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Dimmu Borgir: Two Decades Triumphant

Celebrating 20 years of Dimmu Borgir

Some black metal bands are about thick, misty atmospheres and otherworldly eeriness. Others are about sulphurous evil and thunderous blasphemy. Others are about frostbitten grimness or misanthropic hate. And a precious few are about doing all of the above, but doing it with some gigantic bloody tunes to boot. When it comes to the earworm variety, Dimmu Borgir remain kings. But, as their debut album turns twenty, it’s well worth remembering there’s a lot more to them than that.

The early incarnation of Dimmu Borgir sounded radically different to what we now think of as their trademark. There were few clean vocals, no grand symphonics, Shagrath was on drums, and the band’s personality was still draped in the hallmarks of black metal’s second wave (Crap production? Check. Tremolo riffs all over the gaff? Check. Sounds like it’s coming from just too far off in the mist to see, but close enough to scare the fuck out of you? Double check.). But, as was typical of those early Norwegian bands, Dimmu Borgir had an approach that was very much their own.

It’s much more heavily disguised nowadays, but on the early recordings – the debut For all tid, and especially the 1996 follow-up Stormblåst – their inherent weird malevolence came through enormously. It’s not really spoken about any more, so used are we to thinking of Dimmu Borgir as the band with the big fuck-off orchestrations, but in their early days, their music was scarier than the prospect of being a popular George RR Martin character. And that didn’t actually end with the significant rise in craft (much of the charm of the early recordings is, you suspect, more to do with talent and good fortune than fully realised skill), ambition and production value that came with Enthrone Darkness Triumphant in 1997 and Spiritual Black Dimensions two years later. It’s still there, there’s just much more going on with it – something that’s remained true for the rest of their career.

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