D’espa Takes Their Bow

There’s a list of bands in the links page, mostly bands that appear on this blog, or that don’t often show up here, but who I listen to– every day, or once in a while-. I’m working on compiling as many as possible. It’s becoming a kind of menu; if a Visualist doesn’t know where to go from here [wherever they are], they can move through the menu, picking out names that attract them. Perhaps they can find a good band that way.

When a group goes on hiatus or disbands, I usually note their status. It’s like a warning: this group comes with the handicap that it is gone now.

When I wake up in the morning and check the blogs, check Twitter (the Visualist’s version of the Morning Paper), a red flag goes up whenever the words “hiatus” and “disband” appear, much the same as the words “natural disaster” and “earthquake” solicit concern and horror in the hearts of normies. Obviously it’s not the same– no one has lost their lives. Actually, that’s not true– a band has lost its [continuous] life. Visualists have lost a lot of lives, if you know what I mean.

I don’t usually have emotions– like a good villain, I wouldn’t actually be able to recognize one if I had it. (Which I think is actually known across the web to be untrue, given that I wallow in a lot of soul-searching emoism through my life as a Visualist) That being said, there are some occasions when I have reactions to things. A text message at 8:30 this morning saying, in effect, that D’espairsRay is no more,  is one of those occasions.

As much as I hate to say it, as much as I hate to put a red marker by that name, it was announced today, June 15th 2011, that after 11 years of solid, honestly badass Visual Kei, D’espairsRay will be disbanding immediately.

 The following messages were posted on their OHP and MS this morning:

Thank you for your continued support of D’espairsRay. Due to Hizumi’s throat troubles, we had decided to take a hiatus immediately following our show at Yokohama Blitz on 30 Dec. 2010. However, after further discussions amongst the four members, we have decided to disband as of 15 June 2011 and cease all activities under the name D’espairsRay. To our loving fans and supportive staff members, who have followed us diligently from our founding on 9 Sept. 1999 until now, we deeply apologize for such a sudden and troubling announcement.All four members are deeply thankful, from the bottom of our hearts, for your enthusiastic support and encouragement. Thank you.
15 June 2011 D’espairsRay HIZUMI Karyu ZERO TSUKASA

“For the treatment of my throat we have gone on an infinite hiatus and while having undergone acupuncture, chiropractic and Qigong, even now the restoration of it is not yet in sight. As a result of the talks with all four members and since we can’t revive activities like this, it is like a natural extinction. We came to the conclusion that we should break this up with dignity.
Please, everyone, who had hoped for our return, forgive us this betrayal it has become.
Unfortunately we also can’t be doing a final live, but I hope we can return something to you in a different shape.
With the beginning of this band, a number of meetings have come about and through joyful, sad and tough times, there hadn’t been a single superfluous experience.
Thank you to everyone who loved D’espairsRay for these 11 years.”
— HIZUMI

The dream of D’espairsRay we drew has to be given up halfway through.
I am so sorry for the sudden announcement to everyone who has believed we would return.
In this situation that it’s unable to do a final gig, please understand to end like this
without telling our feelings to you.
I’m proud of the bond between you and D’espairsRay which will never change.
I’ll go on to fill the empty space in my heart little by little and to meet you again with a smile.
To all our fans who have loved us, thank you.
Thank you indeed.

–Karyu

I’m so sorry for the sudden announcement.
Thinking back now, I promised everyone that we would come back in the bus during fan club trip before hiatus.
In the interviews and various writings, I also promised we would meet again.
So sorry we couldn’t keep our promise, everyone.
However, this is a positive decision that all 4 members of D’espairsRay took after deep consideration,
so I ask for your kind understandings.
Now the situation still remains the same before hiatus, so we would disband without final tour or final gig.
As a result, there might be some discussion about whether it is good or bad not to do final gig,
but we judged it was impossible to do it with the best quality of our music which we had made as D’espairsRay
for ten years with all of you, so we decided to bring an end without any concerts.
Personally, I haven’t painted a vision of the future yet, but I’ll keep facing forward and look back a little bit.
Thinking of the days in which I can see your smile, I’ll think what I can do myself from now on.
To the most passionate staffs who have supported us all the time,
To all the best “MANIA” who have always believed and loved us,
Thank you so much.

–ZERO

After the announcement of hiatus, I think both every MANIA”and we might spend every day awaiting our comeback.
However, I’m afraid we came to this definitive conclusion.
I’m so sorry to everyone waiting for our returning.
Although we’d continued our musical activities together for over ten years pointing in the same direction,
the feeling is beyond words to bring an end for both ourselves and every “MANIA”.
Because it’s our treasure for a lifetime.
As you know, I apologize you it’s unable to do a final concert because of such circumstances.
D’espairsRay will stay the best band in the world which will be long remembered by everybody even if it disbands.
Feeling proud that I had played as a drummer of this band and also proud of our “MANIA”,
I’ll spend the rest of my life. I’ll live with a positive attitude.
Also all 4 members of D’espairsRay are going to stay the same as before, having a party and celebrating our birthday,
so don’t worry!!
It’s often said that the reason for disbanding might be due to discord, but it’s NOT!
I would like to thank all the “MANIA” and all the people who have followed and supported us.
–TSUKASA
When D’espa announced their hiatus on September 22nd of last year, due to HIZUMI’s unfortunate throat condition, I think I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that I, along with many other dedicated followers of the band, were thoroughly confident in the band’s ability to bounce back. It was a momentary hitch. HIZUMI would take time off, and definitely get better. I suppose that’s partly why this is so shocking. I really, honestly believed that they would be able to find a cure to help HIZUMI– there was little doubt in my mind. It seemed inconceivable to even think that Visual Kei would lose one of its greatest, most respected, and most unique bands. That one of the industry’s greatest set of vocal chords would be, due to conditions entirely out of his control, be forced to retire indefinitely. I’m not sure what else to say. I think all the Visualists and followers of D’espa already know, and are already experiencing everything I might put into words here.All I really can say in response to this, is that from hereon out, every time I listen to the epic collection of music the band left as their bequest to fans across the globe– a gift deliverable despite barriers of language and location, or degrees of separation–, I will experience the profound gratitude that I feel at having been able to see D’espairsRay perform live in New York City in summer of 2010, barely months before their hiatus.

Before I close out this post in order to cancel my appointments for the rest of the week so that I can wallow and mourn– throughout this post I’ve been trying to figure out, there’s something, some kind of message, that I want to express here for Visualists. That, through the myriad of disappointment, sadness, and regret, perhaps there is something, some glimmer, that can provide some kind of vertebrae from which we can build and sustain the backbone of D’espairsRay‘s following.

This is all I got.

Although there won’t be new releases. There won’t be exciting news. There won’t be more tours, more lives, more events. All that constant, continuous North Star of anticipation and tension that carries Visualists from tour to tour, single to album, has, in so many ways, flickered and gone out– all of which is, especially in this case, a loss that can’t really be expressed– that, really, D’espairsRay as a collective unit and its members as individuals, probably need our support now more than ever. Although it feels conclusive, this “disbandment”. Although it rings as synonymously as “The End” as probably we could imagine. They only disappear from the industry, they only vanish from the constellation in the creative universe that is Visual Kei if we let their light go out.

As long as we carry on, hearing their music over and over again as if it’s the first time. As long as we carry on supporting them. As long as we rally together and, as I said before when they announced their hiatus, continue to support and rally around D’espairsRay and HIZUMI, causing such a universal uproar that his condition has no choice but to completely and permanently heal, bringing the band and their epicness back to us. Although we probably can’t bring them back anymore, we can be a a sky that lets the stars of their legacy shine on– and as long as that light never goes out in our hearts, it can never disappear.

 Right now my greatest wish is simply that D’espairsRay move on to find the next step in their lives as individuals. That each member, whether together or apart, be able to dive into their passions and follow their dreams once again. And most of all, that HIZUMI is able to find a cure that, even if it can’t reconnect them as a band, can bring relief and restore his health and well-being.
 Here’s a box of tissues and a song. You now have my permission to be depressed for as long as you see fit.

Thanks to Kaxxina.

Sources: MusicJapan+, D’espairsRay OHP, and D’espairsRay Official MS

A Ray of Despair

Despite the tough title of their latest tour (currently tearing up Europe), Human-clad Monsters, as of this morning, most of the Jrock community is probably ready to agree that a more fitting description for the band would be Monster-clad Humans, as an announcement on the D’espairsRay official website today shows the band is more human than perhaps we thought.

From the D’espairsRay official website, Tuesday Sept. 21:

D’espairsRay Announces Hiatus

To all our fans who have followed us and supported us throughout the years;

After much consideration and discussion, all 4 members of D’espairsRay have decided to take an indefinite hiatus following the conclusion of the ‘D’espairsRay World Tour 2010 “Human-clad Monsters”‘. During this time the band will be taking a break from all concerts and recording.

The reason for this hiatus is to allow HIZUMI (vo.) to fully recover from a past illness that has affected his throat and made it difficult to sing. HIZUMI has dealt with this rare throat condition for over a year, but the band’s busy touring and recording schedule hasn’t allowed him the time to fully undergo treatment. He currently plans to spend the early part of next year in recovery, and return to the band as soon as possible.

Although HIZUMI has undergone treatment to temporarily allow him to continue the current tour, it is not a permanent fix and there is no guarantee as to how long it will last. All 4 members of D’espairsRay plan to give their all for the remaining shows on this tour, both in Japan and overseas, and thank you for your continuing support in these difficult times.

D’espairsRay

HIZUMI

Karyu

ZERO

TSUKASA


Even after the band goes on hiatus, we will continue to update all websites and media outlets with the latest information.

While consulting with various voice and throat specialists around Japan we have tried many treatments, but have not yet found one that has a high chance of success.

If anyone has any information regarding promising treatment options, including those done overseas, please contact us. Thank you.

email:info@despairsray.jp

Sword Records Inc.

Everyone who saw their shows during their US tour remembered to buy the limited-edition D’espairsRay hankies, right? Not to try and make the fan-girls cry into them or anything, but it’s that final message that really struck me as the most melancholy. The call for assistance, that seeming plea for help, hit me like woah. I suppose I appreciate their raw honesty, though, rather than some syrupy, vague message we usually get such as “But everything will be ok. HIZUMI is seeing the best doctor in Japan and should be good to go in a couple of months.”

What really shocked me the most was really not the news itself, but more my reaction to it. I realized that in my eyes at least, D’espairsRay was one of those bands that always seemed so invincible. Like the only bad thing that could ever happen would be ZERO’s makeup during their Love is Dead era.

Strangely, HIZUMI is one of a few vocalists who have had to cut out for some R&R time this year. A few months ago fellow Visual Kei veterans Vidoll suspended activities for the same reason – needing time for Jui to overcome his throat condition which went so far as to necessitate surgery. Somewhat recently, as well, The GazettE had to postpone tour dates due to Ruki contracting an infection of the vocal chords. Slightly different in the alignment of physical woe, yet relevant all the same, megastars guitar-genius Hotei Tomoyasu and everybody’s idol GACKT also had medical misfortunes this year, requiring hospital visits for both when Hotei had serious wrist problems, and GACKT ran high fevers, finally resulting in his collapse in Munich.

It’s a tough time to be delivering, and receiving, this message. The band just stirred up a ton of hype in the overseas Jrock communities with the release of their brand new summer album MONSTERS, and their world-tour. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m still on my D’espa-live high, which is amplifying this rancid sense of disappointment by a healthy margin.

I think that the important thing is for Visualists and fans alike to be able to discern between ‘disbandment’ and ‘hiatus’. Even so, in this moment, I am extremely grateful that I had the chance to see them live this summer, and didn’t pass it off with the thought ‘they’ll be back next year’. Although I have absolutely no doubt that D’espa will pull together and HIZUMI will fully recover, he will need some time and space to let his throat heal. Let’s all continue to support and rally around D’espairsRay and HIZUMI, causing such a universal uproar that his condition has no choice but to completely and permanently heal, bringing the band and their epicness back to us.

www.despairsray.jp

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.

At the Heart of Brock’s Jelly Donut

I was just on Purple Sky reading their interview with D’espairsRay, anticipating the release of their latest album MONSTERS, and preceding the onset of their world-tour which kicks off this month with dates across the US. Reading through the questions, I admit, although the band members were quite entertaining (e.g. when asked which Monster he would be, HIZUMI answers “Pokemon”. Vuvuzelamon? Or is that Reggae? Visual kei has too many random cross-references in it now, I don’t even know who I am anymore.), the more I read, the more I found myself getting riled up. Had I not known  that this interview was only sitting in my feed for a week, the questions posed to the Monsters would have led me to believe this was posted sometime in 2004.

I realize this sounds harsh, but taking that risk, I’ll say it. Are all Japanofiles neanderthals?

I’ve been following the Japanfandom thing for 5 years now, and seeing as Alzheimers hasn’t totally set in yet, I recall quite clearly the discussions and FAQs of the era. Unless of course journalists are simply given a sheet of preset questions that are never updated, I want to know why exactly they still insist on asking the droll, pointless, unenlightening questions of our generation’s troubled, AMV-watching youth? I was under the impression that we were advancing in the world. That the Japanese music scene in the West was beginning to liberate itself from the clinging, snotty tentacles of the emerging, adolescent internet and bloom into a better blogsphere. That we have actually been evolving over the past five to ten years. Apparently, as it was made clear to me this evening, this is far from the truth. At least in some respect, all Japanofiles are inherently neolithic, and while a few of us may have advanced to the Bronze Age, more or less we’re still wallowing in a dark, cave-like existence devoid of fire or arrowheads.

In response to this mind-blowing interview, I would like to pull those questions that particularly offended the intelligent Japanofile in me, and address them, hopefully, for the benefit of Ogg and Zug, my brethren:

1. Illegal downloads: The illegal download phenomenon exploded on the Internet many, many years ago. I remember Limewire from way back when Yoshiki was still a Japanese man (okay, well, that’s kind of a hard line to draw, but hey), and billions of websites and programs have since enabled such notorious activities. People download illegally off the internet– all it takes is one Google search and you have new albums for free. Entire websites and blogs have emerged devoted specifically to “promoting” their favorite bands by having one person acquire the album, and then upload it for the masses to leech off of.  This is not breaking news. We are no longer excited about this topic.

Musicians create music because it is their calling, passion, talent, or simply what they want to do as their job. Be that as it may, they do actually do this for their job– a job being, that is, a means of acquiring the papery stuffs we use in daily business in order to survive: in layman’s terms, money. When a band releases an album, DVD, or otherwise product, they do put it on the market for sale. That is to say, to be purchased using money. Obviously if they wanted people to download it for free, they would upload it onto the internet as free downloads. Asking bands what “they think about illegal downloads” is absolutely pointless. Unless one is fishing for that one band to say “Oh yeah, we just love it when everyone refuses to support our livelihood and just downloads for free everything we release.”, there is no longer any answer that can result from this question that can possibly shine a light. You have limited time to ask the band questions: for all our sakes, use it well.

2. People download illegally because Japanese CDs are “expensive”:

The Japanese music industry works slightly differently than the Western one. For example, in the West it’s not that common to release singles every other day. Most artists release albums frequently instead. In Japan, however, bands release full-length albums much less often, but tend to release singles several times throughout the year. A Japanese single typically costs around $10.00 – $12.00, and you get anywhere from 1 to 4 songs. Full-length albums typically cost around $30 – $35, with some as low as $25 and others as high as $40. Assuming it’s being shipped, that adds anywhere from $5 onwards in shipping fees, depending on who you buy from, method of shipment, and how much you order.

The misconception is that because it’s going to cost $45 to order an album from Japan, it’s okay to steal it by downloading online. Because a pair of denim from a chain store costs roughly $60, does that mean everybody shoplifts? No, I don’t think so. And yet does everyone wear denim?

“Expensive” is basically not an excuse. CDs, like everything, cost money, even if they come from Japan. If you have no money, get a job.

3. Japanese CDs are unavailable for Westerners to buy:

If you live in a rural part of the United States, let’s say like Wisconsin, where there are no strip-malls, no FYEs, no chain stores, no Hot Topic, and you have no access to the internet or a computer of any kind, then yes, Japanese CDs are totally unavailable for you to buy. Also, if you live in one of these places, you probably are out digging potatoes and not listening to Japanese rock music and Visual Kei on your 16G iPod with Skullcandy headphones.

Many popular Jrock bands are available on the most simplistic platforms such as iTunes and other online MP3 stores. Anything you can’t find there is readily available through a multitude of respectable English or multilingual websites dedicated to making Japanese music accessible and available to non-Japanese.

Get out from under your rock.

4.Westerners have no means of sampling/hearing the music:

MySpace, Facebook, iTunes, Amazon MP3, official websites, this amazing invention we all should have heard of by now: YouTube.

Get out from under your rock.

5.”Its either people don’t hear your music, or they download it illegally.”

I suggest moving from Wisconsin. That is all you can do.

In the beginning of time, these were once relevant, interesting topics, the answers to which many young Padawans were eagerly seeking. They were, yes, interesting topics back in a time when we all thought onigiri were donuts because Brock and Misty thought we couldn’t handle the truth. Now, however, we know what lies at the heart of the rice-ball, just as we now know that there are a lot of people out there who download music illegally. However, unlike being asked and consulted about the existence of illegal downloads, we are no longer constantly told “those are not jelly donuts. They are sweet rice packed around a shriveled plum with a little seaweed slapped on them.” And over and over again we do not go “oooh…is that what that is.”

The reason for this, is that a cultural awareness has developed in the West for things Japanese. We have learned about the existence of rice on earth, and even that it is shaped into triangular luncheon friends. As a media-driven, entertainment-industry society, we have evolved since the days when we were watching Pokemon on VHS. Although I never had problems inputting search queries into Google and clicking through results, I do recall that time when it seemed as though everything was truly on the other side of the world.

As of the year 2010, though, I really believed that our cultural consciousness around Japanese rock and Visual Kei had, like our awareness of onigiri, evolved and developed. CDs, merchandise, product, and even live shows are at least moderately available.

In response to the above mentioned questions, all I can say is, are all Japanofiles still completely paleolithic? Am I the only fan of Japanese rock music who has whole CD racks full of Japanese CDs that were neither unavailable, extortionately priced, or downloaded illegally? No. I am not. So why are we still asking these questions.

No disrespect to the folks at Purple Sky.

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?

Monsters Not So “Human-clad” After All?

Is it just me, or does Karyu give anyone else the creeps? It’s just sort of a casual habit, but I like listening to music while I blog. Lately I’ve been listening to this (yes, this is a teaser) metal song where an intro leads into the sound of sirens. Well, as I was looking at this image, my eyes went steadily from Zero (who finally doesn’t look like a pedophile anymore, thank goodness), to Tsukasa, to Hizumi (nice, uh, trumpet you got there), and then right as they locked on Karyu, the sirens started up in the song–I don’t know if it was just my imagination or not, but the siren seemed to actually wail the words Karyu wants to eat you. I got so creeped out I had to change the song to U+K.

That is to say, D’espairsRay has created an official page where you can check all of the dates and the statuses of each concert in their world tour. Thank you for this, D’espairsRay! It’s incredibly aggravating having to go to each venue directly to check the status. So although they just gave me nightmares for the rest of the week, at least they made my daily life much easier.

World Tour 2010 Human-clad Monsters Official Page