SEIZURE-INDUCING PRECISION: Dir En Grey’s videos could make Björk and Matthew Barney weep with envy.
Dir En Grey filled the token “foreign-language weirdos” slot — former home of Rammstein — on last year’s Family Values Tour. A Japanese band affiliated with the glam-like “visual-kei” movement in their homeland, they started out dressing like something out of a William Gibson novel, with anti-gravity hair, make-up reminiscent of the late-’80s act E-Z-O, and androgynous, mostly black clothes. Each member is known by a single name, but it could be that only the two — Kyo and Kaoru — written in kanji on CD sleeves are real; the others appear in Western text. The look has evolved into a more stripped-down, traditional punk-metal style over the years, an evolution matched by the music.
Dir En Grey, who headline Avalon this Wednesday, are more powerful now than ever, and they’ve embarked on a full-on assault of America. Their videos are edited with seizure-inducing precision, cramming together images that would make Björk and her visual-artist partner, Matthew Barney, weep with envy. “Saku,” from last year’s Withering to Death (Freewill), was recently crowned best video of 2006 by MTV’s Headbangers Ball viewers. And they’ve inspired fans to create their own Dir En Grey videos: a cursory search of YouTube turns up some awesomely obsessive homemade clips, some of them sophisticated enough to include anime fight scenes.
But describing the sound and the style of Dir En Grey has never been easy. Their first four albums, released only in Japan, included everything from extreme metal to prog pop. They’ve always been raw and aggressive, and Withering to Death (originally released in Japan in 2005) is dominated by their more metallic leanings, with guitarists Kaoru and Die leading the way as drummer Shinya punishes his kit and vocalist Kyo howls, barks, and screeches. Kyo has at times been sidelined by hearing problems and, no surprise, inflamed vocal cords. But when he’s on, he’s a fierce performer, reminiscent of Iggy Pop at his most reckless. It hardly matters that he sings mostly in Japanese, or that his English is incomprehensible.
Marrow of a Bone (due in the US from Warcon February 20) builds on Withering to Death, opening with the goth balladry of “Conceived Sorrow” before roaring to life with “Lie Buried with a Vengeance,” where Kyo’s vocals muster more raw fury than any American singer since Slipknot’s Corey Taylor. The band juggle metallic styles, pulling off looming power ballads and furious speedcore with equal conviction. The first single, “Agitated Screams of Maggots,” is a headlong assault of squealing thrash riffs, unhinged blood-in-the-throat howls, and jackhammer drums.
In their homeland, Dir En Grey’s concerts are events. They’ve been known to book two-night stands — one night for female fans only, the second for male fans. In 2002, following the release of their third album, Kisou, they played five consecutive nights: the first was a standard set, but each of the following three focused on a particular album, which they played from beginning to end. And for the final night, they gave fans a preview of the then unreleased Vulgar. All of which has helped build anticipation among the Dir En Grey faithful for what they have up their collective sleeve on their first big American club tour.
DIR EN GREY + FAIR TO MIDLAND | Avalon, 15 Lansdowne St, Boston | February 7 | 617.423.6398