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Vampillia: Endlessly Inexplicable

After scrolling and scrolling and scrolling through their discography, one gets the impression Osaka, Japan’s Vampillia are an outfit requiring a specialized doctorate in crate digging and ex-member ancestry to fully comprehend. One raised brow and you’re soon in an avalanche. Here’s the sentence starting the snowball: Since 2005, the 10-piece “brutal orchestra” has sought to shoot modern pop classical of the peppy World’s End Girlfriend variety through the lens of hardcore and metal. If that sounds intriguing, the muffled sobbing you now hear is your wallet weeping. Why? Well, to understate with an ‘Iceberg? Shhhmiceberg, amiright?’ level swing and miss, Vampillia have been busy. Really busy.

Really, really, really busy.

See, Vampillia aren’t ones to let dates go undocumented. They’ve recorded often with a small city of collaborators. In fact, if there’s a single unifying theme connecting their Don-Draper-sized Rolodex together, it’s similarly vast discographies. Peep the who’s who of ‘I don’t know where to start:’ Jarobe, Merzbow, Nadja, Attila Csihar, μ-Ziq, and that’s barely getting your fingers dirty. In addition, their CV has the root system of a fig tree, reaching into some of Japan’s most restless innovators, such as Boredoms, the aforementioned WEG, and Ruins.[1] So, the resulting piles of notes are a lot to digest, an endless buffet needing the Dewey Decimal System to catalog.[2] And, as if conforming to universal sprawl, the Vampillia file grows ever vaster. This year alone has upped the total album count by two — the single track, 20 plus minute White Silence and teaser LP The Divine Move — with Some Nightmares Take You Aurora Rainbow Darkness penciled in on Candlelight Records’ docket for release before the end of ’14.

Yet, while their bio suggests maximalism, their recent output is actually rather intimate. Take The Divine Move, out on Virgin Babylon; a record right in that label’s wheelhouse. Unlike the stuffy, put-on-your-pirate-shirt chamber metal of a Winds[3], Move exudes caffeinated, post-rock-spiked earnestness. It’s all minor chords strummed with major emotion. It’s the sort of stuff intended to be scrawled across forests of school notebooks, gauged to accent greenhorn milestones before those markers are placed farther and farther apart. It’s also cinematic in the way someone expects life to play out if their touchstones are solely silver screen memories. In that sense, Move isn’t real, it’s a reel, sweeping with the OST omnipresence of a director not trusting an audience to comprehend feelings free of cues. Plus, one of those underlining highlighters just happens to be, uh, symphonic black metal.

If you ‘ick’ed, no one will blame you. Naturally, those traits read as detriments. In unsure hands, its construction would capsize lesser vessels. Vampillia, though, are balanced by their steady composition and instrumental deftness.

Let’s submit “Endless Summer 2014″ as evidence. Initially released in an alternate incarnation as a single last September, “Summer” is Move‘s tentpole. It showcases the best and worst of the group in equal amounts, often with the two extremes occupying the same space. Now, this is by design. Indeed, Vampillia’s goal is to constantly clash and watch the sparks fly. The crashes occur in micro (pizzicato strings are moored to legato basslines and vice versa) and macro (precious Sigur Ros reveries are punctured with blasts) events. Got it? Probably not. You’re advised to buckle up:

Hmmm. If you clicked, you’re no doubt whistling foul on the admittedly charitable call of black metal vs. indie prog dualism. Apples to apples, dude. Granted, the supposed brutality in this iteration is closer in spirit to a pissed Envy. If Move was sold to you as straight corpsepaint, prepare for an experience making Alcest seem like Gnaw Their Tongues. But, when “Endless Summer”‘s hood is popped, one marvels at the engineering. After suppressing your at-first-blush fear that “Summer” is bleeding out your earbuds and crushing your cred, you grow acclimated to the sonic delights; akin to sliding into an ice-cold pool on a balmy August afternoon. Moreover, the playing is impeccable: the keys have a Kashiwa Daisuke-esque playful lilt, the strings soar with nary any hesitancy, and the double-drummer timekeeping is dynamic and jazzy. A few repeats and you give in. You relent to be lead by the professionals.

That, of course, is another intended clash. In media appearances, the core membership come off as goofballs, be it in Calvin Coolidge-brief[4] interviews or this MTV 81 video profile where they present themselves as eager dadaists stocking awkward encounters for future bar tales. On the one hand, this industry-tweaking is cat nip to music nerds who giggle over things like Pop Tatari‘s improbable rise to a major label[5] and other landmark/landshark moments of mainstream culture skewering. Meaning, if shown only in that light, the cynical read is one of contrived antics, mere history-aping-horseplay. It’s art as effery; what people tend to try on after learning about post-modern Armageddon.

However, on the other hand, Vampillia’s wackiness does such a great job at diffusing any possible pretension. When they purport to be creating hip hop, you first brush it off as a non sequitur. Shocker: they kind of have a point. Vampillia exhibit a knack for integrating a wide array of guests without diluting the spirit of either party. That’s part of the reason “Good Religion,” Move‘s Mick Barr workout, is so successful. The mad shredder actually guns melodic, twisting his sheets of dissonance into a nearly turbo surf rock sensibility. It’s a mini marvel. It bites like Barr, though it fits snugly into Vampillia’s aesthetic; a huge virtue of the bends-but-doesn’t-break school of control. Put plainly, by way of their canny talent herding, the hip hop connection becomes credible. The band simply has the ability to adapt in the manner of a mixtape artist.

The clever part is, if they said all of that with a straight-face, their M.O. would garner eye rolls. They don’t. Playing the fool? Far easier to swallow. Winks usually do go down smoothly. To wit, the non-bonus-material Move cycle ends with plaintive, bare, honest piano. . . and a series of girly burps and mouth farts straight out of Zappa‘s id. It doesn’t just deflate any lingering Saddle Creek-isms, it drops a depth charge. Vampillia know that you know that they know. Move‘s second spin is all the sweeter for it.

That said, one can’t judge Vampillia on The Divine Move alone.[6] Metalheads many-characters-deep into their hate tweets will be pleased to find White Silence is a better investment for the iron price. Again, Vampillia go chameleon, traveling towards Candlelight’s center with an Attila-helmed longform blaster that would play well if paired with Ihsahn, Sigh, or even a progosaurus of Magma‘s caliber. Gone is the teenage hormonal heartache for an opening movement of ritualistic occultism, tuning the orchestra to Richard Wagner’s unresolved unease. Nevertheless, in the center of this bitter sucker, the band’s unique voice remains, favoring timbres and progressions of J-pop and J-rock. The difference? Compared to Move, the push/pull feels organic. The influences swing from Peaceville to Yen, keeping you guessing in a fashion which doesn’t come off as unearned and direct-to-video-horror-flick cheap. Yes, you’ll interrogate it with the same agenda as Move: Where the heck is this going? Be that as it may, White Silence gets your good cop persona.

Where the heck is this going? Fans and curious metalheads have uttered that same query since Some Nightmares Take You Aurora Rainbow Darkness appeared on the horizon. Inspired by Kanye West’s process for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Nightmare, Vampillia decamped to Iceland with Australian knob twiddler Ben Frost in their employ. Frost, known to avant-headbangers for his melding of creeping industrial terrors and glacial modern classical, is yet another engaging partner in crime, no doubt given free reign to figure out what Vampillia can be. And that’s the thing: They could be anything. In a time when albums are old hat by their release date, Vampillia’s future exploits are cloaked in fog. The ends are so open, boundless in potential freedom. That might frustrate listeners braced by expectations and consistency. But sometimes the jolt of living in the ‘right now’ burns away the malaise of always-accurate prognostication. Considering Vampillia’s guiding principle of impermanence, perhaps tired ears should trump wary brains and bloodshot eyes.

In too deep? Tip: Don’t dig your way out. Dig your way in.

— Ian Chainey

1. The Boredoms connection is drummer Yoshikawa Toyohito, a long-running member who joined the group in ’86. (He’s now listed as a ‘past-member,’ but who knows what that consists of in the Boredoms’ dimension.) Ruins skinsman Tatsuya Yoshida recently joined the group in some capacity and might be responsible for their zeuhl-y exploits. If you’ve skipped Ruins, you should probably rectify that.

2. If Vampillia ever hooks up with Boris or Circle, Rate Your Music’s servers will sink towards the center of the Earth.

3. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Winds are cool.

4. Fact: The 30th president spoke only in a Spirit of Versailles yelp. I’d be reticent, too.

5. Ah, the ’90s. Other candidates include Ween’s Pure Guava and the Butthole Surfer’s Independent Worm Saloon.

6. Worth mentioning: Their Code666 release, Rule The World​-​Deathtiny Land, is what we wanted from the Unexpects of the world. The Nadja collabo is gorgeous. Same can be said for Alchemic Heart. You have options if the new stuff falls flat, basically.

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