Dir En Grey is a quintet from Osaka, Japan, that plays a mixture of pop music, visual kei, metalcore, and extreme metal in an experimental way. This mixture might at first sound puzzling to Western ears, but the band’s unusual mixture of styles regularly hits the charts in Japan. Over the past few years, the band has played several international festivals, and also received some attention for its ultra-violent deathcore track with the stunning name “Hageshisa To, Kono Mune No Naka De Karamitsuita Shakunetsu No Yami”, which was included on the soundtrack of the Saw 3D movie. Seventeen years after its foundation, this unpredictable band drops its ninth album, entitled Arche, and manages to surprise fans and reviewers yet again. The main topic of this release is pain, and you can really feel it in all its different shades throughout the sixteen tracks and sixty-eight minutes of music.
It’s hard to believe, but Dir En Grey’s new output is a lot less brutal than some of its previous albums, and actually includes many calm and dark tracks which vary somewhere between psychedelic rock, pop music, and doom metal. The melancholic “Soshaku” sets the atmosphere of the album. The vocals are even more emotional and varied than usual for the band, and they range from a fragile high-pitched effort in the emotional chorus to appeasing low vocals in the verses and on to a few throaty growls in the bridge. Musically, this representative song is somewhere between slow-paced and mid-tempo, and convinces with its melancholy and psychedelic atmosphere, which is especially carried by the keyboards and the excellent guitar work. The album’s first single, “Rinkaku”, which was released two years prior to the album, is a great experimental alternative rock track with space rock guitar riffs and solos, relaxing acoustic guitar parts, calm piano passages, and science-fiction effects from the keyboard, as well as androgynous vocals that give the song a futuristic touch that suits the record well. It’s a rather challenging song for a single, but it made it to number four on the Japanese charts anyway. Another great example for the spacey sound of this release is the floating yet sinister “Behind A Vacant Image”, which is maybe the best song here. Guitar solos from outer space (à la Voivod) meet hypnotizing clean vocals in an elegic post-rock flow on this album highlight. The most unusual song on the album is the lethargic ballad “Kukoku No Kyoon”, where atmospheric keyboard sounds and appeasing acoustic guitars are accompanied by a mixture of almost whispered vocals and clean lines that could have come from a new wave of visual kei band like Mucc. This sort of laid back song is something rather new, even for an eclectic band like Dir En Grey. I really like the numbing and mysterious atmosphere of this tune, which can almost be seen as some kind of guiding line for the album, even though the sound probably works best on this particular track.
Fear not, dear fans of past records. There are still several extreme metal outbursts on the album. The dystopian “Midwife” is perfectly balanced between the calmer progressive and psychedelic tones of the release and features some really mean growls and shrieks carried by pitiless hyper-fast drumwork and chaotic riffs. This nightmarish track just doesn’t let me go, and immediately stands out on the album as a perfect example for the coherent fusion of the band’s previous and current sounds. “Sustain The Untruth” had already been released as a single almost a year prior to the album’s release, and is definitely one of the catchiest and most brutal tunes here. Metalcore breakdowns, extreme progressive metal riffs, a fast rhythm section, and versatile vocals (which are chillingly clean in the chorus and disturbingly extreme in the verses) meet electronic patterns that are almost dubstep-like. In the Western world, this would probably be one of the last choices for a single release, but this addicting yet uneasy tune went up to number six on the Japanese Oricon charts. The track is not really representative of the record, but it’s very enjoyable; especially for fans of the two previous outputs. The two closing songs, “The Inferno” and “Revelation Of Mankind”, are even more conciliatory for fans of the previous records, and end the album with an unexpectedly brutal extreme metal bang that threatens to tear heads off. It was a good choice to put the three aforementioned tracks among the last four songs on the album, as they fit in less with the rest of the record, and might hint at what the band will deliver in the future. From that point of view, the surprisingly brutal closure still somehow fits and leaves the fans hungry for more.
All in all, Dir En Grey kept its traditional trademarks in the form of an untouchable mixture of pop-orientated visual kei and pitiless extreme metal. The most striking novelty about Arche is the space rock-oriented sound somewhere between post rock, psychedelic alternative rock, and extreme progressive metal. At first contact, the album might sound puzzling, but this mindbreaking release is in fact one of Dir En Grey’s most accessible and mature records, and quickly grows. If you like weird music and aren’t afraid of challenging and explicit material, a mixture of widely opposing metal genres, and unpredictable song writing ideas, be courageous and grab this record if you stumble over it.