Friday, 14 August 2015

Audience Killer Loop: Dir En Grey

Dir En Grey
Oh man. Where do I even start with these guys? Lets start with the obvious. They are unclassifiable. At best I could say that they are Avant Garde Metal. Essentially they use a loose template of metal and build everything else from there. Metal is the canvas but it is not the palette. These guys have been around since 1997 and have kept the same line up ever since. They originally started out as a Visual Kei band, but have since morphed into this Slipknot/Korn/Rammstein band that we can hear today. With downtuned guitars, slapping bass, hip hop rhythm and industrial sensibilities. They were originally born from the ashes of a rock band called La:Sadie's, but for whatever reason they disbanded. Or rather the then bassist left, but the rest decided to hire a new bassist and forge ahead under a new name, thank goodness. As I mentioned before, they've managed to keep the same line up ever since which is no mean feat, and you can really hear that in the latest album Arche. Which is quite possibly their best album yet. If only because it also comes across as the most focussed of their albums. Which also completely defies Angry Metal Guy's Law of Diminishing Records.

 I first became aware of them due to their phenomenal album Uroboros. An album that for me was the album of the year of 2008 just about dislodging Opeth's Watershed. I had never heard anything quite like them up to that point. Uroboros has got what I consider to the be best album intro. Every they release something I let out a little noise of celebration. They are possibly the biggest musical phenomenon to be exported from Japan and by all accounts they are the biggest metal band in Japan since X-Japan. Which shouldn't be too surprising since X-Japan overlord Yoshiki helped to launch their career and 'hide' was a major influence on Kaoru guitar playing. The other remarkable thing about them is that they managed to do all of that without having to sing in English. The only other metal band that has managed international success using their mother tongue is of course Rammstein.

Visual Kei era
So they went through a stage of Visual Kei playing slightly more alternative rock, more akin to Jane's Addiction. But seemingly completely shed that image by the time they released Withering To Death.  It feels a bit like they went through the same epiphany as Sepultura did when Korn released their brilliant debut album (Yes, it is brilliant). Withering to Death, is cut from the same mould as Korn's debut album, it's full of jagged edges, slight hip-hop bass lines, off kilter rhythms and maniac vocal stylings. The main difference being is that Kyo actually knows how to sing in tune, as well as flex his vocal chords into the suffering of every victim in the nine hells as described by Dante. All those usual pop influences have been swapped for something rawer, more energetic, avant garde and more personal. They are one of those bands that have managed to transcend any kind of genrefication. At best they would fall in Extreme Metal genre. They go from nu-metal to metalcore to progressive metal with the occasional dipping into pop. Amongst all the madness and surreal violence you get from them you also get nice little piano ditties like 'Shinsou'. Or they take a jazz foundation and turn it into some brutal like 'Asunaki Koufuku, Koenaki Asu'. Funking it out in 'Stuck Man'.

Kyo with blood on
face and chest
Now some of the puzzling things about this band is that some of the song titles are in English. But none of the lyrics are so that can get a bit confusing. Not that it actually detracts from the music. Kyo does apparently write extremely good lyrics. It's just that I can't be bothered to read the translations of them because they way I think of his vocals is that it's just another musical instrument. Talking about instruments. I can understand why Kyo gets as much attention as he does, I mean he completely and utterly outdoes Mike Patton in terms of vocal ability, but the rest of the band... Just wow, they are all individually amazing. On the bass front Toshiya seems to have taken some lessons from Jason Newsted, in the sense that the bass isn't just there to fill out some kind of void. But to be an active part of the songs without being the centrepiece. Though songs like 'Phenomenon'  and 'Bottom Of The Death Valley' do put the bass front and centre to great effect. Both the bass player and the drummer, Shinya, provide excellent foundation that let Kyo, Die and Kaoru let their respective talents loose onto the listeners ear canal. The guitar riffing is great, but what is really special is the guitar noodling that comes in to surround the main riffs. Always subtle and never in the way, all seem to enhance the listeners experience. The sense of melody that they imbue is just out of this world. Often it feels like the songs are just about to descend into a gigantic mess, but it never happens. 

By all accounts their live shows are something to behold. Prior to Uroboros Kyo used to, frequently and apparently, self harm whilst on stage. Due to his singing he's been hospitalized several times, couple of times because of oedema of the lyranx and vocal nodule dysphonia. Oh and partially deaf in his left ear. The man does suffer a lot for his art and from all the videos I have seen he squeezes every single emotion into his performance. As demonstrated in this video taken from their Tabula Rasa tour.

I am a little surprised why they haven't got as much of a recognition in Europe(Or maybe just in the UK) because these guys are one of the best bands out there right now. Pumping out quality album after quality album. And their evolution from Visual Kei band to what they are now has been fascinating.

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