Its been a long, long 11 months since Dir en grey released their last single, the explosive yet melodic "DOZING GREEN". Their new single is a medium tempo ballad reminiscent of their earlier stylings with its clean vocals and intricate, delicate guitar which soars rather than crunches thus distancing itself from the last ballad Dir en grey released (2003's "Kasumi"). Interestingly, the liner notes reveal that singer Kyo is responsible for this song. Last year's album "The Marrow of a Bone" was a raw, angry album with little or no time for poignant musings or delicate flights of fancy such as "GLASS SKIN". Even its ballads were claustrophobic and oppressive in order to maintain the clenched-fist darkness of the album.
"GLASS SKIN", like "DOZING GREEN" before it, is a step in a new direction. No Dir en grey album is the same and the singles from the upcoming "UROBOROS" are definitely quite far removed from the scream-infested quasi-thrash of "Agitated Screams of Maggots" or the progressive, cascading wall of noise that was "Ryoujoku no Ame". "GLASS SKIN", unsurprisingly, has a glassy feel to it. The piano-led intro and echoing, wailing guitars are crisp and cold sounding creating a fragile, brittle song that beautifully pricks the melancholy we have greatly missed in recent Dir en grey songs. Kyo's singing is soft and gentle but rises to a more depairing tone at the end, which although obviously causing a massive strain on his voice (he's downright out-of-tune at times near the end), doesnt detract from the emotion he packs into his performance.
Shinya relies on a lot of off-beats in his drumming and Toshiya's bass is almost drowned out which is a shame because he is without doubt one of the best bassists in Japan right now. Although arguably, a louder bass would possibly take away from the delicate sound the band is going for with the song. If I had to fault the single, the song isnt too inventive in terms of its composition. Kaoru mentioned that "UROBOROS" would be a very experimental album but honestly this song doesnt stray very far from the usual ballad formula. Heck its not even close to the epic "Aint Afraid To Die" (to date, possibly Diru's greatest and most beloved song).
The B-sides are unusual. Track 2 is a remake of the song "undecided" from 2002's album "kisou". Written by guitarist Die, the remake bares all his trademark flourishes only this time the semi-acoustic track has become fully acoustic and is infused with a classical spanish guitar sound. Kyo's singing is perfect. He doesnt strain for high notes and his soft, beautiful tones are soothing, especially when accompanied by the silky, intertwining guitars and haunting choral backing. Its unusual that a B-Side is just as good, if not better than the A-side but "undecided" is a stunning reminder of just how good Dir en grey can be when they dont get bogged down by western standards of rock music.
Also on the disc is an unplugged version of "Agitated Screams of Maggots". Yes you read that right, "UNPLUGGED". I really dont know what to make of it. They have taken the song, one of Diru's most violent, disturbing songs and reinvented it with a classical, almost vaudeville-style piano. Kyo's screams are now filtered through radio static and backed by a ghostly choir. Its still extremely harsh-sounding but at least its something different from a band who were in real danger of becoming stale last year. Its an oddity if nothing else.
Finally, the limited edition of the single closes with a solid live performance of "Ryoujoku no Ame". Its a pretty decent single from the japanese heavyweights and it makes the anticipation for "UROBOROS" almost unbearable. Roll on November!
Verdict: **** (4/5)