The long-awaited DIR EN GREY European tour finally took place, marking their overseas return after the global pandemic. What DIR EN GREY had in store for us this time was a two-day concert format, allowing fans to experience two distinct eras through the classic albums “Withering to death.” and “UROBOROS”.

The special formula was a way to celebrate DIR EN GREY’s 25th anniversary, which actually took place in 2022. However, due to travel and performance restrictions at that time, the band integrated the anniversary celebration into this year’s tour.

We caught up with guitarist and lead composer Kaoru on the second day of their London performance, after an exhilarating “Withering to death.” show the night before—there was lots of moshing!

Look forward to our in-depth discussion, revealing the meaning behind their remake songs, the hidden emotions and gratitude behind the band’s facade, and their evolving sound.

How was the show last night?

I think it went well. It had been a while since we last visited Europe, and I could see that many fans in London had been waiting so long for us to come back.

Very much. Both shows sold out immediately and there was a lot of excitement from the fans. Did their energy live up to your expectations?

Whenever we played in London, we could trust that a lot of people would come to see us. The fans in London have always been very loyal. It was like reuniting with old friends after a long time.

That’s great to hear, and congratulations on your first overseas tour in a long time. This time, you decided to tour off the albums “Withering to death.” and “UROBOROS” instead of the latest album, “PHALARIS”. Can you tell us why?

Well, 2022 marked DIR EN GREY’s 25th anniversary, and we thought we’d do something different to commemorate it. We decided to play two days in each city, showcasing an album per day. We had already held tours that spotlighted the two albums in Japan, but not overseas, so we thought we’d try it out in Europe.

Actually, we had planned for all this in 2022, but we couldn’t take it on the road for various reasons, like the [COVID-19] lockdown. When we were discussing what to do for our 2024 Europe tour, we debated whether to show the most recent iteration of DIR EN GREY, or look at what we wanted to do back in 2022. Since we were a little regretful that we couldn’t pull it off then, we decided to do it now.

Is there anything besides scheduling that made you choose “Withering to death.” and “UROBOROS” specifically as the albums to express to your audience overseas?

Withering to death. was the album that led to our European debut, and it symbolized a good milestone for commemorating our 25th anniversary. For UROBOROS, this was the album that many voted for as their favorite when we polled our European fans.

I agree with the outcome, “UROBOROS” would be my top pick as well!


Personally, which DIR EN GREY album resonates with you the most?

It’s gotta be our most recent creation [laughs]. I would say PHALARIS for sure.

[Laughs] Of course… It’s been 19 and 16 years since you released “Withering to death.” and “UROBOROS”, respectively. Since then, and especially compared to “PHALARIS” now, how do you feel the band has evolved?

Hm… I’m not sure whether we’ve evolved or not. Since we started touring Europe and the US, we’ve learned a lot about being ourselves and have really leaned into this mindset, more so than when we only played in Japan or just started flying overseas.

In the past, we would set out to give shape to an idealized vision and try to race toward this abstract goal. But now, we’re just trying to create by refining what we already have inside ourselves.

As you mentioned before, overseas fans seem especially drawn to “Withering to death.” and “UROBOROS”, even if most can’t understand Japanese. Why do you think DIR EN GREY’s music speaks to the overseas audience?

I don’t really know either [laughs]. Ultimately, I think it comes down to a human connection. It matters who we are as people.

Listeners care about what kind of people sculpt what kind of sounds and write what kind of lyrics, and sing in what kind of voice and give off what kind of aura. Everything from the musical nuances to the album cover art has meaning, because people care about the very individuals who bore all these things.

Same goes for live performances. Fans know what kinds of people they want to see standing on stage, with what kinds of mannerisms, looking at the audience with what kinds of expressions. They all matter. People can feel these things through emotion, regardless of whether or not we can communicate through language.

With that in mind, on stage, what are you trying to convey to the audience when you are playing?

I suppose if there is one thing I’m trying to express, it’s gratitude. I’m grateful for fans who listen to our music, engage with it, and make the effort to visit us at our shows.

That being said, DIR EN GREY isn’t really the type of band that expresses gratitude through words. “Thank you for coming out. We love you.”, we don’t appeal to our followers by overtly vocalizing our appreciation. Instead, I try to communicate these things through my motions, expressions, eye movements, and I hope that the audience can catch on from the body language.

Of course, my biggest priority is to present the soundscape and expressionism of DIR EN GREY. But on top of these elements, there are feelings of gratitude.

I think it goes both ways. The fans and the artists want to show their gratitude for one another.

[Mmm… (in agreement)]

This is the first tour that has brought songs from PHALARIS overseas. How was the reaction from the fans?

Even though it’s the first time they heard the new songs live, the fans were more enthusiastic than I expected. I was quite surprised… and happy that they had already listened to PHALARIS before the tour.

I’m glad, especially since you said this is your favorite work so far.

I actually think we should have included more songs from PHALARIS in the setlist [laughs].

We were actually wondering why you didn’t do it?

Well, if we had slotted in too many from PHALARIS, it would have interrupted the flow of the show. We chose songs that felt fitting within the universe of Withering to death. and UROBOROS.

We also noticed a peculiar thing, about how you basically played all the songs off “Withering to death.” and “UROBOROS”, but left out one song from each album. Do you have a reason for this?

Basically, it’s because we couldn’t bring all the equipment we’d need to play those songs over here [laughs]. It’s also kind of difficult to recreate those songs live.

Personally, I like that we aren’t playing everything, because it leaves you wondering why and wanting for more [laughs].

Yeah, we’ll have to come back for more then [laughs]! So I understand that there are logistical limitations for your overseas stage set; considering how elaborate your production is in Japan, it’s quite difficult to get the same setup overseas. How do you compromise?

It’s nearly impossible to bring everything over from Japan. Prices for all sorts of services have gone up since the pandemic. We try to recreate a similar production where possible, but we have to work within limitations, including the number of our staff. Because of this, we sometimes run into technical issues.

We want people to feel the mood and atmosphere of our shows in Japan, so we just work hard to maximize that experience overseas as best as we can.

That’s understandable. There are many bands in Japan who are content to stay there without playing overseas. But DIR EN GREY is trying to push the boundaries and gain an audience beyond Japan. What motivates you to do this, even though you don’t “need” to?

First of all, it’s a huge undertaking for Japanese bands to schedule shows overseas. The biggest factor is cost. There are few bands who can attain the budget to realistically make it out of the country.

Although we’re most comfortable playing in Japan, there are so many fans overseas who have supported us for years and have been waiting to see us. This is our greatest motivation.

That’s great to hear for the fans overseas. DIR EN GREY is a popular band, and you also have a large presence overseas. Do you ever feel any pressure from being a band that represents Japanese metal?

Not at all! I’ve never even thought of it [laughs]!

That’s good [laughs]. In yesterday’s show, we noticed a lot of fans taking photos and videos on their phones. Do you have any opinions on this, and do they differ depending on whether you are in Japan or overseas? What are your thoughts on the matter?

We can’t afford to make any mistakes [on stage] then [laughs]!

[Laughs] that makes sense! You remade a number of older songs, like Akuro no Oka. When remaking these songs, how do you find the balance to appease both old fans and new ones?

We remade three songs–Akuro no Oka, Yurameki, and Zan–for our 25th anniversary, so we tried not to deconstruct the way these songs originally sounded and focused on just playing them as ourselves today. We thought it would be easier to show how the band had changed without incorporating drastic rearrangements in the composition.

It would be a good opportunity for old fans to listen to the songs again and for new fans to hear them for the first time. When we debuted, we didn’t tour in Europe right away, so at yesterday’s show, I was really grateful to see that fans already knew those songs.

So these remakes weren’t about revisiting something that you couldn’t pull off in the studio back then, right?

Right, nothing like that.

When you were remaking these songs, was there anything you were reminded of or had rediscovered about yourself?

They were the first songs that we recorded in a proper studio setting. Back then, there were things I wanted to do that I just couldn’t yet express through my playing… And I still feel that when I play these songs today. But I also think that aspect is what gives these songs their charm. Our recent songs have more impressive arrangements, but what makes those songs interesting is that they lack that polish.

Do you mean that from the perspective of your own skills, or from the perspective of available technology back then?

It applies to everything. My skills. My ideas. The technology.

This might be hard to answer, but do you think the new versions are the definite versions? Or are the original recordings the definitive version?

I think it depends on what you prefer. The originals have had a much longer time to set in for many listeners. We didn’t remake the songs with the intention of improving them. Whichever you like.

Got it! Since traveling overseas, have you tried to improve your English, or communicated in English while on tour?

Not really [laughs]. I totally get that it would be ideal if I could, but I don’t think I’ve been able to pour too much effort into it.

That’s understandable. Do you want to be able to eventually?

I think it would be good to be able to carry a conversation at least, but we’ve been going overseas for more than 10 years, and I still can’t speak English. Maybe I’m just not that motivated [laughs].

That’s OK [laughs]! By the way, is there anything you’re really into at the moment?

Whisky, I guess. I’ve looked through a few liquor stores while on tour. Things are more expensive here than in Japan, so I haven’t bought a bottle yet, but I’ve been looking around at what’s available.

What are you looking for in particular?

Smoky whisky, like scotch.

Thank you for your time today! Lastly, please leave a message for the overseas fans.

It’s been a while since we were able to tour Europe, so I’m very happy to be here. I’m sure we’ll come back in the future, so please come see DIR EN GREY perform live.

Huge thanks to DIR EN GREY and their team for making the interview possible. We had such a great time at the shows and a pleasant experience talking to Kaoru, allowing us to experience a new side of the band.

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