In some ways I really don’t know what to make of DOGMA. There are moments and songs here of such undeniable quality that it’s difficult to believe that some of the other songs on this album were written by the same band. the GazettE are a Japanese ‘visual-kei’ band, veterans of that scene and one of the few Japanese rock/metal bands to even come close to the international popularity of Dir en grey. This is their eighth full-length album and it stands out in their discography as being distinctly more ambitious and mature than their previous albums. Sometimes, anyway, and that’s part of what frustrates me about this album.
This an album and a band of two minds: one that wants to be taken seriously and write music that pushes the boundaries of what they’re capable of and what their audience expects of them, and another that’s happy to write music that gives the people what they want. The introduction track ‘Nihil’ starts off with real promise, setting a tone of mysterious oriental sounds; but half-way through much of that is undone by tasteless dubstep wubs. The first real track ‘Dogma’ is a strong opener however, with a great vocal performance from vocalist Ruki, alternating between a great singing voice and freakish screams and roars.
Yet on the very next track, ‘Rage’, there is a huge drop in quality. The song itself is a mess compositionally: there’s no sense of flow, and the transitions between verses and choruses are painfully and noticeably awkward. It’s caught between completely out-dated 90s nu-metal influences and some of the worse metalcore trends of recent years. The lyrics are utterly juvenile, the chorus largely consisting of “Shitty loser / You should know you’re lame / Such a dickhead”, while the backing vocals wail the totally irrelevant ‘All saints shall die’. The entire song is a disaster, a juvenile and tasteless venture Other songs follow a similar pattern, such as ‘Dawn’ which largely consists of open-string chugging, and a chorus that sounds totally phoned in, though the vocals as always are on-point; Ruki has a great singing voice, and though his harsh vocals are hardly comparable to DEG’s Kyo, they do the job well enough. ‘Bizarre’ sounded too similar to DEG – ‘Obscure’ for comfort.
What makes this so frustrating though is that while you have tracks like ‘Rage’ and ‘Dawn’, as well as bland romps like the industrial-influenced ‘Incubus’, there are some really fantastic tracks here, and some moments of greatness scattered amongst even the worst songs. Aside from the opening track ‘Dogma’, the closing track ‘Ominous’ is fantastic: brooding, menacing alternative metal, bordering on progressive. In terms of quality and style it could have been a strong single from any of Dir en grey’s latest three albums; gone is the juvenile, adolescent angst felt throughout many of the tracks. The vocals are menacing and dirge-like, with tasteful accompaniment from pianos to acoustic guitars, as well as very eerie, melodic electric guitars. The chorus is my favourite on this album, with some great riffs and even a pretty damn good guitar solo about 2 minutes in.
‘Lucy’ is a fairly straight-forward alt-metal/metalcore romp, but it’s enjoyable enough with great vocals and some decent riffs. ‘Grudge’ is a more subdued affair but much more tasteful than many of the other tracks; a little too heavy to be a ballad, but definitely one of the stronger tracks on this album with some very nice melodic guitar leads. And even the weaker tracks have moments of greatness, or at least potential. The aforementioned ‘Rage’ which I ragged on earlier has moments of interesting ambiance, regularly ruined by the return to the angsty nu-metalish riffs and screams of “Such a dickhead”. “Deracine” is a much softer song than much of the album, but very tasteful and melodic, with some of the best songwriting on the album. The guitar parts are still stuck in my head, and the transitions (structurally) sound so organic it’s hard to believe that this same band wrote ‘Rage’.
So a real mixed bag. Some real highs and some <i>real</i> lows. It seems to me like a lot of western trends (nu-metal, dubstep, metalcore) arrived many years late to Japan, so while this sound may be very appealing and cutting-edge in Japan, it’s very much fallen out of favour at this point over here. An okay album, with some songs that I do genuinely recommend listening to. If nothing else, please do give ‘Ominous a listen, hopefully the band learn from that song and continue in that direction in the future
You can buy DOGMA on the iTunes Store.