To know the Norwegian symphonic black metal masterminds, Dimmu Borgir, in this particular moment as they storm toward the third decade of their blackened existence, one must know the tragic loss that transfigured them after their satantastic 2007 album, In Sorte Diaboli. No, they didn’t lose members to a church fire, a demonic possession, or an exploding pentagram mishap… but they did lose clean-vocal powerhouse ICS Vortex. By kind of un-metalishly firing him. (All lawsuits were handled by the firm of Beelzebub Lucifer & Mephistopheles.)
Since then, they’ve been trying to fill a Vortex-shaped hole in their music. The Dimmu sound is rock solid on its own: orchestral beauty and madness, furious riff blitzes, blast beats to blow the holiness out of your meat-sack of a body. It’s only in their quest for the right clean-vocal tone that they can stumble, but the mighty ICS Vortex was perfection. On a mere handful of tracks per album, he would swoop in on a cloud of strings like a pantheon of Vikings, howling his nearly atonal melody that eventually reveals itself to be complex and intertwining harmonies, like whipping tentacles from a Lovecraftian beast. He was the flame in the darkness, adding an earthly grandeur to the bottomless chasm of their black metal hellscape.
Take note of the Platonic Ideal of Dimmu Borgir songs: “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse.”
Shagrath’s scorching hissed grumble, at times double-tracked with his low growl for maximum throttling effect, is always the centerpiece. I mean, look at him. Isn’t he great?! Glowing pentagram eyes, fists flaming with righteous fury, more chains than a Hellraiser movie – Shagrath is living his best life here. Also in this video, there’s satanic indoctrination (presumably) of little blonde kids, a blood-covered drummer after he murders those kids (presumably), meteorites streaking down from the skies around a triumphant ICS Vortex, and former keyboardist Mustis floating around on a chrome-skeleton death organ from hell! (Mustis was also fired when Vortex was. His loss is not as clearly felt, except in the lack of H.R. Giger-themed piano garb.) These were high times for the Low Places.
“Progenies” was a song from 2003, when the millennia was still young and full of sinister promise.
Now, we fast forward to today, to modern Dimmu Borgir’s new release Eonian and the single “Interdimensional Summit.”
It’s clear enough that some of Satan’s steam has been let out of the tires. This is essentially an audience-less concert vid, complete with an EDM DJ’s light display twisted around into a pentagram. Shagrath is still a believer in what he’s saying, and now he has a chorus to back him up. However, around the 1:45 mark, when it slows down to a smoldering burn, the band’s still trying to make black metal faces but they just can’t quite keep it up without it looking silly and without you noticing that the guitarist painted over his mustache with white paint like a Juggalo and without you thinking about the people who work at the Haunted House attractions that pop up around October every year and what they do during their off time… It ends with a bizarre crest, marking the band’s beginning in 1993 (“Est. 1993” – Classy) then a “1993-2018” (upsidedown cross) “25 years.” It’s been a long time in this business. Are they gravestone-ing this act?
One disciple’s opinion: Dimmu Borgir should keep on summoning the darkness.
On Eonian, and in their quest to replace Vortex’s vocal palatte-cleansers, they’ve come to a sometimes-successful resolution. The choir on this album serves the purpose of both doubling Shagrath’s choruses and adding their own flourishes. Having the choir sing their lyrics in English can, at times, have a sadly laughable effect (see “Council of Wolves and Snakes” with the choir launching into “WE ARE WOLVES!”, and you can’t help but think, “No… No, you’re not. You’re probably docents from some historical castle tours in Norway.”). But having heard the live version of “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse” with the diabolic chorus replacing Vortex, it works! They bring his twisted harmonies to a new three-dimensional life, and this blueprint could lead to a glorious new future for Dimmu’s sound.
Either way, Eonian‘s choral scheme is an excellent rebound from the godless-awful power metal vocalist guests on Dimmu’s previous album, ABRAHADABRA, which were jarring and depressing and overall just wrong. “More like Dimmu Boringgir,” their sassiest fans replied. It’s hard to take faux-Iron Maiden vocals seriously, and Dimmu, despite the dark twinkle in their eyes, is a serious band.
“SO, how’s the *actual* new album though?” one might find themselves asking. I’m glad you brought it up. This is Dimmu Borgir’s Donald Trump album.
[Not really, but I could absolutely write that review if Pitchfork wants me to.]
The definition of the word Eonian is “continuing forever, or indefinitely,” and the lyrical content of this collection, despite the overall lightlessness of its sound, is remarkably upbeat and kind of cosmic. It’s a bit of a black metal self-help collection.
The mission statement appears in album-opener, “The Unveiling” which births itself in a clanging industrial fury before sliding into an otherworldly metal-ghost of a riff. Shagrath takes us to church with: “In this deceiving world / The modern savant has ignored the soul” at which point the nearly heavenly-sounding chorus sighs:
Expose the dreamworld
we all believe to be real
All the knowledge that is hidden
It is this knowledge that we’ll be chasing through the ten tracks of Eonian. “Interdimensional Summit” introduces us to “The silent seeker, the seer / Fleeing the dense womb of ignorance” and leading to a strangely beautiful phrase: “Thrown into darkness as stars / We travel alone as one.” This kind of we’re-in-this-together mentality returns again and again, lending a sort of spirituality-sans-religiosity aspect that places Eonian in the running for Best Black Metal Album to Play in a Hospice. The pronoun of choice is “we,” and it often feels nicely inclusive. There’s comfort here, whether it’s from the band’s growing maturity as middle-aged people or from an increasing ability to make palatable the religion-purging nature of modern satanism. It’s about reaching for betterment, albeit through Lucifer.
“Ætheric” winds up into a thrashy riff and I’m head-banging along, then the chorus booms: “To govern thyself / You must know your darkness / To govern thyself / You must know your past”, and I’m forced to immobilize my neck and think, “Yeah, man… So true.” “ALL IS ETERNAL!” they shout in unison. “ALL RISE AND FALL!” “Far out!” I think to myself. “I’m into it.”
“Lightbringer” rolls out with a real neck-breaker of a riff, and then alternates verses like “Discover with courage / While facing the beyond / Uncompromisingly / Everything connects / As you detach” with a pre-chorus of “All growth comes at a cost / Moving forward means sacrifice / Enduring all paths crossed.” The lightbringer in question is, of course, Lucifer, but there’s something for everyone here! Chicken Soup for the Lost Soul.
The album’s final lyric is the pleased-sigh-inducing “The flow is ever present / Upstream and against the current / Ascending the highest of mountains / Free.”
In a personal favorite line from the Metal Sucks review of Eonian, Phil Boozeman writes, “[…] it just feels like there isn’t anything evil about Dimmu anymore. It’s hard to put into words, but the record is… soft. There isn’t a single part of this album that would make your average suburban soccer mom turn it off in fear; annoyance, maybe, not fear.” But fear, it seems, is exactly what they’re *not* going for. Maybe, in losing some individual members, Dimmu Borgir has grown into a healthier celestial body of songcraft. It’ll never be the wild days of the early aughts again, but Eonian might showcase a Dimmu Borgir for our times.
[Because it’s about Trump. Get @ me, P4K.]
David C. Casey