Anytime someone from the West is engaging Japanese media, there’s an intrinsic sense that anything and everything could happen. Music from Japan in particular tends to not bend to the conventions of Western genre labels, so that implies that a single band can be a lot of things to a lot of people (see: The Mad Capsule Markets, or those teen girls who sang death metal in that one viral video.) What we have here with Vamps is a Japanese alt-rock supergroup formed by members of the two of the island nation’s more popular bands – L’Arc~en~Ciel (that’s rainbow in French! Not like, Dio’s ‘Rainbow’, but still,) and Oblivion Dust. Throw in the ‘supergroup’ descriptor, and anything is truly on the table.
Vamps, who stand to make their American tour debut in April alongside Sixx AM, is principally composed of the songwriting combination of Hyde (L’Arc) and K.A.Z (Oblivion) who have woven their talents together to create “Bloodsuckers,” an album that takes on many different shades and embraces several styles.
Getting past the placid but well-executed opener “Reincarnation,” the album shows its first face with “Zero,” a singsong alt rock piece that soars with high vocals that might be a big choppy but works in all the necessary senses. It doesn’t take long for the tone to shift though, following up with “Lips,” an alt-metal romper that shows the band’s ability to dig into the grit and find some groove under the stylized presentation of the band’s nearly visual-kei affect.
If picking between the two opening salvos of Vamps, “Lips” is the preferable one. It’s a tighter arrangement, ripping through verses and choruses attached to big hooks and a greater sense of urgency and direction. It’s at this juncture that the album has to make a choice of which road to travel down with frequency, and it chooses….
….the “Zero” path. Dammit. Now, before we go too far, let’s stress that the “Lips” road does not go completely untraveled. “Damned” is a fiery killer of a song, steeped in anguish and heavy-handed but applicable emotional appeal. The melody (such as it is,) is down-tuned and appropriately chug-y, leading to one of the album’s better experiences. Following suit, “Ahead” and “Evil” are both variations on a similar theme, but they tread much closer to the borderline of more common alt rock.
As for the majority of the record, it’s not badly executed or poorly written, it’s just not the stronger half of what could have been. “Get Away” is nicely laid out with a flighty melodic line, but the song drips with melodrama, as do many similar cuts throughout the album’s second half. Even the single “The Jolly Roger” begins with the promise of some pop-punk styling, but then becomes just another chance for Hyde to display his voice in big choruses and planned moments.
“Bloodsuckers” isn’t a bad record, but it’s not the record that it could be, and not the record discerning fans will want it to be. As we discussed at the top, Vamps follows suit in Japanese music by being willing to straddle multiple styles to achieve the music they want, and that’s admirable in and of itself. Still, it doesn’t play to Vamps’ strengths, as the heavier moments of “Bloodsuckers” are routinely the best. There’s an alternate dimension somewhere in which this record chose the other path, and while I enjoy parts of “Bloodsuckers” as it is, that other version is the one I want to hear.