vampillia at Stereo, Glasgow

Support: VMO| Ashenspire | Beggar In The Heights
August 20, 2019 at Stereo, Glasgow
Promoter: COG Promotions

Osaka’s contribution to courageous music is difficult to understate. From the bubblegum punk of Shonen Knife and Midori’s jazz fusion eruption through to the venue and genre-demolishing exploits of Yamantaka Eye and Boredoms, the city has long made pushing boundaries part of its identity, so when it comes to “brutal orchestra” Vampillia and the affiliated Violent Magic Orchestra (VMO) maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised with just how much they can bulldoze ideas of what a concert can be. Still, that’s on us, not them.

Before they can get going, Beggar In The Heights step up to delight us with a low-key blend of prog and folk that feels rough around the ages and is all the better for it. There are definitely a few nods to Floyd as well as to much of KScope’s roster, yet despite having only a handful of performances under their belts, they already have started to show the beginnings of something all their own. Perhaps it’s the jazz undertones that keep attention from wavering, maybe it’s the sharp interplay of violin and dense grooves – either way, they sound like they’re doing something right.

It seems that Ashenspire have used the past year to their advantage. When they supported Hypothermia last year, they were an intriguing mish-mash of black metal, prog and am-dram theatricality – they still are, but now they have a saxophone. The fact that this is only their second gig of 2019 does show in the occasional spot of rust; but for the most part, it’s just enjoyable to get lost in their absinthe-drenched heaviness. While the sax might seem an odd accompaniment, it adds a sense of nocturnal chill to their moodier moments that shows great promise for future releases. Also, they break into a lengthy, if impromptu, jazz-funk breakdown towards the set’s close which was a fun little distraction, even if it’s not exactly in line with the gloom that preceded it.

Composed largely of current members of Vampillia, it’s easy enough to file VMO away as an offshoot and be done with it; but doing that would be to undersell what is likely the most stunning performance of the night. This is a full-on audiovisual tribute to black metal’s heavyweights mixed with a heavy dose of gabba lunacy, a corpse-painted trio of acolytes to all things kvlt on mixing and guitar duties fronted by a petite yet ultimately terrifying vocalist. For the most part, they exist in a world of monochrome: the buzzsaw glare of strobelights and a steady stream of grainy cut-&-paste collages framing an increasingly intense performance that takes Mayhem’s confrontational misery, Burzum’s grasp of atmosphere and the pounding, relentless techno of Aborym, melts it all down and stabs you through whatever part of the brain exists to feel pure, unadulterated joy with the jagged mess that results.

VMO. Photo: Barry Douglas

Rather than attempt to recreate the strange atmosphere of Catastrophic Anonymous on stage, they instead seek to amplify its spirit, dialling each of the components up to maximum levels while vocalist ザスター (The Star) vomits up death grunts, howls and occasionally lapses into manic fits of laughter as she prowls, stalks and collapses upon the stage. As intimidating as it is, her frequent smiles are enough to remind you that you’re here to have a good time, and with the room bouncing, dancing and spasmodically trembling to each synthesised blastbeat and ice-hewn avalanche of distortion, it’s safe to assume that there isn’t a person here who isn’t completely in thrall to what they’re witnessing. They eventually wind down, but not before Micci the Mistake has done a victory lap of the room; and then it’s off to the merch table for half of the audience to buy shirts and join the VMO army.

After that intensity, anything would come as sweet respite but even so, the opening to Vampillia’s set is nothing short of heartbreaking. ‘Fenghuang’ is astonishing in its minimalism, a soft piano melody and the plaintive wail of Miyamoto Rei’s violin adding delicate tension before the remainder of the band join in and bring the composition to a close with a triumphant wall of sound. If the entire set was just a variation on such elegant post-rock tropes, it would be bliss, but that wouldn’t be why we came here. It’s when the burly, high-strung figure of Possession Mongoloid appears that Vampillia achieve their final form, a towering mix of folk, rock, screamo, classical beauty, black metal, hardcore and probably a dozen other hybrids too unique to name.

Possession – Vampillia. Photo: Barry Douglas

Possession is a frontman who’s impossible to ignore, and even though there is considerable force behind his growls and screeches, he has a flexibility in his approach that is uniquely suited to the septet’s rapidly shifting flow of sound; even his manic energy can seemingly be switched on and off in a heartbeat – violently punching himself one moment and lost in silent reverie the next. In a set punctuated with explosions of chaotic noise and comparative bliss, everyone involved works perfectly in tandem. Miyamoto and pianist Yamamoto Akiko patiently guide the band’s more heavyweight components as Yoshida Tatsuya switches up martial rolls, blastbeats and tight jazz flourishes as though they were all as natural to him as walking.

There’s a point after the show where someone is overheard stating that what they had just witnessed is “the future of music”, and that doesn’t seem far off. Vampillia are avant-garde with purpose: a collection of like-minded and immensely talented musicians who have somehow found each other and let us join in the magic. As a performance, it was beautiful and ferocious and truly uplifting to witness; and if this is where music is headed, it almost gives reason to forget the shit that brings us down from day to day and surrender ourselves to something wonderful. In other words, drop what you’re doing and go listen to Vampillia right now.

 

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