REVIEW: the GazettE - DOGMA

Sixth Guns, prepare to have your socks knocked off. To celebrate their 13th year (dubbed the "Ominous Year"),  the GazettE is back with a brand new album, and boy, does it pack a punch. Using darker thematic material than 2009's DIM, a rawer, heavier rock sound than 2011's TOXIC, smoother production and more creative audacity than 2012's DIVISION, and more structural re-imagining than 2013's BEAUTIFUL DEFORMITY,  DOGMA takes elements from the band's ever-evolving and often controversial musical sound over the last 6 years and infuses it with the GazettE's darkest, heaviest, most aggressive sound to date. With a focus on faster and more powerful guitar riffs, pounding rhythms, and rougher, more haunting vocals, DOGMA is a sonic slap in the mouth, and its shell-shock-and-awe attitude sends a powerful message: when it comes to their music, the GazettE still do whatever they please. 

DOGMA Album Cover
12. DEUX

Let's make one thing perfectly clear: DOGMA is a heavy, heavy album. Not a ballad is to be found on the record, and even the few slow tracks have an intense air to them that will keep your heart pounding. At it's core the album is an alternative metal approach to the darker eroguro-kei style of visual kei music that the GazettE first experimented with in their 2009 album DIM, and which bands like Dir En Grey had pioneered before that. However, this is the GazettE, a band which has a history of releasing albums that dabble in a wide range of genres, including electronic music (2011 and 2012), progressive rock and dark ambient music (2009), R&B and hip hop (2007), and funk rock and alternative rock (2005). For DOGMAthe GazettE continues that trend of appropriating exotic musical styles and incorporating them into their releases, this time focusing on a darker, more aggressive range of genres than in their past releases. Black metal, thrash metal, heavy metal, hard rock, industrial metal, grunge, dark ambient music, drum and bass, and traces of electronic music can be heard throughout the album, and each track uses a combination of these genres in a variety of surprisingly subtle and creative ways. While DOGMA's overarching theme is uncharacteristically consistent for a GazettE album (focusing almost exclusively on a darker, rawer sound), the album does an excellent job of incorporating a sizable variety of hard rock and alternative metal influences from both the eastern and western music scenes.

Longtime fans will notice that the GazettE also focuses on heavier sounds that they've experimented with in the past, such as on tracks like "Maggots", "Discharge", "13STAIRS[-]1", "OGRE", "DIM SCENE", "RUTHLESS DEED", "PSYCHOPATH", "DEVOURING ONE ANOTHER", and "IN BLOSSOM". However, while some of these past tracks (especially those from their previous album Beautiful Deformity) were merely small experiments with rudimentary structure, every track on DOGMA is jam-packed with new experimental content and combinations across the alternative metal spectrum. The album still keeps its signature GazettE sound with tight rhythms, quickly-played power chords, artistically-placed guitar notes, and an alternation between melodic and rough vocals, but each of those elements has been elevated to an entirely new level of authenticity and intensity. The guitars in particular now have a rawer, crunchier sound than they've ever had before, and although it's a little off-putting at first, it ultimately benefits the album by preventing the guitars from drowning out the myriad of background sounds that permeate many of the tracks on the album. All of the improvements and new experimental content make DOGMA the most engrossing, aggressive, and impactful GazettE album in years, and although it is sometimes arguably too heavy, there are always different "shades" of heaviness to be discovered and appreciated on each track. 

DOGMA starts off with "NIHIL", a short and to-the-point instrumental that combines haunting female vocals with thick, sludgy dubstep sounds. I personally wish this track were a little longer, but its briefness and placement serves a purpose of setting up a dark and grandiose atmosphere for the next track. DOGMA's title track is easily the darkest, heaviest song on the album. It's filled with haunting production effects, brutal guitar chords, and pounding drums. At the risk of sounding reductive, it's as though the band took the aggressively musing attitude from songs like "13STAIRS[-]1" and dialed it up to a thousand. "DOGMA" meanders across the song structure spectrum during its four-and-a-half-minute duration—sometimes epic, sometimes creepy, and sometimes dissonant, but always atmospherically dark. This is the type of song that requires the listener to take a moment and just deal with its intensely bleak mood. I definitely commend the GazettE for using this track as the main promotional track for the album, as its pitch-black theme easily makes it the most polarizing track on the album. It shows that the band has no intentions of playing it safe with this release, and although I personally prefer many of the more easily-digestible tracks on the album, I can't help but come back and replay this track, which never fails to take the listener to a deep, dark place.

"RAGE" follows a rather simple and shallow song structure (it's basically an energetic, expletive-filled headbanger), but the instrumentals, vocals, and production are executed so strongly that it still comes off as a pretty solid track. It uses some of the heavier instrumentals found on DOGMA, and delivers a supercharged, adrenaline-soaked experience that sets the pace for the rest of the album. Piano notes clash with breakdowns to create a haunting effect, and vocalist Ruki's deep growls further display the massive progress his rough vocals have made from the last album. From here on out, DOGMA opens the throttle and barely gives you a moment to catch your breath. Continuing the aggressive tone set by "RAGE", one of my personal favorite tracks on DOGMA is "DAWN", which refines the album's pace into a more consistent, almost catchy tempo. "DAWN" is built around a selection of metalcore-esque breakdowns and guitar riffs, but plays around with the pace of those elements with psychedelic results. It's frantic, fast, and once again, incredibly heavy. This track in particular is very well-polished and packaged, and only serves to focus and refine DOGMA's monstrous momentum. Having captured the listener's complete attention through shock value and engrossing composition, the album then slows things down a bit with "DERACINE". Slow, brooding, and highly atmospheric, this track is guaranteed to be a fan favorite.It is artistically layered with a variety of different musical elements, including a subtle dubstep backing on the scream-filled crescendo just before the chorus, intense slap bass in the second verse, and a mixture of industrial and nu-metal sounds that subtly appear throughout the track. This track is slow by comparison to the two that precede it, but its complex structure makes it twice as engrossing and adds a new layer of depth to the album's atmosphere.

"BIZARRE" is another one of my favorite tracks, primarily because of how far out of left field it is. The entire purpose of this song is to perpetually catch the listener off guard. Deep, pounding synth notes are overlaid with an equally distorted electronic sound and cleverly placed guitar notes. The track alternates between that unique composition and brutal, scream-filled breakdowns, which in turn melt into a brooding yet melodic chorus. The entire song zigs when you'd expect it to zag, which is something that I found quite refreshing and fun. My one critique is that the band went slightly overboard with the breakdowns, as they tend to do on this album. However, while "BIZARRE" isn't perfect, it's still highly original, and placed perfectly on the album.

DOGMA is inevitably going to have comparisons drawn from it to Dir En Grey's sound, but ironically enough, the GazettE's new sound is the most similar to the acclaimed avant-garde metal band's during the album's slower tracks. "WASTELAND" is a perfect example of this. It's slow and foreboding, with lingering guitar notes haunting the verses and powerful clean vocals fueling the chorus. The heavy chords are played at just the right rhythm to lull the listener into a deep, brooding trance, and the low-spoken, growl-like musings at the beginning and end of the track add an extra layer of darkness to the song. I personally don't mind the GazettE drawing a little inspiration from their eastern hard rock/heavy metal contemporaries—they do it with other genres all the time—as long as they use those influences in their own unique way. "WASTELAND" does this well, and I think the album as a whole has a solid confluence of both eastern and western metal influences, all the while maintaining a subtly-familiar incarnation of the band's signature sound.

The album resumes a rapid speed with the deceptively heavy "INCUBUS." Don't let the band's album sampler on Youtube fool you: the chorus is just about the only light section of the track. That, in part, is why I think "INCUBUS" may be my favorite of the "upbeat-yet-rocking" songs that the GazettE has made to date: the track soars from heavy and energetic verses to powerfully melodic choruses. The masterful production values and precise guitar chords allow for a rapid transition from heavy to light and back again, a feat that is often attempted by visual kei bands, but is almost never achieved. The song could have used a little bit more originality in the build-up before the chorus, but overall I think it's an experimental take on a tired song formula that ultimately pays off. Following "INCUBUS" is "LUCY", which is essentially the true successor to 2011's live hit "Sludgy Cult". the GazettE has been playing "Sludgy Cult" live ever since TOXIC was released, and it's become a bit of a fan favorite in spite of its weak song structure and overall uninteresting sound as an album track. "LUCY" is clearly the next iteration of what the GazettE has been slowly adding to their "Sludgy Cult" performances over the years. The opening scream even sounds like how vocalist Ruki likes to kick off "Sludgy Cult" during live performances. It's got a rocking attitude but still maintains the album's pounding, aggressive sound with strong power chords and fierce screams. The track also features one of guitarist Uruha's most stylish and accomplished guitar solos to date, which only adds to the overall rocking feel of the track.

"GRUDGE" is the closest DOGMA ever comes to having a ballad or "lighter" song. Overall, it's fairly relaxing and upbeat, but it's still drowned in heavy guitars, drumming, and even some screaming. Somehow, it all blends really well together, and as someone who has a hard time enjoying slower songs, I found "GRUDGE" to be a refreshing change of pace from the GazettE's sometimes obligatory ballads and lighter songs. However, DOGMA never lets the listener catch their breath for more than a few moments, and takes its intensity to a whole new level with "PARALYSIS." This track opens and closes with some strong hooks and headbanger material, but meanders all around the heavy metal spectrum in between. There's no backing sounds or instruments: this is just the GazettE members banging out a myriad of good old-fashioned hard rock sounds. I kind of wish the band had stuck with the stronger, more consistent opening/closing hooks throughout the entire track, but I can definitely appreciate the depth added to the track by the varied middle sections, which sound like an amalgam of tracks like "Maggots" and "MOB 136 BARS". The album swiftly transitions into the epic and intense "DEUX". This track has a similar theme as "DIM SCENE" from the band's 2009 album, but differentiates itself by being much faster, heavier, and energetic. It's a strange combination, but the GazettE pulls it off quite well, resulting in a track that can alternate between the hauntingly elegant and the brutally dark in the blink of an eye. Part of me wonders how the song would sound if it was set to a slightly slower tempo, but the heavy, intense parts of the song are so strong that I understand the reasoning behind the faster pace. In the end, "DEUX" is a surprisingly aggressive take on the GazettE's more epic and atmospheric tendencies, and the song delivers a wider variety of emotional intensity than many of its past contemporaries.

It took a few listens before I realized it, but "BLEMISH" may very well be the best "closer" song that the GazettE has ever done. The band is known for implementing strong finishing tracks towards the end of their albums, but they may have topped themselves with this one. In "BLEMISH" the GazettE alternates between melodic and hard rock at lightening-fast speed, and is built on a frantically pounding breakdown that is equal parts vicious and catchy. It's a really fun track, and the incredibly catchy chorus features some of vocalist Ruki's clearest-sounding English lyrics to date. DOGMA ends with "OMINOUS", which absolutely lives up to its name. The only relatively soft-sounding song on the album, this track is a fantastic closing song. I won't go into excessive detail about this track because I believe it's one that you need to experience for yourself to fully appreciate (and an artistic lyric video is readily available on the band's official Youtube channel). Suffice it to say that "OMINOUS" effectively fits all of the themes found in both DOGMA and DIM into one highly produced, amazingly atmospheric ending track that provides a soft landing to this wild ride of an album.

When the GazettE first revealed Project Darkage along with their plans to release DOGMA, I was conflicted. On the one hand, the teaser material seemed to suggest that the album would be a return to the form found on the 2009 album DIM, which seemed like an exciting notion. On the other hand, I was worried that the pressure of returning to a darker tone would tempt the band to focus on simply making a sequel to DIM and not on further innovating and radically evolving their style like they had done in TOXICDIVISION, and Beautiful Deformity. But the GazettE's latest album completely caught me off guard with its fierce yet multifaceted sound. It's definitely not perfect, and can even be a little rough around the edges at times, but DOGMA owns those flaws and shoves them in your face along with the rest of its style, and for that it has earned a great deal of respect from this author. This album will restore the faith of many of the fans who lost interest after 2009, and may very well alienate some of the newer fans who aren't used to such intense music from the band (although it's clear that's a risk that the GazettE has no problem taking). All in all, there's not a bad track on DOGMA as far as I'm concerned, and there's so much to take in from each song that multiple replays will be a must for most listeners. Buy it and get ready to rock—hard.

Author's Note: Special thanks to JPU Records for providing us with an early copy of the album. DOGMA was released digitally from JPU Records on August, 26, one week before the rest of the world. The physical version will be out in Europe on October 2, and will include an additional exclusive translated booklet.

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