VAMP’s debut album
10th June 2009
You know, I really dislike self-entitled albums. They kind of make mentioning them in a [band]’s [album] format awkward. Moving on, despite being a fan of hyde, I was never really that interested in VAMPS. I mean, I adore hyde’s work with L’Arc~en~Ciel, and his one-time collaboration with Gackt for “orenji no taiyou” was also amazing, but his solo work leaves a lot to be desired (especially in his third solo album, Faith), and that’s what K.A.Z. had previously worked with him on. And as VAMPS’s debut US tour did not visit any city I was remotely close to, I felt even less compelled to familiar myself with the music.
Additionally, the overt-vampire references in all of this — in the band name, the album name, the label name, and pretty much all of the song names and imagery — kind of made me facepalm. I would expect it from Gackt, who only recently came out as a mere mortal and has a long history of vampire and goth sound and imagery. But, well, I guess it really isn’t that big of a surprise coming from hyde either… considering the fact that he’s acted as both a vampire and a ghost, songs like “Midnight Celebration,” various photoshoots, and a lot of his fashion and accessory choices. Well, whatever brings all the fangirls to the yard, right?
And in the end, hyde is hyde, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I eventually decided to pick this up. So here we go:
TRACK 01: BITE
Thirty-second opening track! Starts off with some very classic horror elements — swanky TV noises in the background, creeking door, clock striking, howling, a woman moaning sensually and a scream! Classy.
TRACK 02: LOVE ADDICT
Now some rockin’ guitar with a very catchy beat. hyde’s vocals start rough and excitedly, a welcome throwback to some of his older work. Lyrics are in Engrish and they are hilarious as usual, so I’m not going to try too hard to decipher what he’s saying. Melody is pretty negligent as the song progresses, but the guitars carry a steady beat, so there’s at least that to tie things together. End of the first chorus has a weird break before hyde comes back in slowly, in a lower voice. K.A.Z. (I guess?) providing some backup vocals here and there, but nothing really substantial or interesting. I think the repeated lyrics near the end are “right on time, let’s go,” but it could also be “let go.” It frustrates me sometimes that hyde has spent so long singing in English, but it rarely seems to get more understandable. Guitars fade out to the end. Not a good song, not a bad song.
TRACK 03: COSMOS
Rockin’ guitars again. Another sort of classy opening, takes it’s time getting to the vocals, which start… nostalgically. hyde’s vocal quality here reminds me a lot of SMILE-era L’Arc~en~Ciel though the guitars and melody are very different. I’m so glad he’s singing in Japanese here; I was afraid for a bit that the whole album would be Engrish. Some nice sustained notes in the first chorus, but the longer notes in the verses sound a little strained. Oh, a nice falsetto in the second chorus. Glad he’s not abandoning that talent of his. Some decent guitar and drums in the bridge, accompanied by distant vocal echos. Guitar leading into the final chorus are pretty nice as well. Still haven’t come across anything that’s wowed me, but this second track makes me more optimistic than the first. I really want something memorable and catchy; the first part of “BITE” was catchy, but it get too repetitive too fast. What were the singles leading up to this album?
TRACK 04: SECRET IN MY HEART
Spacey kind of intro; would have been more appropriate for the previous song. Guitars rock in very quickly and hyde’s lyrics are back to Engrish though they’re a little less haphazard. The vocals are rather relaxed despite the breakneck speed of the guitars… but both get lazier come the chorus. Vocals start feeling strained again and the guitars aren’t very impressive until the short break between the chorus and the second verse. The vocals don’t seem to compliment the guitars very well again — it almost seems like they’re fighting for the spotlight rather than working together. Gah, I hate it when that happens. Second chorus feels a little better, but now I’m starting to feel like the melody’s very pretentious. Not sure. Some parts of the melody are very reminiscent of classic vampire-themed music and there are some slight screeching sounds that promote that imagery. I guess I need to stop holding that sort of thing against this album though, since that’s obviously its theme. Outro is a bit too long for my taste. Ends with a whimper, not a bang.
TRACK 05: EVANESCENT (YouTube it)
Boring sort of intro. Opening vocals are rather plain as well. Lyrics are back to Japanese. A guitars in the back sound like they’re from another song I’ve heard whether from this band or another. They just aren’t distinct. I think if I were sampling this album at the store, I would have given up on it by now. Chorus and beginning of the second verse remind me of another song. I feel like I’ve heard most parts of this song before, just not pieced together like this. Just wanna zone out and do something else…
TRACK 06: VAMPIRE DEPRESSION
Back and forth guitars and some interesting synth and distortion work. Finally! Something that actually seems intriguing? Vocals start dark and dramatic; hyde’s voice is low and brooding. Lyrics are in Engrish. Oh, nice, a measure of piano for a really nice creepy effect. Chorus has hyde screaming melodramatically and it’s pretty hilarious, but not terrible. Still diggin’ the mix of guitars and distortion as we go into the second verse. It maintains a nice mood, even if it’s a bit over-the-top. It works. hyde’s screaming is less entertaining the second time around, but the guitars and drums carrying into the bridge make up for it. Dramatic lyrics before the final chorus are pretty nice sounding even if I still can’t make out what he’s saying. Screaming is even less amusing the third time around, but they don’t last long and we go back to the guitars and distortion for an outro that’s just the right length. Best song on the album thus far. Perfect timing too, after the tedious track before it.
TRACK 07: REDRUM
More dramatic guitar. Feels like a really awesome movie action scene should be starting right about now. Another Engrish song and hyde’s vocals feel very American as they start off, even if his pronunciation still leaves a lot to be desired — the style he sings in just feels very familiar. Guitars and drums are really going at it here; they do a good job keeping me interested in what’s going on here. Post-chorus guitars are especially neat. hyde’s doing a lot of sustained yelling in a rough sort of voice in the verses here; more singing in the choruses. After the last song, the yelling is borderline annoying, but once again, K.A.Z.’s guitar and their power chords are keeping things together. Haha, the bits of the lyrics I’m picking up are hilarious melodramatic, but I know I can’t expect anything else. Song ends rather suddenly, but it’s definitely on par with “VAMPIRE DEPRESSION.” If the rest of the songs sound like this, it’ll get a little repetitive, but at least it won’t be boring.
TRACK 08: DEEP RED
A change of mood for the intro — a twangy sort of beat and a more diverse mix of sounds. It’s the music leading into a chase scene. Vocals are dramatic but well-controlled. hyde seems like he’s holding something back though and… it doesn’t really seem to release in the chorus. Voice gets a bit deeper and rougher around the edges though. Lyrics here are a mix of Japanese and Engrish. K.A.Z.’s guitar oscillates between high-pitched lines and a steadier background accompaniment here; it compliments the vocals well though and it’s a good break from the hard rockin’ of the previous two songs. I think I’m finding the chorus kinda catchy actually — “something something in search of blood”? Bridge is pretty interesting as well, and I noticed the weird bass lines for the first time. Last two or three choruses go on for a while, but I don’t really mind. I think the reason I like the “blah blah in search of blood line” is because hyde’s vocals finally don’t sound forced or strained or too deep or too rough. They’re more natural and it’s nice.
TRACK 09: I GOTTA KICK START NOW (YouTube it)
Rockin’ guitar again. Sounds like the opening of another song I’ve heard on this album already? Vocals and the continued start and stop of the guitar remind me of some classic rock song I’m not familiar with because I’m not big on classic rock. Guitars aren’t too interesting, but hyde’s voice still sounds very natural here, more casual and less pretentious. Even with the Engrish lyrics, it doesn’t feel too unnatural — he’s just slurring all the words! That’s all! Some of the short pauses in the guitar feel awkward, but it does keep you interested in the beat because it’s somewhat unpredictable. Oh, guitars in the bridge are nice though. I had a brief vision of BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad. I go back and forth from feeling that “I gotta kick start now” sounds weird and feeling that it’s fine. Consequences of listening to too much Engrish. :P
TRACK 10: TIME GOES BY
Soft acoustic intro? Slow intro vocals and it feels like a ballad coming on. …Nope! Guitars come in harder and the melody picks up quickly; vocals somehow retain a “I’m singing to you under your balcony” sort of feel though. Really enjoy the little break between the chorus and the second verse. The mix of Engrish and Japanese lyrics is nice too. Second verse again starts off deceptively slow before picking up. Melody is reasonably catchy and I like the energy and feeling of sincerity in this song. And falsetto! I never know how much I miss it until it comes back all of a sudden! Lovely guitars in the bridge and a rockin’ return to the chorus — more falsetto! Outro makes me feel nostalgic again. This might be my new favorite song on the album!
TRACK 11: SWEET DREAMS (YouTube it)
Piano intro! Very unexpected. Falsetto opening vocals! Also unexpected. Difficult-to-understand Engrish lyrics! Not so unexpected, but hyde sings slow and sweet. A really mixed bag in the background accompaniment — it feels a little scattered, but comes together okay by the time we get to the chorus. Some self-harmony in the vocals sound a bit strange as well… Back to straight up falsetto for the second verse. Engrish sounds mad awkward for a bit, but then he thankfully swaps back to Japanese. Falsetto starts to feel a little strained, but it goes into the second chorus soon after that. Seems as soon as something starts feeling awkward in this song, it changes and goes away. Not bad, I guess, though it’d be better if it never got to the awkwardness in the first place. Random phone dialing and ringing in the bridge? What? Some generic sounding strings with a prominent violin… Tired of the chorus already, but we go back to the nice piano for the outro. Mixed feelings about this song; it’s all over the place.
TRACK 12: HUNTING
Some fun guitar rifts in the opening, but not that exciting… oh, wait, okay, it gets more exciting as it goes on. Punctuated yelling starts off the vocals. hyde sure does do a lot of yelling on this album. :o I think he’s saying “Hi! Ho! Let’s rock!” but I’m probably wrong… haha… What, is that it? Okay. A two-minute song of uninspired guitarring and hyde yelling. I mean, I guess it’d work okay for the intro to a concert to get the crowd riled, but as the second-to-last track of an album? Come on. Maybe it’d be too much to put it at the beginning along with the “generic horror sounds” track, but in that case, just pick one or the other? We don’t need both. :\
TRACK 13: SEX BLOOD ROCK N’ ROLL
Oh, back to the sensual moaning then. Fun-sounding guitars and drumming though. …Ew, distorted vocals. hyde, your Engrish is hard enough to listen to without it being distorted too! Eh, I can see why “HUNTING” would precede this track, but… blah, I’m so conflicted about this song. The guitars and especially the drumming are a lot of fun, but they’re not innovative or particularly original and the vocals are borderline pissing me off. Especially combined with the random noises and cooing and warbling. The chants of “sex blood rock n’ roll” are annoying as well and… then it’s over.
OVERALL: On one hand, I feel that maybe I wasn’t in the right sort of mood walking into this album. I should have known that there would be a lot of cliche and silly vampiric elements, but they bugged me all the same. I didn’t want to listen to unoriginal vampire-themed music. As always, I wanted to listen to everything that made me a fan of hyde’s voice in the first place, and that’s L’Arc~en~Ciel (though to be honest, Laruku’s most recent album also left a lot to be desired). VAMPS is not Laruku. hyde’s singing style and vocal quality is almost completely different from what he uses for his other projects and K.A.Z.’s guitar is certainly different from ken’s or hyde’s.
Listening to VAMPS while wanting L’Arc~en~Ciel is just a bad idea, but regardless of my bias, VAMPS still seems to utilize a lot of tired rifts and generic punches in the vocals. With a name like that and a debut album like this, I’m left wondering whether VAMPS will continue churning out songs with such forced themes and melodramatic ties to a specific subgenre. A few songs like “VAMPIRE DEPRESSION” and “DEEP RED” are energetic and fun in that they don’t seem to be taking themselves too seriously, and “TIME GOES BY” stood out to me for being very different from the rest of the songs on the album, but pretty much everything else is forgettable and disappointing.