Review Summary: Dim but not at all dull
Ah, The GazettE. “What, the newspaper?” – you might ask, – “Which one? There are tons of those”.
Well, no, in this case The GazettE are a Japanese visual-kei band that has been gradually growing in popularity for the past ten years. Formed somewhere on the shores of Kanagawa, the band originally started as every other J-rock band in late 90s-early 2000s, combining aggressive and sometimes even ugly elements of punk and metal with cute playful melodies. As time passed, The GazettE’s creative MO smoothed out, getting rid of chaos and insanity and developing consistency.
Their second studio offering “NIL” was a blend of many shades, including classical visual-kei, sappy ballads, bouncy rock’n’roll sections and a solid portion of Western alternativenu metal. The album was a homeland success and huge sold-out venues followed, which only cemented the band’s certainty on the matter of direction.
The follow-up, “Stacked Rubbish”, was now fully exploring the fertile territory that alternative metal elements of the previous album have groped; some sections from that record sound like they were straight up ripped off from a Slipknot album, and other parts remind strongly of Limp Bizkit and Linking Park. The punky energetic numbers that bear similarities to classical visual-kei bands like Luna Sea were still present but they were partly buffed up with a portion of “nu” aggression with very few tracks retaining that old-school quality. And of course, there were the sappy ballads again, which since that record became obligatory – no matter how derived and uninspired they might become.
Our subject of study here is “DIM”, the band’s fourth full-length album. I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised upon listening to it in its entirety. “Stacked Rubbish” showcased the band’s obsession with alternative metal which to me hinted on the inevitable curse of self-repetition because there’s only so much you can do with that color palette. But the stalemate didn’t happen. Not in 2009.
”DIM” is a colorful, diverse and yet very focused and atmospheric record that manages to play on The GazettE’s strong sides without becoming boring or repetitive. Consisting of 17 tracks, 4 of which are moody instrumental interludes spread cleverly across the album, it almost never loses its grip on the listener… almost. Nothing is perfect and this album is no exception. But we’ll get to its flaws later; first, let’s take a look at the bright side.
The GazettE’s main strength on “DIM” is managing to churn out engaging heavy tracks that are instantly recognizable and can be easily distinguished from each other. While the main source of inspiration is again alternative metal, The GazettE are still smart enough to find a different angle for every track. For instance, opener “The Invisible Wall” is an epic thunderous overture with frantic drum fills and some accurately used tapping; the song also oscillates beautifully, switching between calm before the storm and the storm itself. “Leech” is a fun ride, a fast banging hard-rocking track with some incredibly cheesy female backing vocals that emphasize the caustic nature of the song. “Distress and Coma” employs the same trick with the vocals but to a very different structure with very different results; it also brings some strings to the instrumentation, creating a catchy and touching number that combines intensity and melody. “Ogre” is a head-scranger – meaning it’s a head-banger as well as a head-scratcher – employing odd rhythm changes and unforgiving aggression to create a fairly entertaining listen.
And with that said, the album always retains the shade of melancholy to it that ties all the tracks together in some sort of a narrative, making the listener’s experience all the more enjoyable. The track-listing is quite spot-on too: for example, the beautiful, dirge-like “Nakigahara”, that slowly fades away to silence, is followed by an incredibly creepy quite interlude “Erika” that reminds of Akira Yamaoka’s work on Silent Hill. That sort of combo lulls the listener’s attention to sleep and then the album shoots you in the face with a machine gun that is the track “Headache Man”. A bit later in the album, after the first obligatory ballad Guren (which is, actually, quite amazing) reaches it’s climatic orchestral stop there comes a cold little piece of claustrophobia entitled “Shikyuu”, that uses a distorted sample of a crying baby. Then this brain-torture abruptly stops and gives way to the menacing atmospheric groove of “13 Stairs”. And I simply cannot leave the closing track “DIM Scene” without mention. It ultimately uses the same idea as “Nakigahara”, which is a low-tempo slow-burner, but whereas Nakigahara was more introverted and melancholic in nature, smoldering to its end, “DIM Scene” is a majestic funeral pyre that endlessly escalates to simply fade away into silence. Containing some of the most emotional guitar parts The GazettE have ever produced, backed up with the hopeless whail of the violin, this track serves as the perfect final act for the metaphorical story that “DIM” is.
Another positive moment is the sound and the instrumentation. The album sounds menacingly huge, like a giant tidal wave. Instrumentation is top notch; Kai is currently one of Japan’s best drummers and while his performance never steps across the boundaries of accessibility, it at the same time showcases great skill. Guitars are as powerful as ever, the two playing styles of Uruha and Aoi compensate each other perfectly. The bass is present, although its presence isn’t always obvious but that is a common case inside the genre. The vocals are clean, slick, but probably a bit generic – one of the few weaknesses among Japanese bands is the sometimes staggeringly similar timbres of the singers. Also, Ruki’s screams and growls are not that impressive and, though adequate to the album, they don’t do much good live.
While the strong sides of the album are absolutely undeniable, there are a couple of things I found unnecessary – “a couple” being literally two tracks that follow one after another. First one is track 13 “Shiroki Yuuutsu” which to me seems like a boring version of “Guren” from the same exact album. It’s a featuare that would sadly become quite prominent is the band’s following works: copy-pasted ballads, built around the same chord progressions and seemingly serving as nothing more but bait for female audiences. Second weak spot is track 14 “In The Middle Of Chaos” which, again, seems like a repetition, only this time it’s all of the previous tracks on the album that are being repeated. The sing-along punk chorus is fun, but as a whole the track leaves very little impression, ending up considerably weaker than the other heavy songs. But both of those songs don’t do much harm to the whole album.
Overall, I view “DIM” as one of the best J-rock albums of the modern age. It’s manifold and coherent at the same time, it’s catchy and simple and simultaneously grand and epic. With “DIM”, The GazettE definitely reached their peak. Which was inevitably followed by a downslope. But that’s how life works.