Review Summary: Dir En Grey have done it again.
Dir En Grey is a band known well for their musical diversity, during their 14-year long career they have dabbled in multiple genres and changed their sound dramatically since their early days. The band’s versatile sound as well as their charismatic and at times shocking stage performances, Dir En Grey have gathered quite a devoted fan base, both in Japan and the rest of the world. With their last album, titled Uroboros the band strived towards a much more progressive style of playing, creating a very distinct sound on the record, Uroboros was probably their most unique album yet.
After a 3-year long wait and 3 released singles the Japanese outfit finally released their awaited full-length album titled “Dum Spiro Spero”. The name of the album translates to “As long as I breathe, I hope” from Latin and is a popular quote that stems from the Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero.
The special edition of the album clocks in at about 1 hour and 15 minutes making it one of their longest records, this is not surprising since most tracks are over 4 minutes and some stretch to be almost 10 minutes long.
The band continues their trend with having a very haunting intro to their album, this time starting out this record with “Kyokotsu no Nari” having a chilling piano intro transcending into drone-like guitars while screams and noises echo from the dark. Like with Uroboros’ “Sa Bir” the intro captivates the audience right from the get-go, preparing us for the road ahead.
When it comes to variety, “Dum Spiro Spero” definitely does not disappoint, Dir En Grey continues on the path they started with “Uroboros” and do more than just dip their feet into the unknown striving for something that could almost be considered as avant-garde. The previous 3 singles gave us the impression that “Dum Spiro Spero” would be an album that you would refer to as Dir En Grey’s “Death Metal album” with a lot of heaviness, growls and fast drums. However what we received was a completely different sort of beast. While there is most definitely a lot of heaviness to be found on here, it is completely different from your day to day metal. The guitars are toned down a lot and and have a very unique distortion to them, at times resembling something like Drone Metal. However the heavy riffs are also complemented by really fantastic melodic parts, seen very clearly on tracks like “Juuyoku”. A lot of these parts are very well crafted, at some points even resembling middle-eastern melodies.
A very big addition when it comes to the guitars on this album is there are actually some genuine solos on here which you won’t really find a lot when looking through Dir En Grey’s discography. Most notably is probably the great solo part on “Different Sense” which stretches on for about 35 seconds.
There’s definitely some great musicianship between the members on here which is not surprising since the band has had the same line-up during their entire career. It feels more like the band members play alongside each other, every instrument complimenting the other rather than them just all focusing on their own thing. The bass guitar is very prevalent on here as well, having a much grittier sound comparing with previous records, really bringing out some of the heavy parts of the album.
Another thing that’s quite different about “Dum Spiro Spero” is that you won’t find a lot of soft tracks on here and those that exist still feature the heavy low-end guitar riffs. What they’ve done here instead is mixed softer elements with acoustic parts with the really heavy fast parts. This is not uncommon, especially if you’re familiar with bands like Opeth or Neurosis. However, the acoustic parts blend right in with the heavy parts, constantly changing and evolving. That being said, tracks that work more as “ballads”, such as “Lotus” or “Vanitas” are still present on this record and help mix things up a bit.
There’s a great usage of very odd and obscure sounds, take for example the track “***araru Mourou” where there’s something that sounds like a dying violin being played backwards at the very end of the track. These are scattered throughout the whole album, however they are timed appropriately and aren’t there to fill any gaps and are really there to enhance the experience of this album. The excellent production definitely adds to the experience, every track feels mixed perfectly. Everything from the echoing acoustic guitars to the dry-tight drums can be heard crystal clear.
Dum Spiro Spero is a record with a lot of layers; this is an album that you probably have to give multiple listens to fully take in all the songs and you will probably notice new things each time you come back to it.
As far as the drums go, Shinya is a drummer that has a very distinct style of playing, especially comparing with a lot of other metal drummers. There’s a large usage of a lot of different toms and cymbals, making every drum riff sound more different than the last. You will find both blast-beats here, on tracks like “Decayed Crow” as well as very rhythmic and odd drum riffs on a track like “Akatsuki”.
Last but not least, the vocals must be mentioned. Kyo is probably one of the more interesting members of the band. He’s not only a very charismatic stage performer, he’s also probably one of the most distinct and varied vocalists of the last decade. The range of his vocals is nothing short of amazing, you will find him doing extremely low growls but also these glass-shattering high screams. Most notably are his very soulful clean vocals which range from soft spoken to breathtakingly high and he hits every single note perfectly.
What’s different on Dum Spiro Spero which actually carried over from the singles is the usage of doubled-up vocals. This is only present on some songs and done to enhance the song to some extent. This effect is put far in-between enough to not make it feel tiresome to the listener and does work excellent on tracks like “Lotus” or “Ruten to Tou”.
A very interesting sensation that runs through this album is the feeling of something tribal and spiritual. This is something that was present on Uroboros and is also kind of hinted at with the cover art of Dum Spiro Spero. This is noticeable on very distinct vocals that almost remind you of something you would hear in a Buddhist temple, seen on tracks like “Juuyoku” as well as the very tribal melodies and vocals that sound a lot like chanting. This is something that’s sprinkled on top, but it definitely does leave an impression and adds a lot to the experience that is “Dum Spiro Spero”.
Overall, Dir En Grey did not stop exploring with Uroboros and decided to go further down the rabbit hole, pushing themselves even more to create a different experience. This is a band that does not stop surprising you with every new release, each time trying to take it a step further.