DIR EN GREY “THE MARROW OF A BONE” ALBUM REVIEW
With all the press Dir en grey has been receiving lately (a feature in Revolver magazine, rotation on MTV2, a rave review by AllMusic.com’s Thom Jurek, Axl’s video review yesterday) I figured it was high time to give their recent release The Marrow of a Bone a proper review, seeing as I’ve had the album for a couple of weeks now. The Marrow of a Bone is the fifth release by this Japanese quintet, but the first to see widespread distribution in America (the independent Warcon Records has distribution through Sony). This ever-changing album showcases the band’s ability to incorporate and experiment with many different styles of music into its otherwise plain nu-metal foundation. Along with frontman Kyo’s varying vocal deliveries this makes for a pretty interesting listen that — while it probably won’t experience widespread success in America — will surely earn the band a strong following here beneath the radar.
Dir en grey are actually not entirely new to America, having already built up something of a cult following here by word-of-mouth alone. The band had plenty of fans who knew all the words showing up to see them low on the billing of 2006’s Family Values Tour with Korn and The Deftones. But here’s the kicker; even though the song titles are sometimes in English, the lyrics rarely ever are. Not only did the band have crazed kids singing along to lyrics whose meaning they were clueless about, but t-shirts for Withering to Death, the 2006 release they were touring in support of, were big sellers at Hot Topic.
Dir en grey has been a band for ten years; at some points during this record this is more apparent than at others. The band’s strength lies in the slower, more melodic and experimental songs where they can really explore sonic textures and Kyo’s very unique voice can shine. All too often, however, the other songs are based around relatively plebeian first-wave nu-metal guitar riffs and drum beats that don’t allow the band to break out of the box.
The album opener “Conceived Sorrow” is a highlight; spooky keyboards underneath a haunting piano phrase open the song, leading to a mellow, gradually building verse with delicate digital-delay guitar work and acoustic strumming that eventually gives way to an epic fantasy-tinged, heavily-distorted maelstrom of guitars beneath a tenor so clear that Sebastian Bach would be jealous. Track 6, listed on the CD in Japanese but the transliteration for which AllMusic.com lists as “Ryoujoku No Ame,” is another great example of how this band can combine styles to make something very, very unique. The band incorporates a simple digital sample loop into the song, another tired nu-metal trick, but here it adds dynamic and fills the texture of the song; add Kyo’s always odd vocals (think Mike Patton level of multiple personality disorder), some heavy riffing, and some funky, jazzy guitar chords to spice things up. Track 8, a.k.a. “Namamekashiki Ansoku, Tomadoi Ni Hohoemi” is another slow number that mixes atmospheric, delay-drenched guitars with a beautiful, driving bassline that builds and builds, carried by Kyo’s soaring vocals. “The Pledge” utilizes a similar structure. When the band is at their heaviest Kyo still shines, shrieking, howling, and delivering a frightening death metal growl on “The Deeper Vileness.”
The rest of the tracks on the album tend to be bogged down by nu-metal mediocrity. “The Fatal Believer” begins with a standard nu-metal intro and verse but picks up the slack with a catchy enough chorus. “Disabled Complexes” starts promisingly enough, but devolves into nu-metal sludge before too long, while “Rotting Root” suffers this fate from the get-go. Elsewhere the band continues genre exploration, as on “Lie Buried with a Vengeance” and “Agitated Screams of Maggots” which find the band experimenting with melodic Swedish death metal thrash riffs while Kyo does his best Anders Friden (In Flames) impersonation. The twin guitar attack of In Flames actually shows up quite a bit on this album, and when it does it’s a welcome addition.
This is to say nothing of their live show, which by all accounts is a sight to be seen, quite literally; Dir en grey associated themselves with Japan’s “Visual Rock” movement, often decked out in full goth costumes complete with makeup, and an uncontainable bounding energy on stage. But I disgress; not only is this an album review but I haven’t seen the band live.
For metal fans that are looking for something a bit different that doesn’t follow metal conventions, this is definitely worth a shot. Even though the album sometimes falls victim to these same conventions, it’s still an intriguing disc with enough rewarding material to make it worth checking out.
(three out of five horns)