Looking back, I can admit now that I wasn't quite prepared for my first Dir En Grey experience when I covered the band's performance at House of Blues a couple of years ago. At the time, I thought I had a pretty good handle on every permutation of heavy metal under the sun, but after walking into the show blind, my eyes were opened very quickly.
What I discovered that night was a band with all the heavy crunch of a Korn or an Opeth that also liked to show off sparkling pop songcraft as well as bizarre, expressive noise arrangements -- oftentimes in the same tune. They just so happened to speak Japanese. And their outrageously passionate fan base seemed to consist primarily of young women.
Now, Dir En Grey certainly pay attention to their looks, but the ladies showed up for the music, too. It's an intriguing, uniquely Japanese mish-mash of nu-metal, death, J-rock and noise that's simply impossible to classify. Easy to bang along to, though. And that's just what fans will be doing tonight when the group from Osaka takes the stage at Scout Bar.
Despite singing almost exclusively in Japanese, there's no communication barrier at a Dir En Grey show. Kyo, the band's diminutive singer, is possessed of an absurd range and expressive style, shifting from lilting falsettos to guttural shrieks without sounding cheesy on either. Part Geoff Tate and part George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher, he's like no one else in rock, and he affords Dir En Grey an expansive palette of musical styles to muck with.
That's why it was a bit of a scary moment for fans when damage to Kyo's throat forced Dir En Grey to cancel tour dates and take a hiatus to prevent permanent injury. They haven't been back to the U.S. since 2011.
DEG guitarist Die spoke with us last week, and through a translator, talked about the frustration of being unable to capitalize on their momentum in North America.
"(We) were concerned for him, but actually it did not go to the point that (we) were afraid (we) would not play again -- It was never that dire," Die says. "But it did bring up a couple of questions, like maybe next time it's going to be something else, like someone in the band is injured. (We) don't want to focus on thinking about what (we) will do if that happens. When something happens, you just have to somehow move on. (We) don't focus on what-if, what-if."
Indeed, trouble seems to have a way of seeking Dir En Grey out in recent years. Not only did the deadly Japanese earthquake of 2011 strike while the band was in the studio, but just last Friday, they landed at LAX for the beginning of their U.S. tour only to arrive smack-dab in the middle of a mass shooting incident, keeping them cooped up in immigration for hours. Not quite the cultural exchange they had in mind, probably.
"(We) are very aware that America is a country where you can have weapons, you can have a gun; it's something that is allowed," Die says. "It is something that's a great difference from Japan, but to actually experience it, having it happen so close, was shocking, of course. Of course you hear about it, but (I) would have never thought (I) would be so close to one."
Interview continues on the next page.
No matter how weird things get, though, Dir En Grey refuses to be stopped, or even slowed down. They've been rather busy of late. Just this week, the band released a new EP, The Unraveling, on iTunes. Once this U.S. trek wraps up, they'll immediately begin work on a new album, too.
"Of course it's more fun to be out on the road, but at the same time, to get out on the road you need to produce some material," Die says. "That takes time, wracking your brain thinking of new music and songs. The process is harder, but without that process, there is no touring, there is no presenting it to fans."
It's good to see the band plunging forward. While some of the group's J-rock contemporaries have fallen by the wayside in the States and elsewhere, Dir En Grey seems poised and determined to be an international standard bearer for Japanese rock. Crushingly heavy, outrageously theatrical Japanese rock, anyway.
Tonight, you can see 'em up close and personal at Scout Bar. And you might even learn a little Japanese.
"The set list of this tour is actually going to be based on the tour of Japan that just happened in September/October," says Die. "(We're) also bringing a different production this time, something new for the fans. It will be something they have not seen before."
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!