Band: Dimmu Borgir
Label: Nuclear Blast
Genre: Symphonic Black Metal
Release Date: 5 May, 2018
I’m not really sure what to say about this record. It’s decent, no doubt, the guys in Dimmu Borgir simply being too good of songwriters to bungle anything, but it doesn’t really click with me. There’s a few problems, sure, but mostly it feels too long and bloated, too grand, with all of the rough edges really polished until it’s a sleek machine that somehow still outstays its welcome.
Is this their Black Album? In some ways, yes. It dumbs down their earlier sound, making the songs shorter with a poppier sheen, while retaining enough of the heavy to keep older fans interested, although increasingly worried. The first half of the record mostly concentrates on a more radio-friendly approach, with lots of epic choruses and plenty of hooks. The second half becomes an almost soundtrack, with large soundscapes that aren’t necessarily Metal, but are certainly cinematic.
Some tracks of note:
“Interdimensional Summit” starts a little like “The Final Countdown” by Europe before transforming into more of a Rammstein song by the chorus. This one is pretty jaunty and will definitely stick in your head. This song is also a prime example of one complaint I have about this record: during the recording of the album, somewhere on the soundboard there must have been a knob that read “Epic” and for some reason, at certain times in certain songs, that knob got twisted up to 11, while all the rest stayed at a 7, especially come chorus time. This fades the guitars and drums to the background, becoming a mere buzz rather than something that punches your gut. That said, there is a fantastic pair of melodic guitar solos towards the end of the song. I would have loved to hear more that on this record, even if they belong more on a Blind Guardian album than a Dimmu Borgir one.
“Aetheric” is probably my favorite song here, but even it presents problems for me. There’s a nice intro, the drums really stamping, and then we get Dimmu doing their Dimmu thing, some Black and some orchestral, before the song settles into a sweet Satyricon/Celtic Frost groove that just cruises. This hit me right in my happy place. And then that jackass on the “Epic” knob gives it a cruel twist almost two minutes in, the chorale simply overpowering everything for a few seconds. Just reign it back a little, please. The song drops out of its bottom right after this, getting all moody and magnificent again, rising up with another twist of the “Epic” knob (although it works much better this time). Plinking keyboards follow, a Dimmu trademark, and we get back to the gallop to close things out. I wish there had been more songs along this line on the record, because the dynamics flow and work well together.
“Council of Wolves and Snakes” is like a mix of “Wherever I May Roam” and any song by Marilyn Manson, just throw some tremolo work in there to give it a Black Metal taste. Oh, and don’t forget to add a dash of “Ratamahatta” via Sepultura-era Roots for that added tribal feel. If this sounds like a mess, well, it kind of is. I get that they were trying to do something different, but it’s too much of a mish-mash. Individual parts work, but it comes across as jammed together.
“Archaic Correspondence” is a prime example of the songs on the second side of the album: more reflective of their earlier style, but somehow kind of generic sounding. Maybe it’s the culmination of so much grandness coming before it, but these songs sound tired, or maybe that’s just my ears. This album should have been around 45 minutes, I think, to have a bigger impact. Then again, future and repeated listens may reveal a lot that I’m missing here. I hope so, because songs like this aren’t bad at all, they just kind of feel like they get lost in the mix.
“Rite of Passage” is the final track on the album and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t sound like the music played over the closing credits of a movie. It’s big and broad and, yes, epic. It’s a great song, to be honest, and one of a handful I’d gladly listen to again and again. An excellent way to punctuate the proceedings.
Dimmu Borgir appear to be stretching their legs with this record, taking some chances, appealing to a broader audience while trying to hang on to their long-time fans. I don’t think they have to worry about losing anyone, because there’s enough on here to keep them coming back. However, after a 100-year wait between albums, I’m not sure if this is going to totally satisfy anyone. I’ll give them credit: they can write and perform, and they definitely show their chops on this record. If you’re into their more melodic and operatic side, this will probably rate an 8/10 for you, but for the rest of us, who miss the rawer elements of the earlier sound, it’s a 7/10 (which is no insult; it’s a good record, just not great).
1. The Unveiling
2. Interdimensional Summit
4. Council of Wolves and Snakes
5. The Empyrean Phoenix
7. I Am Sovereign
8. Archaic Correspondence
9. Alpha Aeon Omega
10. Rite of Passage
Total Playing Time: 54:20