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The Insulated World (2018)

Dir En Grey

... read moreOver 20 years, Dir en Grey have long proven that the only thing one can ever expect from them is unpredictability. This, their tenth album, comes after a four-year gap, with only two singles in the interim to tide the fans over. After the progressive tendencies of 2014's Arche, the sheer heaviness...

Review

Over 20 years, Dir en Grey have long proven that the only thing one can ever expect from them is unpredictability. This, their tenth album, comes after a four-year gap, with only two singles in the interim to tide the fans over. After the progressive tendencies of 2014's Arche, the sheer heaviness and brutality of this album -- and straight out of the gate, no less -- come as something of a shock, but it's not the one-dimensional deathcore bludgeon that marred 2011's Dum Spiro Spero. Instead, as the album progresses, it's clear they've gone for a looser, less conceptual approach, drawing on the best heavy styles from across their career, and particularly their mid-2000s phase, at the tail end of nu-metal, when they came closest to achieving mainstream success in the West. There are blasting drums, fast tempos, twisty, knotty riffs, and thick walls of guitar texture, all shrouded in deliberately raw, unpolished production. But on almost every track there's a soaring, melodic chorus hidden amongst the madness. Kyo's lyrics on this album are some of the darkest he has ever written -- full of pain and despair, almost suicidal at times. But for all that, his poetic gift is undimmed, and there's some bleakly beautiful imagery here. In promotional materials for this album, he's perhaps the most visual he has ever been; going way beyond the big, colorful hair and leather of the band's origins to embrace the full theatricality of metal, he looks truly terrifying, like a carnivorous alien or demonic ghost. Throughout, he is in fine voice, showing off his full, incredible range as he switches effortlessly from soaring high notes and rich croons to bestial grunts, roars, bellows, shrieks, and gurgles. The album is very cleverly, very deliberately structured, with the ratio of melody to madness in each track steadily increasing as it goes on, at the same time as Kyo's lyrics gradually become slightly more hopeful. The shimmeringly beautiful "Aka" ("Bright"), in the middle of the album, brings the first much-needed respite, while later tracks like the wonderful, melodic "Followers" and the seven-minute epic "Zetsuentai" ("Insulator") hark back to 2007's career-defining The Marrow of a Bone. The almost pop stylings of "Ranunculus" close the album, with Kyo wailing "Scream alive, I am alive," proving there is still light at the end of the tunnel. Dir en Grey may be long in the tooth, but there's still a fire in their belly. Once again refusing to repeat themselves, they have decisively scored another hit. ~ John D. Buchanan

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