Dir En Grey
The Insulated World


3.5
great

Review

by Simon CONTRIBUTOR (225 Reviews)
September 26th, 2018 | 401 replies


Release Date: 2018 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The Insulated World's place in DIR EN GREY's career is the equivalent to Leonardo da Vinci drawing a moustache on his Mona Lisa painting.

4 years ago, DIR EN GREY completed the final chapter to its impressive artistic peregrination; a painstaking pursuit at pushing one’s abilities to their limits. Arche was a culminated response to those 16 years of experimenting, all condensed into one big epic sonic celebration. It is debatably the highest point for the band, but it wouldn’t have been half as effective had it not been for the two precursory albums before it. These three albums retain a key trait in sound which presents itself as a sort of trilogy. Looking at the entire period retrospectively, you wouldn’t be judged for thinking these guys sold their souls to up the creative ante. After all, from Uroboros onwards their craftmanship hits levels very few could even dream of; a journey filled with unparalleled idiosyncrasy, thought-provoking depth and eclectic songwriting that is both unchallenged and wildly experimental. This extensive genre-breeding led to some of their heaviest, emotional and uncharted sonic territories yet and was expertly moulded with their Japanese roots to give birth to Arche: a record that finds perfect harmony with experimentation and candid structure. It is the band’s most fully realised release, combining the crushing heaviness of the last ten years with the textured elegance and grace of their earlier works. They did it so well in fact, you could mistake it for being the conclusive chapter to their career. I’m not kidding either, where does a band go after Arche – what’s left to say? How do you match that level of ambitious songwriting and progression when everything feels unequivocally resolved?

The anticipation for The Insulated World has been one of speculation and anxiety, bearing in mind its singles, “Utafumi”, “Ningen wo Kaburu” and “Ranunculus” hardly set the world on fire. I’ve been a fervent fan of theirs since Uroboros, but when I heard “Utafumi” for the first time I exchanged certified confidence in getting a unique experience for apprehension if there was going to be a new album. “Utafumi” and “Ningen wo Kaburu” are not bad songs by any means, but they procure several problems that make this new chapter a worrying one – the most saddening thing to witness is DIR EN GREY’s creative plateau. Indeed, if you’ve ever shared the sentiment Arche felt like an irrefutable ending for the band, this new chapter will most certainly back up that mindset. “Ningen wo Kaburu” suffers from a brace of awkward tonality transitions, albeit with an enjoyable, yet recycled, take on “Kukoku no kyouon”’s gorgeous melodies for its chorus; meanwhile, “Utafumi” sounds like a heavy track salvaged from the cutting room floor of Arche. Nevertheless, it’s worth mentioning that these tracks are safe, familiar but still fun. No, the real damage comes from “Ranunculus” and its more violent deviation from a code of limitless possibilities, stripping itself down to a bare-minimum and sitting snuggly in the status quo of generic J-rock formulas while Kyo does the brunt of the workload; solely relying on his symphonic influences and keeping the rest of the band in the shadows. It’s hard to shake the thought it’s a track ill-suited to DEG and would benefit more from being on a Sukekiyo album. However, the problems don’t just stop there. Couple these flawed singles with a flaccid and muddy production – as well as a questionably awkward album cover that represents this new project – and a blackened sense of foreboding looms over the approach to this release.

There’s more at stake here than just the fact it could end up being a weak album. Up to this point DIR EN GREY have built up a legacy with a near perfect ending, and the prospect of seeing that going up in smoke is a terrifying scenario for many [including myself]. So, with that kind of pressure hanging over the band you have to question why they’re essentially flogging a dead horse – and more to the point, does the final product convey as much? Well… yeah, to a degree it does. The Insulated World is a solid, thoroughly enjoyable record that maintains its self-awareness and utilises every tool in the band’s shed – albeit relying far more on the former end of the band’s sonic skill set than the latter. It’s an accurately educated guess Kyo opts for symphonic ideals and a lullaby approach to his singing, in favour of the impressive guttural screams and screeches he’s perfected over the years, because of his vocal cord problems. And when we’re listening to the silky-smooth melodies of “Aka” or the exiting segment of “Values of Madness”, he holds the fort quite admirably, but for the most part it’s hard to shake the niggling feeling he’s tired here; vocal diversity is frequent, but seems to fall a little short. He sounds blunted and in a “been there done that” fashion. Like the rest of the band, they’re a little too reliant on recycling sounds and progressions. Where previous albums explored new territories, The Insulated World picks up ideas of old a little too often: from the Withering to Death vocal approach of "Keibetsu to Hajimari" and its metalcore styled riffing, to the Vulgar-y undertones of “Celebrate Empty Howls”, songs never feel like they’re standing on their own merits but rather using history as a crutch. And, arguably, you could say Arche did the same kind of thing, but the difference between this and its predecessor is that Arche did this reflective writing with its own character and identity in tact. Not to mention this has its first serious misfire in over 10 years, with the horrendously dated “Values of Madness”: built around a staccato NU-metal groove and one of the most cringe-y vocal approaches I think I’ve heard from Kyo since they formed. The song is redeemed with a cathartic interlude that strips its distortions for shimmering clarity, but the initial impression remains and it’s hard to imagine what they were aiming for with it.

In the end, DIR EN GREY have stripped themselves of their God-like mystic and impenetrable creative designs for a far more grounded and earthly experience here, one that sits next to a conventional and accessible way of thinking. And there’s nothing particularly wrong with this, but the problems reside in the execution: from a compositional standpoint the writing leaves a lot to be desired, while the production does little favours in delivering these songs properly. As promising as "Keibetsu to Hajimari" starts off, it becomes apparent there’s little to explore bar its initial sounds and it’s a frequent occurrence for the duration of the album; these songs sit on the straight and narrow but they lack the charisma to keep you invested. There’s some higher-grade work here of course, the Macabre tinged “Aka” delivers on the sprawling epic soundscapes the band are so well known for, and the despondent vibes from “Devote My Life” shows that the band can still move forward in all the right ways – the electronic contributions here (and throughout the album) are an asset to the track and makes you wish they’d explored the electronic texturing a little more. But unfortunately, the production is just shy of being a disaster. The guitars sound muddy, made even more blurred when distorted, the drums are buried and lack the punch required to give these lifeless entities some exuberance – I think the only positive comes from the fact Toshiya’s bass is pretty high in the mix (normally fighting for space on previous LPs). But the biggest crime of all comes from the production letting a lot of the potential here go unnoticed. There’s no dynamics involved, just walls of sounds fighting it out. Had a track like “Keigaku No Yoku” been given the proper treatment, this Sabbath-meets-prog sludgefest could have really taken the show, as it stands it’s just a track showing glimmers of what could have been. The electronics are a great addition here, but largely stand out like a sore thumb to the point of causing tonality clashes. The scratching sounds that scrape along “Celebrate Empty Howls” make as an unpleasant afterthought, but had they been mixed well, could have had a positive effect on the track.

All this sounds like a crucifixion, but the truth of the matter is this is still a solid album, it’s just hindered by shoddy production and lacklustre songwriting. Was The Insulated World worth a deconstruction on what they’d built? I guess it’s based on your stand from it all, but for me it’s like watching the Sistine chapel getting a C4 makeover. In terms of the contemporary bands it stands next to it's great, but compared to their previous three records it doesn’t even reach the same radar. Hell, even in its context “Ranunculus” comes across like a blue-balls, anticlimactic finisher which sums up where the band is at at this point. If Arche was the big celebratory party for their career, The Insulated World is the hangover from it all.

FORMAT//EDITIONS: 2-CD 1-DVD/̶/̶2̶-̶C̶D̶ ̶1̶-̶B̶L̶U̶ ̶R̶A̶Y̶/̶/̶C̶D̶/̶/̶D̶I̶G̶I̶T̶A̶L̶

PACKAGING: Continuing the slipcase book design of previous singles and Arche, The Insulated World continues to offer a high-quality product with great presentation and art design. The paper sleeve on the outer case is made more user friendly and is the easiest box set to unpack thus far. No stickers or incentives previously included are present, but you get a lyric book with English translations and a photo shoot booklet. 4.5/5

SPECIAL EDITION: The DVD contains excerpts from two live sets that hold a varied selection of songs from their catalogue of music. Also included is the "Ranunculus" music video and the formulaic behind the scenes for the album's creative process – which continues to fail at delivering subtitles. The second disc contains three remake tracks: "Kigan", "THE DEEPER VILENESS" and "Riyuu", as well as live recordings of "Fukai", "Ash" and "Beautiful Dirt". 4/5

ALBUM STREAM//PURCHASE: http://www.cdjapan.co.jp/product/SFCD-235 spotify:album:2TKweqOQYNgkxZV7Qm2060



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user ratings (69)
Chart.
3.8
excellent
other reviews of this album
INTERNATIONAL POPSTAR STEVEN WILSON (2.5)
Celebrating Empty Howls...



Comments:Add a Comment 
Evrimen
September 26th 2018


125 Comments


That summary sentence is so accurate, good job.

Digging: Daughters - You Won't Get What You Want

DrGonzo1937
Contributing Reviewer
September 26th 2018


14883 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

cheers.





I'll update my thoughts in the format//edition section of the review once my copy arrives. As the album stands, it has some good shit on here for sure, but damn I wish they hadn't carried on tbh.

BigPleb
September 26th 2018


55494 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great rev man, cool summary.



I seem to be enjoying this more than most tbh.

DrGonzo1937
Contributing Reviewer
September 26th 2018


14883 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

thanks pleb.



tbh, i was expecting this to be a 2 the way the singles were presenting this thing, but there's still plenty of cool jams in this

DrGonzo1937
Contributing Reviewer
September 26th 2018


14883 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

what rating you thinking for this?

BigPleb
September 26th 2018


55494 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Solid 4 at the minute, definitely a step down from Arche (at the minute) but I’ve gotta give it time to sink in.

Henderson
September 26th 2018


77 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Very good review!



I got into them right before Vulgar came out, so it's been quite a journey and I've been lucky enough to follow their evolution. And I agree with most of your points, rather than continuing with that evolution this time it seems they wanted to take a look back at their tools from the past in some of these tracks. As a whole it works and the album is pretty good, but it's true that there are some questionable choices in here that I struggle to understand. The biggest offender is indeed the production: it sounds so undefined and hollow as soon as there's some distortion in there that it baffles me how they thought it sounded good. Songwriting can be a bit choppy in some parts but IMO it still works for the most part. Nevertheless, I'd love to listen how some of these songs would have sounded with a decent production, I'm sure we'd all enjoy them a lot more.



Overall, despite these gripes I still enjoy the album, we'll see how it goes after multiple listens. At this point, I'd give it around a 3.8 so it would sit at 8/10 in their discography for me. Which is still very good considering they've been one of my favourite bands for the past 15 years.

Digging: The Ocean - Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic

JizzInMyPants
September 26th 2018


2866 Comments


Child prey: the album

ShadowNeko
September 26th 2018


182 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Absolutely agree with your review. Good to see people with more open minds about this album.

This album will certainly stay somewhere on my TOP TEN AOTY list.

RikRoach7
September 26th 2018


3556 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

"Child prey: the album"



Thank God not, that would be awful.

Angelboros
September 26th 2018


1357 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

It doesn't quite reach the heights of what I'm calling the "Dynamically Divine Diru Trilogy", but I'm really liking this one. No doubt in my mind that the compositions will sound a lot more massive whenever they get performed live *and* go over well with the crowd. Also, Values of Madness is the corniest fucking thing DEG have delivered in a loooooong time. Wouldn't lose sleep over its absence had the song not made the tracklist... and yet that hook is irresistibly catchy; more than it needs to be, if that makes sense.



Mental shockwave pos! Real mammoth of a rev, Doc!

Mabbitt
September 26th 2018


1662 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Haven't listened to this yet but I agree with every word of how you felt leading up to the release. Arche was the culmination of everything that had done prior, so where could they really go after that?

EvoHavok
September 26th 2018


7652 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Nice read, Gonzo.

It was impossible for the album to rival the previous three, but we got a worthy entry nonetheless.

auberginedreams
September 26th 2018


6181 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I loved Arche but I’m so happy to see them aggressive again. The fanboy in me is probably overrating this but oh well. I will say that the production/mixing is really bad and I would have liked another ballad in the first half. But this album is a grower for sure.

samwise2000
September 26th 2018


31 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

Why didn't they get Tue Madsen to master this? Seems like a dumb choice. The production on this is almost as bad as the original Uroboros master. I would honestly bump my rating by .5 if the mastering on this wasn't so garbage.

Eons
September 26th 2018


1888 Comments


Vocalist for this band is one bizarre guy. I saw them in 06 or 07 and he was running around on stage and screaming like a demon and seemed to be in legit emotional pain while singing the songs, he was slicing himself open with blades as well. And then off stage he's like extremely quiet and barely speaks.

Jasdevi087
September 26th 2018


5344 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

he still does that lol. I don't know if the blood is still real (it certainly used to be) but I think the guy actually does have some serious shit going on

Jasdevi087
September 26th 2018


5344 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

I can't pos this since you're all clever and contributey, but just pretend i did

jesterhead92
September 26th 2018


5461 Comments


I thought he gave up the blood theatrics

Jasdevi087
September 26th 2018


5344 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

I swear I've seen it fairly recently though there is a very, very strong and distinct possibility that I am making it up



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