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Metal Detector: Dimmu Borgir

On August 8, Dimmu Borgir play the Bloodstock Festival. To mark the event,. here's a feature from Metal Hammer in 2008 assessing their catalogue

Fifteen years ago, as the media furore surrounding Norway’s dark and menacing black metal scene reached a peak of intensity, a band with a slightly different modus operandi emerged from the Oslo suburbs. Named after an Icelandic volcanic formation – their moniker means ‘Dark Cities’ in Old Norse – Dimmu Borgir clearly shared the same musical roots and sense of youthful rage as their peers, but this was never a band content to sit in the shadows, clinging to some arcane notion of cult purity. Instead, the band formed by Shagrath, Silenoz and Tjodalv back in 1993 have pursued an ambitious and boldly populist course, taking black metal to unforeseen commercial heights and a huge worldwide audience in the process. Somehow, they’ve also managed to achieve this while maintaining some underground credibility. Clever sods. Dimmu released their first EP, Inn I Evighetens Morke, and their first album, For All Tid, in 1994. Much more melodic and gothic (in the true sense of the word) in approach, the band’s music was never designed to appeal solely to Darkthrone fans, and so it came as no surprise when successive albums saw Dimmu adding further polish and bombast. The gruffly majestic Stormblast further established them as a class act in 1996, and the band’s true watershed moment came when they signed to Nuclear Blast and released 1997’s Enthrone Darkness Triumphant. From then, Dimmu were flying; selling tons of records, touring the world and becoming the only real rivals to Cradle Of Filth – although neither band would ever appreciate the comparison. By the time they released 2003’s Death Cult Armageddon, featuring the Prague Philarmonic Orchestra, Dimmu were huge in extreme metal terms as they waltzed onto the US Ozzfest tour, conquered MTV with Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse and even re-recorded Stormblast to barely a squeak of protest from their die-hard supporters. Arguably the album of their career so far, 2007’s In Sorte Diaboli raised their profile even higher and proved that when it comes to making huge- sounding black metal records that dare to traverse the purists’ picket lines, no one on the planet has bigger balls or spikier boots.

MUST HAVE

IN SORTE DIABOLI 

NUCLEAR BLAST, 2007

The greatest satanic story ever told.

There comes a time in almost every band’s career when they feel tempted to indulge their more obtuse creative urges and take a death-defying leap into the ludicrous world of The. Concept. Album. No strangers to thinking (and sounding) big, Dimmu have been itching to stray into such risky territory for some time, which may explain why In Sorte Diaboli is such a ferociously focused and, in its own uniquely dark way, celebratory record. Purist fans will doubtless point to the Norwegians’ early albums for evidence of their now-diluted greatness, but for metal fans with a broad appreciation of what heavy music can be, this succinct and beautifully crafted album represents a clear peak in Dimmu’s story so far.

The concept behind the album is simplicity itself. Set in medieval Europe, the story concerns a Christian priest’s young assistant who, while training to join the priesthood himself, begins to experience misgivings about his chosen career and faith. Upon realising the error of his ways and the grotesque lie at the heart of his belief system, he transforms into some kind of Antichrist figure and begins a new journey towards an untimely, fiery demise while tethered to a stake. Seemingly the first part of a trilogy, In Sorte Diaboli is compelling on a musical level, too. Shorter and less flabby than certain previous works, this is an album of astutely constructed songs that seldom deviate from the point and that bulge with infectious melodies and authentic metallic bite. Songs like The Serpentine Offering, The Conspiracy Unfolds and The Sacrilegious Scorn are undeniably theatrical and bombastic, but they’re also extremely catchy, too. And then there’s the production. Like everything Dimmu have recorded since the dawn of the century, In Sorte Diaboli gleams and glistens with dazzling sonic clarity, with everything from vocalist Shagrath’s deranged proclamations to the jaw-juddering battery of current drummer Hellhammer’s hyper-speed kicks leaping from the speakers like demons bursting through Hell’s gates. All that and the packaging is fucking lush, too. A result all round.

BEST TRACK: The Sacrilegious Scorn 

RECOMMENDED

ENTHRONE DARKNESS TRIUMPHANT 

NUCLEAR BLAST, 1997

The dark destroyers come of age.

Having made a bold but inevitable career leap to Nuclear Blast Records, Dimmu Borgir needed to produce an album befitting of their newfound status as black metal’s commercial standard bearers. Thanks to a combination of songwriting suss, a grand but gritty production job and an air of muscular bravado, Enthrone Darkness Triumphant was just what the satanic doctor ordered. From the throat-rending aggression of Mourning Palace to the grim drama of A Succubus In Rapture, this remains the band’s most single-minded effort – an expression of artistic individuality and ambition hammered out with utter disdain for critical consequences. ...Triumphant brashly defined the band’s sound once and for all. Glory beckoned.

BEST TRACK: Master Of Disharmony (Live)  

DEATH CULT ARMAGEDDON 

NUCLEAR BLAST, 2003

A super-sized black metal apocalypse.

From its extravagant satanic sci-fi artwork to its proudly over-the-top musical core, Dimmu’s sixth studio album was a bold statement from a band who were finally getting overdue commercial recognition and who needed to pull away from the chasing pack on every level. They did it all in style, too, not least on the fantastic Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse, the song that brilliantly sums up the band’s appeal in five explosive minutes of dark metal indulgence. The rest of the album was very nearly as good, too, if just a teensy bit overlong. It’s as if Dimmu were enjoying themselves so much that they couldn’t stop themselves from making the whole enterprise bigger, longer and ever more ridiculously profligate. Deep down, of course, it was all blacker than midnight on a moonless night.

BEST TRACK: Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse 

WILD CARD

STORMBLAST 

CACOPHONOUS, 1996

The true dawning of the death cult.

Their For All Tid debut had hinted that Dimmu had the potential to be something special, but it was their second album that sealed the deal. Still somewhat restricted by a small recording budget and the large gap between their undoubted ambition and the realities of being an underground metal band from Norway, they elected to blow the roof off through sheer songwriting brilliance instead, making the most of their resources to produce an album of straightforwardly stunning songs. Sung entirely in their native tongue, Stormblast exhibited strong links with the more puritanical and reclusive end of the black metal spectrum, but it was clear that these bright, inventive compositions were meant to be heard by a bigger audience than such an insular scene would ever knowingly sanction. Bigger things were, on this evidence, inevitable.

BEST TRACK: Nar Sjelen Hentes Til Helvete

FANS ONLY!

FOR ALL TID 

NO COLOURS, 1994

The dark ones' first foul fruits.

Emerging from a Norwegian metal scene that was beginning to revel in its own brittle notoriety, the first Dimmu Borgir album was very much the work of a band battling to create something that would set them instantly apart from their peers while still maintaining black metal’s spiritual core of antisocial bile and otherworldly menace. As a result, this was hardly the most confident or the most convincing of debuts, even though the likes of Under Korpens Vinger and Raabjorn Speiler Draugheimens Skodde have retained a certain nagging, naive charm in spite of the band’s mutation into something far more strident and outward-looking. Ultimately – Cradle Of Filth notwithstanding – this paved the way for the wave of melodic, symphonic black metal that followed: a seminal blueprint, perhaps, but one of only fleeting interest to those charmed by recent Dimmu albums. 

BEST TRACK: Under Korpens Vinger 

AVOID!

GODLESS SAVAGE GARDEN

NUCLEAR BLAST, 1998

Odds and sods from the anti-Gods.

A classic example of a stopgap release thrown together by a record label hungry for extra pennies and keen to keep one of their biggest bands’ momentum going, Godless Savage Garden comprises four tracks that didn’t quite make it to the final cut of Enthrone Darkness Triumphant a year earlier, plus three live tracks and a serviceable, if slightly pointless, cover of Accept’s Metal Heart. The studio songs are decent enough, with Moonchild Domain and Chaos Without Prophecy standing out as the best of the bunch, and the live tracks – Stormblast, In Death’s Embrace and Master Of Disharmony – are mildly entertaining, but this should really come with ‘inessential’ written in three-inch high letters across the front cover. Completists are advised to track down a copy, but everyone else should blow their cash down the pub instead.

Best Track: Moonchild Domain 

FANBOY!

Charlie Benante - Anthrax 

“I like them because they blend three things I love: the horror vibe (they look kind of dead), of course they play an extreme form of heavy metal (the drumming and the fast guitar riffs are wicked) and they write epic tunes. Spiritual Black Dimensions [1999] was the album that got me into them, but then Puritanical Misanthropic Euphoria [2001] really blew me away. Rob Caggiano [Volbeat and ex-Anthrax guitarist] played them for me and I couldn’t believe how complex and big it sounded. It’s state-of-the-art black metal.”

THE STUFF

All the collectables from your fave bands. 

When you consider their flair for imagery and powerful visuals, it comes as no surprise that Dimmu Borgir are absolute masters of cool merchandise. Just go online and check out the frankly phenomenal amount of aesthetically splendid official shirts and hoodies that the band have available, and then get really annoyed that you can’t afford to buy all of them. In particular, the band’s ‘666’ design and the utterly stylish ‘Pentagram/Free Will’ shirt are must-haves for the discerning Dimmu Borgir devotee. Fans wishing to rock the old-school look will probably prefer something from the tastefully satanic Enthrone Darkness Triumphant range, while fans wishing to celebrate the fact that Dimmu Borgir are improving with age are best advised to get the delightfully bronze ‘Religion Sickens Me’ shirt.

As I Lay Dying fans need not apply, of course.

T-shirts 

For those who haven’t yet had the grim pleasure of catching Dimmu Borgir in the flesh, the World Misanthropy _DVD (2002) box set should slither straight to the top of your blackened shopping list. A three- disc affair, it features live footage taken from a number of sources, including the Norwegian crew’s triumphant performance at Wacken in 2001, plus clips from shows in Stuttgart (again from the 2001 world tour) and from a sold-out gig in Poland in 1998. With plenty of promo videos, backstage footage and an extra bonus CD featuring exclusive studio and live tracks, this is the kind of lavish, standard-setting effort that puts many other bands’ feeble attempts at visual entertainment to shame. And, as you can probably imagine, the packaging is fucking ace. Similarly, if you haven’t already bought a copy of Dimmu Borgir’s awesome _In Sorte Diaboli album, you might want to hunt down a copy of the limited-edition deluxe version, which comes replete with a free mirror (with which you can read the lyrics in the chunky booklet, which are helpfully printed in reverse) and is housed in a substantial hardback gatefold sleeve. Again, there’s a bonus disc; this time, a DVD featuring a mini- documentary about the making of the album and the superb video for_ __The Serpentine Offering_. It’s devilishly good.

DISCOGRAPHY 1993-2010

1993 Demo [self-released] 

1994 Inn I Evighetens Morke EP [Necromantic Gallery] 

1994 For All Tid [No Colours] 

1996 Stormblast [Cacophonous] 

1996 Devil’s Path EP [Hot] 

1997 Enthrone Darkness Triumphant [Nuclear Blast] 

1998 Godless Savage Garden [Nuclear Blast] 

1999 Spiritual Black Dimensions [Nuclear Blast] 

1999 Sons Of Satan Gather For Attack (split with Old Man’s Child) [Karmageddon] 

2001 Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia [Nuclear Blast] 

2001 Alive In Torment EP [Nuclear Blast] 

2002 World Misanthropy DVD [Nuclear Blast] 

2002 World Misanthropy EP [Nuclear Blast] 

2003 Death Cult Armageddon [Nuclear Blast] 

2005 Stormblast MMV [Nuclear Blast] 

2007 In Sorte Diaboli [Nuclear Blast]

2010 Abrahadabra [Nuclear Blast]

ESSENTIAL DIMMU BORGIR

  1. Under Korpens Vinger FOR ALL TID, 1994 

  2. Nar Sjelen Hentes Til Helvete STORMBLAST, 1996 

  3. Stormblast STORMBLAST, 1996 

  4. Master Of Disharmony DEVIL’S PATH, 1996 

  5. In Death’s Embrace (Live) ENTHRONE DARKNESS TRIUMPHANT, 1997 

  6. Reptile SPIRITUAL BLACK DIMENSIONS, 1999 

  7. Blessings Upon The Throne Of Tyranny PURITANICAL EUPHORIC MISANTHROPIA, 2001 

  8. Puritania PURITANICAL EUPHORIC MISANTHROPIA, 2001 

  9. Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse DEATH CULT ARMAGEDDON, 2003 

  10. Eradication Instincts Defined DEATH CULT ARMAGEDDON, 2003 

  11. The Serpentine Offering IN SORTE DIABOLI, 2007 

  12. The Sacrilegious Scorn IN SORTE DIABOLI, 2007

This was published in Metal Hammer issue 182_ _

Dimmu Borgir play the Ronnie James Dio Stage at the Bloodstock Open Air Festival on August 8.

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