Review by Nhu Nguyen
VAMPS doesn’t mess around. Their fourth album UNDERWORLD cuts the frills and packs a punch. While their previous album Bloodsuckers was a game of lure and seduction, pushing and pulling with alternating fast and slow songs, UNDERWORLD snatches its victims from the get-go with its tightly-packed energy.
“What do you think is real?/What do you think is true?/There’s life underground/And a life that’s everlasting,” HYDE sings in the album’s title song “UNDERWORLD”. VAMPS aim to capture fans and keep them in their Japanese vampire rock-infused world. “I want our audiences to feel the wild and immoral side of rock culture. And, as we are vampires, our show will obviously be different from that of any other rock band!!” laughs HYDE. If you haven’t seen them live yet: yes, it is obviously different – but in a good way.
This new album is a true sampler of what you can expect from VAMPS live: it runs heavy with consistent energy from start to finish and feels designed to appeal to the international audience they’ve built up during their multiple tours over the past several years. Even when the tempo mellows out a bit, such as “IN THIS HELL”, the sense of urgency doesn’t wane. UNDERWORLD brings VAMPS into range of mainstream U.S. appeal. Current single “Calling” is an alt-rock radio friendly banger with an equally attractive music video.
The vampire aesthetic is still at the forefront of VAMPS’ songwriting. Yes, there’s still lots of “blood” in the song titles — from nu-metalesque “BLEED FOR ME” to the party song “B.Y.O.B (BRING YOUR OWN BLOOD)” — but the unique storytelling of a vampire and his lifestyle brings them out of the stereotype and into a unique imaginary realm. “Somewhere the dead come alive/Somewhere the party won’t die/We keep this going like there’s no end,” HYDE sings in “B.Y.O.B (BRING YOUR OWN BLOOD)”. Humans can relate to these vampires.
International rock fans will be delighted with the featured artists guesting on this album. A solid “block of features” — tracks 7 through 9 — gives us collaborations with Chris Motionless of Motionless in White (“INSIDE OF ME”), Richard Z. Kruspe of Emigrate / Rammstein (“RISE OR DIE”), and APOCALYPTICA (“SIN IN JUSTICE”). The band didn’t forget J-Rock: “BREAK FREE” features KAMIKAZE BOY of MAN WITH A MISSION. Of all the features, “RISE OR DIE” stands out as HYDE clearly channels his inner ’80s glam-metal fanboy here with his vocal delivery reminiscent of Billy Idol.
The meeting of East and West on UNDERWORLD was brought about by VAMPS inviting Western rock acts to join them in the East. “We decided to think differently,” says HYDE, “to take a whole new approach. By bringing artists to Japan to play on our shows, we feel we can start to work more organically with them, to create a certain bond…”
“The ‘exchange tour’ concept is a great way for our fans to hear the music of other bands,” nods K.A.Z, “and of course it can work the other way too, creating opportunities for us to perform outside of Japan and to collaborate on fresh musical projects. It’s a wide world, and it’s always exciting to have the chance to try something new.”
VAMPS, once an interesting side project, can now safely be called HYDE’s main project, and it lets him take risks that he couldn’t take with L’arc en Ciel – getting the true rock n’ roll experience by playing small venues and taking his chances with rougher production styles. “Music shouldn’t really have any boundaries,” sums up K.A.Z. “Everything should be possible.” The pairs determination shows in UNDERWORLD, and these vampires are coming to suck everyone’s blood and energy dry.