Review Summary: While I breathe, I hope.
Ten years removed from its initial release date and Dum Spiro Spero
is seen in a much more favourable light. Not that the album was ever ill-received at the time, but over the course of a decade Dum Spiro Spero
has garnered a reputation for being a fruitfully rewarding experience if you’re willing to stick with it. Speaking for myself, I can attest to this. As a music fan a decade ago, I was well-versed in metal’s more accessible offerings but hadn’t yet embodied or waded through the extremities of the genre’s darker sides yet. In fact, thinking back on it now, 2008’s UROBOROS
was my introduction to metal’s, shall we say, less accessible subgenres – a recipe that straddled death metal, progressive metal, and metalcore with expert handling. I observed the instrumental synergy in awe and wonder, as it shadowed and stalked Kyo’s incredibly versatile vocal range, one that kept enough accessibility in toe in order to ease my own fragile mind and allow me to assimilate the harsher styles of music being presented to me. Indeed, after a few listens I began to adore UROBOROS
’ brooding, proggy aesthetic with unadulterated conviction, and by the turn of 2011 I was pining for my next dose of DIR EN GREY.
However, to my surprise at the time, Dum Spiro Spero
was in another world from what I had envisaged. Rather than being a tweak on UROBOROS
’ ideas, it turned out to be a demonic bastard-spawn of its predecessor. The first handful of listens to Diru’s eighth studio LP left me with intense exhaustion and confusion; its intricate, multifaceted and complex personality was so far removed from anything DIR EN GREY had previously recorded, it left me discombobulated and in a state of utter bewilderment every time I went back to it. Even after repeated visits in the double-digits, it still comported itself with an unbridled chaos – as well as being a textbook case study in subverting fan expectations.
Off topic slightly, in hindsight, when I look back now at 2015’s Arche
which straddles and tames the extreme elements of Dum Spiro Spero
and melds it with the punctilious progressive atmosphere of UROBOROS
, it’s easy to understand why Dum Spiro Spero
was needed in order to make Arche
not only the most eclectic and emotionally balanced album in their discography, but the one with the most finality and resolve. If UROBOROS
is the stoically composed prog-masterpiece that burrows under your skin then Dum Spiro Spero
resides on the flipside of the coin and explores humanities most primal emotions, trading espionage and clusters of confrontation for all-out war. Yes, for the most part, this record throws punishing riffs, odd time signatures, explosive drum work, and Kyo’s most vocally demanding endeavour to date in the most abrasive ways possible. In short, it’s the most ambitiously strenuous project the band has ever devised. However, the genius lies not in the masterfully delivered chaos which enshrines Dum Spiro Spero
, but in its moments of respite.
Dum Spiro Spero
is expertly laid out, and the flow and balance of the album’s transitions from one track to the next are far from being arbitrarily slapped together. Coming from the high-octane “Hageshisa to, Kono Mune no Naka de Karamitsuita Shakunetsu no Yami”, with its throttling tempo, thrashy guitars and shrill vocal work, into the therapeutic calm of “Vanitas” isn’t serendipity. The decision to transition like this presents optimum catharsis in a way that’s unmatched by anything Diru’s peers were churning out at the time. The chiming guitar passages and passionate basslines emit a reposed vibe that’s closer to their motherland than the conventional Western shredding of “Hageshisa to, Kono Mune…”. Kyo’s gorgeously formed melodies soar along the octave register, bending the song to his meditative will across several titillating crescendos. Like UROBOROS
, Dum Spiro Spero
’s songs are built around atmosphere. This is by far DIR EN GREY’s darkest incarnation to date, if only for its mood. The one-two slow burn of “Kyoukotsu No Nari” and “The Blossoming Beelzebub” perfectly affirm the record’s penchant for mood as you venture through this seventy-minute epic. The first ten minutes of the album have you climbing into the jaws of the beast – an environment lavished in abhorrence and despair – where you’ll spend the duration of your stay being slowly digested in the bowels of hell.
Without an ounce of hyperbole from my sentiments; this is one of the most atmospherically distinct records you’re likely to listen to. The main reason for this is the band have the luxury, and skillset no less, of combining Eastern and Western styles together, competently, to form this glaringly unique sonic creature. It has all of the postmarks of a cookie-cutter metal band from the West, but their own culture is fervently encoded in Dum Spiro Spero
’s DNA, creating an off-kilter contrast that’s both horrific and beautiful in equal measure. “***ataru Mourou”, for example, is crushingly heavy in style, but Kyo’s soaring verses maintain a welcoming quality you rarely get from a heavy metal song. Which, at the end of the day, is Dum Spiro Spero
’s strongest asset. For all of the bombs this record drops on the listener, it maintains this peaceful, spiritualistic undertone that’s symbiotically tied to their Japanese heritage. The album art perfectly encapsulates the mood of the music contained within: a canvas filled with haunted isolation and beauty. It’s hard to argue with this when a track like “Diabolos” takes you on this idiosyncratic journey, saturated in loneliness, poignancy and the macabre, whilst maintaining its enigmatic allure. It also helps that it has, possibly, the greatest build up and payoff structure to any other song in their discography. Lethargy surmounts the song’s entry with sludgy, doomy Sabbathian riffs – accompanied by gorgeous texturing and counter-melodies – before shaking the cobwebs off with punishing blast beats and Kyo’s serrated, shrill screams and guttural lows. The track does this numerous times, easing you in and teasing you before blowing the top right off the song at the last minute, with the band giving you everything they have. “Diabolos” is so special it creates a catharsis very few songs manage to achieve.
Indeed, time has been very fortunate to Dum Spiro Spero
, which is why, coupled with the intense nostalgia I have for the record, I would inch towards it being my preferred choice from DIR EN GREY’s holy trinity. This isn’t because it’s a better album than the other two, merely that I have an emotional symbiosis with it. In 2011, and for many years afterwards, this record would get me through some harsh life lessons and hardships that would make me the person I am today. We all have at least one album in our memories that, when thought about, opens a floodgate of emotions and feelings – like stepping into a time machine and observing the very first time you heard it, right down to the smells, tastes and feelings you had at that point. Dum Spiro Spero
is that album for me. Ironically, despite its nihilistic qualities, I regard this LP as a summer album, simply because of its release date. And I can remember vividly, during a birthday party for my sister with friends, sitting in my first house I’d just moved into with my, then, girlfriend (now wife), smiling from ear to ear when the album arrived from Amazon that same day. The sun was bright and there was a breeze coming from the backdoor leading out into the garden over chattering and drinking. Memories like this are to be treasured, and it certainly helps me adore what this album achieves all the more. Yet, understand that even without my own biases towards Dum Spiro Spero
, this album is an unprecedented accomplishment for the band: a deep, complex behemoth that requires numerous listens in order to unpack its hidden genius. If you’re currently frustrated with the stagnant safeness metal music is in at the minute, and you’ve never heard of DIR EN GREY before today, check out Dum Spiro Spero
as you’re undoubtedly going to find something different, if nothing else.
Happy birthday Dum Spiro Spero
, it’s been emotional.