VIII – A Foray into Dir En Grey
By December of 2006, I was looking for something new. Something that matched my rebellious attitude, my angst towards college, my resentment for the superficial, something to keep me going.
*disclaimer: If you hadn’t read the intro, the following is a personal memoir about my 13-year journey of exploring Korean and Japanese music
I remember…I was working on a project for my DVD Studio Pro class when I came across the “Obscure” music video. I used it for my assignment. The first time I heard about Dir En Grey was actually when I got into MySpace in the summer of 2005. One of my first long-distance friends was this girl out of Utah. On her page was an image of Toshiya, the bassist. Apparently, she had a crush on him. A lot of women were crazy about him.
The images of Dir En Grey looking like zombies, really didn’t entice me to go and listen to their music. At the time, I was very much into Miyavi’s sound, which was edgy, but had a more upbeat positive vibe. Fast-forward to the fall of 2006, when the nostalgia of being in college and out from under my parent’s roof wore off and I was now staring the “real world” directly in its corrupt and wicked face…I was ready for mother-effin Dir En Grey.
Allow me to introduce you to the members.
Kyo is the lead singer. The dude is an animal on stage and even in his singing, yes, he’s known for making these hard to listen to animalistic growls. But it’s usually brief. It’s not like he just comes out on stage, growls for three minutes and says, “Thank you everyone, good night.”
By the middle of 2006, a friend of mine had introduced me to Asian Kung-Fu Generation. I had already heard of them. They did the closing theme to “Full Metal Alchemist”. This is going to sound bad, but one major criticism I have of Japanese music…is that a lot of their singers sound exactly the same.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s noticed. It’s one of those elephant in the room situations where, depending on who you’re talking to, it could be considered racist. But lets call a spade a spade here. Most male singers all sound the same. And to me, a person who doesn’t understand the Japanese lyrics being sung. It seems pointless to listen to a Japanese band that sounds exactly like another…UNLESS, the music, the emotion conveyed, the attitude and delivery is different and unlike any other. All of the Japanese bands I’ll favor fit this description.
L’Arc En Ciel’s lead singer, Hyde…his voice is unlike any other Japanese singer. Gackt’s voice is almost similar to others, except that the creativity of his music sets him apart. Miyavi’s in the same boat as Gackt…but Kyo of Dir En Grey…
Kyo’s tenor voice can reach up to five octaves. No bullshit. He can sing, scream, growl, shriek and even extend falsetto notes to the point that it damn near sounds operatic.
If you heard their singles “Clever Sleazoid” and “Saku” you’ll find something quite remarkable. Other than the adrenaline pumping metal coursing through your veins, you’ll of course hear the screams and guttural growls of Kyo. HOWEVER!!! Once you get past the grain and scathing grit of the verses amping you up to grab a bull by its horns…almost on a dime, his voice steps off the pedal. It lasts less than three seconds…as if you were just released into clear skies and cool air…and just as you’ve gotten used to the refreshing breeze, you get back to it, ripping through the scraping walls of the powerful hurricane.
That’s the effect Kyo’s voice has on you.
To be honest. I don’t have much to say about the other members in comparison to the immense respect I have for Kyo’s voice. I know Kaoru is the leader and guitarist, who composed most of Dir En Grey’s songs. Die is another founding member, a guitarist who also composed their songs.
As I mentioned, Toshiya is the heartthrob and bass guitarist.
And Shinya is the drummer of the group who, if you’re not careful, can have you questioning your sexuality because this dude definitely has feminine features.
Dir En Grey started out as a visual kei group, but thank god they dropped that for a more Marilyn Manson feel. One of the reasons you’d like Dir En Grey was because of its eclectic nature. No two songs sound the same, but they’re all still similar in the sense that you don’t need to understand the rancid, often inappropriate, lyrics to comprehend the message they’re trying to convey. Does that make sense? Like, you don’t need to understand the lyrics of “Clever Sleazoid” to know that Kyo’s probably singing about his disdain for the system.
And I think I liked that about foreign music in general. The vagueness of lyrics which allowed me to interpret it however way I wanted to. And I remember my mom and brothers asking me… “What if they’re singing about shooting up a school and you’re just bobbing your head to it.”
I’m like, “Dude, we have rappers with English lyrics that say “fuck the police” and “pop a Glock on a nigga.” DO NOT CUT MY BALLS OFF ON THIS! I LIKE MY MUSIC!”
Just as I used to daydream about being in a boyband when I’d listen to DBSK or the Backstreet Boys in my teens, when I listened to Dir En Grey, I imagined myself being the lead guitarist on stage. In particular, “Pink Killer” was awesome for this.
Dir En Grey, “Pink Killer”
Back then, I was a fan of “Smallville.” I used to dream of performing “Pink Killer” live at some Vancouver version of MTV’s “TRL” where Kristen Kreuk and Allison Mack were in the audience. The song “Pink Killer” is not exactly a bubble-gum, happy pop track. So I imagined I’d draw strange looks from the audience. But from Kristen, my crush at the time, she’d swoon over me…yeah, in my dreams.
“Merciless Cult” and “Marmalade Chainsaw” were other favorites. I can go all day. And the thing is, their songs never got old. I’d go in cycles over the years, where I’d play out their songs all month, listen to other music for about three months and then come back to their music with it having the same effect as if I’m listening to it for the first time.
No lie, I heard “Marmalade Chainsaw” for the first time when I was 20-years-old in 2007. I can get on the treadmill now (2019) and it still has the same effect. And let me tell you…the best thing about Dir En Grey is that they’re still going strong to this day.
Unlike H.O.T., where the group broke up in 2001, Dir En Grey had six albums under their belt by the time I got into them in 2007. Believe me when I say their best had yet to come…which is saying a lot if you listened to the music I provided for this chapter. Don’t worry, I’ll get elaborate more in future chapters as they release new music. But for now…I’ll leave you with this gem: