It's very strange to me that so little Japanese culture has been absored over here in North America. Certainly we've inherited some of their affinity for technology, particularly little tiny multi-purpose digital things, but beyond technology, great writers like Murakami and solid bands like Balzac are virtually unknown here. The reverse certainly isn't true; the phrase "big in Japan" is almost a cliché, and American bands routinely draw massive crowds and devoted followings on the island.
The few bands that have established any sort of fan base here are thankfully imported by open-minded North American labels. And like Fat with their release of Hi-Standard's wonderful Growing Up, Rykodisc has brought us the second packaged compilation of material from Japan's biggest horror-punk act, and while it's not as strong as their previous North American release, it's still a worthy recording.
I'd be the last who could explain why a band of this genre would take their name from a very esoteric and prolific French writer who would make Thomas Pynchon seem like a publicity whore, but I imagine it's either a translation thing, or just not important. As a band, Balzac doesn't take much from that writer, but is instead schooled in the classic Misfits sound, taking equal parts from their early, more melodic era, to their aggressive later years like those documented in Earth A.D..
The band certainly does present the whole package, with a mixture of spooky theatrics and melodic punk rock with plenty of "whoahs" dotting the background. Even the heavier tracks though are sprinkled with galloping, upbeat melodic choruses. The band still maintains their unwavering devotion to the Misfits but takes the sound that Danzig and Jerry pioneered and sprinkle it with a Ramones-like sense of bubblegum melody.
Oscillating between poppy tracks, mostly sung in English, and more aggressive tracks sung in Japanese, the record moves furiously and enjoyably. Lyrics are another matter, unfortunately because the vocals are almost entirely incomprehensible in either language. Despite the sing-along nature of the material, the curious lack of a lyric sheet almost certainly torpedoes any possibility of that happening. "Braineaters" wouldn't have been half as much fun without being able to sing along, after all.
As always, Balzac is aware that the Misfits and horror-punk isn't just about music, but about a complete multi-sensory package, and the band responds accordingly with a DVD decked out with videos of performances complete with Halloween costumes. Of course, nothing is taken too seriously, with plenty of B-movie imagery and samples.
Out of the Grave and Into the Dark doesn't improve much on their first North American release, Beyond the Darkness, and doesn't have the strength of what was admitedly a "greatest hits"-type album. The songs on Darkness are stronger, the melodies more self-assured, though Out of the Grave and Into the Dark is still a respectable entry.
In short, Balzac is an upbeat, melodic punk band with a spooky sense of humour. Thankfully untainted by American whims and trends, Out of the Grave and Into the Dark is a solid blast of punk rock and while not a definitive introduction, it is a solid record overall.