Immortalis by Sukekiyo

Released: April 30, 2014

Sukekiyo | Immortalis | Rating: 6.9/11 |

It’s a bizarre concept to think of vocalist Kyo without Dir en grey but that’s what Sukekiyo has forced fans to do. While he had dabbled in poetry and photography in the past, these projects never clearly threatened his ability to front Dir en grey. Until now.

The first album, Immortalis, consists of 16 fleshed out, heavily orchestrated tracks. These were not put together on a whim. They showcase Kyo at his finest vocal capacity, honed from years of experimentation and training at the heels of various throat issues.

The opening notes of the first track, “Elisabeth Addict,” veer into an entirely different world. There’s a faint tang, vaguely reminiscent of Dir en grey especially when the interplay of guitars kick in but that’s where the similarity ends. The rest is more focused, more visual. Each instrument, each voice adds a layer to the painting that ultimately resolves into an invitation to another place, another time.

The ability to paint pictures with music is both the album’s strength and weakness. In small portions, Sukekiyo’s musical meanderings are vivid, striking. As a whole, they’re harder to digest. The first few tracks end up mashing together. There is only so much dream weaving the mind can handle before it either gets lost or goes to sleep.

Track 6, “Hidden One,” provides a bit of a break. Faster paced, with a catchy chorus and prominent guitar, it gets the blood pumping before the next track, “Aftermath,” descends even further into dreamland, complete with distant animal noises. “The Daemon’s Cutlery” turns that dream into a nightmare, complete with disjointed guitars and harsh, whispered vocals. The madness continues in “Scars Like Velvet” where the vocals range from eerie falsetto to harsh scream before settling on a smooth tenor during the refrain. The guitars battle at the bridge, pitting a descending chord progression with a metal-style solo. The result brings to mind a stifling trip through some grotesquely bloody haunted house where people have been violently murdered in every room.

In comparison, “Mama” is a breath of fresh air. There’s some semblance of melody, structure and the first instance of major chords in the chorus. “Mama” was previously released as a single track on one of Kyo’s poem books. It receives a warm, welcome facelift in Immortalis. The respite doesn’t last long. Directly afterwards, “Vandal” kicks off with distorted guitars and a disembodied digital voice bleating “Help… help…” It’s the most “metal” sounding of all the tracks thus far, but the distinctly discordant chord progression and the strange graveyard chanting in the bridge keeps it from being categorized so easily. “Hemimetabolism” starts off beautifully, then is broken by various gas mask and choking noises. The rest of it goes downhill.「鵠」 (kugui) is at least a song, characterized by verse and refrain, with a sweet vibe that’s a welcome break from the insanity. “In All Weathers” feels like it was written to summarize the album, the last piano notes completing the circle “Elisabeth Addict” started.

Immortalis is not an easy listen. It requires a certain mood, a certain mindset to explore. Even then, parts are uncomfortable. It also lays Kyo bare musically. Those more than passing familiar with Dir en grey’s body of work will be able to pick out snippets here, lines there, bits of melody from previous works and be fairly sure they were Kyo’s contributions. Whether this album signals the end of Dir en grey remains to be seen. If, however, Kyo just needs this outlet in order to express what he needs to outside those confines, it may make them stronger in the long run. Only time will tell.