Oh man, few things upset me more than seeing people dismiss early Dir En Grey as "generic jrock" or "generic visual kei" or something along those lines. Sure, this release isn't super experimental, but it's very far from banal. About a year before this release, the quintet hit it big with their breakout single, I'll, which is a very fun, upbeat poppy jrock song. Normally, you would expect a continuation of this style, but the band was never one to stay stagnant. The debut is one that holds some serious nostalgia for me and probably for plenty of other people. This album is likely one of the most common entry points into the genre and despite years of exploration, it still remains near the top of the pack for me.
In many ways, Gauze builds upon Dir En Grey's previous releases and expands into new territory. After the electronic intro, Schweinの椅子 opens up in a surprisingly aggressive, heavy fashion with Kyo screaming at you. Didn't these guys just hit the mainstream? And on the turn of a dime, the following song, ゆらめき, returns to more traditional poppy, J-Rock territory. And that's kind of how the album goes. There's a large variety of material to be found here that ranges from more typical 90s-style J-Rock numbers to stranger, aggressive beasts. Although this album is before the point where Dir En Grey is generally considered to have gone off the deep end, there's still some unusual moments to be found here. For instance, the guitar solo in ゆらめき is mostly bizarre dissonant noise and guitar feedback. Not exactly what you'd expect from a hit single. The most obvious example is the long number, mazohyst of decadence. Featuring a slow, crawling tempo and haunting melodies, Kyo goes absolutely insane vocally and unleashes some rather wicked screams.
And speaking of Kyo, he's improved quite dramatically on Gauze. He sounded a bit rough on the band's previous releases, but it's clear that his voice is much more mature here. His pitch is much better and under control. His range is a lot more polished. And to top it off, Kyo's seriously upped his harsh vocal game. Many of the tracks feature lots of really good screams and other weird noises. Of course, Kyo would somehow find a way to get even more crazy later on in Dir En Grey's career, but his performance here is still quite impressive.
Musically, the band is in great form. Even though they weren't playing progressive metal at the time, Shinya gives a good drum performance. The clever little drum pattern on 予感 is proof of that. Toshiya was always a huge part of the band's sound, and he shines all over the place here. I'm always a sucker for talented bassists, and bands with bassists as good as Toshiya always catch my attention. You really can't have a good J-Rock band without awesome bass counterpoint. Many of the band's most iconic songs, such as Cage, are centered around him. Contrary to the norm, Die and Kaoru are probably the least flashy members here. Both are still great guitarists though, and trade off some nice leads and solos.
Gauze does have a pretty long runtime, but it flows very smoothly thanks to the huge variety of songs. 残 -ZAN- is easily the heaviest song on the album (it was later reworked into death metal) and has some excellent vocal work by Kyo as well as the iconic psychotic laughing in the intro. A personal favorite of mine is 予感 which is criminally catchy and has a stupidly good chorus. Perhaps the weakest part of the album is the closer, アクロの丘. It's a bit of ballad and it's not bad, but the song is pretty long and can feel quite repetitive. Still, the album extremely enjoyable overall.
I'd even go as far as to say that this is probably one of their strongest albums (and believe me I'm not one to write off weird progressive material at all). The poppier parts of the album all have extremely strong melodies and choruses to keep you engaged. The heavy moments are in an odd grey area between J-Rock and nu-metal that is quite interesting and not really common. And of course, some of the weirder moments give you a glimpse at what the band would do in the future. Gauze is definitely essential J-Rock and one of Dir En Grey's finer works.Rating: 96/100