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So here it is, the most hyped-up album in Nuclear Blast's history, the follow up to the controversial "Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia". As a long time Dimmu Borgir follower, I had high expectations, as fans were promised a lot of good stuff here. Yes, they would use a bigger orchestra, Abbath of Immortal (R.I.P.) would guest on some songs and yes, even some Norwegian lyrics would be brought back.
Sounds like a real treat. How come than after hearing this album PEM sounds so much better to my ears?
I'm really beginning to think that all this frenzy for using a real orchestra instead of synths turned out to be a double edged weapon, with the sharpest edge aiming at the most important element for a good record: the songwriting. Yes, of course arrangements become a lot more hard to handle when you work with a real orchestra, comprised of many different elements all to be taken care of at once. So Dimmu, as they already showed on PEM - alonf with their newly orchestra-laden peers Cradle Of Filth and Stratovarius - found the brilliant solution: cut the depth of the songwriting to have simpler arrangements to work on.
In a way, it works. DCA has a killer sound, and the arrangements are very well done. Sadly, there are very strong musical ideas to be found. However, this is not a problem, as kids go mad for anything that has a killer sound, no matter that beneath the shimmering surface there is no musical valour whatsoever to be found. The whole mallcore wave generated from this thought, and just look at all the money making that followed. It seems that Nuclear Blast, who had a pretty bad year in 2003 when it comes to selling rates, dived head first into this philosphy, and used arguably the biggest name among its roster to play this wild card. SIX different editions of DCA have been released (standard jewel case cd, limited digipack cd, book shaped cd, cd box, double vinyl and audio dvd); this is definitely enough to prove it.
Of course DCA is not as worthless as mallcore, but still it siffers in comparison to older Dimmu material... and the material I mean is not so old: just dating back to 1999, when "Spiritual Black Dimensions" was released.
The first thing we notice when the cd starts is that one of the best features on PEM, namely an orchestral intro, was promptly removed in favour of a loop of random noises I'm not quite sure about. However, the guitars come in quickly, and after a minute or something, the song begins, rather abruptly. The first riff is actually pretty good, although a bit repetitive, the blastbeats don't last forever and during the verse the rhythm switches to a more thrashy pattern, which keeps the interest higher. Sadly, Shagrath's voice appears once more garbled by too many effects once again. The rest of the song flows nicely, with the orchestra making some appearances here and there. A good beginning, if anything. Enter track 2.
Ah, "Progenies of the Great Apocalypse". The song Dimmu filmed their first ever video for, the "ultimate masterpiece" that so many people seem to have wet dreams about, the "Symphonic Black Metal doesn't get any better than this" tune. I have listened to it for quite some time now, and I still don't find anything to justify such an orgasmic response. Sure, the orchestral hook which opens the song and returns twice more further on is nice to listen to, but take a little time to analize the music backing it, and you will discover that there is exactly ONE chord playing, and the whole orchestral part is a series of tricks and variations upon that one. Of course it sounds great; didn't I mention the "great sound for great sound's" sake already? Nice, of course, but nothing so overwhelming. As for the rest of the song, the riffs in the verses are effetive but quite awkward key-wise; it's however clever how the same riff is backed by a very square 4/4 ryhthm in the first verse and by a more groovy 12/8 in the second. Abbath makes his first appearance in this song, and it's good to note that the band didn't give up to the temptation of overusing his very peculiar voice. Vortex also makes the first of his two clean vocal contributions in the entire cd, and this is not good at all. Hell, his vocals appeared more on SBD when he was just a guest! It's not his fault anyway, and here's the reason: I pointed my finger at how the key shifts in the verses of the song sound awkward at times. This is because Dimmu, who apparently went striving for a "grim, evil and violent" atmosphere for this cd, fell into an overuse of minor chords which kills variety in first place, and the symphonic scope they were also trying to get right next. Minor chords only might work with Dark Funeral (that's what they have been doing since the very start, actually), but if you're trying to create a deeper sonic feeling, you have to include major chords. Note that I'm not saying major tonalities, but mere chords, and any minor scale, unless you alterate it in some weird way (Dimmu themselves did it with so much better results on SBD), has to include major chords in determined points, it's a fundamental rule of music. This lack of "proper" melodic passages resulted in a serious lack of space for Vortex to showcase his wonderful voice. On "Progenies..." his part kicks in when a major tone riff forcefully comes into the picture, and that's about it.
So all we have is a nice but extremely overrated song.
Moving on to "Lepers Among Us", things don't get any better. This song severely suffers of the "we have Nick Barker beating our skins" show-off syndrome, which had already plagued much songwriting on PEM. Basically, here we have a bunch of riffs built on Nick's drumming stitched together, and the worst part is that most of these riffs consist of ONE chord with just a small passage into another chord right at the end of the bar. Even more sadly, we get too much of these in DCA. Nothing memorable to be found here.
"Vredesbyrd", the first of two songs featuring Norwegian lyrics, opens with a pretty speedy and neat riff, with even more cool guitar work showing itself after the verse. Here, the "minor chords only" obsession seem to work better, as the slower sections of the song have a dark but great to listen to feeling that almost reminds of SBD. One of the better songs here.
"For the World to Dictate Our Death" is yet another "see what our drummer does" number; it has some nice riffs but the faster sections end up sounding fragmented as a burning meteor because of the abuse of drum rolls a blasting for the hell of it. The lyrics are kind of funny though, especially the "Pure fucking armageddon" line; is it just me or it sounds kinda familiar? I'll go back to the lyrics later anyway... Oh yes, and what is it with Hitler's sampled speech near the end of the song? Trying to make the atmosphere more evil with that? Ok, to be honest, there are other war speech samples to be found in the song, so maybe it's just a part of a larger picture, but I can't deny that they could have spared us this one.
Enter "Blood Hunger Doctrine", the so-called "experimental" song of DCA. Now, there already was an experimental song on PEM, namely "Puritania", and despite many fans loathing it it turned out pretty good: short, groovy and different from anything else Dimmu had done. What do we get here instead? The song opens with a mid- paced riff which is actually pretty cool, with the orchestra backing it nicely... but then everything falls apart as the rhythm slows down and a lame three (minor) chord riff comes in and just drones on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on................................. D minor, A flat minor, D minor, B flat minor, repeat to sickness. True, as the song goes on some more elements such as a guitar melody or some "orchestral licks" join in, but the effect is still just plain boring. The only thing I could remotely find experimental is the even more overt abuse of electronic effects Shagrath butchers his (once?) powerful voice with, and if we think about how such effects are annoying enough on "normal" songs, it's not a very good thing. This thought conjures in my mind the image of the band playing with buttons and faders in the studio, going "hey, hear this!", "and have you heard how it sounds like if I do this?", "oh, look what I found", which induces chuckling and cringing at the very same time. The first riff comes back again at the end of the song, but it's too late to keep me from saying that this is arguably where DCA hits rock bottom.
"Allehelgens Død i Helveds Rike" resurrects some much needed grove once more, and turns out to be one of the better songs here, though using the same sampled sound Satyricon used in "Repined Bastard Nation" (that kind of "breath" noise that appears in teh first half of the song) in the very same rhythmic fashion (on the first upbeat of every bar) was slightly unwise. Vortex contributes for the last time on the album with his vocals, and does quite a fine job which sadly is somewhat buried in the mix. What the hell has he done to the band to be so unceremoniously banned from contributing more?
Moving on, "Cataclysm Children" has a nice thrashy opening followed by an extremely short and very cool guitar break which obviously doesn't appear again, replaced by yet another one chord only, "made in DCA" dull verse riff. Luckily, as the song goes on, some more good riffs come in, saving it from falling into the anonymous filler category.
And here, ladies and gentlemen, comes the REAL highlight of DCA: "Eradication Instincts Defined". THIS is how the interaction between band and orchestra should sound like: their sounds must complete and not kill each other. There are more interesting riffs and melodies here than on the rest of the album altogether, just check the opening orchestral part: you can hear a quick and clever switch from a standard C minor to a C 7+, an dthen back again, something you don't hear everyday and works pretty damn well. The rest of the song is also interesting, with the orchestra effectively backing the cool riffs. "Progenies..." might be a nice teaser, kids, but this is what the whole thing is all about. If the whole album could have been as good as this I would have been blown away.
And here comes a HUGE mastering fuck-up. What? You see, between track the aforementioned song an dthe following we get a weird collage of war noises, people murmuring "hail Satan" and God knows what else. Where did they place it? At the end of track 9? Too easy. In the "reverse" seconds between one track and another? Too clichèd.
They put it at the beginning of track 10, yes, so if you want to hear the song you have to go through 90 seconds of this random noises. However, the tenth songs we're talking about is "Unorthodox Manifesto", which after a promising opening riff turns into yet anoher tiresome deal, so it's nto even worth fast-forwarding your way through the noise garbage. Jut skip to track 11.
Track 11 is "Heavenly Perverse", and it's pleasantly listenable: after a slow intro a very groovy and cool riff comes in, with Abbath singing the verse. It's good. The rest of the song isn't as good, but still decent. At least we close on a high note.
If you get one of the 5 limited editions, you also get a bonus track in the form of a Bathoro cover, "Satan My Master", which is inevitably cool (you can't go wrong with old Bathory) despite the once more dumb vocal effects. the fact that a cover version, however, is one of the album's highlights proves that there's something which isn't working.
All in all, what can be said... the music is as what I said... as for the lyrics... all I can say is: "Look, we already know you guys dislike the Christian doctrine, WE REALLY GOT IT!! There ARE other things you can write lyrics about!". This is what you get in the lyrical department. Also, since SBD Dimmu started to fill their lyrics with overly complicated words. Used sparsely, such words provide quite an effect. Overused, the whole affair just becomes tedious. End of the story.
Vortex's lack of space on the album is also a huge gripe. With his vocals reduced to a ridiculous minimum and his bass (which was very audible on PEM) buried in the mix, I don't know how he can ever be satisfied with this album. He'd do better by leaving and fronting another band, he definitely has the talent and skil to do that.
In the end, what a pity... 70% because this review was written around Christmas time, and I feel more good and generous.