Dir En Grey: (Not Just) Big In Japan

Some music just isn’t meant to be heard by human ears. Much like Strapping Young Lad’s earlier incarnations, Dir En Grey have built a career on caustic, unclassifiable blasts of metal mixed with choruses that actually sound like, well, choruses.

“Unlike music up to Dum Spiro Spero, we’ve tried to create music easier on the ears [that is] catchy in a Dir En Grey way,” says Kaoru, the band’s guitarist and chief songwriter. “Our music is intense but lyrical, and paints pictures in the minds of listeners.”

He’s grossly underselling his craft; calling Dir En Grey ‘intense’ is like calling Breaking Bad ‘alright’. This is cutting edge, genuinely innovative music, taking influence from every pocket of the genre whether it be extreme metal, metalcore or nu metal. When they bring their show to the UK later this month, they’ll be taking residence in Islington’s O2 Academy for two nights. In their home country of Japan, they’ve repeatedly sold out the Nippon Budokan – which holds more punters than Wembley Arena – in a matter of minutes.

“The Budokan performance carries a special significance for us,” explains Kaoru. “We tried to bring the stage production to its highest level, because we wanted the performance to be a culmination of all the work we’d done up to that point. [We wanted] the audience to sense the future. Our fans from all over Japan and the world saw us perform and it was a very important event for us.”

“We plan to do many songs from Arche and it should be a lot of fun,” he says of Dir En Grey’s forthcoming London dates. “We will replicate some of the visual production we’ve done for Japanese live performances.”

You should be excited. Everything Dir En Grey do is exemplary. Everything is meticulously executed – from their music to their videos, from their stage show to their lyrics – and nothing is half-arsed. Dir En Grey explore more territory in four minutes than most bands manage in their entire careers, and the band’s eclecticism spills into Kaoru’s own music taste. Fellow natives and purveyors of post-rock downy (spelt all lower-case, we’re not being lazy) are nestled in his playlist and, to the shock of basement-dwellers across the globe, he also likes himself a bit of Babymetal.

Dir En Grey live at House Of Blues, Chicago

“I am attracted to controversial music rather than the [bands] that everyone likes,” he states, pledging allegiance to the J-pop-cum-heavy metal miscreants. “I kind of like the incongruity between [their voices] and the music, but I can see how the opinion could be split. There is a Japanese saying, ‘Onko-Chishin’, meaning the knowledge of the past is the source of new creation. I think they are creative, brave and have lots of imagination.”

Between championing Babymetal and churning out angular slices of metal, Kaoru somehow found time to write a book, which he plans on publishing this year. And why not, eh? In a landscape where public figures are criticised for everything – somehow, one’s character is based on bacon sandwich consummation and how you perceive the colour of a dress – Kaoru doesn’t care about credibility or racking up ‘metulz’ points. He shouldn’t. His music speaks for itself and, in the end, that’s all that really matters (contrary to Linkin Park lyrics). Dir En Grey are trailblazers in every sense of the word, leaving pretenders and wannabes choking on the dust of half-baked ideas. ‘Onko-Chishin’, indeed.

Dir En Grey play the Islington O2 Academy on May 23rd and 24th.

Alec Chillingworth

Alec is a longtime contributor with first-class BA Honours in English with Creative Writing, and has worked for Metal Hammer since 2014. Over the years, he's written for Noisey, Stereoboard, uDiscoverMusic, and the good ship Hammer, interviewing major bands like Slipknot, Rammstein, and Tenacious D (plus some black metal bands your cool uncle might know). He's read Ulysses thrice, and it got worse each time.