One could be forgiven for not immediately recognizing that a dark, avant-guard metal band from Japan would hold tremendous appeal for the fairer sex. After all, Dir En Grey's precise, downtuned riffage sounds more ideally suited for misfit burnouts unaccustomed to a woman's touch. When the quintet took the stage last night at House of Blues, however, the screams of anticipation from the black-clad crowd were pitched only a mite lower than one might expect to hear at a Katy Perry concert.
Much like their Japanese lyrics, Dir En Grey's sex appeal may not fully translate on record. In a live setting, though, these slim and well-coifed rockers offer up a confident, nonthreatening version of metal masculinity evidently irresistible to that cute chick from art class. As the band tore into the operatic thumper "Hageshisa To, Kono Mune No Naka De Karamitsuita Shakunetsu No Yami," the floor was crowded with clusters of headbanging girlfriends who definitely did not buy tickets to tag along with the guys.
After a bouncy synth-and-sequencers set from openers the Birthday Massacre, Dir En Grey ripped open a pummeling collection heavy on cuts from its new album, Dum Spiro Spero. Kyo, the 5'3" frontman with the 7'6" voice, literally wore the group's nu-metal influences on his sleeve, sporting a nylon tracksuit that he presumably swiped from a late-90s Korn video.
Indeed, Dir En Grey's bottom-heavy crunch often recalls that band's Life is Peachy-era best, sending the teenaged crowd into frenzied pogoing of a like not seen by Rocks Off since the last installment of the Family Values Tour. Unlike Korn, however, Dir En Grey is hardly content to keep it simple, mixing in progressive tempo changes and Maiden-esque vocal wailing to arrive at a sound all its own.
Kyo may be metal's best-kept secret. Showing off the incredible range that has him fairly compared to avant-metal god Mike Patton, Kyo eschewed stage banter between songs in favor of broodingly atmospheric vocal passages so drenched in reverb that at times they approached whale song. He effortlessly shifted vocal styles from gutturals reminiscent of George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher to soaring histrionics eerily indistinguishable from Queensryche's Geoff Tate.
Heavy thrashers such as "Obscure" and "Rasetsukoku" proved that Dir En Grey packs a metallic wallop plenty ballsy enough for the sweatier dudes in the crowd, in spite of the band's relatively polished look and moody sensibility. It takes a special metal band to transcend a pretty dramatic language barrier and connect with a U.S. audience as easily as Dir En Grey did on Sunday.
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The group's latest release may have been written largely as a response to the natural disasters that rocked Japan earlier this year, but to the young crowd in attendance at the House of Blues, Kyo and the boys could have been singing, crooning and howling about any number of triumphs, perils and injustices experienced in the course of growing up. When they're applied this skillfully, Drop-D power chords transcend all languages. And so, conclusively, does rock-star sex appeal.
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Personal Bias: Rarely have we felt this old and ugly at a heavy metal concert.
The Crowd: We believe Dir En Grey's audience is the future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.
Overheard In the Crowd: Not a single word of Japanese.
Random Notebook Dump: House of Blues' poor bartenders had a rough night Sunday. Not a whole heck of a lot of green wristbands in the crowd.