Returning with their first new album in almost 4 years, Dir En Grey, the 5-piece Japanese heavy metal act, imbue their 10th studio album, The Insulated World, with an urgency and unpredictability that is almost unrivalled in the Japanese music scene.
Dir en grey have never been the kind of band to rest on their laurels. In a career that stretches over two decades, nothing in their catalogue sounds the same, yet they’ve still managed to carve out a signature sound. In short, you’ll always know a Dir En Grey song when you hear it.
So here we are at album number 10. What can Dir En Grey do to make this release stand apart from the rest of their discography? Quite a lot actually, as The Insulated World ranks as one of their most adventurous and experimental pieces of work yet.
Things start off at fever pitch with opening track, 軽蔑と始まり keibetsu to hajimari (“Beginning with Contempt”). The band has never sounded this ferocious and bloodthirsty right out of the gates. After several albums of atmospheric and slow-burn openers, “Beginning with Contempt” really goes for the jugular with its pounding rhythm section and fierce riffage. It’s also nice to hear that lead singer Kyo’s distorted growl is still one of the most volcanic things ever put to record. It just gives you a warm fuzzy feeling to start things off right.
This good vibe leads into the next song “Devote My Life,” with its rolling drum beat and dissonant guitar work. The winding bass line manages to keep the funk alive and acts as a thread pulling you through the schizophrenic tempo changes. There’s also this weird effect that sounds like a tape running backward or a bunch of drum beats sped up. It’s hard to parse out what it is, but its a sound that catches you off guard when you hear it for the first time.
The rest of the album is peppered with similar effects, whether they be made by the guitars and drums or added by electronic flourishes. Some examples are the psytrance intro to “Rubbish Heap,” the haunted house vibes in the latter half of “Celebrate Empty Howls,” and the stomping percussion of 谿壑の欲 keigaku no yoku (“Chasm of Greed”) that sounds like some gigantic beast lumbering out of the shadows.
Other highlights include “Values of Madness,” which gives visions of the world’s filthiest dance party complete with Kyo mock-rapping during the first verse. The following track “Downfall” sounds like what would happen if hardcore punk met speed-freak insanity with its finger-bleedingly fast tremolo-picked lead riff.
The whole album seems to be teetering on the edge of chaos. Though Dir En Grey have never shied away from maximalist arrangements during their career, here they embrace it with relish throughout most of the album. Even slower tracks like “Followers” and 絶縁体 zetsuentai (“Insulator”) simmer with an underlying tension that more often than not erupts into some kind of fist-clenching, head pounding fury.
The one conventional spot in the track listing is actually the final song, “Ranunculus,” which features a power-ballad guitar riff and appropriately belted-out chorus, but even that is preceded by an ambient techno intro that leads into a forlorn piano line followed by a melancholy string arrangement. It sounds so damn catchy, and it changes guises so many times that you just can’t help but be swept up in it all.
At 51 minutes, The Insulated World is actually one of Dir En Grey’s shorter albums. It helps that the pacing and the variety in the track listing make the 13 songs feel brisk. The length is just right, and because there is so much experimentation and so many little nuances to catch in the mix, you’ll want to hit play again immediately just to take everything in on the next listen. You’ll definitely uncover new treasures with repeated listens.
The Insulated World is a generous album that makes heavy metal music feel fresh and exciting again. Listening to a Dir En Grey album always feels like falling into another world. Usually a dark and twisted world, but still, a world that is well worth revisiting many times over.