Dimmu Borgir
Eonian

Eight years isn’t quite an eon. Still, it’s been quite a long wait for Dimmu Borgir to pull their satanic symphony back together and to don their fringed white leather arctic wizard outfits once again. Wait, scratch that, this time they’re going for bedazzled cosmic hooded robes…  no matter – Eonian is finally here.

I’ve been a big fan of the band for almost twenty years now, starting with Enthrone Darkness Triumphant in 1997. The metal was cool, but the unearthly horror movie keyboards and the overwrought occultist shtick made a bigger impact on me. Some people complained that it wasn’t black metal enough, or that it was more exaggerated and cartoony than previous album Stormblast, but I dug it. It was ambitious. I could tell there was something special about the band, if only they could push their sound beyond keyboard orchestration and standard black metal imagery (and make some better costuming choices – a top hat??!)

Luckily, as the band’s sales and fame have grown, so have their budgets. Spiritual Black Dimensions had fantastic songwriting, but it still needed a production to match the band’s vision. Dimmu Borgir more than rectified that on Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, by bringing in the Gothenburg Opera Orchestra to accompany the vicious and epic compositions. It was Dimmu Borgir‘s most impressive album yet (and still my favorite). Then Death Cult Armageddon expanded that grandiose sound with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (Mustis’ arrangements were a big part of that success). However, once you have an entire orchestra playing along with your snarling, shredding, riffing and roaring, what’s your follow-up? That’s right, a choir. A whole stage full of tall, attractive blond people singing their hearts out. (It also helped to fill the gap left when ICS Vortex departed, taking his gorgeous clean vocals with him.)

Now, I thought the choral elements were quite successful on Abrahadabra. The marriage of metal and orchestra were still the stars of the show, but the choir added just the right layer of rhapsodic sparkle.  Only “Dimmu Borgir,” with its Disney-fied layer of whoa-oh-whoa Pocahontas vocals, seemed to take that too far – but the rest of the song was still a complex, cacophonous wonder of ambition and aggression.

Sadly, I could not say the same for Eonian’s first single “Interdimensional Summit” when it first hit. The song has all of the same elements as Abrahadabra – metal, symphonics, and a big booming choir – but the riffs are simple and stripped down, and the choral-only chorus is so gleefully triumphant and so unabashedly cheesy that it sounds like the opening number of a black metal Broadway show. It’s like Dimmu Borgir covering Nightwish, and while I like both bands, it’s not what I was hoping to hear. I’m sure it was chosen as the first single because it’s accessible and not too threatening, but there were better choices to herald the band’s return.

In fact, I’d say everything else on Eonian (including the murky, mystical, and kooky second single “Council Of Wolves and Snakes”) is far superior, more complex, and more exciting. It’s just a great Dimmu Borgir album: imaginative, epic, and entertaining. Eight years in the making, but job well done. Of course, your mileage may vary if you just can’t stomach choirs in metal, but the band has embraced it to the fullest (and have certainly gotten their money’s worth!)

There are choral vocals on every track here – that’s the big change in Dimmu Borgir’s sound this time around – and they often take center stage in the choruses, but their melody lines are generally minor key and more malevolent-sounding. Listen to the catchy “Aetheric” or the monumental “Alpha Aeon Omega” for excellent examples of this. I’d say these two tracks, along with opening number “The Unveiling,” best exemplify Dimmu Borgir’s new vision for Eonian.

The other two new elements here are a greater use of tremolo riffs throughout the album, and a fondness for delicate piano or vibraphone-like tones. You’ll hear the tremolo right from the get-go – a wicked-sounding, serpentine, and echoey riff that erupts after a choral prelude on “The Unveiling” and plenty of places beyond that. I would have chosen that track as the first single – it builds to a similarly colossal chorus as “Interdimensional Summit,” and the second half is majestic and cinematic.

The piano/vibraphone sound is an unique and surprising choice that I’ve grown to love. You’ll hear it in the mid-section of “The Empyrean Phoenix,” the ending of “Archaic Correspondence,” and peppered throughout the thrashy “Lightbringer,” just to name a few. These ringing tones add a touch of mystique and Danny Elfman-like playfulness, but it also rises above all the bombast as a clear and ringing counterpoint. It’s also a nifty throwback to Burzum’s Filosofem and Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, which used something similar as a textural counterpoint to the ugly rawness of those albums.

If there’s one thing I can’t quite decide about Eonian, it’s whether Dimmu Borgir is now a band writing metal songs or classical compositions. The guitar and melody lines aren’t as direct as they were on Puritanical or DCA – they’re certainly present, but I wonder what these songs would sound like without all of the adornment. It seems like the next phase for Dimmu Borgir is just to go with that and write a full-on four-movement symphony. Just don’t take another eight years to do it, okay?

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
April 23rd, 2018

Comments

  1. Commented by: Jebus

    They’re not wearing white anymore though….


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