15 years since their debut, DIR EN GREY are going strong. Their music- ever twisted, experimental and dark- continues to thrill fans the world over, and as of December their ninth studio album, ARCHE, is available for streaming and download. Although Europe won’t see a physical release until January, the European edition will feature English lyric translations and a beautiful cover design- but is it worth the wait? The short answer is yes, and the long answer is sixteen tracks of unadulterated madness.

The album features earlier single releases- ‘Rinkaku’ with its haunting piano and beautiful guitar solo, and ‘Sustain the Untruth’, heavy with blaring distortion and moaning riffs. However, ARCHE opens with a series of new tracks, drawing the listener in to a shadowy and gothic atmosphere. DIR EN GREY is particularly good at enveloping their audience in their emotions, which are often hard-hitting, heart-wrenching and sometimes disturbing. ‘Un Deux’ opens the album, with strong melodies and a winding guitar solo with some contrasting heavier moments, and its fade out ushers in ‘Soshaku’, which goes from ethereality to a catchy main riff and discordant double guitar action.

The word ‘arche’ itself is Greek for ‘origin’, suggesting that the album explores some of the roots of DIR EN GREY’s style. And the third track, ‘Uroko’, very powerfully takes the listener right to the core of some of the band’s most effectively used elements. From striking harmonies to creepy harpsichord sounds, to pounding drums and breakdowns, Uroko manages to fit in an impressive range of sounds. For fans of this chaotic arrangement, there is happily plenty on offer as the album moves relentlessly forward- the catchy ‘Cause of fickleness’ shares in the insanity, and for fans of the faster, more upbeat tracks which DIR EN GREY occasionally churn out, ‘Chain Repulsion’ is fist-pumping, head-banging bliss.

One of the most intriguing tracks of the album is ‘Phenomenon’, which really pulls the listener down into a darkness, with crackling background bass and often clashing notes, adding an experimental edge. Lapsing sometimes into near silence, and sometimes into relatively relaxing guitar-led interludes, vocalist Kyo then interrupts with freely moving, erratic vocals and sudden growls (although ‘Mayagasou’ might steal the prize for most chaotic use of a set of vocal chords). Thoroughly involving and inescapably moving, ‘Phenomenon’ is both a challenging and fantastic listen.

‘Tousei’ is the first ballad of the album, later followed by ‘Kaishun’, with more sustained notes, rolling drums, wavering guitars and additional instrumentation. Gradually building to an emotional chorus, melodic, climbing solo and beautiful breakdown with twinkling vibes, this track is one of the longest, and deservedly so.

However, ballads and experiments aside, fans of DIR EN GREY will know well that the band strikes their hardest, most painful chords right where it hurts- our precious eardrums. ‘Midwife’ is ARCHE’s reminder that death metal is yet another of the metal subgenres which the band tackles effortlessly, and the track is comprised almost entirely of violently smashed cymbals and agonising screams.

Moving towards the finale of the album, the reverberating ‘Behind a vacant image’ flashes back to heavy metal here and there, but overall takes a gentler form, more concerned with harmonies and building up some tension towards the final tracks. And in track fourteen, ‘Kukoku no kyouon’, we get an atmospheric masterpiece. Slowly, steadily building in texture, beginning from acoustic guitar and the beat of the drums. At first, listeners might be disappointed that it doesn’t hit the climactic ending they expected. And then ‘The Inferno’ begins. If the title ‘The inferno’ doesn’t already offer a fairly good idea of what to expect, it is only a matter of seconds into the introduction before all becomes quite devastatingly clear. DIR EN GREY have evidently saved all of their energy for one last hurrah; a screaming, struggling, crushing track that keeps you on edge for a ruthless three minutes. However, the band’s final offering, ‘Revelation of mankind’, is no predictable fizzling out after such a powerful previous track. Moving blindingly quickly from calm to chaos, with astonishing vocals, and complex instrumentation, this track sees ARCHE to a cataclysmic ending.

ARCHE will be no surprise to die-hard fans of one of Japan’s greatest metal success stories; it is a fairly typical release, balancing death metal with hard rock and experimental ballads as seen on UROBOROS and DUM SPIRO SPERO. However, like these former albums there are some stand-out tracks that define ARCHE as something a little different. ‘Phenomenon’, ‘Tousei’ and the combination of ‘Kukoku no kyouon’ with ‘The Inferno’ lead the album from strength to strength, supported by the two strong singles. They may not have returned to their very beginnings, but they have travelled to the centre of their style and returned with a memorable release. Here’s hoping this is the ARCHE of many more songs from DIR EN GREY.

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