Sound — 8
Dir en grey's sound has changed a lot over the years. They started off as a "typical" Visual Kei band whose music style seemed to sound like a pop version of progressive metal (think if Depeche Mode played Queensryche covers), but stripped their sound down over the years to a more metallic approach, with influences from American punk and hardcore bands. While this has alienated many of the band's core fans, the band is becoming truer and truer to their own vision every album. The band's transition can be seen well on this album, as there are some songs that seem to encompass the band's past ("Machivellism" appears to be one of those tunes that could have fit on their first three albums), and present. Represented here is a diverse range of sounds, from almost punk-like rock ("Garbage") to modern alternative metal ("The Final") to outright thrash ("C"). The bass is upfront in many songs, and while the guitarists have basically cut out all guitar soloing from their sound on this album, they play some very crisp riffs, and prove that their sound can still be interesting, even if Kaoru or Die are not playing heart-wrenching solos over everything. Kyo's vocals show a bit of maturing on this record, even though he still had a long way to go to match the intensity of later tracks like "The Pledge" and "Dozing Green". Fortunately, there aren't any songs on this record that are devoid of his clean vocals, which are infinitely better than his growled, although he does perform competently in that department in a few songs. The most notable case of this is in the song "C", which has a brief line of growled vocals which are as impressive as anything Opeth have done. The drums are also shown in full intensity here, with Shinya plowing ahead at full force on songs like "C" and "Saku", the latter of which was named #1 on Headbanger's Ball in '06. But Shinya also knows when to lay back and play in the pocket. The musicians on this record are more than competent, and the sound is quite pleasing for the most part. There are a few songs that aren't very memorable, however. My criticism of this album stems in the fact that a lot of the songs sound too similar, too derivative, and a couple of them sound lazy. There could have been a lot more work put into a song like "Dead Tree", which is begging for a guitar solo or some kind of epic bridge section to round it out, instead of being two riffs. The production is a little thin compared to "The Marrow Of A Bone", and some of the songs just don't seem to be mixed just right.
Lyrics — 9
Kyo probably has one of the most distinctive vocal styles in modern rock. While he initially sounded like every other J-rocker out there (ie, a Gackt-clone), he eventually came into his own. His style seems to be some kind of amalgamation between Gackt, Corey Taylor, and Mike Patton. While his voice can be rather soothing sometimes, he tends to favor the screaming/shouting approach on this record. The man can do a lot of things with his voice. Except pronounce English. Lyrically this album is one of the band's stronger efforts. It lacks a lot of the shock elements that make "The Marrow Of A Bone" both enjoyable and at the same time deplorable, while improving on the emotional aspects shown on previous albums. Themes of lost love, guilt, addiction to fate, suicide, depression, and war are prevalent through this album. Kyo's lyrics on this album are as rich and vivid as they've ever been (if you can read the translations, anyways, since most of this album is in Japanese), and his songs never seem to have a happy ending. These are deep stories compared to most artists in this genre nowadays. My biggest criticism is the English lyrics. While I'm all for Japanese bands trying to sing in a foreign tongue, and I'm no "typical j-rock fan" who wants Diru to go back to their VK sound, I have to admit that hearing Kyo attempt English is sometimes quite grating. The effect can sometimes be amusing (as seen on "Machivellism"), but for the most part, it's painful to listen to. All in all though, the lyrics themselves are deep, thought-provoking, and shocking without being melodramatic and fake.
Overall Impression — 8
While this album alienated fans worldwide, and infuriated many of those typical j-rock fans who saw this as a form of "selling out to reach the American market", the band members themselves have said that they had always been inspired by American hardcore and punk bands, and that this had been a natural progression for the band. Take into account the fact that in their early VK days, there was a lot of pressure from the label to stay close to a VK style. As soon as the band found freedom, they grasped for it. And while there are definitely some negative aspects to this album, like Kyo's sometimes irritating English pronounciation and a weak second half of the album, this is an overall great album from the band that deserves at least the respect of the fans. While some elements of past albums will be missed (like epic-length numbers like "Macabre" or Floyd-esque ballads like "Mushi"), the direction the band takes on this record is a fresh mix of old and new. The only improvement I'd make is a little more guitar shredding (which Die has been doing on some tracks live lately, like "Saku"), and maybe tone down a bit of Kyo's screaming vocals. I'd definitely buy this album for real if I could find it in any stores in my area for a fair price, which is somewhat impossible here. If I had lost it, I'd be pretty upset. The overall impression is an 8.5 out of 10, but I'm rounding it down to 8 just because The Marrow Of A Bone shows some significant improvements in some of the areas that I found lacking on this album. It's not quite a must-buy for first time fans, but this is a great transitional album for the band, and a good album for anyone who has only heard their early stuff.