Dir en grey: Akuro no Oka
If I hadn't already been a fan, Dir en grey would have my affection for being the only top J-rock band to ever bother playing in my town, Denver, and not just once but multiple times. I admit, we're not exactly known as a breeding ground of J-rock fans here. I mean, there's me, and…. J-rockers, when they do make it to our shores, tend to gravitate to the coasts (they're especially thick on the ground at anime festivals), with an occasional foray into Texas or Chicago.
I posted that picture of them to snag your attention, of course. Dir en grey started out in 1997 as a Visual Kei (VK) band, and their wild appearance predates Lady Gaga by at least a decade. It's fun to Goggle images of them and watch them change over the years. These days, they're fairly sedate, although you'd probably still want to hide your daughters (and maybe even your sons). Lead singer Kyo (the diminutive blond) looks more like a wee biker dude now. If he tops 5 feet I'd be surprised (he stands on a platform to sing), but don't let that fool you — his voice can bring down buildings.
Like their costumes, their sound has progressed over time. They are variously described as some flavor of metal, be it experimental, thrash, progressive, alt, screamo, or core. On the other hand, they come out with some pretty sweet ballad stuff, albeit with more raw emotion that we're used to. I can't say I like all their stuff (Agitated Screams of Maggots, for example, leaves me cold), but the things of theirs I do like, I love a lot.
In fact, I'm going to slip in one more song (and it's got a Japanese title, too, so it fits the theme) just to showcase this group a bit more. Like many other J-rock or J-pop groups, Dir en grey often releases their singles in various incarnations, usually "unplugged." Here's a pair from a more recent release, Marrow of the Bone, and I adore the unplugged version (complete with anguished emo scream). Check out the complicated yet subtle rhythm changes, from 4/4 to 5/4 to 6/8:
Dir en grey: Namamekashiki Ansoku, Tomerai ni Hohoemi
Dir en grey: Namamekashiki Ansoku, Tomerai ni Hohoemi (unplugged)
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