Sound — 8
Dir en grey have been one of Japan's biggest rock acts since 1997, when they released their "Missa" EP, and have consistently put out hit material since. I liken this band's dynamic to being sort of like Japan's version of Rush: starting out as a copycat band and scoring a few hits, then drastically changing their sound every few albums, all while keeping all five original members. It's a rare thing in the music industry, to have a band with this much staying power, stability, and consistently quality music.
The history of this EP can really be traced back to their initial touring for their "Oroborus" album, which I have also reviewed here. The band started in the '90s as basically a typical Visual Kei band, huge flashy hairdos and effeminate costumes, with poppy guitar-driven rock songs and catchy choruses. As the band progressed, their sound became much heavier, culminating on "Oroborus" and its recent follow-up, "Dum Spiro Spero" with performances bordering on death metal. During these tours, many fans wished to see the band perform old favourites, and having changed their style so dramatically, they were reluctant to visit their past. So they took a rather creative step: they re-wrote their classic hits to accommodate their current style, with Kaoru and Die beefing up the guitar riffs with lower 7-string tunings and Kyo growling, screaming, and choking his way through the lyrics. Their rewrite of "Zan," originally from their debut full-length "Gauze," was recorded and released as a B-side to "Hageshisa to, Kono Mune no Naka de Karamitsuita Shakunetsu no Yami." During their touring cycle for "Dum Spiro Spero," the band got together to release an EP of rewritten classic Dir en grey tunes.
The record itself exemplifies everything I wrote above. Opening with the only new track, "The Unraveling," the record begins propelling itself forward with a really neat funk-metal inspired guitar riff, running through a gamut of vocal styles, tempos, and showing a songwriting style very close to that of their current material. Following this is "Karma," a song from "~Kaede... If Trans~", a VHS music video collection from the band's early days. The song sounds absolutely thrashy and modern, blending the heaviness of bands like Meshuggah with the melodicism of the original tune. Though the track is damn near deathcore, it still sounds like Dir en grey. The guitar solo has Kaoru using the Whammy pedal to its full advantage. The third track, "Kasumi," was originally released on their fourth album, "Vulgar," and this one actually sounds rather close to the original, since around that time they started experimenting with more alternative metal sounds. They beefed up the guitar riffs and added a nice harmony guitar solo, and Kyo's voice is just as beautiful as in the original. After releasing many albums without many solos, it's kind of refreshing to hear Kaoru and Die getting some time to shred. They're actually rather respectable lead guitarists. "Karasu," from "Kisou," is the next song to get the reboot treatment. This track is kind of like the J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" of the album. A little more action, and a lot of lens flare. This song started as a rather ambient industrial metal track, and making it fit the current times wasn't hard, especially with djent's popularity. Kyo's vocals in this track are incredible and this version sounds as fresh as anything written this year. Next is "Bottom of the Death Valley," a bass-oriented track composed by bassist Toshiya, and they did pretty much completely rewrite this track. The song now opens with a really nice bass cadenza and sounds quite a bit darker than the original. The way the band switches between heavy and soft reminds me of bands like Opeth, and it's clear they've been keen to break a lot of musical boundaries lately. Opening with acoustic guitars, another very early track gets a substantial rewrite in "Unknown. Despair. Lost," with a very thrash-inspired riff and huge melodic chorus, as well as some devastatingly heavy bass tones. Even though drummer Shinya plays very tastefully for a metal drummer, he does play some really amazing lines in this song. The last song on the main edition of the disc is "THE FINAL," a remake of one of their most popular songs worldwide. It's another recent track, from their "Withering To Death" album, and like "Karasu," sounds very much like the original. In fact, it barely sounds like a remake, save for the addition of a guitar solo, like the band had been playing it live. I found this rather odd, considering that this album was all about rewriting old tracks, and this one remained pretty much the same.
Now, for those of us who got the special edition, we're in for a couple of real treats!
The first is a remake of the epic title track of their second album, "Macabre." This song was too good to completely rewrite, though the updated guitar riffs are every bit as thundering as the rest of the record. The real treat is that they basically added a whole song to this piece, adding a new section which really shows off their new death and prog metal influences. This is the band's longest track, clocking in at over 16 minutes, and is totally the band's most overtly progressive metal moment. The band also includes two "unplugged" versions of "The Unraveling" and "THE FINAL," the former sounding like some weird avant-garde classical piano piece, and the latter being huge and epic with sweeping orchestral accompaniment.
Overall, this is a really interesting sounding EP, and there aren't many weak spots. I wasn't really caught by the unplugged tracks, and some of the more uptempo metal tracks weren't my thing, but the big melodic and ambient moments were sublime, and the band's increasing prog-metal influence continues to blow me away.
Lyrics — 8
To be honest, I haven't looked up the lyrics, and lacking a translation to go from on the new tracks, I can't properly review the lyrics. One of the predominant themes with Dir en grey's lyrics is the lack of happy endings. All of their songs deal with topics like lost love, sexual taboos, evil, greed... They rarely write uplifting material. Musically, they match this up with increasingly heavy and dark music.
Kyo's vocal abilities are second to none, and he uses his entire range on this record, from screaming and growling to crazy guttural vocal effects, to some of the nicest clean singing you'll hear this year. His unique abilities get full use in the band's more recent material so fans who have heard it will be used to it, but he does a lot more with his voice on the remakes than he ever would have in the days they were originally recorded, so that may throw off the fans who want this for nostalgic purposes. Even so, Kyo is one of the most amazing singers going in metal right now.
Overall Impression — 8
Compared to their most recent records, the sound is pretty much sticking to their current formula, but the band has made such drastic changes in the past few albums that I don't mind them settling into this dramatic progressive death metal style, since it really seems to work for them. If I could make a recommendation, make sure to get the two-disc version with "Macabre" on it, since that track may be one of Dir en grey's most outstandingly epic. There aren't many negatives to this record, except that maybe some of the tracks are a little monotonous, and I would have liked to see them push "THE FINAL" a little further.
Overall, this is a solid EP from a band that has done a little bit of everything, and the remakes of the tracks will be entertaining to long-time fans who embraced the band's many stylistic changes. But even listening to it as a current, original record with no connection to past albums, it still stands as a pretty good record. This isn't a "greatest hits" record by any stretch, these rewrites are as fresh and original as any of their new songs.
Definitely recommended to any open-minded metal fan!