Review Summary: Kamijo masterfully treads the line between extravagance and indulgence
I’ve always had a soft spot for concept albums that tell a story. Winding narratives, where you can follow a protagonist through the trials and tribulations the album sets before him, rejoicing when he succeeds and weeping where he falls. Even when an album fails in some regards, if a well-told story exists, it enhances its replayability more than almost any other facet the music can offer. However, when an artist chooses to tread this path, there are some major drawbacks than can limit the scope of their music. For example, while other Japanese artists such as Ling Tosite Sigure or Dir En Grey excel at crafting brilliant songs that flow together, they don’t have a plot that is integral to the enjoyment of the album, so the Japanese lyrics don’t detract from western fans’ experience. The biggest difference between these kinds of artists and one like Kamijo is that this album weaves a tale, a forlorn story of Louis XVII, his experiences during the French Revolution and his transformation into a vampire. On paper, this sounds isolating for western fans; if you can’t follow the story that is so core to the experience, how can the album be appreciated? However, with a flair for the dramatic (as evidenced with a glance at the album cover and the album trailers released), and a seamless blend of symphonic grandeur with metal instrumentation in a progressive framework, the music tells a story the lyrics never could. Kamijo has crafted one of the most refreshing symphonic albums in recent memory, and one of the best albums 2014 has to offer.
Even amongst a genre known for overindulgence, this album embraces the extravagant. From the blistering solos and melodramatic lead vocals, to bombastic orchestral pieces and emotional choral additions, this thickly layered concoction rarely lets up. When it does, it does so in such a quirky manner that it works in favour of the albums atmosphere. The music box that closes out ‘Royal Tercet’ gives time to breathe, sharing 10 year old Louis’ happiest memories and lulling the listener before ‘Dying Table’ blasts out of the gates with the heaviest riffs to be found on the album, with the only harsh vocals in the entire album roaring as the child comes to terms with his mortality and likely death. Similarly, the sparse instrumentation (by this albums standard) found through the midsection of ‘Adagio of the Full Moon’ set off warning bells, and act to build tension for the most exuberant 40 seconds of the album, which immediately transitions into the rapid-fire rhythms of album highlight ‘Throne’. This album consistently surprises and catches the listener off-guard, yet never feels abrupt, remaining enthralling from start to finish.
Symphony of the Vampire
is told through 7 aptly named ‘movements’, each of which tell an important part of the story and contribute to the experience in their own unique way. Everything, from the hard-hitting opening of ‘Sacrifice of Allegro’ to the flighty strings of ‘Sonata’, furthers the tale and paints another shade onto an already colourful canvas. The fact that the lyrics are not spoken in English gives hardcore fans a bit more meat to dig into, searching the meanings for various passages and getting a firmer grasp on the story told. The single flaw here is that while every song is important, the album ends up bottom heavy, with the final 3 tracks outclassing those found before it. While this is arguably inevitable as the story reaches its climax, it becomes extremely noticeable on repeated playthroughs and detracts slightly from the albums replayability. If the first half was the only thing here, this album could still stand toe-to-toe with 2014’s best, but the second half propels it to new heights, to the top of an already spectacular pile of releases.
For the lactose intolerant who can’t stomach a symphonic behemoth dripping with cheese, this isn’t going to change your mind. This album shamelessly takes every dramatic element to be found in the genre and cranks it up to 11. However, for those with a soft spot for the ‘epic’, there is enough meat here to keep you occupied for weeks on end. Taking a perfect blend of orchestral and modern instrumentation, and combining it with perfectly suited vocals, impeccable production and spectacular songwriting, Kamijo has surpassed everything he accomplished with past band ‘Versailles’ and has truly come into his own as a solo act. Symphony of the Vampire
is a standout release amidst a genre abounding with trite acts and sickly-sweet albums, and establishes Kamijo as an artist to watch in coming years.