Review Summary: Dir en grey create the album of their career, somehow topping all past achievements in the process.
When Dir en grey released their so-called magnum opus, UROBOROS
, back in 2008, just about everyone was surprised. From their humble pop-rock beginnings, Dir en grey had been progressively maturing and darkening their sound, but with 2005's Withering to death.
, they were still very much a fun metallic-rock band. 2007's THE MARROW OF A BONE
did manage to finally shift to a much darker, heavier sound, but it was an americanized, accessible form of modern metalcore, and much of the world simply scoffed at it as a Japanese band trying to find a Western fan base. But when they dropped UROBOROS
the following year, people took notice. This was a whole different beast, a dark, twisted, unsettling epic of progressive, experimental metal. It was Dir en grey finally reaching their potential, singer Kyo finally felt truly comfortable experimenting with his wide range, and the whole rest of the band began incorporating a whole variety of unconventional instrumentation and heaviness into their mix that had never been present before.
However, with DUM SPIRO SPERO
, the band has essentially obliterated all of their past work (once again) and created an album which tops everything else in their genre. For a band known for their impressive openers, Dir en grey really play with the formula, beginning the album with an unsettling ambient intro track before settling into the slow-burning seven-and-a-half-minute opener 'THE BLOSSOMING BEELZEBUB.' For those expecting another 'VINUSHKA' when you hear the phrase 'long opener to a Dir en grey album,' you will be sorely disappointed--for how long it is, this track is distinctly a mood-setter. It never explodes (although it does threaten to, at times), and it never really settles on any sort of chorus or hook, instead consisting of mostly free-form guitar work and Kyo's incredible range soaring over the track.
In fact, it isn't until the third track, 'DIFFERENT SENSE,' where we really get to hear Dir en grey shift into high-gear. Between straight-up death metal sections, the soaring chorus, acoustic passages, an astonishing guitar solo, and Dir en grey's new-found core sound, 'DIFFERENT SENSE' best illustrates the overall feel of the album, shifting quickly from one style to the next, but always feeling emotive, dark, and urgent.
Throughout the rest of the album, Dir en grey constantly keep the listener on their toes, shifting between slow-burning, deliberate dirges such as 'AMON' and the ten-minute 'DIABOLOS,' massive melodic tracks such as 'LOTUS' and 'Ruten No Tou,' and fast-paced metal numbers like lead single 'Hageshisa To, Kono Mune No Naka De Karamitsuita Shakunetsu No Yami' and 'DECAYED CROW.' Yes, this is a long
album, with many deliberately paced, longer numbers reaching the album to a remarkable 67 minutes. However, it never feels bloated--every song feels necessary, the slow, sludgy songs setting the mood, and then the fast-paced tracks coming in just when it starts to get tiring, and finally the only ballad of the album ('VANITAS') coming in right when the album's heaviness starts to get overwhelming.
And yes, this album is very, very heavy. However, this doesn't necessarily mean it is a mess of breakdowns and death growls--while there are plenty of guttural vocals, insane shrieks, and one or two breakdowns to go around, there are probably more clean vocals than UROBOROS
had, with Kyo hitting notes far higher than ever in the past, accompanied by endlessly interesting harmonies. Make no mistake, his gutturals are lower than ever before, and his highs are less of a scream and more of a terrified shriek, but his clean vocals are what really steal the show. And yet, despite being significantly more melodic than the pre-album singles indicated, this album manages to be one of the heaviest of the year, creating a deeply unsettling, eerie, and incredibly dark atmosphere seldom heard in modern music.
Also appreciated is the way that bassist Toshiya cuts through the mix, allowing his formidable skills to shine even through the seven-string work of guitarists Kaoru and Die, which, along with drummer Shinya creates one of the most standout rhythm sections in metal today. However, it is clear that throughout the record, singer Kyo steals the show with some of the most varied vocals this side of Mike Patton, and by the time the immense chorus of closer 'Ruten No Tou' comes around, it's incredibly difficult not to be impressed by the whole band.
All around, Dir en grey have simply created one of the greatest metal albums out there. DUM SPIRO SPERO
is an exercise in both talent and mood, creating an emotionally stunning, dark and incredibly powerful atmosphere. It is perfectly paced, breaking up the dirges for fast tracks where needed, and breaking up the brutality for a more melodic number right when it gets to be a bit too dense. It is not an easy listen, however, it is one of the most rewarding of the year, and absolutely deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest modern metal albums ever made.