I was recently reminded this album exists, and I can’t believe it’s already been ten years since Dir en grey gave us THE UNRAVELING! If you’re not too familiar with the band, this is an “EP” where the band did retakes of some of their older songs. In theory, this sounds like an easy sell! Soould you believe that I’ve only listened to this album about three times since it’s inception, and almost never in full? And that’s right, I called it an album because 60 minutes is too long for me to consider it an extended play. What gives? Let’s get into it.
At release, THE UNRAVELING debuted to mixed but overall positive reviews. I gave it a 3.5 and noted that while it’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be, the release definitely left me wanting for melody. Here’s the old review so you don’t have to dive into MH for yourself:
The fandom is very averse to Dir en grey remakes. Either they nail them perfectly like they did with the acoustic rearrangement of undecided, or they butcher it beyond all salvation as they did with OBSCURE. So when Dir en grey announced that they were unleashing a whole mini-album full of remakes and one new song, I immediately grabbed my riot gear for fear of the oncoming shitstorm.
It’s really not as bad as I was expecting it to be, with Unraveling kicking off the mini sounding like a DSS leftover. It stays away from the maddenly introspective “I write for me and I’m so progressive so let’s place together sections of song that don’t work at all to be artistic and experimental” songwriting that made the last album such an insufferable cocktail of inventive but poorly executed ideas to listen to. Karma isn’t new at all, but the original sounded like it was recorded on tape a monkey wiped their ass with, so it feels like a new song too. However deep they ventured into their back catalog to pull this out of some dark orifice doesn’t change the simple, repetitive structure of the song. Considering what they limited themselves to working with, it’s a wonder it even turned out this decent. So is that good or bad? You decide.
The main portion missing for some of the remakes is melody. A good portion of the songs they’ve chosen to remake are melodic in their original incarnations, yet here Dir en grey seem fit to turn up the crunch on their guitars. This leaves us at a crossroads with some very awkward sounding song segments since the tone doesn’t match the intent. One could say that this was accidental, except the remake of MACABRE and the two unplugged tracks keeps all the melodic sensibilities intact (and in some cases add some). Therefore, what are songs like Unknown.Despair.Lost doing with thinly disguised chugs and a needless breakdown over Kyo’s much improved English?
Other songs like Karasu and Bottom of the death valley are barely recognizable in their new incarnations. My biggest disappointment was the atmosphere of the latter track - what I loved most about the original track was how the bass created a nice “Western” atmosphere - which has been replaced with more of a “Borderlands-styled deserted planet what am I doing here?” feel. Karasu erred on the forgettable side (but is still better than the original) but Bottom of the death valley stuck out in a good way and is a worthy remake, with the bluesy solo easily being my favorite part of the song. Before I move on, I must point out Kasumi here for them upping the cheese factor. The original was perfect. All the reverb, wah-wah pedal and Kyo-crooning takes away from the somber atmosphere. Sometimes it’s good to leave something the way it is and re-record it without having to put it through the Dirufier.
Now on to the good things - I am so pleased by the lack of tacked on, awkwardly sandwiched MIDI synthesizer garbage on this release. Amon was done terribly. LOTUS was done terribly. No song on this release is as bad as those two, or OBSCURE, or whatever AGITATED SCREAMS OF MAGGOTS was supposed to be. The unplugged version of Unraveling strays close to it but it stops short with piano and some flutes, which hints that maybe they realize that over the top style symphonic arrangements do not suit them. Plus points for that.
The new version of MACABRE is amazing. The first ten minutes are an almost straight rendition of the original version found on the album featuring the same name. This is all positive, since they took one look at it and realized that it is perfect the way it is and needs absolutely no tweaking. Then the last six minutes feels like a natural extension to the song, featuring some of the greatest songwriting I’ve heard from them ever. It trumps the original in every single way. Likewise, the unplugged version of THE FINAL sounds almost theatrical, which is a new for this band. I can detect no semblance of the original melody in the instruments, and if you removed Kyo’s lyrics I would not be able to tell at all that this is the same song. However, the reinterpretation of this song is so excellent I simply don’t care.
A step up from their last full-length, Dir en grey are finally learning that questioning everything doesn’t always mean the end result is immediately good. Now if we could do something about their badly placed deathcore influences and persistent THE MARROW OF A BONE-esque “turn up the crunch and get metal” attitude, we could have a winner on our hands.
Also Shinya, tune your fucking drums.
Considering that I haven’t listened to THE UNRAVELING since I wrote that on April 2, 2013, there’s clearly something about it that I don’t like. It took several years and a few more Dir en grey remakes before I was able to safely conclude that their remakes miss more than they hit. I still maintain that Unraveling is a DSS leftover, probably the song I vibe with the most because I’m not immediately compelled to compare it to a different version of itself.
And then it hit me like a sack of bricks that this was the reason. None of the remakes make it into my regular rotation because they do not encapsulate any of the parts of the originals I find iconic. If you call a song a remake, enough of it has to be recognizable. Either change the lyrics and keep the melody or change the melody and keep the lyrics. Changing both leaves me looking for something to cling to, and wondering if I would have received these songs better if they were new songs.
業 keeps the main riff, but has 100% less 奇形児 and Moon Light Past, so while this remake is undoubtedly the better constructed version, the dumb simplicity and energy of the original wins out for me. I was recently turned on to this version of 業, which I was honestly hoping to get recorded. But instead, we got this.
かすみ is probably the remake closest to the original, but I’ll just take the original when I feel like listening to this song. The overdubbed guitar solo, oohs and aahs, and the scream are just unnecessary, but I guess they felt they had to add something. Sometimes less is more, but hey, they didn’t destroy this song.
I spent like two seconds discussing 鴉 in the original review because I had nothing to say about it. Ten years later, I guess I’ll throw in that it’s a clever reimagining of the song from 鬼葬, and one of the few songs where Kyo’s inhuman range is applied correctly (at certain parts). The original was a bit threadbare production wise, and this one definitely wins over, but the end of new 鴉 around 4:18 completely loses me. The original end of 鴉 was what made the song, so to see it go saddens me. 4:18 also gives rise to what I’m going to call the “Kyo chord progression” because I swear he’s recycled that progression a dozen of times over different choruses, except they end differently. I also wish he’d shut up at the end and let the guitars do their thing.
I have nothing new to say about Bottom of the death valley except that the original is just better. Still. The intensity and atmosphere cannot be matched. Kyo sounds so bored here. I barely even noticed there was a chorus the second time through this song, and the chorus is what makes the original song. Would have preferred to keep the vocal fry for the ending like the original.
I did not claim Unknown.Despair.Lost when it came out ten years ago and I do not claim it now. Give me the original any day. This song frustrates me because it lays bare the worst of Dir en grey’s habits. Unnecessary screams, muting the most random notes in the main riff and breakdown to ~change~ it, etc. There are entire sections of this song that are completely unnecessary - you can cut the acoustic opening and everything between 3:07 and 3:56. Deadass.
I just realized that I cleverly dodged mentioning THE FINAL in the original review, and that’s because I didn’t like it. They tried to make THE FINAL more grandiose and didn’t hit the mark. I actually put most of the blame on the solo that’s not supposed to be there. You know what’s supposed to be there? That scream. The one time I want Kyo to let loose and he doesn’t lmfao. It’s not bad, but once again, give me the original.
I don’t have time for MACABRE, but when I do I want the ten minute version. Thank whatever deity you believe in that they didn’t butcher the first ten minutes too badly, but I’ve come around on thinking the last six minutes are also unnecessary. MACABRE doesn’t need gutturals. It needs atmosphere.
Two unplugged tracks round out this album - have you come around to accepting it’s an album yet - and this is probably where I get nice. Unraveling -unplugged- takes cues from ASOM Unplugged in that they inject The World’s Most Dramatic piano, but thankfully Kyo doesn’t ooga-booga his way through the whole song. I prefer the original.
THE FINAL -unplugged- feels like a trip through a Disney forest on acid. It reserves the distinction of being the only track here I enjoy now about as much as I did ten years ago. It’s about as far away as you can get from the original while still maintaining all the melodic sensibilities. This is even better than the other remake here. This should have just been the remake. Shame being tucked away at the end of this release means everyone forgets about it.
So yeah, ten years later and I’ll have to knock off a whole point. This is a solid 2.5 at best, and even then perhaps I’m being too nice. What do you think?