Almost every band has a one sheet info accompanying their release, giving you some basics about themselves and their album. That’s the golden standard. Apart from that, there are two extremes. Some releases have press info sheets that are so elaborate and long they are almost telling you what to write. On the other end there are those who don’t give you any kind of information, just the music and the cover. The latter you can only afford if you are extremely good or extremely special, because basically you are saying: You figure it out. We don’t care too much. We know it’s great. Vampillia’s EP Happiness Brought by Endless Sorrow is a release of the latter kind. And of the two extremes, I actually prefer that kind. If you can’t get what a band or an album is about, just by listening, looking and thinking, they haven’t done their job very well. However, in this case, the band being from Osaka, Japan, reviewing their EP does represent somewhat of a challenge. But I like a challenge. So here we go.
If you don’t know Vampillia, I suggest you go and check them out straight away. They are a force. The music they make is very unusual, to say the least. Primarily, that’s because the band has 11 constant members and very often guest collaborators. There is the usual: drums, guitars, bass, synth, sound effects, vocals. But there’s also a piano and a violin. The music on older releases – and there’s a long list of those, the band having been active since 2005 – spans from classical tunes to black metal and mind-numbing noise, or, to put it differently, from classic beauty to experimental craziness. But that’s noise and craziness with a concept. Their collaboration with serious musicians attests the band’s quality. I don’t suppose Merzbow, the famous Japanese noise musicians or Jarboe from Swans would work with dilettantes. You see, Vampillia can afford to act somewhat pretentious.
Their newest release, Happiness Brought by Endless Sorrow, is a very short EP, containing four tracks, all under two minutes, with very interesting names like Ggggzzgggzz or Hell PM. In comparison to older material, there is a noticeable absence of classic beauty and a dominance of experimental noise. But Vampillia wouldn’t be what they are, if there wasn’t something more than that. My favourite track Winter Ash features thin but distinguishable melody threads of violin and piano that guide you through crazy bits of noise accompanied by screaming, unintelligible, throaty vocals. Yes, go check it out. It’s really something.
And now to the most important question: What is this all about? Well, that’s not easy to say, and most of the time reviewers just avoid commenting on that. But the EP’s title pretty much tells you everything you need to know. The idea of happiness being brought by endless sorrow is a very Buddhist concept. And the band is from Japan, after all, the home of Zen Buddhism. Very often the concept they are alluding to is formulated as “No mud, no lotus”. Meaning you have to handle the yucky mud to make your beautiful flowers grow.
When you open the band’s internet page, you’ll find some English words in a sea of Japanese signs. There is no English version of the page. They just don’t bother. You can use your browser to translate the chaos, this will help in you in finding some basic information but won’t bring much clarity. I did notice something, however. They list an alias for their band’s name – Vampiria. This means they are making fun of the very common inability of native speakers of Japanese to distinguish between the English /r/ and /l/ sound. I like that. Not taking yourself too seriously or making fun of yourself, is a nice quality in people and in bands. Lock n loll.