Pretty Wicked Cover, Gotta Say…
So, this is the first review I’ve written since the old LiveJournal days. Bear with me, I don’t quite have a format nailed down.
This is the eighth studio album by Japanese Rock (well, technically Japanese Metal as of around 2007) outfit Dir en grey. I’ve been a fan of these guys since 2000, back when they were a major name in the Japanese Visual Kei (read: Japanese version of Glam Rock) scene. For over a decade, I’ve seen this band reinvent both themselves and their musical style with a frequency that would make Madonna jealous. I managed to get ahold of a leaked copy (along with the rest of the internet) of their latest offering, officially dropping on 08/03/2011. I could go on, but this is a review, not a biography, so without further ado…
WHERE IT EXCELS:
If you like Metal and experimental/progressive music, this will definitely hit the sweet spot. The album sails through a drop-tuned turbulent sea on some interesting rhythm patterns and timing changes. Any given song will switch moods on you like a heroin junky going through withdrawals, said mood selection being limited to darker, darker, and darkerer (yeah, that’s grammatically incorrect, but with these guys there’s never an absolute “darkest”.) Long time fans have grown used to Kyo’s use of various screams in place of singing. Not here; a pleasantly surprising amount of the vocals are sung, and man, are they CLEAN. Fans of the screaming and growling won’t walk away disappointed – there’s plenty of them to go around, they just don’t take up the whole album.
WHERE IT FALLS SHORT:
Ever since I discovered this band, I’ve always felt their rhythm section to be their strongest asset. Not to insinuate that Kyo’s vocals and Kaoru & Die’s guitarwork is anything to scoff at (quite the contrary, actually), but Shinya’s drumming, Toshiya’s basslines, and Shinya’s drumming (see what I did there?) are easily the best parts of any of their songs. Sadly, their production team isn’t on the same page as I am. While not terrible, the mixing on the album could do more to really give the drums and bass the prominence they deserve. Focus, as is the unfortunate norm for a lot of rock genres, is on the guitars. They’re good, but come on, let’s acknowledge the other guys too.
TRACK BY TRACK: (In 3 sentences or less)
1) Kyoukotsu no Nari [狂骨の鳴り – “The Cry from Lunatic Bone”]: Less than two minutes of ambient noise. Sets the mood, sure, but I’m far more used to strong opening numbers. They used this approach on the previous album, but Uroboros’s “Sa Bir” succeeded far better at this thank Kyoukotsu does.
2) The Blossoming Beelzebub: Kind of a disappointment for a track with a length over seven minutes. It’s not bad, but there’s no cohesion or clear progression. The best part is the end of the track, which sports a flurry of drums and slap bass that nicely transitions into one of the best tracks on the album
3) Different Sense: This one beautiful beast of a song, blending elements from every phase of their musical career. The contrast between heavy verses and the melodic chorus dares you to try and not to like it. Oh, and it has a solo – remember when those used to happen regularly in Dir en grey’s songs?
4) Amon: Don’t know why this song got a special release with some photobook of sorts. The bass and drums do the most interesting stuff, but even then they’re forgettable. It’s kind of a bland dirge, to be honest.
5) “Yokusou Ni Dreambox” Aruiwa Seijuku No Rinen To Tsumetai Ame [「欲巣にDREAMBOX」あるいは成熟の理念と冷たい雨 – ” ‘Nesting Within the Dreambox’ Cold Rain and the Philosophy of the Mature”): Another dirge, but this one has some semblance of cohesion, along with a schizophrenic personality. The vocals are interesting, and are at their best during the chorus. I dig it.
6) Juuyoku [獣慾 – “Animal Lust”]: Drums go bang, bass goes boom, guitars go everywhere, and vocals go “rawr”. The title fits the song appropriately. You’ll fire this up when you want melodic noise, but you’ll be heard pressed to remember what the song sounds like in your head simply by looking at the title.
7) Shitataru Mourou [滴る朦朧 – “Trickling Ambiguity”]: Love the intro drums – very reminiscent of the Deftones’s “Digital Bath”. Love the way the guitars convey a sense of frantic despair. One of my favorite tracks on the album.
8) Lotus: There’s been some touchups, namely to the vocals and bass, from the previously released single version. Strong chorus, and a great overall mood. Loved it before, love it again.
9) Diabolos: Another let down due to the long length and lack of progression. It goes through a wide range of phases, but they’re not really pieced together in any particular way. It ain’t no “Vinushka”.
10) Akatsuki [暁 – Dawn]: This is a pretty crisp track. Popping bass, banging drums, and interesting guitars. Enjoyable, but alas, not exactly memorable.
11) Decayed Crow: Lots of screaming and persistent instrumentation. Sadly, at this point, it all starts to sound the same.
12) Hageshisa to, Kono Mune no Naka de Karamitsuita Shakunetsu no Yami [激しさと、この胸の中で絡み付いた灼熱の闇 – “And Violence, Tangled in the Burning Darkness of my Heart”]: Another previously released track, in retrospect set the foundation for the musical direction from this album. Like the other singles on the album, it’s had some upgrades done.
13) Vanitas [Emptiness]: THE BALLAD! As much as Dir en grey does melodic dissonance well, they’ve got a real talent for ballads. Though not their best, it’s different from their previous ones and still very good. A nice breath of fresh air for something that sounds distinctly different from the rest of the tracks on the album.
14) Ruten no Tou [流転の塔 – “Tower of Vicissitudes”]: Manages to pull off the feeling that things are coming to a close, but aside from that, I can’t really describe it without saying things I’ve already said about other songs on the album.
15) Rasetsukoku [羅刹国 – “Kingdom of Demons”]: Unlike previous remakes of old songs, this one is VERY faithful to the original version. Even the lyrics sound unchanged. A much appreciated metal rendition of a high energy rock track.
16) Amon (Symphonic Version): I like that it uses symphonic instruments to supplement the original rock instruments instead of replacing them entirely. I don’t like that the original version of this song was pretty lacking. I’m tempted to delete and replace the original “Amon” with this one.
If you’ve read interviews and reviews, you know that this is a highly experimental and unusual album for the band. True music lovers will appreciate it for those qualities, but won’t exactly be blown away by them. Lovers of the band will find a way to convince themselves this fresh offering from the band is the new best thing ever even though they’re won’t truly grasp the meaning behind the music. Dir en grey’s previous efforts have proven successful because they’re not afraid to get weird, unconventional, and experimental and fuse that with more accessible rock/metal songs. This album is 75 minutes of nothing but those very qualities and comes off as a professionally executed metal jam session between the five of them.
Bottom line? This is an album put together for themselves, not the fans, and they don’t give a fuck: it’s up to you whether to take it or leave it, and that’s both it’s strongest quality and greatest weakness.