VAMPS followers and rock fanatics are in for a pleasant surprise as the Japanese rock duo release their fourth studio album UNDERWORLD. Bringing us 11 tracks to rock with the full velocity of their current sound, vocalist HYDE (L’Arc~en~Ciel) and guitarist KAZ (Oblivion Dust) show us just how hard and heavy they can get. With features from metal heavyweights such as Richard Z. Kruspe of Emigrate / Rammstein, APOCALYPTICA, and Chris Motionless from Motionless in White, VAMPS step out of their comfort zone and into the underworld.

7. INSIDE OF ME feat.Chris Motionless of Motionless In White
8. RISE OR DIE feat.Richard Z. Kruspe of Emigrate / Rammstein

This time VAMPS took their music to a Los Angeles studio and had their album polished off by Grammy-nominated producer Howard Benson. With their music video for “CALLING” being featured on Loudwire, UNDERWORLD’s all English lyrics, and all the amenities that come with it being a U.S.-based production, VAMPS have shown they are completely determined to make an impression on the western music market – a feat they’ve been after since their formation in 2008.

The title track “UNDERWORLD” is the culmination of all the things VAMPS have learned over the course of the year, and is the trendsetter for the rest of the album. Due to its complexity and quality, it feels like it should have a music video. The song opens with the familiar scratchy sounds of poor signal strength before HYDE's voice takes over to invite you into the “underworld.” All the while, our ears are shredded with KAZ’s crunchy warped guitars, synths, and added distortions to make the invitation all the more enticing as HYDE teases us to “go down under below.”

“CALLING” is the most controversial song on this playlist since being featured on Loudwire. Longing and demanding, it takes a more melodic route as Hyde’s voice lulls us like an incubus. Their respective influences from classic rock and EDM are fused together and washed in modern electronicore essentials, making the guitar extremely crisp. Back-up synths make the song a bit more seductive in an effort to get our attention; however, because VAMPS are borrowing from American styles it comes off as kind of generic. Well produced and well written, the song is shocking to VAMPS fans as the band ventures into new territory, but is somewhat expected considering the direction their music has been heading.

Determined to break all the rules to live the way they want, “BREAK FREE” rebels against a deceitful oppressor (being either a society or individual). VAMPS’ instrumentals and vocals sound restrained as if they were in shackles, dragging the melody like heavy chains. With the support of echoing background vocals, KAZ’s laser-like guitar solo, and KAMIKAZE BOY from MAN WITH A MISSION on bass, the song’s story illustrates anxious, irritated emotions that struggle between threatening verses and self-motivating choruses. The lyrics are difficult to decipher outside of the chorus because of the heavy vocal distortion, but the general message remains clear.

Paying some homage to their initial style, “DON’T HOLD BACK” is one of the few almost-ballads on this album. Despite its slow verses and minimal electronic elements, it’s one of the most commanding songs thanks to HYDE’s attack on the chorus and hold on each pure note. Additional vocal reverb gives the song a more supernatural feel, accompanying whatever kicks and hi-hats they do mix in. Although the overarching story in the lyrics is difficult to understand, it is certain that "holding back" is off limits.

“BLEED FOR ME” is hands down the sexiest song on the album – and that’s going off of its tone alone. Thanks to the heavy bass, slow tempo, and growling vocals (multiplied 10x over through distortion) each lyric is extremely suggestive. Granted, the title sounds like they're tempting someone to make a religious sacrifice or be a sacrificial lamb, but the lyrics "blood for blood" refer to a more passionate exchange. Where VAMPS previously followed a more romantic subtlety in their music, their new intensity underscores a sensuous vibe akin to “DEVIL SIDE”.

“IN THIS HELL” fights the higher power trying to take new souls out of limbo. Refusing to go to Hell, it's another minimalist of this album, but more heavily relies on VAMPS’ new electronic elements to properly fill what would otherwise be empty space. Being on a parallel wavelength to “DON’T HOLD BACK”, it’s almost a ballad amidst everything heavy.

“INSIDE OF ME” tells the cautionary story of a rampaging vampire, enhancing the alarming atmosphere with whirring sirens and dangerously heavy kicks. Featuring the voice of Chris Motionless from Motionless in White, his growling voice adds a feral, monstrous tone to the already ravenous lyrics. With warped vocals and distorted guitars carrying the menacing mood, the style of the track fits pretty well with Chris’ own brand.

“RISE OR DIE”, the coupling track to the single INSIDE OF ME, features revered German guitarist Richard Z. Kruspe of Emigrate / Rammstein as he lends his instrumental and compositional skills for the song. This riotous track has a jazzy, catchy beat with background vocals and heavy breakdowns to make the crowd go wild. Its exciting, fast tempo makes it another song on this album that can't get old.

“SIN IN JUSTICE”, another previously released single, features "Finland's finest" APOCALYPTICA assisting in all things orchestral. Although the cellists’ feature contrasts with the rest of the album, they serve more as a strength than a weakness by adding a regal atmosphere. By marrying these two styles, VAMPS borderline symphonic metal. We can really appreciate how well the stringed instruments' organic sound mix with the synthetic ones of modern rock in the digital age.

“B.Y.O.B.”, the album’s obligatory vampire track, invites you to join UNDERWORLD’s hottest party - except these guys want you to bring blood, not booze. Although, I doubt they would complain if you brought the latter. “B.Y.O.B. (BRING YOUR OWN BLOOD)” opens with an extremely warped guitar as if you were about to walk into a club and morphs into a metalcore-wrapped EDM skeleton. Despite being somewhat cliche for the theme, its simple beats, repetitive lyrics, and punny title give it the makings for VAMPS’ next staple concert track. Being a “vampire” themed band, they have an unlimited pass to put a vampiric spin on what would otherwise be a cliche phrase or joke. Some examples include, but are not limited to: “SEX, BLOOD, ROCK ‘N’ ROLL”, “Bloodsuckers”, “REVOLUTION II”, and “Kyuuketsu Satsugai” (a clever cover for anime Death Metal City’s opening theme.) 

“RISE UP” gives us a chance to cool off after "B.Y.O.B."  as its light kicks go almost unnoticed. As a lone track, the first few seconds are pretty heart pounding before changing gears at 0:17. Without a hard, pulsating beat and heavy, prominent bass, it seems disassociated from the rest of the album, but the generic distortion of the guitars and overlapping synths makes it ubiquitous enough to still work. Whereas some of the other tracks on the album will make you move, this one blends into the background pretty seamlessly. Although the song isn’t half bad, the buildup to the choruses and verses are the only parts to catch my attention.

VAMPS have returned to the global arena with all new artillery as electro-rock is normalized for international bands. Between Bloodsuckers and UNDERWORLD alone, they have completely transformed from borderline classic rock to the heavy electro-glam we hear now. Having collaborated and performed with countless American bands since 2014, UNDERWORLD gives VAMPS the feel for a more western sound. Being their first major album completely catered to an outside audience, they seem to be playing it safe before experimenting any further. Borrowing various styles and building from a template, they have proven that they can play as well as those other guys. The songs on UNDERWORLD are extremely catchy and repetitive, but that serves as a double-edged sword. Melodies and lyrics will easily get stuck in your head, but at times they can get old pretty fast. Now, these guys need to throw away their template and show everyone what they’re really made of. Admittedly, the album’s lyrics aren’t as spectacular as its overall production, but that should change as the band’s English improves.

Shocking their long-term fans as they go, VAMPS are finally beginning to cultivate a style that will help them become just as popular overseas as they are domestically. Embracing their “bad boy” tendencies by trading in their roses and romanticisms for booze blood and rebellion, VAMPS take a huge leap of faith into the American music market hoping to soar. From here, it will be interesting to see how their ventures with bands and industry outside of Japan will affect their ability to fly. The album is available for purchase on Amazon, CDJapan, and iTunes, and is well worth the investment!

- CALLING (current single) 
- INSIDE OF ME (collaboration with Chris Motionless of Motionless in White) 
- RISE OR DIE (collaboration with Richard Z. Kruspe of Emigrate / Rammstein)
- UNDERWORLD (title song) 
- B.Y.O.B 

Purchase it on Amazon, iTunes, CD Japan

VAMPS will soon be returning to the U.S. for a tour to bring their version of "Hell" and all things relevant to the U.S. You can check out the dates below:

(I PREVAIL Dates = *   Headline Dates = bold print)

Purchase tickets HERE. Exclusive VAMPS VIP upgrades are available HERE.

Vamps U.S. Tour 2017
5/2 — Birmingham, Ala. — Workplay Soundstage*
5/3 — Knoxville, Tenn. — Concourse at the International*
5/4 — Richmond, Va. — Canal Club*
5/6 — Baltimore, Md. — Rams Head Live
5/8 — Clifton Park, N.Y. — Upstate Concert Hall*
5/9 — Portland, Maine — Aura*
5/11 — Boston, Mass. — Middle East Downstairs
5/12 — Pittsburgh, Pa. — Diesel Club Lounge
5/14 — West Des Moines, Iowa — Val Air Ballroom*
5/15 — Omaha, Neb. — Sokol Auditorium*
5/17 — Traverse City, Mich. — Ground Zero*
5/18 — Louisville, Ky. — Diamond Pub Concert Hall*
5/19 — Atlanta, Ga. — The Loft at Center Stage
5/21 — Houston, Texas — Scout Bar
5/22 — Dallas, Texas — Gas Monkey Live!
5/24 — Denver, Colo. — Bluebird
5/25 — Tempe, Ariz. — The Marquee
5/27 — Irvine, Calif. — Blackest of the Black Festival

Special thanks to Eleven Seven Music for providing the review material!

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