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Funny story: I was approached by a certain reader some time ago that said he was considering purchasing Death Cult Armageddon, and was on his laptop in class reading some of the reviews. He came across mine and the student next to him leaned over to take a peek, exclaiming "Why would you listen to anything recommended by a guy name Diarrhea?" In defense of the indefensible? Well, I have certainly found myself in similar circumstances in the past.
As I have exclaimed in other reviews, Dimmu Borgir really lost much of their soul when Aarstad was dismissed, as Mustis is simply not all that he is often made out to be. His cornball synth textures really ruined Spiritual Black Dimensions for me, wasting what was probably Shagrath's finest hour as a vocalist. The followup was great fun in spots, but lacked a truly memorable melodic element and suffered from Barker's overwhelming performance on the kit. Death Cult Armageddon smooths out many of these production imbalances, and dispenses of Mustis' ability to ruin decent compositions with the inclusion of a full orchestra. Sure, he is still arranging much of the music, but the scope is broadened to finally match the iniquitous intensity of the rest of the performances. Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia had the orchestra too, but here it is finally coherently entwined with the rhythm backbone.
Overblown? Sure, but there is a decent balance here that the later albums truly lacked. In Sorte Diaboli was more riff-driven but wholly unmemorable, and Abrahadabra has done nothing but cement the band's position as the consummate laughingstock of the black -excuse me, extreme- metal genre. Galder still saved most of his better riffs for his Old Man's Child project, but there are actually some really great burners scattered about Death Cult Armageddon. "Cataclysm Children" is a great track, so great that the band continued to recycle it's premise again and again on later records. Still can't top the original, guys. "Blood Hunger Doctrine" is also spectacular before the clownish vocals come in, perhaps embodying the single most memorable passage since Dimmu Borgir decided to take up this approach. "Lepers Among Us" also contains some rollicking verses and coherent structure.
"Allehelgens død i Helveds rike" also deserves a special mention, as it contains Hestnæs' greatest clean vocal contribution to date and has a more forward-thinking slant to its procession. In fact, only Shagrath actively irritates me here, which means we have come a long way from the early days. Barker is all over the place just like on his debut with the group, but the production sort of smooths out his contribution. Yeah, the production is beyond amazing on this record, giving all of the instruments ample space to breathe and leaving plenty of room for the low-end to sell the gravitas of the riffs. The only thing that bothers me about this is that you have to really crank Death Cult Armageddon to get the full effect, but once it clicks you'll see what I mean.
Dimmu Borgir definitely got their modern formula down pat here, and although this album has retroactively earned them a lot of scorn, it has aged a lot better than I expected it would. "Cataclysm Children" would easily make my Dimmu Borgir "best of" list, and I can appreciate most of these tracks in isolation, something that I haven't been able to say consistently for anything else after Enthrone Darkness Triumphant. Well, then again my name is Diarrhea, so what do I know?