Review Summary: Dir en grey fuse new and old sounds, creating their best effort since Uroboros.
Japanese metal band Dir en grey has had a bit of an identity crisis ever since their arrival in America back in 2006. Withering to Death
, their first album released internationally, seemed to characterize them as a "novelty" band in the Western metal music scene, a band who's only followers were die-hard J-Rock fans. Subsequent LP releases from Dir en grey saw the Japanese group ran a gamut of (metal) sounds in an attempt to firmly plant themselves as legitimate artists. This lead to some good songs, some bad songs, and some great songs. But now, after a 15-year career of constantly evolving work, Dir en grey is being pulled at all sides by fans who want wildly different things from the band. Arche
is Dir en grey's attempt to please this diverse fanbase. Such an effort could have been disastrous but Dir en grey handles it exceedingly well.
is the refined version of the softer metal sound found on The Unraveling
, an EP that re-worked their older songs. This doesn't mean this is a "soft" album in any sense, nor is it as muddled as The Unraveling
. Lead singer Kyo still belts an incredibly range of falsettos and death growls as the band delivers shifting time signatures and a gothic theatrical progressive metal styling (a mouthful, I know). In fact, all of Dir en grey bring their best to Arche
. Kyo's vocals have never been this dynamic before, neither have guitarists Die's and Kaoru's songwriting as the three jump from ecstatic highs to crushing lows and to brief avant-garde asides seamlessly, all while bassist Toshiya and drummer Shinya effortlessly keep and set the pace in each and every song.
For once, Dir en grey is looking into the past for innovation. Arche
is all about Dir en grey taking ideas from previous records, running them through a meat grinder and then tenderizing the remains into well-prepared, accessible chunks. Gone are the long opuses that characterized Dum Spiro Spero
; every song on this album falls under the 6 minute mark. Many of the songs off Arche
play with old ideas, but wisely chooses from successful ideas instead of trying to turn failed experiments into gold. In some ways, Arche
feels like a celebratory look back in their career by doing so. Revelation of Mankind
, the last song of the album, is similar to Clever Sleazoid
as the furious album closer, except that Revelation of Mankind
feels much more focused and, well, good. Cause of Fickleness
carries shadows of earlier work from their second LP, Macabre
. Kukoku no Kyouon
is reminiscent of Ware, Yami tome...
, but with all of Ware
's "fat" stripped out. Even in looking to the past, Dir en grey still forge new sounds that are unlike previous works, with Phenomenon
, Behind the Vacant Image
being excellent examples of this new style.
For an album supposedly about the idea of pain, this is actually a very fun
album. Dir en grey really went wild with what they could develop on Arche
, thoroughly exploring this new, yet familiar, sound with a kind of jam-session approach to songwriting. Perhaps even a bit to wild as Arche
clocks in over an hour, making it a hard album to digest as some songs blur together, especially on the first couple of listens. This scattered approach makes Arche
feel much less concentrated and thematic than Uroboros
or Dum Spiro Spero
or anything else from their discography. This comes as a bane for many tracks in the second half of the album. For example, Midwife
and The Inferno
could have been cut from Arche
entirely as they pass quickly and unnoticed, but work very well as stand-alone tracks. Sustain the Untruth
has some odd mixing compared to the rest of the tracklist and is the album's "weakest" point, while Rinkaku
sticks out as the most commercial song on a very complex album.
However, favorites and least favorites on an album like Arche
will come down to personal taste. Even in the time between from my first to my most recent listening of Arche
, both Sustain the Untruth
have grown on me, though they still pale in comparison to the best pieces. Phenomenon
, and Behind the Vacant Image
are absolute highlights, with other stand-outs being Kaishun
, Revelation of Mankind
, and Soshaku
. This album runs through such variety that it has something for every metal and Dir en grey fan. Songs you may dislike at first can easily become a new favorite on subsequent listens. With Arche
, Dir en grey have reconciled their past selves while still pushing forward to the future.
EDIT: Make sure to also listen to the bonus tracks off the deluxe version of Arche
. Tefu tefu
is an interesting track I wish made the final cut, And Zero
is an atmospheric opening instrumental track that doesn't feel like filler. The live performances of Chain Repulsion
and Un Deux
are mind-blowing as you hear Kyo's absurd vocal range. I would have also talked about the lyrics on the album, for I find Kyo takes an interesting approach to his writing that often adds more depth to a song, but sadly they mostly still remain untranslated. What little that is out there seems very existential and concerned with identity.