(This is Andy Synn’s review of the new album by Dimmu Borgir, which will be released in May by Nuclear Blast.)
Some of you may be surprised to see this album being written about here at NCS. After all, Dimmu Borgir are (still) a pretty big deal, and our general ethos has always been to focus on smaller, less well-exposed bands, wherever possible.
But considering that my personal modus operandi has always been simply to write about whatever interests me, you’re going to get to read/hear my unfiltered thoughts and unsolicited opinions whether you like it or not.
Although, of course, you could always just not click “Continue reading”… but then, where’s the fun in that?
Before we go any further it’s probably worth clearing a few things up right away.
First and foremost, if you weren’t a fan of the band before now, it’s unlikely (but not impossible) that this album is going to change your mind. As although it seems like these old dogs have learned one or two new tricks over the last seven or so years, the basic building blocks, the bone, muscle and sinew of the band, are still the same as those which underpinned Puritania…, Deathcult..., etc.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, I think we need to acknowledge that it’s basically impossible for Eonian to live up to the expectations engendered by the almost insufferable wait for its release. Too much time has passed, too many hopes have been raised, and then dashed, and the band’s fanbase has expressed so many conflicting theories and opinions about what they should do, that the very idea of trying to satisfy them all immediately seems like a fool’s errand.
Thankfully, it appears as though Shagrath, Silenoz, Galder, and co. must have come to the same conclusion as, if nothing else, Eonian sounds like the band were writing very much for themselves, and not for anyone else.
That doesn’t mean that it’s not still a crowd-pleaser a lot of the time, or that it’s in any way a huge departure from their signature sound, it’s just that it feels a little lighter, livelier, and arguably less unwieldy than its predecessor – less weighed down by grandiose expectations and elaborate ambitions – and possibly even slightly more intimate and personal in scope.
In fact I’d be very surprised if there weren’t several other abortive versions of this album left behind on the cutting-room floor, discarded and abandoned as the band began to hone in on precisely what sort of record they wanted to make, rather than the record other people expected them to create.
Opener “The Unveiling” immediately sets the tone for the album going forwards, and perhaps serves as a great microcosm for Eonian in general – synthier than its predecessor, in a manner not dissimilar to Puritania…, with a creepier, catchier vibe to the guitars, and a heavier focus on choral vocals and brooding melody over the usual symphonic bluster.
It’s still as melodramatic and Machiavellian as you might expect, of course, but it’s also a little bit moodier, a little bit more energised, and a little bit more Metal.
Note that I purposefully didn’t say “Black Metal” there, as we could argue all day about whether Dimmu still fit under that genre’s increasingly wide, yet oddly insular, umbrella. But suffice it to say that Galder and Silenoz have managed to kick out some killer jams and chunky riffs on this album – a mix of chug-heavy headbangers and high-tensile tremolo runs – in a way which strongly recalls the band’s early 2000s heyday, while Daray’s blast-fuelled and kick-propelled battery ensures that that, Black Metal or not, Eonian still has a noticeable amount of power under the hood.
Of course it’s by no means perfect. “Interdimensional Summit” still lands in so-bad-it’s-good-but-not-really territory (even if it sounds like the band had a lot of fun with it), and will likely go down more as a “guilty pleasure” than a defining anthem, while there’s just something about “I Am Sovereign” which doesn’t quite land as well as it should. It’s got a lot of interesting moving parts (the bridge section at around the half-way mark is particularly good), but they never quite seem to interlock properly.
The positives here definitely outweigh these relatively minor stumbles though, and I’m honestly as surprised as anyone how good tracks like “Ætheric”, “The Empyrean Phoenix”, and “Lightbringer” are (with the latter being my personal pick for the album’s outstanding MVP) as well as how much the album as a whole reminds me of the Puritania/Death Cult era, albeit with some notable tweaks to the formula.
I’ll also admit to being surprised as to how well the choral vocals work with the band’s sound on this album – particularly since they’ve stripped back a lot of the orchestration which dominated Abrahadabra, yet seem to have avoided the temptation to over-use the Schola Cantorum Choir at the same time, making their frequent (though not excessive) appearances a treat, rather than a chore.
Of course I’d have preferred it if the band had either managed to cajole Vortex back into the fold, or at least found a suitable replacement (and I’m sure I’m not alone in that), but the choice to incorporate the choir more fully has ultimately panned out very well indeed, and Shagrath et al deserve full credit for taking a potential weakness and turning it into a strength (though I’d still love to know who it is providing the subtle clean vocals in “Archaic Correspondence”).
Now, there are two final points I’d like to make in closing, both of which deal with what I perceive as minor missteps on an otherwise extremely enjoyable album.
The first is that the decision to close with the brooding instrumental strains of “Rite of Passage” strikes me as a mistake, especially since “Alpha Aeon Omega” (another of the album’s highlights) would have made for a suitably epic, not to mention nicely blackened, finale in its own right.
The other is that I’d have quite liked to hear more experimentation in the vein of “Council of Wolves and Snakes”, which is probably the one song on the album to bring something truly “new” to the table. And while it’s undoubtedly a divisive number, it’s actually grown into one of my favourite tracks, and has left me thinking that if Dimmu Borgir really are committed to forging a new path going forwards – as all their press releases have taken great pains to suggest – they really need to consider taking a few more risks.
That being said, and although it may be an unpopular thing to suggest, it looks/sounds to me like Dimmu have, against all the odds, and against all expectations, managed to pull off an impressive (though far from flawless) victory with Eonian, one which should, hopefully, help them recover their momentum (and their mojo) and serve as a sign of greater things to come.
Eonian will be released by Nuclear Blast on May 4th.
I dig Demon Burger and enjoyed this album. It probably helps that I love symphonic elements and am not a black metal purist.
I’ve long liked this band, but was so disappointed with the last album that I had sort of forgotten about these guys. Of the two linked songs, “Council of wolves…” is far more interesting. That first one reminds me way too much of the last album, as it has that incredibly cheesy choir to far in the front. But I will still be giving the whole album a listen.
Thank you for not jumping on the bandwagon of, “Dimmu Borgir isn’t trve kvlt anymore, and it’s cool to hate on them”, and actually giving this an objective listen. As I’ve only heard the 2 released tracks, I’ve been torn between whether or not I was going to enjoy the record. In most respects, I kind of am a purist when it comes to Metal(if you were to look at my collection/playlist), but Dimmu was my first “Black” Metal band when Spiritual Black Dimensions came out, and therefore, holds a special place in my heart. Though they have dramatically changed their sound and influences over time, I’ve still managed to enjoy each of their albums for what they are. Whether they’re cheesy or not, or Black Metal or not, the composition and musicality have always been a high point for these guys. Thanks for giving me an honest opinion about this album, I’m sure I’ll like it.
I hope you will. I certainly found it likeable, although I also hope that the criticism I provided tempers your expectations a bit. There’s a LOT to like here, that’s true, but it’s not a perfect album, nor is it their best.
I did try my best to approach it “on its own terms” though, neither going with the general flow of hating it, nor reacting to it. And, in that sense, I think it’s definitely worth listening to. I have seen a few reviews jumping on the “it’s not evil enough, it didn’t make me want to burn goats!” bandwagon… which just left me wondering if they even knew who/what they were reviewing?
I mean, Dimmu have NEVER exactly been Impaled Nazarene or anything like that. At most they’ve been more on the “seductive” end of the Satanic scale – pleasing to the eye and ear – while the lyrics and track titles on this album all talk about rebirth, freeing the mind, seeking knowledge, etc… so, with that in mind, it shouldn’t be hugely shocking that the album sounds oddly uplifting.
It’s funny. I think because I didn’t like Abrahadabra at all, and because so much time has passed, I really have no expectations at all. They’re a wildcard and I have no idea what to expect. I just want a solid, non-sucky album. From the two new songs, it seems like they pulled back from the smoothed out overworked sound of Abrahadabra and simplified. That makes me hopeful.
I’m giving the album it’s second spin as we speak & I’m really enjoying it. I’m happy they stripped away alot of the death metal elements & replaced them with more “Spiritual black dimensions” style keyboards. It’s not going to top the first 4 full lengths in my eyes but it’s far more enjoyable than the last 4 albums.
Ah ha, I’m glad someone else mentioned this, as I originally had a line in there comparing the keys on several songs to SBD, but ended up cutting it as I’d already made quite a few comparisons.
Maybe I should have left it in!
Picked this up yesterday after reading your review and hearing the preview tracks. I’ve actually got a copy of Abrahadabra, which I think a friend gave me, but I never really got into it. So knowing nothing about the history of the band I’m just going in with a fresh slate. It’s a good, fun album to my ears.
With this album Dummy Burger proved that they turned into cover band for at least Korn, Bal Sagoth, Accept, some generic djent bands, Hans Zimmer and then themselves. It has no consistency as a bonus to a total lack of any innovation.
Returning to this album 4 years later and…its awesome. ‘Council of Wolves and Snakes’–damn. And many others. Its a riveting record.
I am in the perhaps strange position of this being the first Dimmu Borgir album i ever seriously listened to. I became a fan of the band going backwards.