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Zeus

#116: The Insulated World by Dir en grey

The Unofficial Dir en grey release popularity poll  

57 members have voted

  1. 1. Which is your least favorite Dir en grey album to date?

    • MISSA
      8
    • GAUZE
      2
    • MACABRE
      4
    • KISOU
      2
    • SIX UGLY
      10
    • VULGAR
      0
    • WITHERING TO DEATH.
      6
    • THE MARROW OF A BONE
      8
    • UROBOROS
      4
    • DUM SPIRO SPERO
      7
    • ARCHE
      1
    • THE INSULATED WORLD
      5


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:_8.5/10_: | Dir en grey's tenth album is something special indeed.

 

Few artists can bring the scene together and elicit responses from everyone the way that Dir en grey can. They can make you pause your habitual listening routines to check out their newest single or album, even if you don't like them. This is because Dir en grey is one of the few bands where we can sense the progression and self-improvement from release to release. I don't think that Dir en grey aspires to impress anyone but themselves from three years ago, and now more than ever I see and feel a band that has graduated from copying trends to setting them. As a concept, and after listening to the album several times, I believe The Insulated World refers directly to them, their view on the world, and the inspiration for where the music they wish to create comes from.

 

The Insulated World feels like a journey into oneself, and the album feels separated into two parts. The first half of the album feels like a turbulent descent into madness, while the second half feels like the madness has yielded to tranquility as the listener floats towards personal understanding. I prefer the second half to the first half. This is a far cry from literally every other album of theirs, where tracks were arranged haphazardly and the experience suffers for it. I can hear various influences from each of their previous eras and albums - some more than others - but one of the most redeeming points about The Insulated World is that it doesn't sound like anything in particular.

 

In the past, I've felt that Dir en grey bit off more than they could chew, and failed to deliver on their own expectations. I felt this most when listening to DUM SPIRO SPERO, where the band used progressive elements for the sake of being progressive. The Insulated World has the progressive elements applied more sensibly, similar to ARCHE. Songs morph and change direction on a whim, but there are hooks and motifs that the band returns to that gives each song coherency. Vocalist Kyo reminds us once again that he's the king of vocal manipulation - just in case you had doubts - but he's embraced his mid range more. Focusing on the extremes of his vocal techniques leaves an immediate and lasting impression at the expense of it sounding very binary. I prefer the vocal extremes for specific emotional climaxes and using other vocal techniques for specific feelings at the appropriate times. "Values of Madness" is the best example of what I am describing, where we get screeching, rapping, singing, and more in a compact four minutes. The re-recording of "The Deeper Vileness" is another great example, and also highlights how well some of the ideas they explored in The Marrow of a Bone translate into their new style ten years later.

 

Complaints about the terrible production job for the singles "Utafumi" and "Ningen wo kaburu" were founded and make more sense in hindsight, with the new versions sounding less congested. Die and Kaoru no longer compete with Toshiya for total control of the low end frequency, Shinya's drum kit sounds less robotic, Kyo doesn't feel tacked on top of the mix, and there's plenty of room left for the guitar distortion techniques and electronic samples to breathe. For the most part, I like the tone chosen for the guitar and the way everything comes together in each song, and I would rank this among both their best and least obnoxiously mixed albums to date. I wish they could get their singles to this quality.

 

The Insulated World is not a perfect release. "Devote My Life" is not listenable due to the piercing, unrelenting tone of the guitar. Sticking it in the second slot does a lot to turn away people who only have once chance to give Dir en grey. They should have gone with a guitar tone closer to "Downfall". "Ranunculus", while a great song and a good note to end the album on, has an atmosphere which doesn't fit with the album. I get the impression this track was conceived either very early or very late in the production cycle, because it stands well on its own. I also am unable to find the hook in the album opus, "絶縁体" (Zetsusentai), which I find difficult to wrap my head around. They've done this style of track more effectively with "Vinushka" and even "Diabolos", and it doesn't hold a candle to the pure atmosphere of "MACABRE". Speaking of Macabre, I also find the new version of "理由" (Riyuu) slightly inferior to the original version. The cover of the song does justice to the original by not straying too much from the melody, but they reined in the emotion of the song and the guitar solo with only a cleaner sound to compensate,  and the original version of the song sold itself on its emotion. They didn't ruin it, but they didn't improve it much. The new version of "鬼眼" (Kigan) falls into the same camp, but the much better production values edges it out ahead in the end. For the record, I much rather these safe reinterpretations than ones that butcher the song beyond recognition.

 

These interpretations are subject to change as I spend more time with The Insulated World, and perhaps catch them live one day to experience these songs in person. Even a month later, I still think I wrote this review prematurely, as there are songs still growing on me and others that I am unsure if I like or not. I am pleased overall with how this album turned out, and I can see myself listening to this album in a few years without the songs wearing thin. Dir en grey did well, and this is an album I can recommend to both long time fans and the curious, but if ARCHE did nothing for you then this won't either.

 

 

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Great review, Zeus! I agree with most of your points.

 

I certainly think that The Insulated World is DIR EN GREY's most mature and consistent album to date. It feels like they played to their strengths more than ever and cut the experimentation to an extent that actually benefits the record instead of bloating it. There’s hardly any filler tracks on here. The only criticism I have in this department is that Zetsuentai feels unnecessarily long plus I’m not a huge fan of Utafumi. Both those points don’t change the fact, however, that this is the first DEG album in a long time that I can sit through without feeling exhausted, uncomfortable or wanting to skip tracks.

 

In general, the whole thing feels very raw, stripped, immediate and concise which are properties a lot of their past albums lack. And even though the experience is so condensed and straight-forward, I wouldn’t call it “dumbed down” at all. On the contrary, everyone seems to execute their part with a heightened sense for technical finesse. There’s still a good degree of playfulness and experimentation, most notably in Kyo’s multifaceted vocal delivery and some of Shinya’s brilliant drum fills. But that’s not even the best part. The riffs on this thing are jaw-dropping at times. Thanks to mostly great songwriting (which gets a little repetitive during the second half) and this nasty, thick and gritty guitar tone, they punch you in the chest so hard you’ll find yourself gasping for air. Strong riffs and catchy hooks dominate of The Insulated World, but occasional sparkly clean passages and some great guitar solos break up the density and bring in some of that In Flames / Dark Tranquility Swedish melo-death flavor. While I really would have wished for the bass to stand out more (as in Keigaku no Yoku), I still think that it is mixed quite well. It does take the back seat in some songs, but really adds to the aggression and overall atmosphere in others (as in Devote My Life).

 

As for the production, I don’t think it’s awful. The thing is, if you listen to it on crappy hardware, it sounds crappy. I tried it with some cheap Urbanears Plattan and it was a mess. But hardware like this is not designed to deliver a pure, detailed and balanced representation of the music you’re listening to. The main problem is that The Insulated World is very heavy on the lower mids and low frequencies and with bass boosted headphones or speakers (which is more or less standard for almost everything in the budget range) you get a completely distorted “image” of what this album actually sounds like.

 

PS: I don’t agree that Devote My Life is “unlistenable”. Sure, the guitars sound punishing and harsh but I see it as a fit representation of the lyrical content. Plus after all this build-up of excruciating tension during the verses, the chorus/breakdown with its wide bed of bass and gutturals opens the whole thing up and creates a very satisfying dynamic imo.

Edited by VESSMIER

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1 hour ago, VESSMIER said:

PS: I don’t agree that Devote My Life is “unlistenable”. Sure, the guitars sound punishing and harsh but I see it as a fit representation of the lyrical content. Plus after all this build-up of excruciating tension during the verses, the chorus/breakdown with its wide bed of bass and gutturals opens the whole thing up and creates a very satisfying dynamic imo.

Maybe I'm getting old, but whenever I listen to this track at over 40% volume the high notes just become piercing and hurt to listen to.

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2 hours ago, VESSMIER said:

PS: I don’t agree that Devote My Life is “unlistenable”. Sure, the guitars sound punishing and harsh but I see it as a fit representation of the lyrical content. Plus after all this build-up of excruciating tension during the verses, the chorus/breakdown with its wide bed of bass and gutturals opens the whole thing up and creates a very satisfying dynamic imo.

Yes, Devote My Life can perhaps be rationalized from a thematical and lyrical standpoint, but I don't believe that has anything to do with how listenable it is. How listenable the track is depends entirely on how easily that song with punishing, harsh and excruciating qualities goes down.

 

I don't think Devote My Life is a very pleasant listening experience. For me, it's not entirely unlistenable, but I can imagine that if I was at all more sensitive, I might have to skip it.

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The heavy parts of Zetsuentai sound so recycled that I wish they just weren’t in there. The more groove oriented heavy parts are fine, but the faster Vinushka inspired stuff is boring. Also doesn’t help that Keigaku no Yoku is right before it and does the exact same thing better. 

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I really enjoy the album, although  I'm finding it hard to pin down what's going on thematically sometimes and it results in a disjointed listening experience if I'm not in the right mood. First couple of listens felt very direct and easily digestible, not something I'm used to with modern deg. The first half of the album was exciting and refreshing at first, but I end up tuning out a lot of it out after repeat listening. Most of the standout tracks are on the latter half. Aka is my favorite by far, that chorus and solo are so nostalgic and placed perfectly. It's nothing new for them, but executed perfectly for me. If they spent the rest of their career stagnating and it sounded like this I wouldn't be complaining too loudly. Echoing the above regarding Zetsuentai. It's a bloated track that recycles too much and feels largely unnecessary. 

I don't have too much to add that wasn't covered by other fans/reviews. One thing I've noticed, and this is a compliment, is that Kyo sounds old now and he's owning it. Some bands don't age well and I've worried that deg might not. Their aggressive and nihilistic music are hard to pull off after a certain age without inducing cringe, but they sound mature and it's impressive.

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On 10/25/2018 at 5:28 PM, hatred000 said:

My personal opinion:  it ' s not uroboros

End.

I'm split on this opinion and here is why.

UROBOROS is a good album, almost god tier by Dir en grey standards, but that album also came out when I was in high school. It's been almost ten years (yikes) since UROBOROS dropped, and they've grown out of the proto-prog roots that they laid down on that album into a genre-defying juggernaut that escapes classical definitions. They already tried to go back and make it better, and that just made the album worse for a lot of fans, me included. They tried to one-up it with DUM SPIRO SPERO and that wasn't 100% effective. UROBOROS is up there with GAUZE and VULGAR for me because it's a point in their career that they hadn't reached up until that point and won't go back to, so I try not to get fixated on how "not-UROBOROS" one of their new releases are for me. I could potentially end up missing out on something awesome, like stalwart La:Sadie's fans who couldn't get with GAUZE, or visual kei fans who literally exploded at the announcement of six UGLY/VULGAR.

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Zetsuentai is a perfect example of why DEG should abandon trying to capture lightning in a bottle again. They know Vinushka is a great song, but this is the second time they’ve tried to do it again, and each time it’s less effective. Zetsuentai literally sounds like someone said “we need a long song”.  Like it didn’t turn out that way naturally, it was planned. 

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21 hours ago, Saishu said:

Zetsuentai is a perfect example of why DEG should abandon trying to capture lightning in a bottle again. They know Vinushka is a great song, but this is the second time they’ve tried to do it again, and each time it’s less effective. Zetsuentai literally sounds like someone said “we need a long song”.  Like it didn’t turn out that way naturally, it was planned. 

I would have to agree. Are you counting the first time as  "Diabolos" or the rerecording of "MACABRE"?

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4 hours ago, Zeus said:

I would have to agree. Are you counting the first time as  "Diabolos" or the rerecording of "MACABRE"?

Diabolos. The Macabre remake is its own thing, but Vinushka, Diabolos, and Zetsuentai all follow the same song structure.

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You mean the guitar feedback (I think that's what it is)? I love that song but I usually have to turn the volume down a little bit right at the beginning of that song because it hurts my ears lol. Same with that part in Utafumi.

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Quote

Zetsuentai literally sounds like someone said “we need a long song”.  Like it didn’t turn out that way naturally, it was planned. 

 

I agree fully. I like the song, but it's clear that it didn't become a long song organically. I wouldn't be surprised if Vinushka was even longer while being composed and cut down to the final length, because it feels very natural and isn't a chore to listen to. It does not feel like a ten minute song, but rather a natural composition that takes you on a journey.

Zetsuentai, on the other hand, just drags on. Which is a shame because it has some very strong points, like the motif and the chorus. Since they wrote it according to the long song blueprint, several of the heavy passages feel shoehorned in without a proper transition. "Oh, here's a heavy part again". Though with the disjointed nature, it probably wouldn't be too hard to excise the filler parts. I would be happy if a demo version surfaced, a la the superior Diabolos.

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Wouldn’t surprise me since apparently the heavy parts weren’t originally part of the composition? I kind of rolled my eyes when they dropped one more heavy part at the end. Like, yeah, that was cooler and way more effective in Vinushka, dudes.

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8 minutes ago, Nowhere Girl said:

'Superior' is subjective.

I don't think so anymore. Subjective is the act of liking it or not although recognizing the objective superiority of it.

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5 minutes ago, saiko said:

I don't think so anymore. Subjective is the act of liking it or not although recognizing the objective superiority of it.

Most people would say that TIW is mastered poorly. It just doesn't sound good, regardless of the quality of the songwriting. This is unbiased objectivity, not influenced by personal feelings. But this is what we got, so we have to deal with it.

 

Objectively, perhaps VINUSHKA, DIABOLOS, and Zetsusentai all have a similar structure, and are therefore increasingly more tedious. It's like DEG have no new ideas anymore when they phone in the obligatory 'epic' on the album.

 

Subjectivity is an individual's opinion. I personally think that the long version of DIABOLOS is far better. The demo feels like a bog-standard song. The album version is like a journey.

 

Zetsusentai is maybe a bit too close to VINUSHKA, structurally. Although, it does have plenty to enjoy aside from that minor niggle. In the same way, Sustain the untruth is a rip-off of FILTH. Which it kinda is, but it's its own thing, too, and they both have their own merits that distinguish themselves from each other.

It might be intentional. For example, the main riff from DIABOLOS is recycled throughout Kaishun, and a chorus motif from Kasumi is recycled in HIGEKI HA MABUTA WO OROSHITA YASASHIKI UTSU.

 

The band is over 20 years old. One has to expect a few songs to feel or sound similar. At this point, I'm just glad we're still getting new material.

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In the recent years I started to get interest not only in consuming everything what the bands put out, but to try to understand and make meaningful insights about it instead, trying to get close to the band as 'artists' and 'human beings', with their own idiosyncrasies, rather than 'icons' or 'heroes'. It would be awesome to have enough time to spend on doing deep and critic essays on the band's sounds. That's why I like this forum, because sometimes I can find interesenting anaylisis that go far beyond the "I like/dislike this band because of I do it".

That said, thanks for your answer.

 

Btw, I always tend to believe, in between other things, that one must try to think that some songs in an album, some arrangments or lyrics, visuals, etc. must be there not because of the band's actual decision, but rather because of, for example, their managment saying "your album has to be 14 songs-long", or "your album must fill the following climaxes, according to what your fans request at live houses". Who knows... 

As I said above, it would be really, really interesting to have deep and felt interviews of the band members, that say way more than generic lines like "the concept is EVILNESS IN THE WORLD", or "this song is composed by Kaoru".

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