O!susume – DIR EN GREY

For my last O!Susume recommendation of 2022, I have a band for you that’s been my favorite for almost 20 years. The first time I listened to DIR EN GREY, I was watching my younger brother play soccer when my older brother handed over his ipod for me to listen to this exciting rock band that he had found. At first, I was transfixed by the singer’s screaming, but after listening to a few songs, I was immersed by a wash of emotions that were calming and beautiful, provocative and cathartic, and spoke to me like no other music had before.

DIR EN GREY has become a grounding force in my life throughout the years, helping to remind me of who I am during difficult times, as well as on days of celebration like on my birthdays. Somewhere along the way DIR EN GREY has become a sort of compass in my life, and if I one day get to choose music to listen to on my deathbed, I’ve often thought that I would like to listen to DIR EN GREY.

So, here’s my introduction of the rock band DIR EN GREY, who are, as I described in my 2004 English class assignment: “a rock band that is a hit in Japan, and they have there [sic] own style.” Enjoy!

 

Years Active: 1997 – Present

Core Members: Kyo (vocals), Kaoru (guitar), Die (guitar), Toshiya (bass), Shinya (drums)

Point of Origin: Osaka, Japan

 

Who are DIR EN GREY?

DIR EN GREY (stylized a few different ways throughout the years) originally formed from the 90s Visual Kei band called La:Sadie’s that had most of the same members. In 1997, bassist Toshiya joined the band and La:Sadie’s rebranded to DIR EN GREY, a name that derives from German, French, and English purportedly meaning “Grey Silver Coin,” although I used to believe it meant “In The Grey,” which isn’t far off from their original intent behind the name—meaning something that isn’t black or white, but in the grey. Apparently the name came from a song title from the band Lareine, and DIR EN GREY liked the name, but throughout the years the band has dropped the original meaning in favor of being as unique and undefinable as DIR EN GREY are as a band.

DIR EN GREY was my first introduction to Visual Kei—a term originating from classic Japanese rock band X Japan’s slogan, “Psychedelic Violence Crime of Visual Shock,” characterized by a visual aesthetic of make-up, elaborate hair styles, costumes, and often androgynous elements, somewhat similar to 80s glam rock. It isn’t necessarily a genre of music, but rather, it refers to the visual aspects of a band, but it often goes hand in hand with a certain combination of heavy metal and punk rock. While DIR EN GREY started out as a visual kei group, they’ve since distanced themselves from it to focus more on their music, even though they still have a dramatic image of their own.

DIR EN GREY was started by their vocalist Kyo, who was originally inspired to go into music in high school after seeing a picture of Buck-Tick’s vocalist. After finding out about X Japan and being inspired by their guitarist named hide, Kyo tried to learn the guitar and bass. Luckily for us, after deciding it was too difficult to learn an instrument, he settled into being a vocalist. Kyo has a wonderful range, spanning just under 5 octaves, and his vocals are one of the main reasons that DIR EN GREY is my favorite band. Not only does he give breadth and range to DIR EN GREY’s compositions, but he also currently has two side projects that show off different sides of his art. Sukekiyo started in 2013 with other members from the visual kei movement, and Petit Brabancon started in 2021, named after the breed of his dog. While Kyo doesn’t compose the songs for DIR EN GREY, he does write all the lyrics (and has even released books of poetry), and it seems that he is able to collaborate and create music in his side projects in different ways, ultimately expanding his artistic repertoire, always exploring and creating good music.

That’s exactly what DIR EN GREY has been throughout the years—never afraid to explore different genres and images yet always with a focus on their music. In fact their website’s biography emphasizes that their music “transcends all genres and borders” and that they always try to “relentlessly delve deeper into their music.” With the wide range of styles in their discography, I had a very difficult time picking only a few songs to recommend today but I did my best to narrow it down to a few that I love. So don’t forget to delve deeper into their music if you’re interested!

 

Akuro no Oka

“アクロの丘: (Akuro no Oka – “Hill of the Acropolis”) is a single that was written by DIR EN GREY’s guitarist Kaoru, with lyrics written by Kyo and produced by Yoshiki from X Japan. It was originally released as a single in 1999 through East West Records, and ended up on their first full-length record Gauze, also released in 1999. This video shows their early visual kei get-up, and is a sound that really brings me back to when I found them and other visual kei groups around 2004—it’s one of the few times that I’ve heard a violin featured in rock music and it’s something that I’ve loved all of these years. The album Gauze was a great debut for the band, featuring other great songs like Cage and Yokan and already featuring great vocals from Kyo as well as experimentation in different genres. If you dig their violin accompaniment, definitely check out “蛍火” (Hotarubi – “Light of the Firefly”) from their 2000 album, MACABRE.

 

Kasumi

“かすみ” (Kasumi – “Haze”) was released on the 2003 album Vulgar, with a re-recording released in 2013 on the album Unraveling. This song was also composed by Kaoru with lyrics written by Kyo. For me, this song and video feels like a great representation of DIR EN GREY. The video has weird symbolic imagery; the lyrics are poetic and bring me back to when I would look up the lyrics on songmeanings.com to get an impression about the songs (while also immediately forgetting what they were about and just feeling the emotions through Kyo’s voice). The 2013 re-recording also adds some great vocals with a clearer recording of the instrumentals, and it really shows how artistically defined Kyo’s vocals have become throughout the years, while still being good from the beginning. This is just a very solid DIR EN GREY song for me, and it’s always fun to see how DIR EN GREY themselves have reinterpreted their own songs through their re-recordings.

 

KODOU

“KODOU” is another song that immediately takes me back to the excitement of going to Hot Topic to get DIR EN GREY’s first United States release, Withering to Death, in 2005. This was the first album of theirs that I was able to purchase upon release, and the album is still one of my favorites. I can thank DIR EN GREY for really learning how to explore an artist through replaying full albums—and this song does a great job of closing out the album. Withering to Death also features one of their most popular songs that’s become like an anthem for them called “The Final” with people all of the world able to sing along to the lyrics. The album does deal with some serious themes such as suicide, and the music video of KODOU does as well, so just keep that in mind. DIR EN GREY has a history of writing about controversial topics, so I’m sure it’s interesting to read into their lyrics if you are interested in that part as well.

 

Kaishun

“懐春” (Kaishun – “Yearning of Youth”) is from their 2014 album Arche. I’ve gone back to this song over and over mostly because of how beautiful and emotive Kyo’s vocals are in this song. The instrumentals are also very beautiful, and they show off how essential each member is to creating who DIR EN GREY is as a band. They are unique and they really don’t fit into one box, and they are certainly dedicated to their artistry. I tend to love their slower songs like this one that pull at your emotions, but DIR EN GREY never fails to express something that feels very personal and intimate.

 

Bonus: Ware, yami tote…

“我、闇とて…”v (Ware, yami tote… – Even if I am darkness”) comes from DIR EN GREY’s 2008 album UROBOROS (probably my favorite album of all time). DIR EN GREY released a Remastered and Expanded edition of UROBOROS in 2012, but I personally have a special place in my heart for the original because I played every song so much that the new version sounded like a completely different album to me. I just wanted to share one of their live recordings to just show off how good they are, and to share this great song with you!

I hope you enjoyed this brief introduction to my favorite band! The good thing is that DIR EN GREY has gained a lot of international fans, so there is a lot of information out about them in English and a lot of other fans you can find to talk about different aspects of the band. Let me know what you think!

 

Links

Artist Website: https://direngrey.co.jp/lang_en/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/direngreyweb

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/direngrey_official/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/direngrey_jp

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/direngreyofficial

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dir_En_Grey

This Broadcast was written by Erin; you can find them on instagram at @thekniterin.