Album of the Week 35-2014: Dir En Grey – Gauze

Dir En Grey’s debut album is the hidden gem of the Visual Kei scene. This may sound a bit weird, figuring that the Japanese quintet is probably the most popular band in the Metal scene with non-English lyrics after Rammstein, but ‘Gauze’ stands out stylistically in a discography that is charactarized by an incredible amount of variation anyway. Those who know Dir En Grey’s later, more brutal and progressive work will probably be surprised by how melodic the material on ‘Gauze’ sounds. One thing is for sure though: this is the work of an immensely talented band capable of writing fantastic songs.

About half of the album was produced by X Japan’s main man Yoshiki. This “L.A. Session” has resulted in a lot of music that sounds closer to the melodic Hard Rock generally associated with the Visual Kei scene than the experimental take on extreme Metal that the band would come to be known for. And although all the band members have proven to be extremely talented through the years, it’s especially singer Kyo and bassist Toshiya that shine on these songs. It’s a matter of space; Toshiya’s jumpy, melodic bass lines add an almost danceable edge to Shinya’s intense drumming, while Kyo, who would become the man who could go to any vocal extreme, gets the room to display how amazing his clean vocals are.

It’s not a strict division though; ‘-Zan-‘, with its hyperspeed riffs and drums, is easily the most brutal and aggressive song on the record and it was recorded in Los Angeles with Yoshiki. On the other hand, the light and breezy Pop melodies of ‘Raison Detre’ (sic) – one of the album’s highlights – is from the self-produced session in Japan. The rest of the album sort of bounces back and forth between those extremes. ‘Cage’ and ‘Yokan’ are masterpieces of melodic Rock with beautiful choruses that have me singing along despite the fact that I don’t speak Japanese (not even a little) and on the other hand, there’s the pounding riffing of ‘Tsumi To Batsu’ and the terrifying Progmetal of ‘Mazohyst Of Decadence’.

Quite a lot of time has been spent on the production and it shows. ‘Gauze’ is a dream of hi-fi late eighties alternative Rock production. In hindsight, the guitars of Kaoru and Die could have done with a bit more balls as the casual listener hardly notices how impressive these guys are, but it’s hardly a disturbing factor. In fact, a more “Metal” production probably wouldn’t have suited the album, since it’s not strictly a Metal record.

What this is though is a collection of extremely well-written songs that have a lot of room for incredible melodies and quite possibly Kyo’s best vocal work to date – keep in mind that I have a strong preference of clean vocals. It’s hard not to love an album with such fantastic songwriting and so much variation. The beautiful cover model doesn’t hurt either. All this contributes to what is probably my favorite Dir En Grey album, along the 2008 masterpiece ‘Uroboros’. It’s quite difficult to get a hold of outside of Japan, but well worth tracking down.

Recommended tracks: ‘Raison Detre’, ‘Cage’, ‘Yokan’, ‘-Zan-‘

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