Dir en Grey have become the top band of the post-visual kei era, especially for the Western audience -- in the 2000s they were arguably the most successful metal act without English lyrics since Rammstein (though they never rivaled the popularity of the Germans). The band began as a visual kei collective, too, but gradually moved to more reserved and darker attire and a separate sound that leaned on gothic rock, death metal, and the likes of Korn and Slipknot.
Dir en Grey was formed in early 1997, essentially the indie collective La:Sadies with a new bassist -- Toshiya -- and a new name that was supposed to carry no other meaning than to designate the band. They started off with the EP Missa (1997) that failed to stir things up much, but soon made themselves the talk of the country's music scene by becoming the first indie band to break into the Oricon singles Top Ten -- twice -- with Jealous and I'll in 1998. That brought them into the right hands: they attracted Yoshiki Hayashi, the drummer of the nation's prime metal act X-Japan and foster father to many a J-rock band, thanks to his Extasy Records label. Yoshiki produced all five singles that Dir en Grey released in 1999, and that propelled the band into the big leagues: after these singles were compiled for their debut album Gauze, Dir en Grey got signed by a major label.
Their second album, Macabre (2000), first signaled a drift away from their visual kei roots, living up to its name in mood and featuring an industrialized sound with screaming vocals. Following their first foreign tour in China, Taiwan, and South Korea, and another LP Kisou, in 2002 (number three on Japanese charts), Dir en Grey opted for more change: their EP Six Ugly (2002) drew heavily on Western metal influences, which upset part of their older fan base. Still, the band persisted, exploring the metalcore sound and the darker side of life on their albums Vulgar (2003, number six on the Oricon charts) and Withering to Death (2005, number eight on the Oricon charts). Those releases proved that the stylistic change had some merit, as Dir en Grey began to gain recognition in the Western hemisphere. In 2005 they charted in Europe for the first time, Withering to Death reaching number 31 in Finland (their single "Clever Sleazoid" would later rise to number 15 there). The band's popularity was initially founded on imports, web rumors, and illegal downloads, but that proved to be enough: in 2005 they debuted in Berlin and Paris and later played the German festivals Rock am Ring and Rock im Park. Withering to Death was released in Europe in November 2005, and in America in March 2006, preceding Dir en Grey's live U.S. debut in 2006. Soon after that, Kyo's vocal folds became strained, leaving him hospitalized, but he recovered in time for Korn's Family Values Tour, in which Dir en Grey participated.
The band's sixth full-length album The Marrow of a Bone was out in 2007, released in both Japan and America (it reached number seven on the Oricon charts), and Dir en Grey promoted it by touring the U.S., opening for Deftones at some of their shows. They also infiltrated Europe further, debuting in Denmark, Finland, Poland, Sweden, the U.K., Holland, and Switzerland. Not forgetting their core audience, Dir en Grey toured Japan as well, delivering a two-night show with Linkin Park, and doing a stint at the Hide memorial concert that also saw the appearance of X Japan and Luna Sea, among others. The fall of 2008 saw the release of their seventh album, Uroboros, in Japan, Europe, and America, followed by a U.S./Canada tour in November and December. In 2009, despite extensive touring in Japan and Europe, the band released two concert DVDs (A Knot Of, and Tour '08: The Rose Trims Again) , and the video compilation DVD Average Blasphemy. In 2010, Dir en Grey co-headlined a North American tour with Apocalyptica, headlined their own Unwavering Fact of Tomorrow tour in Europe, and shared festival stages with the Stooges, the Cult, Korn, and numerous other bands. In January of 2011, the band issued the single "Lotus," followed in June by a second entitled, "Different Sense." Both tracks were included on their August 2011 full-length Dum Spiro Spero, also released in Europe and America as well as Japan.
Nearly three and a half years were to elapse before the band's next album. After the Dum Spiro Spero tour, Diru put out a new single, "Rinkaku," in 2012, and a re-recordings EP, The Unraveling, in 2013. Kyo then took time off from the band to form his visual kei side-project Sukekiyo, which released an album, Immortalis, early in 2014. That year saw the return of Dir en Grey with a new single, "Sustain the Untruth," and finally their ninth studio album, Arche, in December. The album was released in Europe early the following year; it did not receive a North American release. Sukekiyo released a new EP, Vitium, in 2015, while Die launched his own side-project, Decays, early the next year. 2016 also saw the announcement of another new Dir en Grey single, to be released in July. ~ Alexey Eremenko