The world awakens to Japan’s ‘brutal orchestra’

by Shawn Despres

Creating a wonderfully bizarre avant-garde hybrid of classical music, heavy rock and punk, Osaka’s 11-member-strong Vampillia have been described by their record label as “a hardcore version of Arcade Fire.”

While the Japanese self-dubbed “brutal orchestra” sound vastly different from the lauded Grammy-winning Canadian act, the comparison does not bother them.

“It’s funny,” says Vampillia’s DJ, Brainshock. “It would be great if that helped bring more people to our concerts.”

In mid-March, Vampillia traveled to the United States for live appearances in New York and at the silver anniversary of Austin, Texas’ South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Conference and Festival.

While they did not draw Arcade Fire-like numbers, the group did manage to fill Austin venue The Hideout’s tiny rear theater for their official SXSW gig.

Led by a trio of vocalists that comprises Psychic Yamanashi (whose face was painted white like some kind of demonic joker), the intimidating Koinobori Mongoloid (who stalked the stage unleashing menacing roars) and Velladon (a transvestite wearing a long, blonde wig and possessing a remarkable high-pitched operatic falsetto), Vampillia’s fantastic, dramatic symphony of experimental postrock and art-metal rightfully received high praise from the capacity crowd.

Their strong SXSW showing was even more impressive considering they performed without violinist You-Z, who works for an Osaka radio station and had to stay in Japan because of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Brainshock explains that another key member of the band had been injured on the road, though he didn’t let it affect the performance.

“Psychic Yamanashi broke some of his ribs during our tour,” says Brainshock. “He got drunk on tequila and fell down. It happened in Austin before our March 19 SXSW concert. He’s strong, so he didn’t go to the hospital in the U.S.”

Having made their recorded debut with 2009′s “Sppears,” Vampillia are currently promoting two new albums, January’s “Alchemic Heart” and the upcoming “Rule the World/Deathtiny Land.” “Alchemic Heart” is comprised of a pair of 25-minute long compositions. On the other hand, “Rule the World/Deathtiny Land” features two dozen cuts and has a running time of just over 24 minutes. The disc is being issued by Italian metal label Code666 and will be released as an import in Japan on April 11.

“Code666 are very passionate about music,” says Brainshock. “We aren’t a metal band, but we want to expose our music to all kinds of listeners. We’re fans of the music Code666 have put out, so we sent them copies of ‘Sppears’ and ‘Rule the World/Deathtiny Land.’ They loved them and decided to work with us.”

Written two years ago, “Rule the World/Deathtiny Land” was recorded in Melbourne at the beginning of 2010 during Vampillia’s Australia tour. It’s a concept album based on two separate tales. Each song has a double title, the first of which refers to the “Rule the World” theme of a man wanting to dominate all of civilization and the second relating to the “Deathtiny Land” story of a man constructing an amusement park after conquering the globe.

Despite it being difficult to make sense of the narratives without the aid of the track names, “Rule the World/Deathtiny Land” is an excellent listen that melds together a wide range of subgenres. The ambitious effort definitely keeps fans on their toes as it jumps between gorgeous melodies of strings and piano and wildly playful, head-spinning cuts that build into dark and densely layered bouts of cacophonous noise.

“Mixing the album was a really heavy task, but now it’s a wonderful memory for us,” says Brainshock. “It took us three days to record the album and two months to mix it.

“We wanted to make a short album. Despite there being so many songs, it came out really short. To me, the album feels like a beautiful, cheap adult dream for kids.”

Having already visited both Australia and the United States twice, the group will play dates in Europe and make a third trip Stateside in the coming months. Continuing to boost their international profile is a priority for the act.

“We love to travel, and audiences in other countries have a good reaction to us,” says Brainshock. “They are more excited and they scream and cheer.”

And what about people at home?

“They hate us,” he says. “Our show is filled with beautiful chaos, and Japanese people love order.

“After one concert we played in Japan, a woman told us to die! Vampillia was very unpleasant for her. I could understand her (opinion), so it’s OK. We know Vampillia is not for everyone.”

Although unlikely to occur anytime in the foreseeable future, what would happen if Arcade Fire ever proposed a joint jaunt between the two indie ensembles?

“I would ask them, ‘Are you sure?’ ” laughs Brainshock. “I can already picture people’s reactions and hear them saying, ‘Oh, sh-t. Why?’ We could call it ‘The Heaven and Hell Tour,’ or maybe “The Rich and Poor Tour.’ “

“Rule the World/Deathtiny Land” is released as an import on April 11. Vampillia play O-Nest in Tokyo on April 10 (7 p.m., ¥2,500 in advance, [03] 3462-4420); Club Janus in Osaka on May 22 (5:30 p.m.; ¥3,300 in advance; [06] 6214-7255); and O-Nest in Tokyo on May 28 (6:30 p.m.; ¥3,300; [03] 3462-4420). For more information, visit www.vampillia.com.