Album of the Week 51-2014: Dir En Grey – Arche

A new Dir En Grey album is much like the box of chocolates referred to in ‘Forrest Gump’. The Japanese quintet has been so eclectic throughout their discography, that you litterally never know what you’re going to get. ‘Arche’ is no exception. Ever since singer Kyo discovered a deep, almost inhuman growl in his already broad vocal arsenal, the Death Metal influence in their music has increased. A further exploration of the experimental extremities heard on predecessor ‘Dum Spiro Spero’ would therefore have been a reasonable expectation. Being Dir En Grey, however, the band chose a different direction. One significantly more straightforward and melodic. The resulting album is a winner.

Stylistically, ‘Arche’ is located somewhere between the emotional approach of ‘Kisou’ and the playful aggression of ‘Vulgar’, combined with the distinct contemporary progressive leanings of ‘Uroboros’. Kyo still employs all the extremes of his range, but has a considerably cleaner approach this time. The cleaner inclination is reflected in the guitar sound and the production as well. The mix is spacious with a lot of room for the drums courtesy of Shinya, who simply gives the performance of a liftime here. Granted, it works because the songs have more breathing room than the band gave their songs in a while, but it works fantastically.

In a way, the two singles released before the album – ‘Rinkaku’ and ‘Sustain The Untruth’ – give the wrong impression, or at least an incomplete one, of what ‘Arche’ sounds like. Then again, each of the sixteen songs has a distinct character of its own. This also is a result of the more straightforward songwriting; ‘Dum Spiro Spero’ was very abstract and as a result, some of the songs tend to blur a little. In this case, sometimes it’s a riff (the kickass headbanger ‘Chain Repulsion’), sometimes the brilliant light-and-shade workings (‘Uroko’) and sometimes just the alternative direction (the almost electronic-sounding ‘Phenomenon’), but all the songs stand out one way or another.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any highlights. ‘Un Deux’ has fantastic riff work as well as a downright brilliant chorus that sticks in my head despite my inability to remember the words due to the language barrier. It sets the tone perfectly and as such, it rivals ‘Vinushka’ as the best opening track of the band. The surprisingly sparse ‘Kuukoku No Kyouon’ is easily one of the best Dir En Grey ballads so far, not in the last place because of Kyo’s fantastic performance, and ‘Kaishun’ features some fantastic guitar interplay by Kaoru and Die. Whoever plays that solo does an awesome job as well. Those who like that side of the band will probably be disappointed that the Death Metal factor has been toned down considerably, but the closing salvo of ‘The Inferno’ (as if the title didn’t give that one away) and the awesome riff monster ‘Revelation Of Mankind’ do highlight the more brutal side of the band.

Because of its variation and strong songwriting, ‘Arche’ is thorougly enjoyable through multiple spins. Each one of them slowly reveals more layers and secrets as you go along. In time, it may even come very close to ‘Gauze’ and ‘Uroboros’ as my favorite Dir En Grey album. Fact is that it’s another disc of brilliantly written and executed heavy music that doesn’t really sound like anything anyone else is doing at the moment. Dir En Grey at its best.

Recommended tracks: ‘Un Deux’, ‘Chain Repulsion’, ‘Kuukoku No Kyouon’, ‘Revelation Of Mankind’

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