Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dir En Grey - Missa

Unpolished But Promising

I suppose this is a pretty cliché thing to say, but who in 1997 would have imagined Dir En Grey becoming the band they are now? Nowadays they play bizarre, experimental metal, but Dir En Grey's origin is in fact from the Visual Kei scene in the 90s. Missa is the band's very first release in their indie days, and is also probably overlooked. I'm not going to proclaim that this is some sort of underrated masterpiece (far from it honestly), but it's a worthy release and certainly not one that fans of jrock should pass up. The band doesn't break musical boundaries with this one, but they always knew how to write a good song.

It's a short, little 6-track EP and as previously alluded, the style fits right in with old 90s jrock. The first song has a brief spoken word intro before launching into the wondrous vocals of Kyo… in 1997. Yikes. I won't hold back; Kyo is probably the most amazing, diverse and insanely talented vocalist I have ever heard. His deep gutturals, piercing screams, falsettos, and whatever noise comes out of his mouth amaze me. But you won't find any of it here. On Missa, Kyo's voice is a bit rough, often out of tune and just simply unpolished. I don't really mind too much because his character, charisma and passion is quite evident, but it's a far cry from his vocal performance on Gauze and certainly nowhere near some of the stuff that comes later.

So how about the actual music? Well much of it sounds exactly like a band just starting out and trying to find its footing in the world, but it's pretty good. As you would expect, Toshiya lays a very thick backbone with those wonderful basslines all quality jrock has. Die and Kaoru play their own parts on top; sometimes trading off riffs, harmonizing or just playing together. Shinya doesn't prog out behind the kit like he does now, but his drumming is very tight and there's good usage rhythmic patterns.

But I'll be honest with you, I do mentally divide this EP into two parts: the good part, and then the really good part. The first three songs are all good and worth hearing, but they just aren't as strong. The melodies are a bit less creative and catchy, the basslines are a bit more basic, and the drumming is a bit more dry. However, the last three songs are not just really good, but fantastic.

蒼い月 kicks off with the strongest, catchiest melody thus far in the EP. There's this really twisty, windy-feeling bassline with tight, syncopated drumming and two different guitar parts adding embellishments. Kyo's voice is more convincing on this song as well. His delivery of the vocal melodies are great, and there's also some pretty nice screaming in the pre-chorus.

Garden was actually one of Dir En Grey's more famous songs in their Visual Kei days, and it's not hard to see why. It's the poppiest song on the whole EP and more than adequately catchy with Kyo's passionate delivery in the chorus to back it up. But where the magic really happens is during the monophonic guitar part in the middle with the echo effect. This brief section is a great contrast to the upbeat nature of the rest of the song and brings out a more intimate and bonding atmosphere. It's honestly just a short little break and nothing terribly special on surface, but those 30 seconds just add so much more to the whole song.

The last song, 秒「」深, on the EP is actually the most aggressive one. It's the predecessor of the more aggressive numbers off of Gauze like Mask and Zan. Despite being bit more basic than the other songs, the aggression is convincing and Kyo also pulls off some nice screaming on it. 秒「」深 would actually get rerecorded later on the Six Ugly EP in a more nu metal style. The original isn't too far off, but it's ultimately just harder jrock. Nonetheless, it's a good way to end the mini-album.

Wow. Did I really manage to ramble so much about a 30 minute EP? But one more thing I want to point out is that Missa feels very nostalgic to me. Perhaps this sounds silly, but listening to Dir En Grey's Visual Kei material feels like I'm hearing the end of 90s jrock which is true in some ways. Dir En Grey is easily among my favorite bands and I love everything they've done despite all of the stylistic changes, but only their music before the Kisou album gives this feeling to me. In that regard, Missa will always be a special to me even if it's really just an amateur release from a band that had yet to find their place in the scene.

Rating: 80/100

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