Sound — 8
Gauze is a 13 track (or 14 if you count the bonus track) album first released in Japan in 1998 from now-veteran JRockers Dir en Grey on the Free-Will record label. Dir en Grey have always had a penchant for making their work darker, grittier and altogether more haunting than their contemporaries. Though they have come a long way since Gauze's release 11 years ago the traits that make them stand above the others are still present. In their earlier career Dir en Grey were considered a "Visual Kei" band, a label that is a little at odds with itself, considering the visuals rarely have anything to do with music. However, in weird tradition Japan managed to turn a fashion statement into a genre of music. For the uninitiated, consider Visual Kei the Eastern equivalent of Nu-Metal, only a little more talented and less angsty. Anyway, I digress. Gauze is a very strong debut from a band that has always favoured a rather different approach to their music. This album is a 70-minute offering of good, wholesome JRock, featuring catchy hooks, pumping basslines and lyrics that, if you can ever be bothered to find a translation for them are a lot darker than the music would suggest - something that lead singer Kyo takes great pride in I imagine. The guitar work on this album, piloted by Kaoru and Die (yes, that is his name), can be pleasantly complex upon closer listening, with a few respectable solos thrown in here and there, particularly on Raison Detre and on bonus track "I'll" which is something Dir en Grey would move away from on later in their career. Lots of palm-muted riffing and chugging chords move the album along nicely, with a generous sprinkling of licks here and there. The bass, driven by Toshiya, has always been a strong point for Dir en Grey in my opinion and is something that features in a lot of JRock bands. Rather than drowning it overdriven guitars and over-produced vocals the bass is often brought to the forefront of the band's sound and it growls along with pleasant competency, moving up and down, back and forth and keeping the rhythm section very interesting. The drumming, courtesy of Shinya is, I feel, perhaps a little held back on this album, either that or Shinya wasn't as skilled as he is on later releases (which, logic would dictate, is probably true.) Nevertheless, the drumming isn't poor or basic by any means, Shinya often lays down some rather complex beats which complement the basslines brilliantly. And lastly vocals. From the moment I first heard Dir en Grey nearly 5 years ago to this very moment I have stood by my belief that there are very few vocalists who can come close to Kyo's range or emotion. He can alternate between clean crooning and psychotic growling in a heartbeat. Strangled cries, whimpers and orgasmic moans are all weapons in his arsenal that he makes no qualms about using and all of them serve to add another layer to the already textured and intricate sound that the band have built up on this album. Now, as always, a quick break down of each track: 01."Gauze - Mode of Adam": what could be considered your standard instrumental album opener except for the countdown towards the end. Nothing much to comment on hear. 02."Schwein no Isu": a great start to album, it starts with a sludgy, swaying riff carried along by a lurching bassline. Then it all gets a bit crazy. Everybody except the drummer is on back-up vocals, shouting in unison then Kyo's half-shouting, half-singing kicks in. This track does a good job of highlighting Kyo's vocal skills as well as the instrumental competency of the rest of the band. 03."Yurameki": a perfect example of the late 90's Visual Kei sound. An excellent example of Kyo's strength as a clean singer as well the riff weaving of Kaoru and Die supported by a complex and interesting rhythm section. 04."Raison Detre": one of my favourite tracks on the album, I love the sound of the guitar, the marching bassline and the trebly drumming as well as the little electronic touches here and there. Also the solo is nothing to be sniffed at. 05."304 Goushitsu, Hakushi no Sakura": another strong track highlighting Kyo's skills as a vocalist and the tightness of sound the band overall has achieved. A lot of neat little guitar tricks and bass fills on this track. 06."Cage": undoubtedly my favourite track from this album, it starts with what I think is a xylophone or glockenspiel. Either way it sounds like a kids music box, then it desends into reverb-heavy guitars and a relentless kick-you-in-the-face bassline. Highlights of this track are Kyo's vocal work and the rather impressive bass sort-of-solo. 07."Mitsu no Tsuba": one of the darker tracks on the album which opens with some heavy metal stop-start riffing and then sets a course for the seas of metal and continues at full speed. Lots of quick drumming, heavy guitar work and vocals that alternate between restrained fury and soaring cleans. A real gem. 08."Mazohyst of Decadence": an odd track this one. Opening with a sitar and the sound of a baby laughing. This track is what I'm talking about when I say Dir en Grey are darker, grittier and more haunting than others in their field. This track feels like its teetering on the edge of madness, giving us a 9 minute ride through Kyo's mind, which doesn't appear to be a pleasant place at the best of times. This track is perhaps a little too long for its own good though. 09."Yokan": pure, wholesome Visual Kei, with guitars that riff away somewhere in the background while the bass and vocals take centre stage. Also contains a farely impressive solo. 10."Mask": opening with a clip of a speech that I can't find the source of, this track is another one like "Schwein no Isu", sporadic guitars and a rhythm section that carries the song along nicely. It's some more of the same however which I feel is one of the weaknesses of Gauze, a lot of the tracks are hard to distinguish from others. 11."-Zan-": the opening to this song is a little bit creepy sometimes. It features Kyo's heavy breathing as the drumming fades in, then his breathing turns to maniacal laughter before the guitars burst in with some nice, dirty riffing, then it all descends into hi-octane madness. 12."Akura No Oka": an example of Kyo's ability to pour emotion into his lyrics. This song is a nice step back from the speedy riffing and haywire basslines. Backed by some a string section and some nice acoustic guitar this track really highlights Dir en Grey's ability to create some great music. Carried along by Kyo's vocals, the bass and some strums on the acoustic during verses, the song them soars into the chorus, with strings, overdriven guitars and Kyo practically pouring his heart out to us. You don't have to understand Japanese to know what he's saying. 13."Gauze - Mode of eve": The majority of this track is actually hidden at the end of "Akura No Oka" so this one clocks in at a MIGHTY 4 seconds long, not really a track at all, just another instrumental bit. 14."I'll": the bonus track and quite a good song overall, smacks of Yokan and Yurameki in that it's another Visual Kei song through and through, perhaps a little too poppy for my tastes though.
Lyrics — 10
Kyo is in charge of the lyrics while everyone has a say in the music and this formula has worked for over a decade and should under no circumstances be changed. Kyo is well known for his worldplay and double-entendres, as least he is now, I can't imagine he was at the time of this album's release, since this was their debut. Anyway, one thing that has always appealed to me about Dir en Grey, specifically their later work (which I will review) is that they have always been able to put across emotion and meaning in their songs. I don't understand Japanese, which I think is a good thing because I can attach my own meanings to each of Dir en Grey's songs which makes each one unique and special to me. However, if you search for translations to Dir en Grey's songs you will find that Kyo is quite a dark person. The lyrics often deal with themes such as lost love in songs like "304 Goushitsu..." and "Akura no Oka", what I can only imagine to be some form of parental abuse in "Cage" and the ever-touchy subject of abortion in "Mazohyst of Decadence". Even after finding English translations, Kyo utilises the Japanese language's habit of being REALLY CONFUSING to write his lyrics in such a way that any interpretation of them is never quite 100% correct. Aside from his tendency to write dark, confusing and sometimes downright creepy lyrics, Kyo is strong vocalist. Maybe he can't pull out a death metal scream (we have to wait for The Marrow of a Bone and Uroboros for that), but he is flexible.
Overall Impression — 9
I was a little wary of Gauze, since I started listening to Dir en Grey around the time of Withering to Death (2005) so I was already used to their sound that had taken nearly a decade to establish. I knew Gauze would be very different, perhaps even bad, and though it is far from my favourite Dir en Grey album, it isn't a bad effort at all. It set the tone for their later releases, it established them as a band with talent, but no desire to fall in line and churn out the same sounding music as their peers. Each Dir en Grey album has been remarkably different from its predecessor, yet retains a sound that is umistakable. Over the years the band has gone from strength to strength, always evolving, sometimes alienating their fans but always making the music they wanted and that is something that I can respect. Gauze is a good album, for fans of Visual Kei/JRock. Fans of their older work may not like its "poppier" sound, but if you can look past that you'll find that there are telltale signs of what the band would later become.