D’espairsRay Live in NYC: Human-clad Monsters

Acey Slade and The Dark Party took their bow, in a manner of speaking, and with a word to prep us for the madness to come, left the stage. A slight hum returned to the crowd as everyone lingered in that strange twilight zone of neither relaxing and just chilling, nor spazzing out totally (aka shrieking their heads off every time a sound guy appeared on stage. This audience, unlike others I have experienced, actually seemed to be able to recognize the band members themselves…well, that is, aside from when Tsukasa came out to check his drum set and everyone was murmuring “is that Tsukasa? I don’t know…what do you think? Is it?” Just for the record, yes, it was.). The crew bopped on and off stage, taping down set-lists, testing mics, drums, etc. At this point the adorable girl standing directly behind me leaned over my shoulder and said, “I’m trying not to let the people behind me crush you, but when D’espairsRay comes out, I’m not sure I’ll be able to do anything. I might fall on you.” A pretty apt foresight of the show, really.

I’m not sure how long exactly we waited between acts, but it wasn’t terrible. Considering everything we, and especially the band, had done to arrive at this point in time, this place, in this city, time was absolutely irrelevant (another way of putting it would be that I didn’t check my watch). That is, it was until the lights flickered, dimmed out, and the shadowy AA-Pass-wearing ninja faded from the stage, and a group of figures–or rather, a cloud of pulsating charisma– emerged from the back. And damn, it was about to get funky in there. As soon as the members appeared, it was like the entire audience, which had merely hovered during the opening act, became instantly vacuum-packed. The entire crowd surged in toward the stage, and suddenly there was totally no space to move, barely enough to breathe. Everyone was magnetically pulled as close to that rough wooden stage as possible, drawn by the gravitational pull of D’espairsRay.

They sauntered out, suited up, Tsukasa settling at his kit at the back, Karyu moving off to the right, and Zero Monster assuming the bassist’s place about 15″ from where I was standing. The audience flipped out. Did HIZUMI say something then? I can’t remember. Whatever slurred Engrish welcome he may have given us was lost in a roar of general insanity from the audience.

And then the drums rolled, Karyu started shredding, and Zero’s fingers began flying. With HIZUMI howling hoarsely into his mic, DEATH POINT opened the show.  Although the song is fresh off the press, the crowd was extremely receptive, with everyone chanting along to des poin des poin des poin…by the end of the first song were our throats already totally dry and hoarse? Why yes, how did you know. The only let down to the opening masterpiece was that there were no mics kicked over, and no water sprayed. Karyu did not suddenly grow claws and start transforming into some kind of horrific Pokemon about to jump into the mosh-pit and devour an innocent fangirl. He had cool contact lenses, though.

DEATH POINT was followed by a flood of thrashing epicness. The energy of the band, the excellent set-list, the hectic drive of the crowd, HIZUMI’s MCs (I almost wish he had just spoken Japanese, then I may have understood him) all fused together into one nuke of an experience. In a way, it almost became difficult to separate where one aspect of the show ended and another began. Being that close was incredibly intense; it was like the venue condensed into one circular pulse of…well, insanity. Although fan-service and activity was generally mild, and the band’s behavior was relatively reserved (surprisingly, I thought), they had this incredible, perceivable, dark aura that showered down over us.

The first ¼ or so of the performance, the crowd was pretty mild. Some crazy headbanging was carrying on, but the moshing wasn’t horrible. About halfway in, though, as songs like Devil’s Parade, Garnet, Dope and Sixty + Nine started cycling through, it became quite rowdy. The second row seemed like a tough place to be, as it felt, physically, like the entire audience was trying to close the distance between the third row and the stage. I was crushed between everyone around me so tightly, I probably could have completely lifted my feet off the ground and been totally supported. Doing my best to keep the danger of a broken nose at bay, however, I didn’t give that a try. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a mosh-pit like that, and although the adrenaline rush was intense, it was wicked fun.

By ¾ into the performance, the claustrophobia and heat started to take its toll on me. My arms ached from the furi, my ears were throbbing from being directly under the left speaker, my neck hurt, and I would have killed for a bottle of water. But instead of the velocity abating at all, it steadily increased. Now that D’espa had warmed up a bit, they started pulling out the really heavy stuff, the classics. HIZUMI was screaming – everyone was screaming. A crowd at a show like this is like a force of nature; a body of water. It has ebbs and flows that are dictated by the music and the energy of the band in the same way the tide is orchestrated by the gravitational pull of the moon. The instant you start to resist that flow, you get sucked under and you drown. The best thing you can do is just relax as much as possible and match that flow, go with it, and know that at the end of every Jrock live, there is water. I somehow remained psychologically sound enough to remember this.

Alright, I can’t put it off any longer. Here’s the tally: Touched HIZUMI once during the actual performance. He mostly stayed toward the middle of the stage, and only moved over, at least to our side, once or twice. Karyu mostly stayed off to the right, as well, although he did wander over two or three times to dangle his ratty blond locks into wriggling droves of grasping fingers. Touched him twice. Also got to touch both his and HIZUMI’s hands when they were…at risk of sounding strangely awkward, touching hands before leaving the stage. ZERO was so close the entire show, and spent half the time standing right at the very edge of the stage, looking down on us with this sultry smile, I got to touch him so many times, had it been off-stage, it would probably have been considered unseemly groping and I would have been lynched by a 250 pound Russian bodyguard. Just telling it like it is. Dedicated a handful of ZERO to @kimber_leigh.

Set-lists never catalog themselves properly into my brain. However, along with the aforementioned songs, they played, among others, Human-clad Monsters, 13-Thirteen-, Mirror, Falling (not positive about this, though). Not too surprisingly, LOVE IS DEAD was easily one of the most memorable songs of the night. The instant the disco track started up, the entire audience began moving. HIZUMI’s hoarse Shall we dance hissed over the audience, and some rambunctious movement broke into intense moshing and dancing. The energy was terrific,  from the audience as well as the band.

Just as I anticipated, Abyss closed the show. The minute I heard it on the album I figured it would. The sense of melancholy mixed with triumph that floods those chord-progressions and choruses were too perfectly suited to the emotional rise and fall of a show’s climax and close.

At the end of the show, Zero (designated fan-servicer) opened a couple of bottles of water and spat most of it on us. After getting two healthy facefuls of Zero’s spit, I felt satisfactorily baptised.

After we stood there for a few minutes, ears ringing, drenched in sweat, Zero’s spit, and the tingling energetic residue of a mind-blowingly rockin’ show, we realized, with some resignation mingled with relief, that the band wouldn’t be coming out for a second encore. The lights went on (kind of), and the crowd began shifting toward the back of the venue where the merch stand was. As we moved away from the stage, a whitie venue staffer came on the speakers and announced that we weren’t to go far, as the band would be coming out to sign posters. I stopped by the merch stand for a poster, hoodie, postcard set, and the Askew magazine special live-tour edition and a few packs of buttons. They also had about three designs of t-shirt, a folding fan, and live-limited guitar picks signed by Zero and Karyu. I think that was everything. The merch stand was hustlin’, but both people who gave me my stuff were friendly.

After we got the goods, everyone was instructed to organize into lines to get to the table where the signing would happen. If there are two words that fall on deaf ears in a Jrock live show venue, they are organize and line. Needless to say, everyone sort of organized into a great blob full of random people without posters (I don’t even want to know what they asked to have signed), half of whom seemed to weirdly disappear after a few minutes. The band came out, flanked by security and some venue staff, and took their place at the long table near the entrance. Despite the lack of order in the club, people filtered through quickly (a thoughtful staff member instructed, via loudspeakers, that no one was to tell them their life-story, and it seemed like people obeyed). In a way, it almost went way too fast. When it was my turn, faced by this row of quiet, suddenly very-Japanese-seeming guys who had just completely demolished us musically, those careful sentences I figured I should have said went right out of my head. Each member was patient, and seemed a little shy. They signed my poster, shook my hand, and thanked me for coming (in English). I managed to say something to each of them in Japanese without completely mangling their language, as far as I could tell, and then some Japanese woman rolled up my poster and it was over.

As Kaxxina put it right after the show, “That was violent in so many ways.”

Where Is My Vuvuzela Hidden Track?

There is an elitist collection of albums out there that invoke a sensation in the listener of utter and total badassness. That really make you feel like a monster. That, if there’s a Visualist in you, will lure it out of hiding and inject it into your veins, giving you crazy swagger and that gloomy aura of a Jrocker. D’espairsRay‘s 2010 release, the album MONSTERS, is one of these albums.

First of all, the artwork is quite awesome. The textures and colors are cool, I approve of the unusual and striking font, and I totally dig the main image. The ‘human-clad monster’ with her skeletal claw, zippered back, and sub-Aztec enigmatic tattoo that looks like something Dan Brown would write another controversial book about all combine into graphics that are neither too simplistic, nor too cluttered. The alternate cover is also cool, just the Dan Brown symbol on a taupe papyrus-like background.

After Final Call and LOVE IS DEAD were so-so (the latter raising all kinds of panic due to the fact that it sounded suspiciously like a certain song we don’t mention anymore, and because we don’t need all Visual Kei vet bands to suddenly go soft and start doing the disco on stage under a strobe-light while their newest, plagiarized techno song blares from an iPhone), I, at least, wasn’t sure what to expect from D’espairs with their latest collaboration with mixing genius producer Kishi Toshiyuki.

However, after the PV for their MONSTERS track Death Point was released last month, I think the VK community started relaxing a bit. Here was not the spandexy mush and glitter-dusted House music we lived in fear of. This was Visual Kei – sleek, stylish, grungy as a dark intercity alleyway at midnight, and rampagingly badass. Death Point was, after months of laconically losing hope for the lethargic Visual Kei world at large, an electric surge. It at least blew a bit of the collected dust off the VK industry, and set high hopes for the rest of the mysterious MONSTERS.

I approve of the vuvuzela.

Human-Clad Monsters opens the album with some really legit layering courtesy of Kishi. The guitar-work is worthy of expletives, and the vocal line felt very true to D’espairs, and that familiarity paired with the fresh-feeling synth sounds and instrumentation came together for one smasher of an opener. The production of the song is flawless. Really.

Next up, the Promoted Video, their, according to them, super-ultra-mega-incredible-over-9,000 aggressive song of, uh, ever. Death Point is a masterpiece of throaty petulance, prevented from being obnoxious by its overall air of devil may care debonair and cranky majesty. Here I’ll branch off into a slight aside, inspired by the devilish and repeated chanting of des point des point des point in my ear. One of the things I appreciate most about D’espairs is how they use screaming and death vocals. They use them often, but they have a terrific sense of when and how to utilize this ornamentation– they realize that it is ornamentation, and not something that should occupy 90% of vocal time. There’s just enough that when HIZUMI does his thing you want him to scream his brains out, and just the right amount that you never get to the point of ‘okay, now shut up’.

Assuming you don’t need a break already to rest your ears and get a throat-lozenge after growling yourself hoarse chanting des point des point des point along with the second track, we move right along to track three, aptly named…13-Thirteen-. Something went wrong in that equation, just not sure where yet. I would like it if this song could play every time I walk into a building…or just whenever I walk anywhere, period. The marching rhythm, monochrome instrumentation, and interesting vocals make this easily one of my favorite tracks on the whole album. Although it’s one of the less busy songs, I find it to actually be one of the more striking.

Okay, here we are, the moment of truth… I disliked Love Is Dead very much less than I did when it first came out. I’ve been wavering back and forth with this one for a while. At first I thought it was kind of…you know. And then I thought it was like….yeah. And now I think I’ve been able to suck it up, get over it…and admit that, even though it sounds like that song, it actually sounds way better on the album, cushioned by the phenomenal other tracks, than it did as a standalone. Despite its many fundamental faults (stylistically), the song is still powerful, and the crescendo vocal bridge is actually really cool- frankly, a surprisingly brilliant moment. There, I said it.

Devil’s Parade is another great piece with a lot of character. The lilting vocals and funky lyrics are the highlight, with a good, well-detailed scream part, and some interesting compositional moments.

Sixth track is Dope. No, that was not a ghetto moment. It’s called Dope. Although it was a tough call between this one and track three, 13-Thirteen-, I think Dope is my favorite MONSTERS track. First of all, the steady, standard heavy metal instrumentation is excellent. Secondly, the vocal melody is one of the most interesting I’ve heard in a while. Thirdly, the lyrics were extremely well penned; I respect any Visual Kei artist who can sing the days of the week and still sound like a demon from the 6th level of hell. The sing-song of the melody made an incredibly badass moment of the album also funky. Oh, and those sound effects mixed in the middle of the song that strike a chord of Arabian Nights, The Mysterious Orient, and sultry Asiana were totally unexpected, and highly appreciated.

Falling was a good break in the theme of the album so far. A good blend of mellow and heavy, it’s another of those impeccable D’espairs songs that confuses you as to whether it’s a ballad or a thrasher. The soaring vocals are great, and the thick, strummy bass-line layered beneath them gave a nice grainy dimension to the elements of the song.

Progress had a lot of cool parts, such as the whispery vocal opening, and the sometimes-raspy and continuously- deep-diving chord-progressions.

Final Call is still never going to be my favorite song by them, but then, once I realize that the possibility didn’t even exist to begin with, I can appreciate it for what it is– another great piece of music. However, I somehow can’t get used to hearing HIZUMI sing the word “baby”. I doubt he would ever call anyone “baby”. In fact, let’s stop talking about it before I become disturbed.

And then we’re…already at the end? The finale, Abyss, was, in my personal opinion, not worthy of its position on the album. The tracklist so far has been so brilliant that it really needs to ‘go out with a bang’. Well, that doesn’t really happen. They take a slightly different tack. Instead of finishing off by just scooping out our brains and eating them while we watch, this slow-ish, sub-happy rock’n’rolly-poly piece comes on. Don’t get me wrong, I like it as well as the others. The opening is cool, and it really sounds like the track that would play as the band takes its final bow and exits the stage one by one, leaving a pack of drained Visualists straggling towards merch stand and refreshing night air, having just had the time of their lives.

And really, if I had to describe the experience of hearing MONSTERS in one line, that would be it.

This isn’t a nice album. It’s grungy, it’s gloomy, it’s rebellious, and it’s rough and ready. Seriously wicked, and madly headbang-able, it’s a well-balanced collection of awesome tracks, each of which are striking, individual, and of incredibly good stock. I think I can safely say this from a completely unbiased place; I was surprised and impressed by the entire production, from composition to mixing to compilation, and frankly, this album totally rocks. This has renewed my faith in Visual Kei, and I am highly anticipating seeing D’espairs tear off their human skin and go MONSTERS on us next weekend. Thank you, D’espairsRay, for what is, I believe, one of the best albums of the year.

Finally a VK band remembers that they are not princesses, and make music and a PV with attitude.

The promotions have begun.

Today, D’espairsRay released the official full-length PV for the second track off their up-coming album MONSTERS (7/28), “Death Point“.

First of all, without sounding overly enthusiastic, I must say…this is probably the best PV I’ve seen since, well, a long time. The production is awesome; the fuzzy camera effects that make it look  like it’s about to short-circuit could have potentially been obnoxious, but they were pulled off perfectly, so instead they just added to the overall classiness. The grunge, screamo bad-boy thing, with all of HIZUMI’s wide-eyed bestial glaring into the camera and aggressive arrogant behavior was so refreshing. Especially after I thought they all turned into pimps in Love is Dead (the only thing that was dead was your style, guys.), I realized after watching Death Point how much I wish Visual rockers would start being vain, arrogant, badly behaved bastards once more. Well, D’espairsRay is off to a good start here.

I was also really into the “live” quality they brought in with the imagery. How HIZUMI drops his mic stand and a crew member scuttles in to take it away, when HIZUMI is shaking the camera and being annoying during the guitar solo, and then stalks off to squirt some water on the expensive looking equipment and a guy hands him a new mic. Just really cool elements that completely redeemed that other aforementioned PV that we can add to a forbidden-topics list forthwith.

The guys claim this to be “the most aggressive” PV ever made. Is it? I’m not sure if I would say that, but there was actually real, live energy that could be perceived with the naked human eye, and this, this, is what Visual Kei needs right now.

One thing, though…did anyone else even see ZERO in that video?