Album of the Week 19-2014: X – Blue Blood

Back before X Japan turned into a band that released a little too many ballads – despite the obvious quality of some of them – X was a fantastic Heavy Metal band with a tightness and a musicianship that many European or American genre colleagues should have been jealous of. In fact, their sophomore album ‘Blue Blood’ is one of the best late eighties Power Metal albums in my collection. The album has the aggression that many Power Metal albums lack, the melody missing on many Speed Metal records and an enormous amount of variation absent on many Metal records regardless of their subgenres.

In a way, ‘Blue Blood’ is the album that made X Japan – or X, as they still were known at the time – what they are today. It’s where they first started combining their signature melodic Speed Metal style with glossy balladry, Glamrock bombast and psychedelic experimentalism. The amazing thing is that almost all of it works on this release. The instrumental track ‘Xclamation’, a composition by guitarist hide and bassist Taiji, foreshadows the psychedelic industrialism that hide worked on during the latter years of X Japan’s original incarnation and his solo work and ‘Celebration’ is easily the best of the band’s Glam-tinged material.

However, for yours truly, it’s mainly the Metal material that is responsible for the album’s repeated spins. When after a slightly overlong intro – a common flaw in X’s album and live history – the opening riff of the title track comes in with all of its warp speed Thrashing violence, it’s clear that we’re dealing with an awesome band here. The song contains a number of riffs and atmosphere changes that many a Metal composer – including myself – should envy and this definitely is the case for the other speedy, screaming Metal epics such as ‘Kurenai’, ‘Orgasm’, the 11 plus minute ‘Rose Of Pain’ and the album’s highlight, which is the band’s amazing namesake.

Out of the ballads, I find ‘Unfinished’ (which, ironically, is finished this time, unlike on the band’s debut ‘Vanishing Vision’) to be the vastly superior one, even though ‘Endless Rain’ is somewhat of a fan favorite. The more melodic Rock songs work remarkably well as well, especially the fantastic Hardrocker ‘Week End’ with its strong vocal harmonies and spacious riffs.

Looking at the individual performances, it’s hard to deny that Yoshiki isn’t only X’s hero as the main songwriter, but also as an unbelievably powerful drummer. Especially when you consider the drums sound too real to be triggered and realize the consistent power held out throughout even the fastest double bass exercises. The guitars courtesy of Pata and hide are all over the record and remain deeply impressive even after repeated listens and even though greater popularity loomed later with a different bassist, Taiji is the best bassist the band has had. Sadly, both hide and Taiji are no longer with us. Toshi’s high-pitched, clean vocals are a bit less impressive, but suit the songs really well.

While X Japan would later perfect their symbiosis of Metal, Glamrock, Pop and experimentalism on the breathtaking, half-hour song ‘Art Of Life’, ‘Blue Blood’ is definitely the best album to check out if you want to hear what this band, that is immensely popular in their come country, is all about. It has all the riffs and aggression a Metal fan can wish for, just combined with a greater dose of melody than one might be used to and a fearlessly open minded approach to composition. And that alone should be enough reason for anyone to give this phenomenon a spin.

Recommended tracks: ‘X’, ‘Rose Of Pain’, ‘Blue Blood’, ‘Kurenai’, ‘Week End’

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