Warning! Major tl;dr ahead! I was bored at school with nothing to do for hours, so I had nothing to do except sit on a computer and think! Lots of words and philosophical babble coming your way!
Onto the review (or, more accurately, my impressions)…!
If one is seeking peace and harmony, DIR EN GREY’s DUM SPIRO SPERO is not the album to turn to. In fact, if someone is seeking “music” the way most people have previously thought of it, DUM SPIRO SPERO is not the album to turn to. In DSS there is chaos, discord, and dissonance. DIR EN GREY makes that clear right from the opening song - the album begins with a lovely piano intro that collapses into a cacophony of screams, feedback, static, and noise.
After Kyoukotsu no Nari - the monstrous opening song - the CD grinds its way into The Blossoming Beelzebub. As I laid there listening for the first time, I began to realize over the course of that 7 ½ minute song that there was no chorus. It simply wasn’t coming. There were no recognizable “parts.” More and more I was feeling like the song was feeding me a story. A story I couldn’t understand. Even understanding Japanese, the story was indiscernible. As the next song and the song after that played, I realized DUM SPIRO SPERO is an album nearly devoid of choruses or patterns. There’s little repetition to enforce which song is which, nor are there any “catchy” parts to cling onto. During The Blossoming Beelzebub I was first struck with the feeling that I was listening to a soundtrack, and that feeling pervaded all the way to the end of the CD.
If you’ve ever listened to the soundtrack of a video game you’ve never played before, you might know what I mean by this. The music flows from one song to the next, each portraying feelings that were associated with certain actions and moments. However, if you haven’t played the game, you’re left wondering what it all might mean. It’s different from listening to a movie soundtrack, because a video game soundtrack is putting music to pre-rendered scenes as well as actions that the player is expected to take.
I don’t know how to explain what I mean very well. When I explained my thoughts to my friend Melissa, she told me that, when I say “video game soundtrack,” I’m just using a juvenile term to describe a “concept album.” Perhaps that’s the case. At least partially. DUM SPIRO SPERO is obviously a concept album. After Melissa used that term, I thought long and hard about the “concept.” I’m still not sure what it is but, then again, the CD doesn’t seem to want us to fully grasp the “concept.” DIR EN GREY knows this and even asked the fans to give the CD several listens before making any judgments.
In the past, Kyo’s lyrics have always been stripped down in a way that makes the full story impossible to grasp. It’s like he takes a farm animal, slaughters it, strips off all the meat and fat, removes the organs, and throws the carcass on the floor in front of you shouting, “what animal was this?!” You might have some idea but, in the end, it’s still just a pile of bones with all the meat removed. In the past, I’ve never felt that way about anything in DIR EN GREY except for Kyo’s lyrics. However, in DUM SPIRO SPERO, I feel like the other members have done what Kyo does, but with instruments instead of words. As I listen to DSS, I grasp feeling like pain or sadness, but there’s no context to put them into and the feelings are quick and fleeting. There are deep, angry guitar riffs that seem to cut off suddenly and twist away. The drums constantly change rhythm. The bass is sometimes keeping rhythm, sometimes melody, sometimes joining in, then leaving, all of it without a rhyme or reason that I, personally, can understand.
This is not a bad thing. I’m not saying any of this negatively. What I’m saying is that DSS is a concept album and a puzzle all at once. I don’t currently have easily-accessible internet, but I asked Melissa what the online opinion of the DIR EN GREY fans seems to be. According to her, many of them feel the same way I do. They feel like they’ve listened to the album several times, but they’re still unsure of what they’re hearing. The CD is difficult to bond with. Even after five listens now, if someone asked me which song Diabolos is, I’d shake my head and say I didn’t know. If they told me to sing Amon, I’d shrug and say I have no idea where to begin. For many, this has been a negative thing. Many fans have expressed distaste towards the album, saying they can’t connect to it. Before the album was released, DIR EN GREY themselves said many fans probably wouldn’t like it. For me, there is the feeling that I love what I’m hearing, but I don’t know what it is.
DSS is like a book with half its pages removed. Each song is disconnected in some ways, yet there are just enough similarities to bind them all together. It’s always hard to tell what a new DIR EN GREY album will sound like based on the singles leading up to it because it usually doesn’t paint an accurate picture. In the case of DUM SPIRO SPERO, I would dare say the B-side Tsumi to Kisei was the best hint as to what to expect, though I didn’t know it at the time it was released. Because of that, more so than previous albums, the singles almost seem out of place in the greater story. I was amused by the little intro that was added to the beginning of DIFFERENT SENSE, binding it to The Blossoming Beelzebub. It was like DIR EN GREY was pointing wildly at the song shouting, “it does fit! See!”
The layout of the regular edition booklet only enforces my feeling that DUM SPIRO SPERO is a disjointed story. Each page of the booklet is decorated like an old story book with a conceptual border. For example, one page has a skeleton on the side with a border made out of bones. Each page looks similar with its decorative border, yet each one has its own picture and lyrics.
As I listened to the first half of the album on the way to school today, however, one thought did occur to me: there’s no point trying to discern what the story is. Or, more accurately, there’s no point trying to make sense out of it. The reason, in my opinion, is because one of the main elements of DSS is dreams. There’s a song called Yokusou ni Dreambox, and several of the songs have dreamlike imagery or mention dreaming, reality, etc. One song even makes a reference to “Alice.” When I listen to DUM SPIRO SPERO, I get the feeling all five members of DIR EN GREY went to sleep one night and had the same wild dream, then talked about it and put it to music. In fact, the very last thing Kyo says at the end of the album is “wake up.” If we interpret the album as a dream, it no longer needs to be confined by anything, and it begins to make sense. Dreams don’t have strict, rigid patterns, and they don’t necessarily start or end in a way that’s clearly defined. What’s more, they don’t have to make complete sense. When I listen to the album after realizing this, the dreamy guitars and strange, indescribable sounds begin to form a picture of something that isn’t a part of reality, but still exists. That, and only that, makes sense to me. I may not be right or wrong, but it’s the only way I can make any sense of the album.
For any other band I’d say I was thinking too hard about this, but with DIR EN GREY, that isn’t the case. It’s what the band wants (according to interviews, at least). Personally, I find it refreshing to have to think about something for once. Don’t get me wrong, I listen to plenty of music that’s brainless and I love it dearly, but DIR EN GREY is the band that makes me think, and I love them for that.
Of course, I’ve been doing nothing but spouting philosophical babble without truly saying what I think of the album. The reason is that I don’t know the answer to that yet. Truth be told, I’ve never heard a DIR EN GREY album I liked on the first listen (except maybe THE MARROW OF A BONE). That’s probably a very surprising piece of information about me, considering I’m such a die-hard DIR EN GREY fan. However, I’ve never listened to a DIR EN GREY album that I didn’t wind up liking after a few listens. My first DIR EN GREY album was GAUZE, and I found it grating and noisy on the first listen. On the second listen, I loved it. Some albums don’t grow on me that fast. The first time I heard UROBOROS… I would say I actually disliked what I heard. It was weird and different and the songs didn’t fit together in a way that made sense to me. After three or four listens, however, it became my favorite album of theirs. So what’s going to happen with DUM SPIRO SPERO? I honestly don’t know. I know that I like it, and I even enjoyed what I heard on the first listen. A lot. But my opinion stops there. The album is so hard to grasp that I simply don’t know what I think. Is it pretty? Sometimes. Is it intense? Sometimes. Is it rock? Metal? Soft? Loud? Well, it’s all of that. Sometimes. There aren’t any songs that could be defined as one thing. Even the one song that is ballad-like sometimes sounds more like a ballad than any other DIR EN GREY song I’ve ever heard, but other times it suddenly stops sounding like a ballad at all.
I will say, however, that, regardless of what I think, the members of DIR EN GREY deserve massive praise for what they put together with DUM SPIRO SPERO. The guitar work by both Die and Kaoru is stunning, both of them creating sounds and melodies that I’ve never heard from them before and which cover every possible emotion that could be squeezed onto the album. And they do it without pushing and shoving each other. They work together with perfect accuracy. Toshiya, again, demonstrates his versatility on the bass. He’s neither a rhythm nor a melody, but a piece of the story itself. He’s in and out all the time, sometimes blending in so well with the guitars that he seems to disappear, and sometimes becoming the most prominent part of the song. And Shinya, of course, is amazing. His drumming changes rhythms on a dime and drives the story through every possible feeling. And Kyo. Well. What could I possibly say about Kyo? I’ve glanced at a couple reviews of DUM SPIRO SPERO and I feel like every one of them has already said what I would say: Kyo is amazing. He’s outdone himself this time. He sings, he screams, he growls, he whispers, he chokes, he chants, and he even yodels like a female Indian singer. There’s a feeling that he broke down any barrier around his voice. There’s nothing he’s unable to do at this point. During The Blossoming Beelzebub, Kyo spends the first minute or so just singing. No words. Just singing. And that was enough.
In fact, I feel as if all five members of DIR EN GREY have become liquid. In the “old days” of DIR EN GREY (when they were Dir en grey), there was an obvious separation between the five members. Let’s face it, Kyo, Kaoru, Die, Toshiya, and Shinya don’t have much in common as people. Even their musical tastes are extremely different. In the visual-kei days, the members separately wrote and credited themselves for different songs, and it was always obvious who wrote what. Poppy songs were Shinya. Bass-driven songs were Toshiya. Die loves acoustic-driven music. Kaoru likes melody. Die and Kaoru always worked together, but their guitars were always very separate from each other, almost like they were having a battle. That was a trademark of Dir en grey’s sound. Around the time Withering to Death came out… well, I know my opinion is my own and no one has to agree with me, but the fact that the five members of DIR EN GREY weren’t getting along became painfully obvious in the music. There’s a massive disconnect in sound on that album, as if the members all sat in separate corners, wrote what they wanted to write, then threw the papers into the center of the room and stormed out. It wasn’t until THE MARROW OF A BONE that their music began to achieve some kind of unity (which was necessary to save the band at that point. What was once their trademark quality started to destroy them). With UROBOROS, that unity became very strong and created a beautiful, unique album. With DUM SPIRO SPERO, however, I’m feeling a complete oneness between the members for the first time. Again, it’s like liquid. Even Toshiya has said in an interview that DUM SPIRO SPERO was built on the foundation of trust between the five members. I feel as if Kyo, Kaoru, Die, Shinya, and Toshiya truly got each other with this album. Like I said, I feel like they all fell asleep one night and had the same wild dream.
Of course, I know that’s impossible, and that’s why I feel like there’s something worth getting out of DUM SPIRO SPERO. There’s no way the five members all had the same dream, but they were able to communicate an idea amongst each other through music. If they could understand each other at least a little bit through music, then there’s something for the fans to understand in the music as well.
For the record, though, I love Akatsuki. That song is so sneaky and evil and I love it. I’ve heard Juuyoku is the big hit with the fans so far, but Akatsuki just hit me in all the right places. Also, the new version of Hageshisa to, Kono Mune no Naka de Karamitsuita Shakunetsu no Yami… it’s not bad, but… what was the point? If it made it fit better into the DUM SPIRO SPERO story I would’ve understood it, but it didn’t. There’s nothing wrong with the edit and it sounds fine on its own (I mean, I still like the original better, but the edit isn’t bad), but it just seems kind of unnecessary to me. It’s like the time they re-edited CLEVER SLEAZOID. I mean, why? It was great on its own. It’s one thing to remake old songs like they’ve been doing, but editing a single drastically when it was already going to be on the album anyways is just kinda… there’s no point. Also, I’m hearing people really dislike Decayed Crow. Um… I think it’s kinda cool, hahaha. Then again, this is coming from the girl who loves THE MARROW OF A BONE! As always, to each his own!