Review Summary: The musical equivalent of the most disgusting and depraved parts of the human psyche.
I want you to picture a padded cell with no door, filled with a sickly grey smoke. The soft padding lies beneath a thin mesh of metal that hurts your bare feet when you walk on it. The air is sticky and humid and it makes your skin feel weird on your body. You are a disgusting human being. You are selfish, impulsive and destructive; the only thing that matters to you is your own desires. The padded cell is your mind, but it feels unnaturally physical and lucid that you’re entirely convinced that it’s real. You can hear voices and sounds that try to communicate with you, some are more passive than others but they all feel hostile and are all personally confrontational. There’s a window with bars over it, it lets a little bit of cold air in but it just serves to make the humidity even more unbearable. All you can see out the window is an infinite void of grey smoke, there is a sakura with white blossoms there, and some of its branches scrape against the bars. The white sakura seems to glare at you and taunt you; it’s always judging your perverted psyche and you loathe it. There’s an old, decaying hospital bed in a corner on the opposite side of the room from the window, you lie awake at night on this, staring up at the padded ceiling, stained grey by the cursed smoke. The room is somewhat of a refuge for you, it allows you to explore the deepest filth of your rotten, deviant mind freely and without consequence. However, the voices and the white sakura are always there to remind you what a selfish, alienating, disgusting piece of trash you truly are.
I want you to imagine this because that is what Dir en Grey’s GAUZE is; that room inside your head where you keep the darkest parts of yourself, but expressed as music. Music wise, GAUZE is not the Dir en Grey that death metal enthusiasts have come to love. Rather it sees Dir en Grey begin their career tastefully and masterfully welding together pretty and glamorous alt rock with rough and incomplete heavy metal. The way that the band has made these two contradictory ideas come together is stunning and highly captivating and it serves as the perfect backdrop to the dark, deviant and mentally confrontational lyrics of Kyo. There is something so terrifyingly real and morbid about GAUZE that makes it as powerful a listen as it is. The grotesque perversions conveyed in GAUZE’s lyrical content are not exclusively what makes it such a lucid dream, the music is absolutely essential in this albums sonic prowess. It’s almost as if by chance that the music and the lyrics marry so well, the brutality of Dir en Grey’s current death metal sound is so wildly removed from the alt fusion on here. GAUZE could perhaps be simply dismissed as a prototype, but it stands out on its own as something so much more than simply a fledgling band’s wild ambition.
I can’t think of a more fitting and appropriate way of describing the music that Dir en Grey have created on their debut release than the albums own title. It is glamourous Jrock wrapped in a sheet of metal gauze. The metal elements on this album are definitely not dominant enough for it to be a big block of iron, but more like a wire mesh that’s been wrapped around a lump of glittery Jrock; allowing it to shine through the metal or more accurately, with the metal. It’s a fairly ambitious delivery, but it all goes together so perfectly that it’s practically genius. The tone of the guitars is varied throughout the album as a result. The sparse differences in the two styles that Dir en Grey have reacted together is made immediately apparent with the two songs “Schwein no Isu” and “Yurameki” sitting back to back at the very beginning of the album. Both tracks effectively establish the bands keen proficiency in both of these sounds, demonstrating to the listener that the two entirely different sounds do not cancel each other out. The former presents crunching rhythm guitars and squealing pinch harmonics from the leads, a driving drum beat and some unsettlingly coarse vocal delivery from frontman Kyo. This searing and harshly moulded metal that “Schwein no Isu” pushes is so far removed from the colourful and pleasant “Yurameki” that follows it. On “Yurameki,” guitarists Kaoru and Die brighten out their leads and Kyo softens out his vocal delivery. Despite one song being oxidised and rough and the other being polished and pleasing to the ears, the alluring flair and unlikely chemistry between the two.
The two entirely different styles of music are not unlike the gauze-covered padded interior of the room I described at the start. Even though the wire mesh sends blunt, merciless pain from your feet into your skull; the soft padded floor is still right there to comfort you. These sounds are elaborated on further on the rest of the album. The insanely catchy “Raison d’etre” combines this gleaming alternative sound with a pulsing electronic beat. It creates an inhuman drive to the song that gets your blood pumping and your body thrashing. Possibly the greatest and most accomplished song using this style, as well as being a definitive stand out of the album is “Yokan.” The beautiful clean arpeggios that the song is laden with, combined with one incredibly addictive bass line and drum pattern; the infectious “call and answer” relationship between the two main guitars and Kyo’s flawless vocal delivery make “Yokan” a Jrock classic and stands as a cumulative statement of what makes the poppy alternative side of GAUZE so attractive and enjoyable to listen to.
Of course in contrast to the accessible quality of GAUZE is how much darker and gothic the metal elements gets as the album progresses. The blood-curdling tri-tones that Kaoru and Die utilize in “Tsumi to Batsu” is representative of the choking smoke that fills the aforementioned darker side to the human psyche. This morphs into the slow-burning “Mazohyst of Decadence” where the unholy nature of the metal is tortured and weaved through gothic textures and samples of babies giggling. The guitars linger and slide around during the nine and a half minutes of filth that Dir en Grey subject your ears to for the songs life. “Mazohyst of Decadence’s” greatest accomplishment is how well it demonstrates that the band can create a suffocating and heavy atmosphere even without the guitars being anywhere near as distorted as they are on tracks like “Schwein no Isu.” “Mazohyst of Decadence could very well be taken as the moment where the two styles meet in the middle and merge to create the infinite void of smoke outside the room. It’s dense and it’s captivating, one of the best pieces of music the band ever wrote. The darker sonic side of GAUZE culminates in “ZAN.” Erratic and brutal blast beats and crunching guitars pound away while Kyo screams PSYCO!! Through the chorus. While it is possibly the only real indicator of where Dir en Grey would take themselves in the future, it serves as something of a climax near the end of GAUZE, attention grasping and demanding.
The real icing on the cake for GAUZE is hidden in the lyrics. The hideous, morbid and disgusting lyrics. For the softer alternative songs there’s content that introduces us to a person filled with regret and self-loathing for the way he has betrayed those with whom he had a romantic relationship with. The lyrics are very open and honest, bringing forth a deep sense of pity for those involved in these destructive partnerships. “Raison detre” is probably the album’s strongest song lyrically. Detailing coming to terms with a romance built up on carnal desire, Kyo pens some wonderfully vibrant lyrics. A confrontation with his conscience in the chorus (described as a lone Pierrot performing in front of a mirror) that causes him to realise that he has hurt the other involved breathes an entirely different sensation into the music on the album. Kyo deals with using another person to satisfy your own personal desires by feeding them with false love and comfort on “Yokan,” changing the most Jpop influenced song on the album into the coldest. “Yokan” confronts deceit and self-indulgence, truly displaying how disgraceful and selfish it is to use someone on the premise of false happiness. All of this self-service eventually deflates into despair on the albums final song (excluding the outro snippet [GAUZE –mode of eve-] hidden at the end of the album) “Akuro no Oka,” which is possibly the albums standout song. The lonely atmosphere of the track serves as the perfect soundtrack to trying to hold on to one last moment of love after it’s gone, resigning yourself to personal isolation. It’s moving and it contains a very important message…
But that’s not entirely why GAUZE is such a vile and despicable thematic affair. It’s the horrifically specific nature of the lyrical content of the albums heavier moments that stick out the most. Easily the most disgusting song on the album is “Tsumi to Batsu,” otherwise known as “Mitsu to Tsuba” as it was originally printed on the albums packaging. Instead of translating from “Tsumi to Batsu” as “Crime and Punishment,” Kyo has cleverly reversed the syllables to make it translate as… “Honey and Saliva.” Kyo graphically depicts sexually and physically assaulting a 14 year old girl. He lists his favourite parts and even gives a specific date for the event to have taken place. Both the musical and lyrical content of the song are so sickeningly primal and horrid that it ignites a sense of morbid curiosity that makes GAUZE so damn interesting to listen to. The lyrics to “Schwein no Isu” are equally as vile and intriguing to listen to for exactly the same reason you like to watch movies like Saw or Texas Chainsaw Massacre; that deviant, revolting part of your mind that all humans have in them in some shape or form that makes you morbidly curious. In “Mazohyst of Decadence,” Kyo puts himself in the role of a foetus being aborted in a rather vicious fashion, a lavishly gruesome tale that makes the gothic instrumentation of the song make your skin crawl.
What Dir en Grey accomplished with GAUZE is something that their contemporaries have never quite matched in the same way. The band have created the musical equivalent of the darkest, deepest, most depraved parts of the human psyche. The lyrics are both disgustingly morbid and highly confrontational all at once and the way Dir en Grey has married together the glamorous and glittery alt-rock of the Visual-Kei movement with a grimy and primal mesh of metal compliments the lyrics brilliantly. It’s far-removed musically from the Dir en Grey that people have come to grow familiar with, but it’s one of the greatest things that the band has to offer due to its diversity. GAUZE is the ugly part of your soul that you keep locked away deep within an abyss somewhere, for fear that you may someday have to battle it and lose. Highly entertaining and intriguing both lyrically and musically, GAUZE not only confronts the monster inside you, but it also satisfies it in a way that isn't difficult to absorb.