Dimmu Borgir

Vortex and Mustis gone. A 100-strong collection of musicians and singers from the Norweigan Radio Orchestra and Schola Cantorum Choir. All those three-word album titles, lopped down to a single word inspired by the magickal writings of Aleister Crowley – a man whose life was a mystical, semen-slick orgy of occult excess. And speaking of excess, what about those so-fucking-ridiculous-they’re-completely-awesome costumes? They’re like Jean-Paul Gaultier stole every last dressing gown from Liberace’s crypt and then threw in some bronze Cthulhu tentacles for good measure. White fur and tassels. In black metal. What’s extreme music coming to?

So yeah, there’s been a lot of interesting hype, rumors and changes swirling around the release of Dimmu Borgir’s ninth full-length. But all that aside, what does Abrahadabra actually sound like?

The simple answer: a Dimmu Borgir album.

That means downtuned, churning guitars, jackhammer drumming and Shagrath’s snarling, varied and expressive vocal performance, all tied together with a deafening and expensive-sounding production. And orchestration. Gobs and gobs of screaming, soaring, Wagnerian orchestration.

It’s bombastic, over-the-top and completely indulgent, and as a longtime fan, that’s exactly what I expect from these guys. Just listen to standout epics like “Born Treacherous,” “Ritualist,” the lightning-fast “A Jewel Traced Through Coal” or the increasingly-addictive lead single, “Gateways,” and tell me Dimmu Borgir aren’t still the kings of symphonic black metal (or the carnival creation, as it were).

First off, they’ve got a well-honed talent for crafting exciting, varied compositions. The palette and approach has largely been the same for the last decade, but each song uses unique hooks, vocal delivery, tempo changes and cinematic bombast to stand out from one another. I also think that by now, the band is quite skilled in ordering and structuring their albums. Death Cult Armageddon and Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia are still terrifically entertaining because of just how well-paced they are. In Sorte Diaboli may have been too samey over its running time, but I’m happy to say that Abrahadabra is a much more compelling and dynamic beast from start to finish. Ten listens in and I’m enjoying it more and more each time.

Not that some elements won’t take some getting used to. Likely every Dimmu fan will mourn the loss of ICS Vortex, but Snowy Shaw (Therion, Dream Evil) does an admirable job of filling the void, even if his style veers more towards power metal bravado (“Endings and Continuations”) or theatrical vibrato (“Ritualist,” “Renewal”) than Vortex’s Nordic magnificence. He’s a good choice though, and definitely brings something novel to the mix.

Then there are the choirs – a lot more than ever before, from the Orff-worship of “Gateways” to the title cry of “Born Treacherous” to the booming, shamanic chanting (and braying warhorns) of “The Demiurge Molecule.” The choirs are another great addition to Dimmu Borgir’s already-rich palette – but just wait you get to the album’s centerpiece, the curiously titled “Dimmu Borgir.” It opens with triumphant acapella choirs that can only be described as the Broadway production of Pocahontas, and from there, brings in operatic divas and keening strings to finally transform Dimmu Borgir into the black metal version of Nightwish. Minus the tits, of course. For some of you – especially Dimmu’s detractors, who will have a field day with this song – this may be the moment where all that pretentious pomp finally tips the whole shebang into ludicrous parody, but let me remind you: white fur and tassels. And you know, I like this track too – especially its ripping final minutes, which is just quintessential Dimmu.

So while Abrahadabra has arrived among some weird head-scratchers – like what’s Annie Lennox doing in the “Gateways” video? – Dimmu Borgir delivers once again. Both to the fans, who should enjoy this as much as Death Cult and Puritanical, and also to the Dimmu-Borgir-Aren’t-Black-Metal-Gawd-Dammit haters, who will be foaming at the mouth as they pound away on their blogs and forums.

‘Cause really, it all comes down to this: White fur and tassels. In black metal. It either works for you, or it doesn’t. And besides, spikes and armor are sooo 1997.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
October 4th, 2010


  1. Commented by: Nicolas

    Good review! Like most Dimmu’s fans, I had my doubts about this album after hearing about Vortex and Mustis departure from the band. But, I was pleasantly surprised with Abrahadabra, it’s a great Dimmu album. The orchestration is simply amazing.

    Snowy Shaw also does a good job, it’s not Vortex, but once you accept the fact that ICS will no longer be there and move on, you can appreciate what Snowy is doing on this album.

    I will see them on december 13 in Montreal, I wish they’d come with the Kork orchestra, that would be awesome!!

  2. Commented by: Jodi

    Your reviews are always a pleasure to read, this one included. Glad to hear I’m not the only one who thought In Sorte was a little lackluster.

    White fur and tassels!

  3. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    Def improvement over In Sorte, good solid Dimmu Effort.

  4. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    glad you like it. I lost interest in this kind of silliness long ago. the single just made me laugh at them. like a blackened take on Beauty And The Beast goth metal. no thank you.

  5. Commented by: Clauricaune

    I’ve never been a Dimmu fan (last thing I heard from them I think was Puritanical, and I don’t remember much of it), but I don’t take it against them either. Gotta give them credit: their style, laughable and all, is very unique and they do what they do well. Some of the songs here are really sticky, and not in a bad way. I thought others were somewhat generic and tend to fade into the background, but overall I can’t say I didn’t like this record.

  6. Commented by: drowningincorn

    “It opens with triumphant acapella choirs that can only be described as the Broadway production of Pocahontas,…”

    Ha! Awesome line. That tells me everything I need to know about this record.

  7. Commented by: Desperado

    I need to give this album some more spins, but overall its enjoyable. I like the song and video gateways, and had hoped the rest of the album was in a similar vein. I also like the solos and Snowy Shaw is alright.

  8. Commented by: emperorjvl

    Definitely the best since Puritanical… Death Cult Armageddon was a snoozefest, and In Sorte rpetitive and uninteresting. Definite improvement, though I wish they had lost Shagrath instead of Vortex and Mustis, though his vox here are, again, better than the last two discs.

  9. Commented by: mccumberv

    After hearing and seeing that Gateways video I was really turned off, but now after checking out the rest of the album I would say its pretty good, nice mix of metal and symphonic bombast, there are also some prety cool blasting parts here and there….very good review thanks!

  10. Commented by: Blackwater Park

    This album sucks shit. Vortex is irreplaceable and that ugly slunt they have singing over Gateways is a joke. Trying to mimic Vortex’s parts but sounding like an absolute hack in the process. White fur and tassels too… give me a break, the whole effort is a joke.

    Dimmu Borgir is dead and Vortex and Mustis definitely got the last laugh to not have to be associated with this shit platter.

  11. Commented by: faust666

    Excellent, accurate review. “Gateways” is one of the best DB songs ever and also one of the best songs of 2010.

  12. Commented by: Dan Zidar

    No mention of Vortex’s sped up vocals in the video track, whatever it’s called?

  13. Commented by: bast

    This came as a surprise.
    At first, I couldn´t listen to 2 songs straight from this album, and thought I had confirmed my fears that Dimmu was lost (since In sorte d…). Oh, was I wrong…

  14. Commented by: rycro

    Even though there is a lot of argument that they are even black metal anymore, they still put out great material, album after album. Their riffs are brutal and they symphonic take on “black” metal is the best in the business. Every song either feels epic, sinister, and/or adrenalinizing.

    I think you can credit Silenoz and Shagrath for being not only good musicians and songwriters, but also having good business sense. They rotate good talent in and out of this band like it’s a hockey game. All the while this talent rotation changes their style slightly enough on each album so it isn’t as if they are putting out the same music everytime.

    Personally, I love Stormblast I and Enthrone Darkness Triumphant, but why recreate that….oh wait, they remade Stormblast II…..either way, still a good effort.

    Love it or hate it, they are the undisputed kings of the carnival symphonic black metal creation.

  15. Commented by: Eric

    Thanks to this album, I think all keyboardist should be replaced by orchestras and choirs.
    As for the song gateways, along with the video, I like it. Agnette is haunting in vocal style and presence in the video. I wish she’d been more prominent on the other tracks. The whole album is enveloping. If you give it a little liberty and patience you’ll be rewarded with some of dimmu’s most interesting and flat out head banging moments to date.

  16. Commented by: Cynicgods

    The clean vocalist in Endings And Continuations is not Snowy Shaw. It’s actually the trickster himself, Garm. You might want to change that, Jordan.

    Other than that this is an excellent review, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it.

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