It makes sense that one of the planet’s most theatrical avant-metal bands would hail from Japan. After all, when it comes to the Western rock tradition, Dir En Grey is beholden to pretty much no one—even as the spirit of progressive rock is very much at play in the its virtuosic layering of metal, opera, melody, and atonality. Dum Spiro Spero is Dir En Grey’s eighth full-length, and it deepens the group’s already formidable well of sonic inventiveness. Too bad the well overflows a little too often.
With its Freddie Mercury-fronting-Fantômas vibe, “The Blossoming Beelzebub” paints a landscape of hell in springtime that drips acidic sludge and singer Kyo’s Technicolor histrionics. From there, things don’t vary much; even when death metal goes under the knife in tracks like “Different Sense” and “Juuyoko,” the deconstruction constructs its own pattern. And sporadic intrusions of melancholic beauty such as “Yokusou Ni Dreambox” only underscore the need for more (or less, as the case may be). What’s most disappointing about Dum Spiro Spero, though, is how empty and unfinished it sounds, even as the group sets in motion an intricate apparatus of grinding riffs, pinpoint leadwork, and labyrinthine time signatures. Dir En Grey still has all its strengths in place; it just needs to get the balance right.