Dimmu Borgir are through and through, the most popular and most successful Norwegian metal band. They are also #2 in bands that were at one point in their career black metal (falling just behind Cradle of Filth). Since 1993, Shagrath and Silonez have clawed and breathed fire and went through dozens of musicians- some very well known- and marketed themselves as the “evil fantasy/RPG villian” better than any other band. The brand, however obscure and seemingly non-conformist, resonated with millions as it’s two core musicians have turned their Hollywood Satanism gimmick into a big moneymaker for Nuclear Blast Records.
Sound-wise, Dimmu have been all over the place. One of the first bands to follow the precedent set forth by Emperor and incorporate choir/string driven keyboards as a main instrument in a black metal band, they were able to forge some solid albums by scaling back their guitar playing and allowing their keyboards to forge the atmosphere and melodies. But after a few notable works, they quickly began a journey into whatever flavor of the week pop/dance music has been popular at the time. By the ridiculously titled Puritical Euphoric Misanthropia, they were mixing metalcore breakdowns with Hollywood-soundtrack style keyboards and dressing it all up with science fiction sound effects. This became their main sound for almost a decade, with no variety between albums, before playing straight up opera muisc on 2010’s Abrahadabra. Featuring a full choir, a full symphony, virtually no guitars, and Disney-villain-sounding clean vocals, the band had become a soundtrack to a Broadway musical that never existed.
But almost ten years have passed since then, the longest gap in the band’s history. And while they are off being evil dads, the entirety of the metal scene collapsed- with no quality works being created in the underground and a metal mainstream that was void of any sort of movement. I was intrigued to see what they band would come up with given there was no real metal trend to ripoff, so what did I find? Where is the most commercialized black metal band in 2018, a year of shattered conventions and reborn Western identity? And who, or what, did they model their style after this time?
Oddly, it’s clear almost immediately that Dimmu Borgir has chosen Watain as the foundation for their sound. In the tone of their guitars and their slow, note-by-note tremlo picked minor chords, Dimmu reveals an album built around a complete and utter rippoff of the cheesiest moments of Watain’s carnival style guitar playing (though they themselves are a second rate version of what Dissection gave us long before). From here, Dimmu adds gothic/power metal styled wanderings of female fronted acts such as Nightwish, Epica, and other girlfrined-metal bands. Many of the choruses are sung by a choir in the Blind Guardian/Therion style.
Speaking of cheesy, this is through and through the corniest and goofiest Dimmu Borgir album I’ve ever heard! Some of the guitar tones sound like toy ray guns we had as kids in the 90’s, the keyboards have some melody lines that are more appropriate for a Saturday morning cartoon, and the vocals have moments where they sound like the characters from Nickelodeon’s “AAAAHHH! Real Monsters!” Even the guitars have hokey-pokey polka riffs as we hear towards the end of “I Am Sovereign.” Some of the Broadway/opera influences from the last album are still here, but few and far between and incredibly awkward when they appear. And there’s even some Opeth type moments that further push this into the realm of musical embarrassment.
It’s memorizing that Dimmu Borgir were not able to craft more practical compositions throughout the 8 years they had to come up with this one. But then again, outrageously discombobulated songwriting has always been a staple of Dimmu Borgir’s career with random riffs and pieces thrown together at ever nook and cranny. The bizarre choice of instruments, styles, and ideas are so all over the place that they only sensible explanation for what is happening throughout the progressions of these songs is that there really is an Opera/Movie/Broadway production happening and this music is following it. Otherwise the Watain meets Nightwish meets Opeth meets Wicked the Musical is just a mesh of weird performance art that doesn’t quite formulate an enjoyable listening experience.
So to some it up, this album sounds like what would happen if you ate a shitload of acid with Watain and Blind Guardian and all went to see The Phantom of the Opera. But for actual Hessians, Templars, and metal fans, it’s a night you want to avoid at all costs. 0/10 Hollywood metal for newbies.
Tags: Black Metal, Broadway Musicals, carnival core, cash grab, cheesey music, commercial metal, dimmu borgir, Disney villains, garbage, Hollywood, metal, Opera, power metal, sellouts, soundtrack, watain