Sep 232010

(EDITOR’S NOTE: As we’ve done on other occasions, we invited one of our readers and commenters, the UK’s Andy Synn, to write whatever his black heart desired as a guest contributor to this site, and this is his first contribution. So, apart from our earlier brief post about Revocation’s new video, we’re stepping aside today to make way for Andy’s review of the forthcoming new album by Dimmu Borgir.)

Morning/afternoon/evening all. Islander’s been kind enough to offer me an open slot for posting as and when possible, and whilst I’m working on a more substantial column I thought I’d jot down a quick review of the new Dimmu album, as I don’t expect a review of it to appear on here otherwise.

Generally I find myself gravitating more towards reviewing slightly more “major” releases  these days (and “major” is definitely a relative term here, the metal bands we all think of as “big” really, really aren’t when placed in the wider scheme of things) as I find it easier to be subjectively critical and/or complimentary about a band that already has such wide exposure. Firstly, because the smaller bands will feel the weight of a bad or badly written review far more heavily, and secondly because the more “major” releases often receive a ton of criticism from questionable sources simply by virtue of their own existence.

Now I was sincerely disappointed with In Sorte Diaboli as I felt that (vaguely sketched conceptual themes aside) their attempt to prove their mettle/metal by bringing forth the more basic metal elements ironically resulted in an album that was very forced and extremely paint-by-numbers. However I’m happy to say that Abrahadabra appears for all intents and purposes to be an album made by the three core members primarily for their own artistic reasons. (much more after the jump . . .)

Beginning  with “Xibir”, a very well written piece of classical atmospherics and choral phrasings that nicely prime one for the general themes and directions of the album, it segues into first song-proper “Born Treacherous” with a traditionally Dimmu Borgir riff, followed by an oddly un-traditional bass-slide to set the piece going. By the time this track has finished I’ve already decided two things (which remain constant throughout the album, thankfully):

1 – The orchestration has really been stepped up a notch, 75% providing the driving melodies and themes behind a song, with the riffs and drums providing a solid metal backbone and the necessary propulsion to get the blood boiling. 2 – It’s unfortunate that Snowy Shaw didn’t remain with the group, as his bass-work is far more prominent and interesting than in the Vortex years, whilst his singing voice is surprisingly versatile, providing a new and different style of backing for Shagrath at certain points, whilst also soaring in a manner more akin to Sotiris of Septic Flesh in the more prominent spots. If anything his clean vocals actually appear far more scaled back in the mix than Mr. Vortex’s were, not necessarily a decision I agree with, but not really a problem.

“Gateways” is both the obvious single, and yet also the odd choice for a single, having more of a linear progression towards the final denouement than a traditional verse/chorus repeating pattern. It does however demonstrate the talents of new drummer Daray (Vader/Vesania) nicely, the man displaying a much more nuanced approach than Hellhammer. Oh, and after an initial shock, I found that the female vocals grew on me and might even have been welcome on more of the tracks.

“Chess With The Abyss” mixes a slightly more “Spiritual Black Dimensions” feel into the growing orchestration and also raises two further points regarding the album as whole:

1 – It appears that Shagrath has hugely toned down the vocal processing that had become such an issue, his natural phrasing giving the lyrics a far more organic tone yet also allowing the more defined moments of processed vocals (see also closer “Endings And Continuations”) to take on a distinctly inhuman tone in direct contrast to the more normal delivery. 2 – The lyrics, both on this track and “Dimmu Borgir” seem to contain a little more bile and emotion than recent history would suggest, mainly centred around the acrimonious split between DB and their ex-members. It works to their advantage in this instance.

“Dimmu Borgir” itself is by far the most orchestrated track, recalling at times (and people will come after me with pitchforks for this one) some of the more epic, less-Disney moments of recent Nightwish, albeit with a basis in black metal (yes, there IS a basis in black metal to Dimmu’s sound, don’t argue dammit!) providing some suitably bleak and windswept melodies. Still, it’s actually turned out to be one of my favourites from the album as it’s just that tiny bit different from what I was expecting to draw my attention a little more.

“Ritualist” brings back some more of the black metal feel, that some people may have felt was lost on the last track, by proceeding in the most aggressive manner so far, Daray’s drums driving the pace ever onwards and fueling some slightly more energetic playing from Galder and Silenoz. Snowy’s bass tone is again quite noticeable (and welcome) in this track, and his clean vocals at the ¾ mark are a definite hook (although the lyrics about a “transfusion of new blood” are somewhat ironic given his own sudden departure immediately after the recording)

“The Demiurge Molecule” immediately presents a different vocal style at the beginning, which I believe may well be the first prominent use of Galder’s (also of Old Man’s Child) growl in a Dimmu Borgir track. In fact I’m not 100% certain, but I believe you can hear some of his contributions to backing vocals throughout the album, at times working with both Shagrath and Snowy to produce a far more natural form of vocal layering.

The whole album, so far, has come across as much more natural and flowing than perhaps any Dimmu album I can name, with less emphasis on having one member, or one instrument, carry entire parts or sections, the whole thing being more organically mixed, with far more natural sounding vocals and backing parts. There’s also a beautiful part towards the end of this song where the guitars come a little more to the fore for an “evil metal” moment, with some great bass accompaniment to set it all off.

The quality takes something of a down-turn for the next two tracks, “A Jewel Traced Through Coal” and “Renewal”; the former only really gets interesting from the 3:00 mark with a welcome orchestral break leading to a strong ending, whilst the latter begins strongly with some renewed aggression, great bass-tone and a well-written solo, only to somehow quickly lose it’s way, becoming unnecessarily convoluted and containing a prevalence of the more traditionally negative aspects of Dimmu Borgir – namely overly processed vocals and forced-aggressive black metal moments without any real direction. It’s a shame too as Snowy Shaw’s contributions after the 3:00 mark are definite highlight in an otherwise unremarkable song.

Last track, “Endings And Continuations”, however, is a great finisher, combining the sense of atmosphere developed over the rest of the album into a fitting finale. The general feel of the track is again quite reminiscent of Spiritual Black Dimensions-era Dimmu, albeit with a real orchestra, better production values and a much more grandiose sense of vision. A guest spot from one Kristoffer Rygg (Garm of Ulver fame) is the icing on the cake, his more emotive delivery offering a new and interesting piece to the puzzle.

The song also demonstrates how vocal processing CAN be used effectively to purposefully dehumanise a singer when it’s conducive to the atmosphere of the track. Once again Snowy Shaw’s bass is given some moments to shine towards the end of the song, whilst Shagrath and Garm trade off to deliciously dark effect.

Overall this is a great album, extremely cohesive and well-put together. Its strengths far outway its weaknesses, and even its two weaker tracks at least have moments of promise. The lyrics and overall concept really work to preserve a sense of otherworldy atmosphere whilst also showing a more human-level of bile and malice that has been absent from this band for some time. My only real concern is that, as always, I doubt Dimmu will be able to recreate this sense of atmosphere live – at least without a talented backing vocalist and a large orchestral production.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Dimmu has released the “Gateways” single Andy mentioned in his review — the album as a whole won’t be released until October 12 — and Dimmu has also put out a video of the song. If you haven’t seen it yet, here it is:]


The first comment below proclaims that Dimmu’s older song “Puritania” is “one of the best songs in all of metal.” As Andy correctly surmised in the intro to his post, Dimmu is not the kind of band we would have covered on this site, but that song “Puritania” is indeed hellacious. We found this fan-created video for the song, which has drawn almost 2.9 million hits on YouTube. It’s a skin-chilling montage of film footage of nuclear detonations mixed with film of Dimmu performing live, and it meshes so fucking well with this awesome song. Check it out:


  1. Andy Synn, you make some fine points. They do indeed have basis in black metal – no argument here. From what I’ve heard so far (first five tracks or so), the album is quite a solid effort. The drums have been nothing short of excellent and that has primarily made this album for me.

    Also, a miscellaneous note – Puritania by Dimmu Borgir is one of the best songs in all of metal.

    • Hey Dan, check out the update to this post, and thanks for pointing us to that song. It is awesome.

      • Woah, 2.9 million is way more than I would have expected for Dimmu Borgir – and also yeah, I love this song…not necessarily pertinent to the review, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

  2. Nice review. This helps bump the album a couple notches higher on the ‘to get’ list.

    It’s a shame they and Therion went through Snowygate during the process, but for all we know, it could have been a poorly executed publicity ploy for both bands. As for the female vocals in “Gateways”, they never sounded like a turnoff to me; I thought they were rather effective. There was some debate over at MS whether it was actually Vortex singing them with changes to his voice – I don’t hear that, but there are some backing vocals in the middle and the end that do sound like him. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know how things actually went down in the past and whether there’d be any material the band would use without crediting him. This is metal, most anything can happen.

    And yes, they do have roots in black metal, just like Cradle Of Filth (one of my personal faves) or Samael, among others who have escaped the confines of the label and aren’t afraid to make music that has something more to it. Unfortunately, like with CoF, the mere mention of Dimmu Borgir tends to awaken the inner douchebag in many metalheads. I’m not sure if it’s the overall sound, that they aren’t troo/kvlt or have attained a mainstream (as far as today’s metal goes) following. It’s unfortunate, since they do put out some great stuff that gets overlooked.

    • “Snowygate” = amusing.

      Dimmu’s issues are often not primarily musical, but more a case of how they allow themselves to be presented/promoted and how their personal choices and poorly worded comments affect how people view them. Hence they often get judged, either correctly or incorrectly, by what I feel are incorrect or inappropriate standards.

      They themselves however do have to realise that their comments and self0aggrandisation will have consequences – not necessarily fair ones, but ones that you have to realistically expect to have to deal with. As such it doesn’t surprise me that a lot of their albums get pre-judged or that people are instantly suspicious of “Snowygate” or “Votex-pitch-shifting-gate (that’s not as snappy), as although the latter is a crazed conspiracy theory, the former could easily be plausible.

      However judged entirely on musical merit I think the new album is a worthwhile purchase.

      • I’m one of those people who’s been turned off by what you’re talking about at the beginning of your comment, but that wouldn’t stop me from being a fan if I liked the music. Given my personal tastes, I just couldn’t get into the last album, and I’m not crazy about “Gateways,” but your review has convinced me to give the rest of Abrahadabra a chance.

      • They’re not the only ones who face such issues with revolving door lineups and such. Yet still, they’ve managed to keep it together and are still going strong, critics be damned.

        “Gateways” is a song that seems to grow on some people, while I liked it from the start. The stuff these people are talking about is clearly a female voice that hasn’t been left alone. I don’t buy into the idea that they pitch-shifted some of Vortex’s vocals, but there are some backing vocals that sound similar to his work with the band, although that’s no indication that they did (or didn’t) use anything; we’ll never know unless they come out and say, “we used some stuff he recorded”.

        There’s nothing wrong with maintaining certain sounds or approaches from album to album, so it’s not a problem if some of the voices sound like voices they’ve used in the past. Anytime a band changes vocally, it helps to have a similar voice, both for a sense of continuity and to make it work out live; few bands can make a drastic change here work out well. This applies to backing/secondary vocals, not just whomever is leading.

        I’ve never been real big into Dimmu Borgir, but I haven’t dismissed them either. I have liked what I’ve heard and I intend to add their albums to my collection as time and budget allow. While it may not be the best place to start, given that Dimmu Borgir isn’t a stranger to me, Abrahadabra should be worth getting at this point and work on the rest. They put a lot of time, effort and money into it and I seriously doubt it’s gone to waste.

  3. First off, that video is fucking fantastic. Kudos for whoever put that tasty clip together.

    I guess I am in the minorty of those that liked “In Sorte Diaobli”. My opinion may be skewed because “The Sacreligous Scorn” was the first song from Dimmu Borgir that I have ever heard. And when I listened to that song, that motherfucker reached out and knocked me on my ass. Due to the strenght of that one song, I went out and got all their albums. My favorites are Death Cult Armageddon, Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, Stormblast and In Sorte Diaobli. They have now asceneded into the “buy whatever the hell they put out” territory and have become one of my favorite bands.

    I think In Sorte Diaboli is their most complete album, but maybe being a concept album helps. Maybe it’s not the sound that fits their identity best, but I think that taken out of the rest of their body of work, it is very well done. It sounds like with Gateways and Abrahadbra that they are moving back to more of their earlier sound and that’s awesome.

    I have to agree with Dan that Puritania may be their best track, but Progenies of the Great Apocalypse, Vredesbyrd, Kings of the Carnival Creation and The Chosen Legacy are all in the running as well.

    • “That video” would be the one for Puritania, all though I watched the video for Gateways after typing my comment and it was pretty solid as well.

      One thing I have to hand to Dimmu Borgir. They certainly have a flair for the dramatic. It’s what helps them and hurts them all at the same time.

    • Thanks for singling out your favorite songs. I’m trying to broaden my horizons by giving Dimmu another look, and it helps to have some direction (like discovering “Puritania”).

  4. “Abrahadabra” does put me more in mind of an earlier Dimmu, pre-Death Cult at least (not that I don’t love that album – but it did seem to mark something of a turning point where they went from being grandiose for artistic reasons to being “epic” simply for image’s sake – although that being said Stormblast MMV is an under-rated gem and a worthy successor to the original Stormblast).

    “Spiritual Black Dimensions” is a hell of an album, but in context is slightly hamstrung by the cheesy synth work which makes it sound less “dark” than the orchestrations on their subsequent work. However if you can get past the keyboard sounds (not that they’re bad) it’s a great album. Much less predictable.

  5. Nice review, Andy… I’m just now listening to this album for the first time, so we’ll see how it goes. (Then again, I actually liked In Sorte Diaboli, so I’m sure I will probably dig this.)

    So you’ll be writing over here on occasion? Nice.

  6. I just read the details of the different releases and someone needs to invent a time machine and tell Dimmu to stop the fucking insanity. If you’re going to do a “deluxe” edition, stick to one version and don’t have a bunch of bonus tracks that aren’t all going to be together in one of them. Stop doing this exclusive songs shit. You’re ripping off the fans, the people who have helped make it possible to keep going.

    One has orchestral versions of two of the songs (“Gateways” and “The Demiurge Molecule”), another an orchestral version of a different song (“Dimmu Borgir”), another has that one and two covers. Of course, I’m expecting that later on, there will be a second release of Abrahadabra with all five of these songs, plus a couple more tacked on. And it will likely cost the same.

    • They have been doing this for years and it’s fucking frustrating.

      If anyone is interested, Dimmu Borgir is streaming every song from Abrahadbra on their myspace page.


    • There’s a chance that this isn’t strictly their decision, but a choice made by their record company as to how to split and market the material delivered to them…

      HOWEVER – that in itself raises the issue of the band putting their foot/feet down and refusing to be involved in such practices.

      In a similar way, Metallica always piss me off by offering “bonus tracks” on their singles, that are always just good bootleg live tracks.

      • This kind of thing just makes you feel manipulated. That doesn’t distinguish it from most elements of consumer culture, but we like to think that metal is different. The irony is that it seemms like it’s the bands who are already making the most money that do this kind of thing (or let their labels do it) — because their large fan base will fall for it — not the bands who need the money the most.

      • True, it might not be entirely up to DB. If labels want to do things with different packaging, adding in merch or whatever, fine. But when you start tossing around versions of albums with different track listings – even if they are just ‘bonus’ tracks, it’s still a dick move. This isn’t like bands that end up putting an extra track or two on Japanese releases as an incentive because of the higher price for non-Japanese artists (which I’ve read is the main culprit for the practice) and it’s not even the more common (relatively speaking) and annoying trend of a re-release a few months to a year later with bonus material and charging roughly the same price.

        Thankfully, some bands and/or labels know better and offer this stuff up immediately without the douchebaggery. There may be multiple versions of an album, but it’s still normally the regular album and the bonus content that is the same in each other version, regardless of what store you get it from or what packaging it may be in. I think this works and I’ve gone for the deluxe/collectors’ edition of a few albums at launch, simply because they did away with the bullshit.

        Yes, I am a bit pissed – even if it’s just because of some extra songs – and I think the odds are good that there will be a version of the album released later that will have these and maybe more (demos, live recordings, etc.). Doesn’t mean I’ve decided to not get the album, but I’m also a bit reluctant at the same time because of this. Hell, I don’t even know if the extra songs are even worth the headache, but that’s not my point.

        Okay, I’m done ranting. For now.

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