Review Summary: Containing some of the band's best know classics, "Blue Blood" is an essential listen for any fan of Japanese metal.
It's hardly an exaggeration to say that X Japan is one of the best bands in Japan. For those, who don't know about them, let me explain a little. X Japan, known at this time as simply X, are a power metal/progressive band. Their first album, Vanishing Vision, was straight-up speed metal, a style continued by the band's second album, Blue Blood. With this album, the band gained large success on the charts, thus propelling the band to mainstream attention in Japan. X managed to gain popularity without selling out; instead they improved on their existing style. Blue Blood is a landmark in Japanese rock/metal, creating some the band's greatest hits, which have always found safe homes in the band's live setlists.
As mentioned before, this album generally falls into the category of power metal, but it is not strictly a power metal album. Vanishing Vision, as excellent as it was, did present the band as a one-trick pony; speed, heaviness, rawness, etc. Blue Blood takes these styles and runs with it, as shown in the head-banging rockers such as the title track, X, and Orgasm. That's not all that the album has to offer though; there are piano ballads (Endless Rain and Unfinished), glam-metal tracks (Easy Fight Rambling and Celebration), an original, highly experimental instrumental (Xclamation), and an orchestrated 12-minute epic (Rose of Pain). These differences allow each song on the album to stand out, and there are no truly bad songs on the album; some I like more than others, but it features little filler, which is always a plus.
Right from the get-go, you know that X is trying to expand their sound. “Prologue” has a victorious sound to it; it makes me feel like I am listening to the soundtrack to the end credits of an old computer game, and gives off a nostalgic feeling which I just love. The title track is made of pure speed and power. Honestly, it's one of my least favorite tracks because it lacks a powerful hook, but the energy it has is great to get you through a workout. The next song is “Weekend”; more laid back than the last song, but certainly catchier and more complex. “Easy Fight Rambling” is a brief break for a glam-rock style, until the band's power metal instincts return for their self-proclaimed band anthem, “X”; a live favorite and the best song on the album thus far.
The album takes another turn with the ballad “Endless Rain”. Led by a piano, and backed by string instruments, “Endless Rain” does everything a ballad is supposed to do; have beautiful arrangements, a climatic chorus and ending, and most of all, evoke lasting emotions in the listener. The track following is “Kurenai”, my personal favorite track on the album. It begins slowly, with strings, but at around the two-minute mark, erupts into the single most catchy song X Japan has ever put out. It's difficult to describe the sound; the best way I can describe it is a mix between power metal and polka. It's very unique, and would be X Japan's best song if not for the 29-minute epic “Art of Life” and Dahlia's breathtaking ballad, “Tears”.
“Xclamation is another turning point in the album; it is an instrumental track that is difficult to describe. Give it a listen. This leads through the sub-3-minute headbanger “Orgasm”, and into “Celebration”, another rock-oriented track, which is sure to leave a smile on the listener's face. “Rose of Pain” is magnificent; it is a complex 12-minute track that manages to never repeat itself and offers something new at every turn. “Unfinished” is another piano-led ballad. The track doesn't try to be epic like “Endless Rain”, but is more honest, and straight from the heart.
What really drives the album forward even more than the songwriting is the instrumentals. The interplay between the two guitarists (Pata and hide) is phenomenal; they each have their own seperate style, yet intertwine perfectly. The bassist, Taiji, does a very good job; his solo in “Xclamation” is something to behold. Yokishi, the drummer and pianist, is the core of the band. As well as managing the band and writing nearly all the songs, he can play the drums like an animal, especially in “Kurenai” and “Orgasm”, but he can also play beautiful melodies on the piano, as displayed in “Unfinished”. Toshi is the vocalist on the record, and while his voice is rough and raspy, and not amazing, successfully brings the emotion out through the record. In fact, emotion is all over the record. The lyrics are primarily in Japanese with a few English phrases here and there. This bothered me at first, but now when I listen to anything by X Japan, it doesn't matter. Whether it be happiness, sadness, anger, or anything else, the music projects all the emotion out to me; in fact, most of the time, I get so lost in the feeling of the song, that I forget that I can't understand about 70% of what Toshi is saying.
The biggest problems of the album have to do less with the quality of the tracks, but rather, their presentation. The production is weak; it doesn't sound clear, the drums have a slightly annoying sound, and the guitars are way too low in the mix. The production is bearable, but it could have been a lot better. The thing that bothers me the most about “Blue Blood” is that it's not a cohesive whole. The tracks, while individually good, don't come together to form an “album”, it just seems like a collection of songs with little coherency. It doesn't help that two songs, “Kurenai” and “Unfinished”, were altered and re-released from the last record. Although both songs have been improved for this album, it adds more to the “compilation feel” the album has. It's one of those albums that's better to listen to on shuffle, rather than straight through. Nonetheless, this is an excellent, with some of the best Japanese classics out there.