Review Summary: A reflective makeover.
An unavoidable fact of life is moving forward. Some people spend their entire lives attempting to claw back to a snapshot of their life, a place where things were perfect, ignorantly failing to move forward and squandering the rest of their days in limbo. It’s sad to say, but unfortunately true. Shift this subject onto music, and the statement resonates just as true; because as people change, so does their music. And you’ll notice as a band gets older, fan bases fray, branch off and end up looking a bit like a family tree: a family free of moments in the band’s career that have connected with people in different ways and at certain points during the band’s lifespan.
DIR EN GREY really are unique. This Japanese quintet started out the same way many J-rock bands did at the time, with their eccentric glam image. But hearing their music during this period, while it conformed to a certain degree, you could tell there was something quite different about them. This vibe is what made the band stand out from many of the herd here in the West, and eventually saw them transcending to a level of creativity few bands ever reach. Over the years they have strayed further and further away from the conventional Japanese music scene, and have cut a name for themselves that is nothing short of staggering, given the context: they may not hold the international success the likes of which Rammstein have attained, but then, DIR EN GREY’s sonic diversity is something people have to grapple with; warranting a certain level of effort and man-hours being put into their work before it clicks to unveil a bigger picture for its listener.
So where am I going with this? As I said about the band being unique, they’ve managed to pull off a rare move with both Arche
and The Unraveling
; two projects that very much look back at their past. Their perpetual shift from style to style over the years eventually led to a peak in creativity with Dum Spiro Spero
, a sound that truly encompassed what the band were about. Yet, when we look at an album like Arche
, while it retains the same level of quality of its former, it is very much a reflective album; heavily reminiscent of the past, yet moves completely forward. it’s something very few bands can execute, and even fewer who can do it well.
is a little different though: primarily a mini-album of sorts, this 7 track offering relies heavily on the past and present -- not the future, and for that, it’s not as refined. The record doesn’t set off too great either: the opening track, “The Unraveling”, is the first miss-fire I’ve heard in their post Marrow of a Bone
era sound; a track that, for the first time, actually made me think the band sounded a little tired and stale. It’s by no means a bad track, but certainly feels like a B-side archive of Dum Spiro Spero
, and one that feels far too safe. However, past that song, things get interesting: “The Unraveling” is the only new song on here, leaving the rest of the album to remakes of various hits from several of their previous albums. Injecting the likes of “Kasumi” with dank atmospheric passages, bulky guitar tunings and Kyo’s fully realised vocal performances; these contemporary re-imaginings are most certainly worth a spin, if only for curiosity.
Though this remake stuff is nothing new for the band, as they’ve repackaged old songs many times before on singles releases -- such as “Obscure”, “Tsumi to Batsu” and “Hydra -666-” -- it still definitely gives a different outlook on old tracks. Whether they were out to offer musical maturity to old compositions or tackle an itch they were unable to scratch the first time around, we’ll never know. Either way, the 6 tracks on here offer something completely new, while respecting the integrity of the songs in question. Atmosphere is something the band have mastered over the course of the last three albums, and it’s predominantly present here: spacey guitar effects, operatic vocals and an even more intricate rhythm section make these songs layered ten times over to that of their originals. The biggest improvement comes from “Bottom of the Death Valley” which not only offers a melancholy to the max experience, but an ethereal one at that: Toshiya’s chorus effects adds to an already spiritual vibe, but the improvement of the chorus -- which always felt out of place to me on its original -- has a much smoother transition, accommodated with Kyo’s crooning melodies, as opposed to the harsh screams previous; it sends the track to an even higher level of quality and surpasses its older brother. The same can be said for one of DIR EN GREY’s biggest hits: “The Final”. This song retains its easy listening accessibility, but adds enough fantastic additions to tip it over as being the better version. The little changes in the rhythm section, the build up to the epic solo and Kyo’s -- once again -- unbelievable performance makes it an album highlight.
It’s an interesting little release, but it’s not a perfect experiment. As with some of the remakes previous to this, the likes of “Unknown.Despair.Lost” and “Karasu” suffer from some terrible transitional and tonal clashes, the former being the biggest culprit for it. They don’t really know where to stand or where they want to go; though there is a decent idea behind both songs, they ultimately fail in bringing an interesting and complete version from their originals. It’s a shame too, because “The Final” and “Kasumi” are both amazing renditions and actually better their sources, while even “Gyou” delivers a great version of the song. If you’re a fan of the heavier side of DIR EN GREY it’s fully recommended you check this out as it really brings out these old songs, but even if you prefer the less heavy side of the band, you still might find something to enjoy here.
EDITIONS: DIGITAL/C̶D̶/C̶D̶ ̶D̶E̶L̶U̶X̶E̶/C̶D̶ ̶S̶U̶P̶E̶R̶ ̶D̶E̶L̶U̶X̶E̶
SPECIAL EDITION: CD DELUXE offers a second disc containing a making-of "The Unraveling", while the SUPER DELUXE offers the same as well as a live DVD and an additional disc containing the remake of the exceptional "Macabre" track and unplugged versions of "The Final" and "The Unraveling".