X Japan cannot be measured in words. To attempt to describe the impact that the band had culturally and musically you would need far more than just your own native tongue. Actually, you’d need far more than any language. X Japan are a Titan of the musical world. They’re a band of such epic proportions that no one can do their works justice. Why then, would I attempt to try? It needs to be done. It really couldn’t be much simpler than that. I’ve committed myself to exploring every aspect of X Japan’s studio discography - all five albums. I can’t help but feel that this is a tremendous undertaking. For one thing, two of the band’s catalog have already been handled quite expertly here on Sputnikmusic. Still, I feel something of a need to complete their work, and in doing so, to allow X Japan to come full circle. It’s the least I can do to honor the legacy of one of the greatest - if not the
greatest - bands in the world.
Now, after reading that, I wouldn’t blame you if you have doubts as to whether or not I can remain objectionable enough to undertake such an arduous task. The answer, dear reader, is “yes.” Though X Japan are among my favorite artists, I’m hardly an avid fan of theirs. I suppose you could say that I respect them more than I like them. I’m not some raving fan boy whose only aspirations in life is to collect one more piece of X Japan paraphernalia. Hardly. To be quite honest, I rarely - if ever - talk about the band. There’s a whole host of reasons behind this. For one thing, many of my peers, friends, and family aren’t as open-minded about music as I am. Because of this, I generally like to keep my more “weird” (at least as they put it) tastes to myself. My reasoning behind this isn’t one born out of a fear of ridicule. No, it’s more towards the idea that if they can’t appreciate it, then they shouldn’t hear about it. Perhaps I’d like to think that I’m “worthy” to experience X Japan, and others aren’t. I suppose this is partly true, but mostly for people who have the audacity to criticize the band without hearing a single song. All of this is irrelevant, however. The point of a review is to inform. The point of this review, in particular, is to inform about X Japan’s debut album Vanishing Vision
X Japan never really made an impression on the Western word. As big as they were in their country of origin, the band never really stretched its reach to a global scale. That’s not for lack of trying, however. X Japan actually wasn’t even known by that moniker until around 1992. Previous to this time, the band was known simply as “X.” The group wished to make an impression of sorts on the U.S., but were deterred slightly by the American proto-punk band X
. X adopted “Japan” for their American marketing campaign. Try as they might, however, the only album of theirs to even grace the U.S.’s shoreline was 1993’s Art of Life
. Due to this fact, the handful of people who actually had the pleasure of experiencing X Japan’s finest moment began to think of the band only in the terms that Art of Life
presented: progressive. Vanishing Vision
, however, is much more cut and dry. It’s relatively straightforward speed metal, with classical piano and orchestrations thrown in for aesthetic appeal. That’s not to say that the album isn’t forward-thinking. X Japan was just a little more reserved in the initial stage of their career.
One of the greatest aspects of X Japan is pianist/percussionist Yoshiki Hayashi. X Japan was essentially this man’s brainchild. The group was originally thought up by Yoshiki and Toshimitsu Deyama (Toshi; the eventual vocalist for the group) when they were only twelve years old. Put simply: Yoshiki is a genius. His mastery of the piano is especially evident on X Japan’s later works, but on Vanishing Vision
it still makes quite the impression. His style of playing is distinctively distressed. Yoshiki typically begins a piece in a very melodic, yet staid fashion. Depending on the mood of the song, he may simply flow with the music. However, at other times, Yoshiki allows his piano work to degenerate into a discordant jumble of notes. This creates a sensation of pure distress, yet showcases one of Yoshiki’s greatest talents: his ability to do away with all musical structure, yet still create something beautiful. Yoshiki’s classical influence on X Japan’s wildly technical brand of metal gives the band a sense of scope and depth. X Japan just wouldn’t be X Japan without Yoshiki the pianist.
However, the man is also quite impressive as a drummer. While his purpose in this role is merely to compliment the lead instruments, Yoshiki still shines through, giving off a sense of galactic dominance over the skins.
Of course, whenever Yoshiki finds himself on drums, then the music is typically being driven by the dual guitar attack of hide (Hideto Matsumoto) and Pata (Tomoaki Ishizuka). Forget Angus and Malcolm Young,
Kirk Hammer and James Hetfield, or any other hard-rock/metal guitar duo in history- hide and Pata are the most talented, hands down. The guitar work on Vanishing Vision
is breathtaking. The pair seem to be symbiotically connected to each other; a proverbial Yin and Yang of the guitar world. They bounce different feats of sonic mayhem off of each other, yet can easily conform to play with perfect synergy. hide and Pata are clearly technical master of their instrument. Their playing is fluid, and uniform; no wasted effort. This isn’t just emotionless speed-metal, however. No, for all of their precision and power, hide and Pata are two of the most emotive guitarists I’ve ever heard. Their texture-laden riffs carry, and make songs. The duo creates some of the most incredibly beautiful music I’ve ever heard. I can’t imagine what Vanishing Vision
would be like without the thrashing, yet dazzling guitar work of hide and Pata. To a lesser extent on the strings is Taiji (Taiji Sawada). As X Japan’s bassist, Taiji is easy to overlook. While he’s neither as awe-inspiring as Yoshiki, or as innovative and talented as hide and Pata, Taiji’s bass-work on Vanishing Vision
is impressive nonetheless.
Of course, X Japan wouldn’t be complete without the haunting vocal work of Toshi. His stunningly chilling voice overlays his band’s musical majesty in worthy fashion. His vocal work on X Japan’s debut is a multi-lingual torrent, constantly switching between Japanese and English. Most songs he sings entirely in Japanese, but on several he either sings in English or switches between the two languages. You don’t need to understand what he’s saying for him to convey his point, though. Toshi sounds extremely angry on Vanishing Vision
, as do his band mates singing backing vocals. His voice retains its unique sense of style, but not without a rancorous quality. You could infer that, in their infancy, X Japan were less about artistry and experimentation, and more about conveying their musical points. You can almost feel it in Toshi voice on Vanishing Vision
. It only serves to complete the total immersion experience.
begins with the anthem of an instrumental that is “Dear Loser.” The song sets the mood perfectly for what is about to come. All of the members of X Japan perform their parts quite exceptionally, but there’s no outdoing hide and Pata. Their guitar lines exude power and energy, and yet are rather reserved. “Dear Loser” leads into the light speed “Vanishing Love.” Here we are met with our first taste of Toshi’s voice. His emotion-laden snarl is flanked by the shouted backing vocals of X Japan’s other members. Once again, the instrumentation is overwhelmingly powerful. Your ears are assaulted by a blitzkrieg of pure heavy metal bliss. You are now in X Japan’s domain. “Phantom of Guilt” adds a slightly more melodic aspect to X Japan’s approach to Vanishing Vision
. While the song is still quite heavy, the tempo has slowed, and spacey harmonics that pour out of hide’s guitar help to accentuate a new feeling of beauty. Toshi’s voice echoes with full authority and impunity all over the marvelous sonic mayhem. “Phantom of Guilt” is one of the stand out tracks from Vanishing Vision
“Sadistic Desire” showcases some of Yoshiki’s finest drumming. Once again, hide and Pata dexterously employ their combined twelve strings to the max and beyond. Taiji holds everything together, with the faintly audible, yet supremely well-performed bass work. As usual, Toshi acts as a conductor, using his fever-dream quality voice as a baton. The haunting soundscape that is “Give Me the Pleasure” quickly becomes the proving ground for Taiji’s skills, as his ripping bass work introduces the song. Things quickly deteriorate into a haunting array of sounds that alarm the senses. The instrumental “Give Me the Pleasure” is one of the darker examples of X Japan’s music, and is certainly a curious change of pace for Vanishing Vision
to go through. “I’ll Kill You” is the first song to feature Toshi singing predominately in English. It’s definitely quite a change from it’s predecessor, and is one of the better songs on the album. The highlight here is the fantastic guitar solo performed simultaneously by hide and Pata.
We now find ourselves entering the realm of X Japan’s where Yoshiki is ruler. “Alive” begins rather simply with Yoshiki playing piano. The action quickly picks up, as thunderously melodic guitars come into compliment the keys. Toshi’s mournful voice comes in, singing in English yet again. “Alive” quickly develops into a ballad on a mammoth scale. Perhaps a precursor to “Art of Life“, it is by far one of X Japan’s finest moments, both on Vanishing Vision
and for their career in general. The beautiful “Kurenai” comes next. Once again, Yoshiki’s fantastic skills as a pianist grace the listener’s ears. This version of “Kurenai” is sang by Toshi in English (the song would be re-released later on Blue Blood
in Japanese). “Kurenai” much like “Alive” is an amazing ballad, and one of the best songs on Vanishing Vision
. Ah, here we are at the finish. And yet, it really isn’t the end. “Unfinished” is exactly what it appears to be: an unfinished song. “Unfinished” features almost divine piano work from Yoshiki. It’s a sad song, and among the most magnificent I’ve ever heard. X Japan chose to release the finished version of “Unfinished” exactly one year from Vanishing Vision
’s release date, on their second album Blue Blood
. This is quite possibly the most meaningful album ender I’ve ever heard. Trust me, it will take your breath away.
While Vanishing Vision
is a relatively simple album when compared to the rest of X Japan’s catalog, it is by no means anything less than a classic. This album touches upon every part of X Japan’s fascinating blueprint for creating the musical incarnation of perfection. While I can’t recommend it over any of their latter works (save 1996’s Dahlia
), I can still say that it is honestly one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard. Do whatever you can to hear Vanishing Vision
in its entirety. You will feel an overpowering sense of accomplishment when you do.