ALBUM REVIEW: DIR EN GREY's The Insulated World

Reviewer's Note: I have a Japanese iTunes Account (Hence the "early access")

I feel like this moment has been four years in the making... Mostly because it has. DIR EN GREY has been seemingly inactive since 2014 and the somewhat underwhelming release of ARCHE. Their previous album didn’t feel cohesive and the very random and sporadic promotion they did for it felt contrived and unnecessary. However, it did give me the absolute banger that is “Behind A Vacant Image,” so I can’t be too upset with it. 

1. 軽蔑と始まり
2. Devote My Life
3. 人間を被る
4. Celebrate Empty Howls
5. 詩踏み
6. Rubbish Heap
8. Values of Madness
9. Downfall
11. 谿壑の欲
12. 絶縁体
13. Ranunculus

Soon after the release of their ninth album, the tenth album cycle began and lasted a very, very long time. “詩踏み(Utafumi, Wandering Song)” came out with a very bizarre and horror-show-esque video that really didn’t do much for a lot of fans, but wasn’t followed up on until “人間を被る(Ningen wo Koumuru, Suffering Human Beings)” from April this year. This song, somehow, did even less for fans. I haven’t heard many people really speak positively about this song outside of it’s very catchy chorus and instrumentation that sets a really nice mood. The issue for a lot of people was Kyo’s mumble/scream/rapping that occurred in the choruses. It didn’t exactly bother me as I’ve definitely heard weirder sounds coming from this man’s mouth. 

Nonetheless, I became enraptured when the album’s ultimate promo track “Ranunculus” released a few weeks ago. This is sort of the penultimate ballad that any hardcore DIR EN GREY fan should really be about and the accompanying video is staggering. It’s probably the most color, emotion, thematic planning, and melodious composition I’ve literally ever seen from this band. 

That just made me even more excited for this absolutely legendary shock-rock band’s TENTH studio album, The Insulated World. The clock struck by until I could get home today to hear the full version of what my guys have come up with. 

With the singles and promotional edits out of the way, it was time to really dig into the meat and potatoes of what's new. First up was "軽蔑と始まり(Keibetsu to Hajimari, Beginning With Contempt.)" This is a fairly strong start and also fairly close to what the band is good at doing. Kyo's harsh vocals are omnipresent and even varied. Between deep growls and guttural sing-talk, he gives fans what is likely the most appropriate way to open a DIR EN GREY album. The follow-up, "Devote My Life,"  was somewhat less obviously strong, but a different approach on what the band likes to do in avant-garde rock music. The instrumentation was notably dissonant with almost punk-rock rhythms. I'm thinking the message here was devotion of life to being extremely left of center.  

"Celebrate Empty Howls" and "Rubbish Heap" are pretty much exactly what you would expect if I'm being honest and/or blunt. There's a pretty fair mix of clean and harsh vocals throughout either track and they're pretty much doing the same thing in terms of sound with the exception of electronic influence in the opening of "Rubbish Heap." Regardless, the album begins to make an enormous shift after this track. 

While I think fans of the band are going to all love something individually here, I believe longtime fans are going to really love the second half. "赫 (Aka, Shine)" is the first time so far where everything is brought down a few notches in terms of rushing, heavy energy and stripped to the point of a naturally composed song by some of the greatest minds in Visual Kei. The dramatic instrumentation is the most absolutely notable difference here, but then send us back to a semi-bizarre form of experimentation on "Values of Madness." The vocals are somewhat split three ways between clean, harsh, and... Very strange. Goes to show, you can be in the game for 20 years and never be done with experimenting. 

"Downfall" was a great way to follow this up considering the track is more along the lines of earlier tracks where they were just doing what they do best. The remaining three new tracks were probably my favorite. "Followers" is "Aka" with an edge. It is somewhat to the darker side, somewhat to the 'less emotional' side and definitely appeals to people who like a heavier feel, but don't want to feel screamed at. However,"谿壑の欲 (Keigaku noYoku, Ravenous Greed)" is for people who like a heavier feel, but don't want to feel too sung to. These two songs really play off the strengths and weaknesses of the other. They each create the same ambience without feeling like it's too much of the same thing. 

The remaining track is the titular, "絶縁体(Zetsuentai, Insulator)." This track is really out here at over 7 minutes long. It is, admittedly, a lot to digest. One wouldn't want to say that it is "Vinushka"-esque, but it certainly does have the vibe that a lot of other lengthy DIR EN GREY songs have. They somewhat funnel a lot of time and energy into composing these songs to make sure they flow purposefully and doesn't include a lot of (or any) dead space. Realistically, the track will probably need a few listen-throughs and a lyric book to decipher more graciously, but the immediate reaction is positive. The song was a brilliant slide into a ballad to finish us off. 

At the end of the day, they really impressed me personally. I can see a hugely varied reaction from fans, because it seems like they really did the most with their experimentation here. A criticism would be that it isn't as cohesive a piece as other albums, but the newer methods of vocalizing and deeper thought into compositions would absolutely be something to commend them for. I'd really hope that all die hard fans would continue to support their endeavors by ordering it from any of the following sites or, of course, good old fashioned iTunes. 

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