Dir en grey
Review by Nhu Nguyen
Maintaining a band is like maintaining a relationship, it takes work. It’s hard enough for two people, but a band always deals with three or more personalities. Despite being five very different people, Dir en grey have continued with the same line up for 16 years. Naturally, their music has evolved and so has the fan base. Their exposure to overseas touring in 2006 noticeably affected their music. Fans could tell which part of 2007’s The Marrow of the Bone was written before the band’s stint opening up Korn’s Family Values tour and which tracks were written on their U.S. tour bus. With the music becoming more westernized, fans of their Visual Kei days felt angered and alienated by the change. Those comparisons of Dir en grey being the Eastern counterpart to the tour’s creators and headliners, Korn, were becoming too close for comfort.
Quite soon after, singles the band released included rearranged versions of past works. This would satiate old fans appetite for “old” Dir en grey whilst introducing their old work to new fans. Problem was, almost every rearranged song sounded like a quick attempt to fill the 3-song requirement on a single. Before touring in the U.S., each song had a distinct feel and melody — no two songs were alike. New versions of songs like “Obscure” or “Kiri to Mayu” all included drop-tuning, fast-pace chugging, and low, drawn out growling or screeching from vocalist Kyo. The new versions of old songs were skip worthy. My excitement of hearing Dir en grey releasing their latest album The Unraveling was short-lived upon finding out there was only one new song and six (or seven, including the bonus limited edition track) re-recorded old songs. Listening to the album though, I was pleasantly surprised. These rearrangements are refreshing, faithful, and respectful to the originals each in its own way. This was what I’d been waiting for (other than the new material, of course).
All the years of touring around the world have taught them what works and what doesn’t. That experimental quality of theirs is a keeper, while guitar riffs that go on too long are not. The album’s title song, “Unraveling” has a poetic structure with a slightly Middle-Eastern flair to it. The unassumingly soft start of acoustic guitars on “Unknown. Despair. Lost.” is a welcoming addition that ends right when the music punches you in the gut, just like how the song originally started off in 1998. The band loves to experiment and build on to their music. Touring has taught them to edit as necessary. The 15-second repeated guitar riff on fan favorite “The Final” has been removed in favor of a guitar solo that builds momentum.
The musicality they have gained through the many years of playing can be heard through Kyo’s vocal abilities and felt in the instruments’ flow and speed. The music collectively feels less rushed, breathing more comfortably than the originals. While remaining largely the same, added vocals in “Kasumi” creates more ambiance within the track. Kyo’s singing in “Bottom of the Death Valley” has changed from the throaty, angry scream to a variety of heavy metal screaming. His voice, paired with Toshiya’s new bass line, gives the song a mature and darker tone.
With these rearrangements, they have kept the nuances of what made each track special and even extended it. The new version of “Karasu” has a natural, dark groove that is different from the industrial-sounding original. “Macabre” may have extended from 10 to 16 minutes long, but the band’s self-indulgence on the track feels like a natural extension. It makes for an interesting listen coupled with the inclusion of organs.
The Unraveling is the past Dir en grey filtered through the current Dir en grey. It honors the past with the experience they have acquired while holding onto the basic foundation of what makes Dir en grey and their songs special.