Dir En Grey at Islington Assembly Hall, London

Dir En Grey are a five-piece metal band that began as a visual kei collective, arguably as one of the most prosperous metal bands of the 2000s without English lyrics.

Over time their image has grown darker and they have moved to a different sound, and numerous stylistic changes have now meant it’s a little more difficult to define them to a single genre. However, since forming in 1997 they have gone on to release ten full-length albums.

While they have toned down on the ornate stage outfits and elaborate makeup from when they were in their visual-kei heyday, the crowd are still enticed by the creepier look they now bring to the stage. Think along the lines of a Sander Cohen/Victorian-esque style of dress and makeup that makes them look a bit unwell. A favourite aesthetic of their fan base, new and old it appears.

Three nights before the end of their This Way to Self Destruction tour, Islington Assembly Hall was completely sold out, arguably a venue with a sound system not big enough for a band with such a large stage persona. Contrarily, seeing them perform in a more intimate venue with no support artists only added to the excitement. There was most definitely an aura or ‘vibe’ as some might say surrounding them and their audience who, it seemed, could not have been more excited to be there.

They began their set with ‘Zetsuentai’, meaning ‘Insulator’, a song about finding happiness and love in a world where everyone is comparing themselves. It seemed fitting, as most of the songs making the setlist for the evening were from their most recent album ‘he Insulated World. Singer Kyo’s movements were incredibly graceful as he began the performance.

They followed this with the third track from The Insulated World, ‘Ningen o Kaburu’, meaning ‘Wearing Human Skin’, which was also the title of their 2018 European tour. The slower parts and melody of Kyo’s voice left the audience watching with a sort of childlike wonder, but, once the chorus came in, was losing their minds, headbanging and screaming along. At some points Kyo would be doubled over, head almost touching his knee, his screams somewhat demonic but fitting so well with the sound. With Toshiya on back up vocals and Shinya pounding flat-out the crowd couldn’t have looked happier. Then, as if nothing had even happened, they were back to their initial positions ready to put on an entirely new performance for the next track.

By the time they left the stage the crowd was more than ready for an encore and stomped impatiently on the floor of the hall, chanting at the top of their lungs for Dir En Grey to return to the stage. Their final song was the track ‘Utafumi’, track five from The Insulated World. It was a fantastic end to such an atmospheric performance.

They had a very minimalistic approach when it came to stage props/décor, but the red microphone cable seemed to be a very adaptable piece, serving as both a noose and Kyo’s insides during ‘The World of Mercy’. The eerie red lighting and the way that he pulled the chord slowly, accompanied by shrieks of agony, made for a particularly alarming sight, but it worked so well.

Whilst Kyo left the stage almost immediately, the other members of the band stayed for the almost ritualistic (it seems now) throwing out of picks, drumsticks, etc. As people poured from the venue and security began their nightly job of herding everyone away from the venue, there was something magical in the air as everyone was still excited by the performance they had just seen. With the heat and how tightly packed everyone had been for the last two hours, no-one seemed bothered that it was a little over one degree outside.


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