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Anyone familiar with the current controversy surrounding Dimmu Borgir may be confused by the percent rating I gave, when coupled with the title of this review. Let me explain – This is NOT black metal – but, it doesn’t really try to be. Dimmu has said in recent interviews that they don’t consider themselves as black metal. Thus, it is unfair to judge this album by the standards of black metal. And, that’s a good thing, because if I rated this album by the standards of black metal it would have gotten something around a 10% - not a good score. So, instead, I rate this album on simply being good, heavy, music. And, on that scale, it gets a pretty good score.
The strong melodies in this album (and most Dimmu releases) are both the major source of controversy, and the strong point for the music. The melodic elements, mainly the keyboards, Silenoz’s wonderful singing, sometimes the guitar, and at a few times even Shagrath’s singing, carry a very ethereal quality to them, and, as well as contributing to the overall creepy atmosphere, lend a very strong hand to the pure music beneath the production and atmosphere.
On that note, the riffs and rhythms of this piece are very hard to classify. They don’t bear too much resemblance to Dimmu’s tr00 black metal ancestors, but instead, in my opinion, fit close to the stylings of black metal predecessors, like Mercyful Fate. There are places where a fuzzy speaker could trick you into thinking you were listening to Mayhem, but they don’t come often.
Structure in this album, as with almost all extreme metal albums, is very loose, and very unconventional. But, this does not mean that all is chaos. As with past releases, Dimmu has not simply removed song structure, but manipulated it to fit the music better. The songs often start strong, then, after a somewhat complex maze of not-quite-chorus and not-quite-verse, and a whole lot of other definition defying structures, end in a very apotheosis-like manner, giving the sense that either the world has ended, or just begun. However, in this album, more than others, there are occasions of songs ending in a fashion very reminiscent of someone whispering “To Be Continued…..”, that is that they end very abruptly, with little to no outro section in a very tease-like manner, daring one to listen on. But, all in all, structure is one of Dimmu Borgir’s strengths.
In this album atmosphere and production are very interconnected. This area is both its connecting factor, and disconnecting factor to its black metal ancestors. They are connected in that they both project an air of blasphemy – that the defining atmospheric characteristic is that feeling that just by owning a copy of this album you have sinned against god. However it deviates here to, as , while more traditional black metal is ‘colder’, this album has a slightly more playful, yet still solemn approach – calling forth more images of a LaVeyan Satanic ritual than of demons feasting on human flesh. The aura projected is hard to classify, containing elements of both black metal, and symphonic metal. But the real puzzler is the occasional scent of death metal brutality – not strong or overt, but there. The production is very good, and a much more distinct keyboard presence can be felt, despite the lack of heavy keyboard lines, due to the return of an actual keyboardist behind the symphonic elements rather than an orchestra – even though it sounds more obviously synthesized, it gives it more character and depth. ‘Hellish’ would be the word to describe this albums atmosphere, I believe.
All in all, it is a very solid release, with a strong presence and a downright hellish aura, and a distinct sound. While it makes it’s black metal origins known, it in no way tries to be black metal, instead evolving into a what I personally hope becomes a new sub-genre of extreme symphonic metal – hell metal! XD In all seriousness, though, this is a good album and I hope for more like it.