Dir En Grey: 'Uroboros' Live DVD/CD Review


Last December I shared my thoughts on the brain-shattering album Uroboros from Japan’s groundbreaking extreme-music outfit Dir En Grey, and promised you I’d be back with a full report on their forthcoming companion concert DVD. It took a bit longer for that disc to hit the market than originally planned, but the twisted magic contained within Uroboros: With the Proof in the Name of Living – which finally reached North American shores this month – was well worth the wait. The two hours of live material contained within this documentary was taken from the band’s massive January 2010 homecoming performance (coming after a nearly 100-stop world tour) at Tokyo’s historic Nippon Budokan arena. If this site sounds familiar, well it damn well should: it's played host to some of the greatest names in music history ever since The Beatles first appeared there in 1966, and the legendary album Cheap Trick at Budokan is considered one of the greatest live rock recordings of all time.

For a band whose musical style is highly experimental, constantly morphing, and sometimes just mind-blowingly insane, this is a pretty momentous occasion… but just a few minutes into this concert and you’ll know how perfectly suited these guys are to an epic-sized venue, especially with the material they’ve explored in the latest phase of their evolution. Read all about it after the jump!

In my review late last year of this band’s seventh studio album, I suggested that one day Dir En Grey might figure out a way to drive listeners to madness with their boundary-busting sound – which ricochets effortlessly through the genres of hardcore and death metal, industrial, progressive rock, J-pop, glam, punk and dark ambient like a sonic pinball machine. One look at the capacity crowd (around 15,000) attending this show and you’ll see that they’ve come very close to making this happen for real… and maybe they’ve done it already; I’m assuming the ticket-holders left the arena with their sanity intact, but I can’t confirm that. All I know is this concert took me to a very strange but inviting place; had I been there in person, who knows what I’d be writing on these pages today… if at all.

Now I don’t want to get you thinking that this music is inaccessible or just too exotic for Western ears. That’s the amazing thing – it’s full of unforgettable hooks, rapturous melodies and pogo-inducing rhythms that will stick with you for days afterward. That’s part of their evil magic: once they seduce you with their songwriting skills and effortless performing style, your mind is vulnerable to the eerie undercurrents and straight-up demonic grooves that are tucked inside that attractive but dangerous musical puzzle box. But let’s set aside that intellectual crap for now. There’s a very good reason why this DVD/CD package is subtitled With the Proof… because in this release, they’re out to prove that they can truly rock your ass off, language barriers be damned.

Right out of the gate, the band changes up the typical rock concert formula by opening the show on the mellow acoustic rendition of Ware, Yami Tote…, instead of the usual roof-raising intro, and blond-locked frontman Kyo begins his performance pensive and understated. This is remarkable in itself, considering the singer’s reputation for going completely psycho onstage… which, of course, he eventually does, in nearly every song to follow. Confining himself mainly to a raised platform center-stage, Kyo becomes the focal point of a magnetic storm of apocalyptic proportions – you just can’t take your eyes off him, and you’re a little scared of what might happen if you did. Given that he performs the entire set in Japanese (the band has released English versions of a few major singles, but they obviously didn’t need them for this show), I was amazed how he managed to seize my attention so completely, as I had absolutely no idea what he was actually singing about. In the end, though, it didn’t really matter.

All my favorite Uroboros tracks were present, including the mega-heavy Doukoku To Sarinu and Gaika, Chinmoku Ga Nemuru Koro, the challenging but infectious Stuck Man and Glass Skin, and the heavily textured and complex Red Soil and Toguro. Even the more familiar metalcore approach of Bugaboo and Reiketsu Nariseba come through with such freshness and intensity that stateside bands seriously need to take notes. While packing nearly the entire hour-plus content of the current album in the first part of the set, the band still manages to intermix some older material – not too much older, as they’ve mostly turned away from the style of their glam-pop “Visual Kei” era and even a lot of their wild sonic experimentation that followed, favoring instead the avant-garde metalcore of their recent releases Marrow of a Bone and Withering to Death. The overall musical palette between these two records comes close to a blend of Mike Patton’s more metallic projects (like early Fantomas or Tomahawk), a little Melvins or Deftones and a lot of latter-day Tool… as I said many times before, it’s impossible to put these guys in an easy-to-carry box, but that should give you the general idea.

They wisely included an excellent rendition of Saku, a track which first brought them wide acclaim among US metal fans when it scored the Headbanger’s Ball “Video of the Year” award in 2006, and there’s also some older hits like Zan and Obscure sprinkled in to keep things spicy (although I wished they’d included Clever Sleazoid, probably one of the band’s most diabolical tracks). After the band departs the stage, fans continue singing their hearts out to a projected music video for Vinushka – giving the surreal sensation of witnessing the world’s largest karaoke performance – before the proceedings come to a haunting close with the instrumental Sa Bir (ironically the lead-in track on Uroboros).

Instrumentally, the players are as tight as they’ve ever been during these performances, and each instrument comes through with razor-sharp clarity and precision. Kyo’s vocals seemed a tad under-mixed at times, which could play havoc with low-tech systems (I tried it on an older 2.0 system and could barely pick out his voice among the heavy guitars on the far left and right channels), but if you’ve got a decent 5.1 setup he’ll pretty much be sitting in your lap.

Visually, the 16:9 anamorphic widescreen presentation is stunning, with very little grain and remarkable depth and clarity (especially considering the massive dimensions of the concert arena), and the surreal split-layer video content playing out behind the band – a slithering montage of skulls, creepy skin textures, serpents and centipedes – is a trippy treat that moves perfectly with the pace of the music while never upstaging the band’s natural theatricality.

The companion CD isn’t just the same audio content cut down to CD length: there are alternate recordings for many of the tracks from this set, as well as a more diverse selection of material, including a couple of new arrangements of tunes from the band’s late ‘90s glam-pop era. Truly dedicated fans will want to check out the limited edition set, which contains an additional disc of bonus material… but for newcomers to this band, roughly fourteen bucks for the standard edition is plenty of bang for the buck and a great place to start in your exploration of one of extreme music’s most interesting acts.

Check out the DVD trailer below!