Sound: Dir en Grey. A polarising band at the best of times. Some people vehemently hate them, others fanatically love them. They're an acquired taste and I fall into the "love" section. However, I despise obvious fanboy reviews so I will be as fair and critical as possible.
The Budokan has a long, rich history as a music venue and is undoubtedly one of the most popular in Japan. With a capacity of nearly 15,000 it's a respectably large venue and is something of a Mecca for musicians.
On January 9th and 10th 2010, Dir en Grey played 2 nights here, back to back. The standard edition of this DVD is a 2-disc affair with one disc per night. The tickets were sold out in minutes and it's easy to see why.
The gig opens with Sa Bir, an instrumental song which, sets the atmosphere. A huge screen behind the stage shows the word "Uroboros" the title of their latest album, on the backdrop of an eclipse. This segues into the 9-minute epic, Vinushka which, although being a complex song is executed brilliantly. The live sound is well balanced, however I feel the bass was somewhat lost in the mix which is a pity because Toshiya's basslines are often quite groovy and interesting. But it is a small complaint.
The band are very tight on this performance. Drummer Shinya provides complex, tireless rhythms while the dual-guitar work of Die and Kaoru shines, with Die changing things up a lot, throwing in small licks and improvising a few solos here and there. Kyo's vocals are strong, but do sometimes get muddled in with the instruments.
In between some songs Kyo gives a solo vocal perfomance, using a lot of delay and reverb effects on his voice. These often sound like chants or mantras and add a dark, brooding atmosphere to the proceedings. When I first heard one of these sections on the Glass Skin single (usually called "Inward Scream") I gotta admit I didn't like it, then again I didn't like Dir en Grey when I first heard them. As with the band, each new album and each new song, however, I learn to love them. During these Inward Scream moments the lights go down and all is silent except for the eerie, almost haunting vocals.
The band rollick through a marathon 26 song set, including songs from Withering to Death such as Dead Tree, and even a re-working of Zan, a song from their first album Gauze. Included in the setlist is newest single, the RIDICULOUSLY titled "Hageshisa To, Kono Mune No Naka De Karamitsuita Shakunetsu No Yami" which, if I have to refer it to again will simply be "Hageshisa".
As the name would imply, most of the setlist is taken from the Uroboros album and delivered with skill and passion. Standout tracks would include Vinushka, Grief, Ryoujoku No Ame, Dead Tree and Dozing Green.
To accompany us on this musical journey the aforementioned huge screen shows various clips, sometimes from a song's music video, but often they are odd, obscure clips. Extreme close ups of wrinkled hands, a ruined cityscape with a purple sky, an emaciated torso. Dir en Grey have always had an excellent sense of imagery and the inclusion of a large screen in their set reminds me very much of Tool. Using odd images which somehow fit with the music, but not in any discernible way. I think it adds a whole new layer to the gig. Rather than just going to listen to the music, you can watch, you can become absorbed in it. I watched it on my TV and it drew me in, I can only imagine what it was like to be there.
Overall the setlist will appeal to Dir en Grey's newer fans, fans of the heavier, more metallic side. If you started listening to them from Withering to Death/Marrow of a Bone onwards then I imagine you'll enjoy this DVD. The sound is good, raw and loud, as is to be expected. There are a few more songs I'd like to have seen, but asking for more than 26 songs (25 if you don't count the instrumental) is getting a bit greedy I think. // 9
Overall Impression: I'll compare this DVD to my (now) second favourite Dir en Grey DVD, The Rose Trims Again. In TRTA the band slowed down midway and out on an excellent acoustic show for 3 or 4 songs. This really allowed the viewer to see a more subdued and subtle side to the band. Unfortunately, no such section exists on this DVD, which I was a little bit disappointed about. However there are parts where this DVD outshines TRTA. The sound quality is better, the direction is more exciting and the visual aspect is much greater. The Rose Trims Again felt small and intimate, whereas Uroboros feels huge, loud and epic. Both are excellent live DVDs, but I think Uroboros takes the top spot thanks to the superior audio/visual aspect.
My favourite part of the DVD was when the band broke into "Ryoujoku No Ame" a song from their Marrow of a Bone CD. Beforehand, Kyo had been performing one of his Inward Screams and all was quiet, eerie and dark. Then the lighting flares and the guitars come in and all is bright, loud and chaotic in an instant. I sat upright and said something along the lines of "Hell yeah!" as the tiny hairs on my arms stood on end.
Overall, this is an excellent DVD and a good showcase talents. I consider a milestone in their career. Uroboros is arguably their most accomplished and popular album to date, demonstrating a more mature, darker and complex sound than earlier records. This DVD marks a time when Dir en Grey are at the height of their popularity. After a career spanning more than a decade they have changed a lot. Their style, both visual and musical has evolved naturally over time, becoming darker, heavier and angrier as the years have gone on. They have embraced a wider range of influences, particularly from American metal bands which I believe has given them a hybrid sound that appeals to East and West.
There is hate for Dir en Grey, there is hate for any band. If you're a fan of bands like Lamb of God, Tool, hell even Nu Metal stuff like KoRn you'll most likely enjoy Dir en Grey. Their sound is hard to describe, influenced by many but sounding like no one else, if you haven't already I'd urge you to give them a listen, it might just change your life. // 10