Sometimes it’s frustrating being a Dir en grey fan. Being a fan of the band isn’t like being a fan of The Beatles, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure (or any other band that I think fondly of), because fans of the three mentioned bands always get along when issues of the band in question are concerned. It doesn’t seem to be that way with Dir en grey at all. Of course there are issues that I seem to disagree with with some bands I adore (like that I think The Top is The Cure’s most under-rated album and that Wish is over-rated), but more often than not I can see where someone else is coming from with their perspective/opinions on certain musical issues.
Most bands tend to be very open in interviews when it concerns their music: Trent Reznor has never denied his David Bowie obsession, Tegan and Sara have recently admitted that they want their new album (Heartthrob) to be as poppy as it can be, and so on. However, one band that I love to death, Dir en grey, tends to keep their influences and musical obsessions under lock and key, leaving the various listeners to come up with why the band took a certain direction with a specific song/album/EP/whatever. Because of this, there tend to be some pretty clear divisions in the band’s fanbase, the biggest one concerning certain fans who believe that the band “Americanized” their sound upon playing their first shows in North America in early 2006.
Dir en grey have never been a band that shies away from having songs that aren’t exactly radio friendly. Even on their first album, GAUZE, songs like “Schweinの椅子,” “蜜と唾,” and “残 -ZAN-” stuck out because of their frenzied, aggressive nature. The follow-up, 2000’s MACABRE, saw less aggression (“Hydra,” “Berry,” and “羅刹国” being the notable exceptions), but even the mellower songs had feelings of despair and a sense that not all was right.
The band’s third album, 鬼葬, was their most aggressive yet. Half of the songs seemed to be caught in frenzied tempos and featured screamed vocals, the likes of with hadn’t been fully realized on the band’s previous efforts, but the seeds of what was to become the band’s trademark sound were sown on their third LP (anyone who disagrees need only listen to” ピンクキラー,” “The Domestic Fucker Family,” and “ZOMBOID” for proof). An EP followed later in the year, six Ugly, featured three of the band’s most aggressive-sounding songs to date: “Ugly,” “HADES,” and a re-working of one of their earliest songs, “秒「」深.”
VULGAR, the band’s fourth album, was released in 2003, caused a division in fans. Gone were songs like “JESSICA,” “Cage,” and “予感”; instead the album featured the ominous opener “audience KILLER LOOP,” the frantic blast of noise “NEW AGE CULTURE,” and one of the band’s most famous songs, “OBSCURE,” the uncensored video of which featured scenes of an orgy, cannibalism, and lead singer Kyo frequently regurgitating. Before the release of the album, the band performed a five-date residency at Tokyo’s Akasaka Blitz entitled “BLITZ 5DAYS,” with each night of the show (with the exception of the first one) meant to represent a different album of theirs. Many songs that they performed over the five dates haven’t been played since; in retrospect, it seems as if the whole event was a way for the band to put their older songs to rest.
The band wasn’t to release another album until 2005; Withering to death., Dir en grey’s fourth album, was their most stripped-down and honest recording so far. Featuring a three-song opening cycle to die for (“Merciless Cult, “C,” and “朔 -saku-“), the album was also their most confrontational. “GARBAGE,” one of the band’s first songs with almost entirely English lyrics, was one of their hardest-sounding songs to date. The aforementioned “朔 -saku-,” barely under three minutes, still holds up as being one of the band’s most frantic songs, and “Beautiful Dirt” took the elements from previous songs “NEW AGE CULTURE” and “MARMALADE CHAINSAW” and transformed them into a hodgepodge of blistering guitar leads and jerky drumming. Even the softer songs aren’t that soft; fan favorite “dead tree” explodes into frenzied guitars and shrieked vocals before the chorus hits. Tours for the album saw vocalist Kyo frequently “fish-hooking” onstage (cutting open the inside of his cheeks with his fingernails), usually during the song “孤独に死す、故に孤独。.” He would continue to do this up until 2008.
Around this time, the band began to get international recognition, namely from Europe. In the Summer of 2005, the band performed their first dates outside of Asia for a European leg of their “TOUR05 It withers and withers” tour, the first of which took place in Berlin, Germany. The band would also perform dates in France and Belgium before returning back to Japan. That September, the band would release their most aggressive song to date, “CLEVER SLEAZOID.” Later to be re-recorded in an even harsher manner than the original, the single version of the song was a foreshadowing of things to come. Not performed on the European tour, the song was most likely recorded shortly after their return.
In March of 2006, Dir en grey played their first shows in the US. One was at the Texas SXSW Festival, and the other two were headlining shows in New York and Los Angeles. The shows featured the live debut of another new song, “THE FATAL BELIEVER,” although this version was slightly different from the final recorded version that would appear on the band’s next album. On the first day of August that year, Dir en grey would perform nearly half of their then-unreleased sixth album at the first show of their TOUR06 INWARD SCREAM tour at Nippon Budokan in Japan: along with “CONCEIVED SORROW,” “DISABLED COMPLEXES,” “THE DEEPER VILENESS,” and “Agitated Screams of Maggots” receiving their live debuts, the band also performed “CLEVER SLEAZOID,” “THE FATAL BELIEVER,” and “RYOUJOKU NO AME,” which had been recently released as the second single from their upcoming album.
For those familiar with the band’s output, most will agree that 2007’s THE MARROW OF A BONE is the band’s most stripped-down and aggressive album to date. Lacking little to no studio techniques, it does feel like a mostly “live” studio album, with the songs “THE DEEPER VILENESS,” “LIE BURIED WITH A VENGEANCE,” “Agitated Screams of Maggots, “REPETITION OF HATRED,” “CLEVER SLEAZOID,” “GRIEF,” and the second half of “DISABLED COMPLEXES” being some of the most aggressive songs in the band’s canon. One of the songs listed, though, were definitely already written before the band journeyed to the West (“SLEAZOID”), while three of the other ones were either written before or after Dir en grey played only three shows on US soil (“Maggots,” “VILENESS,” and “COMPLEXES”). Surely three shows in the US is not enough to completely change a band’s sound? And the sound on THE MARROW OF A BONE was surely hinted at throughout Withering to death.; you would have to be completely deaf to not hear a progression from the one album to the next.
Following the Nippon Budokan show, Dir en grey partook in Korn’s Family Values Tour, touring throughout the US in the Summer of 2006, during which the song “LIE BURIED WITH A VENGEANCE” began to take form (or so the band has previously said). Material from the forthcoming album were sparse on the tour, but a later tour in Japan that Fall/Winter would see the return of “Maggots,” “COMPLEXES,” and “VILENESS” to the band’s live repertoire. A full headlining tour of North America in February of 2007 saw the live debut of “GRIEF,” but the bulk of the new album’s songs weren’t performed until the following month, when the band toured extensively for it throughout Japan.
The band’s two albums since, UROBOROS and DUM SPIRO SPERO, have seen the band’s sound take a harder edge. Softer songs like “THE PLEDGE,” “GLASS SKIN,” and “VANITAS” are harder to find than full-on assaults like “DIFFERENT SENSE,” “DECAYED CROW,” and “冷血なりせば.” But can all of this be attributed to the fact that the band played some shows outside of Japan in 2005 and 2006? The band was clearly already going down that road; the signs can be seen going so far back as on their third album. And the band did go to Europe first; who’s to say that the band wasn’t “Europeanizing” their sound, maybe trying to emulate German industrial rockers Rammstein?
The Beatles performed publicly for the last time in San Francisco, at the tail end of a 1966 tour that went through North America. Their next album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, was their most experimental up to that point; were they “Americanizing” their sound? All of their more matured albums began being recorded following their first tour of America, so maybe we’re to blame for the band’s progression.
Following their first American tour, The Cure recorded one of their bleakest albums, 1981’s Faith. The following album, Pornography, is the band’s darkest, and almost split-up the band. Is America to blame for that?
George Harrison of The Beatles began to record some sitar-based songs starting with “Love You To” on the band’s 1966 album Revolver. But he was not “Indianizing” his sound; he was merely taking an influence from the music of the region, and his friend/mentor, Ravi Shankar.
And I believe that that’s what Dir en grey has done with their music. The band will be the first to admit that there aren’t many harder-sounding bands in Japan, so of course they would look at music from other parts of the world; Kaoru himself frequently gushed about Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails during some interviews in 1999 and 2000. If the band has been influenced by certain bands from America from as far back as that, then who’s to say that the band’s sound hasn’t always been “Americanized?”
Thank you for reading.