to 2015, the latest, best effort, being Bloodsuckers released via Spinefarm Records March 24th.
Vamps’ very diversified music is detectable from the start of this album, with “Reincarnation.” The prominent keyboards, ethereal in sound and with an obvious classical feel, leaves us wondering what is next? “Zero” is next, with another surprising feel, very Bowie-like in nature, especially the lead vocals and the electronic backing; making for a very interesting listen.
“Lips” and “Ahead,” both change the pace with hard hitting, Heavy Metal tones, fast paced, strong drums, and nice background vocals that meet the music’s feel perfectly. The lyrics in “Lips,” “You are you, I don’t like it……..no, no, no, gonna fight it….” is a perfect match for the feel of the wailing guitars and pounding drums. The lyrics in “Ahead,” “Everything I’m craving and all the things I want to do, I don’t know what to do….”, shows the confusion of the dilemma the singer is feeling and once again, the music couples with the emotion expertly.
“Evil” has a great feel to it, using many flat notes that the masters of Classical used to set tone, and it works evenly with the lyrics, ” You will decide…you’re desire to kill, there’s no turning back…come to hell with me.” A macabre tone leaves the listener a bit in awe. “Ghost,” on the other hand, changes mood completely to a melodic, dreamy feel with gentle chords, vocals, and harmonies that blend with the guitars. Along with this mood, is “Vampire’s Love,” which is more ballad-like in feel and sound, starting off with a beautiful keyboard solo. The tone is soft, and the pain of the singer comes through in a gentle way. The fact that this song is in Japanese is no hinder to anyone being able to feel the emotions and sorrow of the piece regardless of the language. The language of music surpasses any other and is universal. This song and Vamps proved the point. Hyde took lessons in English by an English teacher to translate his songs, therefore ensuring a more universal appeal. Although difficult, Hyde said it was worth it as his mission was accomplished.
“Damned” and “Get Away” both go back to the hard-hitting Metal sounds of previous tracks. Using an interesting vocal fade into the music in Damned, Hyde sings, “I’m damned”….repeating this line four times each time he sings it, forcing listeners to believe. He goes on to vocalize, “There’s someone in me now, …Pain, I can feel it cold inside…the desire is too great,” and the listener can almost relate that they are feeling the same. Get Away has a bit more melody and an almost orchestral feel to the tone. It is fast-paced as well and an exciting song, sounding and feeling like a racing heartbeat as the lyrics pulse, “You’ll be mine again….just hold on. What’s gonna happen…you decide…;” making the listener feel hopeful and encouraged.
There there is “Replay” which charges along with more creativity added than the other songs. The blended, harmonizing vocals that start out along with a nice break in chords, like an emotional pause, gives the listener a second or two to think about the lyrics. Again, there is an orchestrated feel to the music. “Bloodsuckers,” the title track,dominates i a short time, teasing the listener. There is a call and response to the song where the backing vocals seem to answer the lead and then it all blends together. “Jolly Roger” is an upbeat track with great harmonizing elements in both vocals and instruments. It is a feel-good song of victory and power with the lyrics that include, “We’re on a quest to be our best…breaking the door and taking the world..” Some may consider this the “Rocky theme” for Heavy Metal. Lastly is “Inside Myself,” a soft, melodic track that seems to bring the album full circle. The start of the song has bells and a gentle lead vocal that stands out above the music. The great guitar riff resonates the words clearly, ” Waiting cause I’m afraid, there’s no way to get back…Inside myself you’re calling me,….A dream to be free, will I be free?” This is a universal question for so many both young and old.
Freedom, a relative term, is often used in music, both literally and metaphorically. Freedom to make the music one loves and to reach the masses as it resonates throughout their souls. This is the goal of Vamps from the beginning, and they continue to reach more with each performance, release, and effort. There is no doubt they will succeed even more than they already have. There are many J-rock bands and solo artists out there expressing freedom and reaching new and old audiences. Vamps has already proved themselves, and Bloodsuckers is just more proof that they are here to stay. With the ability to diversify as much as they do, they have proved they are unique. CrypticRock gives Bloodsuckers 5 out of 5 stars.