Published on August 10th, 2016 | by The Beige Baron


Live Review: Krallice | Vampillia


Photo: Phil Kaberry

One thing that makes seeing a good band even better is the sense of anticipation when you go with someone who has no idea what they’re in for.

The good-sized crowd at Conpass in Shinsaibashi, Osaka last Sunday night seemed an even split between those supporting their hometown heroes and others who came to see New York progressive-metal legends Krallice, and who might not have experienced Vampillia before.

I went with a diehard fan of Mayhem and Tool, also heavily into ambient, post-rock, and electronic music, and a soon-to-be Vampillia convert.

Drums thunder into blastbeat, guitars creating a cold cathedral of tremolo-picking

He was a bit confused when an apparently random guy, stripped to the waist and daubed in corpse paint, took to the stage and started rambling at the crowd in what seemed like part stand-up routine, part background presentation of Vampillia’s music.

Amid good-natured heckling, the band’s guitarist wandered out, parodying a few bars of some well-worn metal riff. Our corpse-painted friend bashed out the lyrics amid laughter from the crowd.

Then he slings on a bass, and the room fades into blackness.


Photo: Shinji Namoto

As Celtic-flavored violin and solemn electric piano floats through the PA, opening Some Nightmares Take You Aurora Rainbow Darkness (sans guest vocals of Tujiko Noriko), all nine members of the band save for the frontman are now on stage.

At just under 10 minutes, this beautiful piece conjures vivid landscapes and emotion, music swelling under the hands of the androgynous synth/sequencers/effects operator and backup vocalist Velladon.

The song segues into a new, as-yet-untitled piece that slowly brings in the rest of the band, chiming guitars and low rumble of Vampillia’s twin drumkits building inexorably in volume and power.

You could see bemusement change to recognition on the faces of some in the crowd as vocalist Mongoloid charges into the crowd, bellowing over blastbeat drums and guitars creating a cold cathedral of tremolo-picking.


The opening numbers set the scene for Ice Fist, which somehow combines post-rock elements with funky reggae rhythms and punctuated by interludes of black metal.

On Blizzard (also from Some Nightmares…), Mongoloid shoulders into the crowd to mount a stepladder, where he finishes out the song.

The guts he brings to every show convinces veteran punters (who can pick a fake from the real deal) pretty easily. Wrapping the mic lead around his throat and attempting to hang himself from a lighting rail; croaking in anguish, it’s impossible not to be moved in some way.

To call Vampillia’s music cinematic is an understatement. In a way, the joking around before the show, and the band’s willingness to hang out and chat with their fans after it’s finished, all of that deflates the pretension and self-seriousness that often surrounds “post-whatever” music.

Rather than elevating themselves onto some rarified plane of elitism where audiences are not really invited, you instead get the feeling that the musicians want you there in the music with them, to be part of it, to join your emotion with theirs.


Photo: Shinji Namoto

And that’s part of why I think Vampillia is the most interesting, if not the best, underground act in Japan at the moment. A lot of bands, play at you, Vampillia doesn’t work unless they’re with you. And that’s risky. Risk is dangerous, and danger is the ingredient that a lot of rock music lacks.

They ask a lot: that you surrender self-consciousness, open your mind, and let them in.

They ask a lot: that you surrender self-consciousness, open your mind, and let them in. In extending that invitation, they also expose themselves.

They risk rejection and failure and mockery, and that is a gamble most bands are not willing to take. Everything has to be on the line, Vampillia lays it down every time. I’ve seen others besides myself moved to the edge of tears by the emotion in their music.


Mick Barr performs with Vampillia. Photo: Phil Kaberry

Black metal heads got their first taste of Krallice when guitarist Mick Barr joined his friends Vampillia on the closing track, improvising a fluent lead line despite never having heard the song before, and in so doing, instantly won the approval of the crowd.

But maybe his fingers regretted it later, because Krallice put in a 90-minute performance, double a standard set. When you saw the physical demands placed on the musicians in order to perform their songs, it’s a wonder they weren’t stretchered off stage. But they pulled it off without letting their commitment waver, an achievement in endurance as well as musicianship.


Photo: Shinji Namoto

Any sound engineer has their work cut out mixing a band like Krallice. Unfortunately, the mix was off for the first three or four songs: with six-string bass, eight-string guitar, and six-string guitar, all powered by massive amp heads and fridge cabinets — plus a snare drum mic’d to gunshot volume — the room just couldn’t cope with the mids.

Much of the detail was washed out in a sea of deafening noise. The drums, though, were spot on, twin kicks shifting serious air in the venue, and snare satisfyingly punchy and crisp.

The chord shapes and lead licks are dissonant and unsettling, and played with blinding speed

A third of the way through, things started to clear up. Known for jaw-dropping technical skill mixed with the icy aesthetic of traditional Norwegian black, the musicians leap between time signatures, meters, and modes like cogs in an insanely complex gearbox. The chord shapes and lead licks are dissonant and unsettling, and played with blinding speed, the bass notes reinforcing patterns in unexpected ways.

Like a camera lens pulling into focus, there were moments of devastatingly heavy impact when all the cogs meshed and aligned, setting the sea of heads nodding.


Photo: Shinji Namoto

When I moved to the back and center of the room, Colin Marston’s fluid, spidery movements up and down the fretboard became more audible, a crucial piece of the sonic jigsaw fell into place, and I spent the next couple of songs with eyes closed just feeling it.

This isn’t headbanger music, though many a meaty riff was served courtesy of Mick’s Gibson SG. It’s restless, mercurial, challenging material, and precisely what the crowd came for, and appeared grateful to have witnessed.

While seeming a little tense between songs — not helped by the off-putting silence that reigns in Japanese clubs when the band is not playing or the crowd cheering for a pre-determined amount of time — the members of Krallice fully immersed into the performance and seemed to be enjoying the moment.


Photo: Shinji Namoto

Krallice put in everything they had to the performance, but if you came looking for a facsimile of their studio albums, you would’ve left disappointed. For myself — a casual fan mostly familiar with the band’s first two albums — I left impressed with the passion and astonishing skill both in the composition and technical performance.

I would have given a lot to hear it more clearly, but that’s live music: in any case, I’d go see them again without hesitation.

Vampillia’s amazing black-metal crossover side-project VMO will be performing next at the monthly Seikimatsu [End of the Century] event at Conpass on August 18 with support at Mark Van Hoen [ex-Seafeel, collaborator with Slowdive members] and DJ hOLysHiT. Email here for bookings.13923590_10207019575756112_743510119883535580_o

Krallice’s limited discography is available on bandcamp. Limited Vampillia albums available for international order at Virgin Babylon Records or domestically at Vampillia’s website. With thanks to Shinji Namoto for photographs.

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Groping for trouts in a peculiar river.

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