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I once thought this was their best album, given the many performers' highlights. Now, I believe this was when their sound matured, and the experimentation was at its highest and at its best usage. In fact, after this album, everything this band has done was just refining their compositional skills and integrating their newest members, when the situation presented itself. The first success of this recipe came in 1998 is this release, which saw Astennu's and Mustis' songwriting debuts.
First, I need to say something about the two (then) newbies' tenure in the band. While the dispute between the Borgirs and Mustis has left me stone cold, there is something I never liked at these guys. Some may think they are cool dudes, open minded and even some sort of Motley Crue clones of black metal regarding partying, but they have some sort of revisionist tendencies when it comes to their history. Of course - your band, your decisions, your mess, and your success, but being assholes is just being assholes! This album (and partly, its successor) shows clearly how much did the two now ex-members contribute to the process of making this album. Astennu was the "death metal guy", while Mustis, the classical trained one, and it's not O.K. to claim after their exits that they really didn't do shit!
The opener, The Promised Future Aeons, Dreamside Dominions, The Insight and the Catharsis (not cool that they don't play this song anymore!), and a couple more show how incredibly talented is Mustis. People complain that he overuse the keys and is to pompous or that he tries to be as evil as possible, but the fact is he steals the show, and the band loved his ideas. Indeed, the blackness and harshness were sacrificed a bit, in order to let his contributions breath, and the dynamic between the piano lines and quite death metal-esque riffs managed to keep things interesting. Added to that, Shagrath's vocals were the most dramatic and natural they've ever been or would be, as the screams are more impressive and selective in their appearance; clearly, a very good performance, if only for the right usage of the right technique for his vocal register.
Astennu, as said, had a big contribution to the sound, making this band effort seem more like a symphonic blackened death metal one, and it worked! There is no incredible sophistication in the riff department, but compared to the previous effort, the blend between genres and influences is more homogenous, but not to the point of everything sounding like a repetitive mess. EDT did not have that feeling, but it was way too chaotic structured as a whole, and the balance between the guitar riffs and the keyboard ones fluctuated a lot from one song to another. Spiritual Black Dimensions, however, has a solid foundation, baring little flows. Some are a few guitar riffs, notably where the keys tend to dominate, but Astennu saves the day with his dramatic solos, some almost just licks, while others, a display of incredible skills and imagination.
The rest of the band fairs well, with Silenoz finally stepping out as a vocalist (he still sang on two tracks from EDT - I'll let you figure out which is the second one). His rhythm playing is tight, but rarely gets a thumbs-up, as he doesn't stand out as much as Astennu. Nagash's bass is extremely low in the mix, an unpleasant fact, since he was about to leave the band. His contribution was more obvious and larger on the previous effort, but here, you might here some additional vocals from him. It's a shame that the band let him go and never attempted to bring him back, as Vortex will never be as good of a composer as he was for Dimmu, who need someone like him.
Tjodalv was the old school black metal drummer in this band, and this is shown when he tried fast blast beating (he sucks here, by the way). I believe if he hadn't been fired (yes, he was fired!), he would have become a great drummer in Dimmu Borgir, not in Susperia or elsewhere. Just see the live gig at the March Metal Meltdown (his second last with the band), where you can judge his performance with a better sound than the mess on this album. His performance here was castrated by the production and you can barely hear the bass drums. I think he deserves some redemption with the urgent remixing of the album.
Lyrically speaking, some say that the band opted for incomprehensible words, others, for a gothic theme, but the signs of maturity reached this department as well. The best example is The Insight and the Catharsis, pretty satanic stuff, without the demons and devils which plagues enough metal bands from this crappy planet. The lyrics depict clear evidence of a found identity, where the occult and the satanic philosophy would influence Silenoz in the future to establish a direction of writing and for the band as a distinct entity.
Concluding, this effort would serve as a template of sorts for what was to come, even if it was not as developed as the follow-ups. The fact that again, almost half of band would leave afterwards proves how much of a stepping stone was this album for them, as they finally believed they had a future with Dimmu Borgir, and nothing could stay in their way, but themselves. As for the rest of us, the listeners, if the production is not off-putting and if the piano can be tolerated in a metal band, then this is listenable.
P.S. This album was previously reviewed in august 2008, and was my first one on this web-site, but I deleted it without any logical reason. It's still my favorite album from Dimmu, though...
I do not exactly know the date on which the underground began to hate these busy Norwegians. It can remain an open question, because a collective rejection is always debatable. This is especially true in the case of "Spiritual Black Dimensions". Okay, I must admit that the full-length does not advance into previously undiscovered dimensions of harshness. Nevertheless, I do not see any reason for the smear campaign of the self-proclaimed keepers of the true metallic faith. The album of their wrongfully accused victims documents the efforts of an ambitious band that wants to create something unique. Unfortunately, this honourable intention leads to a partially unwanted result. The opulent output sounds almost overloaded. In other words, the Norwegians do not reach the striven uniqueness. But irrespective of this, they put their heart and soul into this work. "Reptile" is the first number which proves the class of the undisputable compositional skills of Dimmu Borgir.
The opener sparkles with a very dense atmosphere. Based on its blastbeats parts and its overwhelming aura, "Reptile" has the effect of a musical maelstrom. Above all - but not only - the keyboard lines embrace you irresistibly. They drag you down to the inferno of symphonic yet powerful black metal. Despite its abrupt yet nifty breaks, the song is coherently constructed and marks the perfect entry into this full-length. Among the main reasons for this situation are the varying vocals that alternate between deep growling and theatric singing. No doubt, the band is aware of its strength. But the longer the album runs, the more it seems to me that their strength transforms into their weakness. Without reaching the same level of harshness, all songs roughly follow the direction of the opener so that "Spiritual Black Dimensions" is getting slightly boring. Well, boring might not be the right term. But the mind-blowing effect, which makes "Reptile" to a precious black metal jewel, wears out during the almost fifty minutes of the comparatively streamlined album. It is great that the second track is almost as outstanding as the furious opener, but afterwards the level of quality decreases slowly. The pieces sound almost interchangeable without being at risk to be blamed for mediocrity. All of them reach at least a solid, mostly good level. Just listen to "United in Unhallowed Grace" with its formidable keyboard lines. This song is another specimen for the ability of Dimmu Borgir to generate a maximum of intensity.
Of course, the Scandinavian group was commercially successful and some underground warriors proclaim that this is a shame in itself. Furthermore, Silenoz and his gang benefitted from the temporary hype around the excesses of the Norwegian black metal scene. Nonetheless, the here reviewed album sounds neither too catchy nor relaxed. This means that it cannot simply be dismissed as an output which focuses on the mainstream. Otherwise, the fairly unconventional song structures would not have been helpful. In addition, the sound pattern itself is too ugly to please the ear of a music lover who is generally not interested in metal. The dominance of the keyboards does not change this situation. And, to be honest, the guitars and the keyboards are on an equal footing without suppressing the contributions of the remaining band members. Admittedly, the mix lacks a bit of dynamism. But this minor flaw does not affect the quality of the songs in a noticeable way. Therefore, my dear friends from the true underground, I have good news for you. You can listen to this album without getting allergic exanthema.
“Spiritual Black Dimensions” marks the beginning of “Dimmu Burger era”. Yes, I said “Dimmu Burger”, because Dimmu Borgir died after their third album and were replaced by some clownish cyborg clones generated in the secret laboratories of Nuclear Blast with the intent of speculating on the monumental success of “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant” (a great piece of true symphonic black metal), raising even more cash by selling mediocre albums to pseudo-black metal kiddies.
Truth be told, “Spiritual Black Dimensions” has still a little bit of artistic credibility, but the decadence of the band is clear. With this album, Dimmu Borgir took the wrong approach, falling in the common trap of many symphonic metal bands: pompousness and pretentiousness. The band got too ambitious for its own good, firing their legendary keyboardist Stian and replacing him with Mustis, a different musician with a different style. The result is an extremely pompous album.
The songs are completely keyboards-driven, and all the synth stuff creates an incredible, confused wall of sound that doesn’t go anywhere; in fact, the symphonic parts are redundant and unbalanced. Do you remember the intelligent use of keyboards and the excellent balance between synths and other instruments that Stian was able to achieve on “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant”? Well, forget it. Now, what you have is just an annoying mess of random piano wankery and megalomaniac, pompous, unnecessary synth lines that drive the whole album from start to finish. They’re so over-the-top, yet so inconsistent. And, believe me... if you remove the annoying “wall-of-synths” from the songs, nothing remains: under them, there’s just generic, poor, faceless riffage that would even fail to impress a guy that never listened to black metal before. Some parts are embarrassingly directionless, like the main fast riff of “Behind the Curtains of Night-Phantasmagoria”, which sounds also unnecessarily speeded up. You can play as fast as you can, but without a valid idea, your riffs have just no identity. At this point, mid-paced riffs like those of “Mourning Palace”, “Spellbound (By the Devil)” or “In Death’s Embrace” are way better. But, guess what... on “Spiritual Black Dimensions”, even mid-paced riffs fail to impress. The guitars play a relevant role just when they play a solo (which, I admit, is a great thing for a black metal album), like on “The Insight and the Catharsis”; for the rest, they’re totally useless.
I have another complaint about the album, and I know it’s a quite controversial topic: Vortex’s choirs. Yeah, this is the first time that the guy collaborates with Dimmu Borgir. I respect Vortex as an artist, I admire his work with other bands like Arcturus and I think that his vocal performances on albums like “Sideshow Symphonies” are good. But, I’m sorry... when he sings for Dimmu Borgir, he just sucks. His choirs sound way too forced, trying too hard to sound “epic” and “majestic”, exactly like the keyboards do. And, in fact, they have in common with the keyboards the fact of being ridiculous and silly, too. Fleshgod Apocalypse made this kind of shit much better in recent times, with “Agony” (where also symphonic elements are used with more taste).
Another weak point is the production. Peter Tägtgren, what the fuck did you smoke before sitting behind the mixer? In 1999, you produced very well some great albums like “Panzer Division Marduk”, “The Avenger”, the self-titled album of your own legendary melodeath act, the second album of your side-project Pain... but this? You made a disaster on “Spiritual Black Dimensions”. The volumes are totally wrong and you can barely hear the guitars and the drums under the over-pumped keyboard bullshit. But after all, this absurd mix fits perfectly the nature of this music: if you listen deeper to what’s under the synths, you know you’re not missing anything.
Do you wanna know a part of this album that really saddened me? “Grotesquery Conceiled (Within Measureless Magic)”, from 4:31, sounds like nothing but a ripoff of the “Dusk and Her Embrace” chorus. Wow. The ironic fact is that, while Dimmu Borgir was putting out shit like this, Cradle of Filth was enjoying the success of that raw masterpiece of “Cruelty and the Beast”, and was preparing another masterpiece called “Midian”. And some people call Cradle of Filth “goth fags”. At least, they always had more taste about balancing synths and riffs, and by the way, their “goth” synth lines are far less “cheesy” than anything featured on this album.
Do you wanna find something to enjoy on this pile of mediocrity? Well, forget to find good riffs. Maybe just some few, rare cuts from “The Blazing Monoliths of Defiance”. Talking about the rest... well, some synths and piano parts are actually good, like those of “Dreamside Dominions” or the beautiful intro of “The Insight and the Catharsis”, which gives you almost an extravagant “cosmic” feel (I think it was the main goal that the band wanted to achieve with this album, mostly in vain). Also on “The Promised Future Aeons”, the piano melodies make an absolutely better figure than the mid-paced riffs buried under them.
Dear Dimmu Borgir, explain me something... why are you calling yourself a metal band? Because of some mediocre riffs that go nowhere? Being symphonic isn’t necessarily a bad thing: I listen to some bands which focus a lot on symphonic/gothic elements; the difference is that, most of the time, they’re still able to get their shit together in a convincing way, without sounding pretentious or lame, and giving actually some space to good riffs. On their first three albums, Dimmu Borgir had found the right equilibrium, but now they’re just exaggerating. Dear Dimmu, write some cooler riffs and, if you want to be a symphonic band, take more inspiration by Emperor, who know how to create majestic symphonies (even when metal is less predominant: the symphonic interludes of “Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk” teach to the whole scene).
In conclusion, “Spiritual Black Dimensions” is one of the worst Dimmu Borgir albums, only better than “In Sorte Diaboli” and “Abrahadabra”. Yes, it’s even worse than “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia” and “Death Cult Armageddon”. I should give a 50 to this album, but, just because it has some cool symphonic parts and solos, I add 3 points. And don’t say I’m too harsh.
I am coming to this album a little late perhaps - maybe that's a good thing in that I can write this review without being influenced by all the hype that surrounded the release or all the 'controversy' that follows this band when it puts out new material.
I think I'll start by saying that I haven't really ever been impressed by Dimmu Borgir - for whatever reason. To me their albums haven't lived up to their reputation as 'new Black metal' pioneers - or whatever the media is painting them as this week. If you take an honest slow look at their work so far you won't see anything particularly groundbreaking or original. In retrospect it might seem this way, but only when you forget the other 100 bands that released similar material at the same time and have since fallen out of the limelight. Dimmu Borgir have staying power because they have the 'push' of Nuclear Blast behind them now. Their imagery, stage presence, and lyrics are never anything more than contrived and calculated, and their music is a pale reflection of their image. It holds very little meaning for me - but then again I am very biased when it comes to black metal, so I'll try to present this review with an objective stance.
I think that if you forget for a second the history of the band or all of the extramusical information that is thrown at you concerning this album if you are in any way involved in the underground, you might just be able to appreciate this music on its own terms. The key, I believe, is to divorce this music from your understanding of black metal - because this is not black metal, really, in any way. It is something else, something new.
Dimmu Borgir paint involving soundscapes through the use of melodic keyboard passages, and those keyboard parts are what define the songs and carry them along. What really stands out are the vocal passages contributed by Simon of Borknagar - after a few listens I just look forward to those moments when I spin this thing. Unfortunately you can't base an entire album around two minutes of backing vocals. The guitars really only serve to echo the keyboards or provide a heavier layer of sound underneath - very rarely does the guitar music serve to carry the main themes of the song or offer anything new to the ear. Even when the high-register keyboards drop out and Dimmu throw you a little slice of crunching rhythm guitar work, it doesn't have anything astoundingly original in it to wake you up from your treble-induced stupor. In fact you could probably set the EQ on your stereo to completely filter out the guitar parts and you wouldn't miss that much. Having said that, there are some solos in here that break up the monotony somewhat... but they aren't anything spectacular, and in fact they really sound like synth loops more than anything else. I think that on this entire album there are maybe two guitar melodies that are memorable or moving. What Dimmu really needs is a new understanding of rhythm, and they need more contrast between the sound of the guitars and the overwhelming presence of the keyboards.
Of course this is a Tagtgren-produced work, so everything is set to achieve some sort of perfect 'balance' in the mix, and none of the instruments really stand out - never riding above the wash of the synths. It's all blended together so well it really just sounds like elevator music - the drums especially... they could have been done with an Alesis and it would have sounded the same.
What is the purpose of writing music like this? The notion of trying to gain mass appeal within the extreme metal scene is absolutely absurd. Even if every single black metal fan in the world bought this album Dimmu would not get enough in their royalty checks to justify their move to become 'more accessible'. They would just be giving all their money, of course, to Nuclear Blast. I wonder how much pressure their label put on them to produce this kind of music. If Dimmu is really writing this stuff because they feel that it moves them and is important... well, I just don't know what to say. It is difficult for me to imagine that kind of situation, and even more difficult for me to feel empathy for musicians who would think that way.
Alright... forget objectivity, I just don't like this album. Sorry, Dimmu. In my eyes what you need is to drop the keyboards, downtune the guitars, get a new drummer, and take the immense advance Nuclear Blast will give you for the production of your next album, drink it all up with Borknagar, and record the next album in a basement with a four-track and two microphones. Now that's black metal!
I am often surprised how people intend to bash this album, stating that it's the moment when Dimmu started sucking, just because Stian Aarstad was thrown out, and Mustis along with ICS Vortex came along. Now let me make it clear that I have nothing against ANY of the mentioned 3 members of Dimmu Borgir. In fact, they are my favorites, along with Shagrath and Nagash. Both Aarstad and Mustis made excellent songs for Dimmu Borgir, even if one of the plagiated some certain pianos on Stormblast. And even if Mustis's style is more 'symphonic', it seems that on this album he goes for the typical piano work that Aarstad used to do for Dimmu. Kinda strange, huh? But who knows, maybe the keyboards with their variated sounds are what made me like this album. Or was it ICS Vortex's amazing vocal performance? Let's find out, shall we.
The album opens with Reptile, and we are now greeted with a choir and fantasia lead intro. Soon, Shagrath and Nagash begin the growling and thus the actual song starts. I've noticed that on this release Shagrath moved from the high pitched shrieks typical on the first 3 albums to almost death metalesque grunts, but this isn't bad, as he still attempts some shrieks here and there. Reptile is an entire keyboard fest, having great atmosphere and a good use piano and strings too. And to make it even better, ICS Vortex uses his angelic voice to bring this song to extreme beauty. It's almost as if the devil was talking to you while masquerading as an angel of light.
After the epicness of Reptile we move to Behind the Curtains of the Night - Phantasmagoria. Its lyrics are interesting though, speaking about some kind of transcendence. This song starts with some excellent drumming from Tjodalv and then the guitars come and the song's brutality kicks you in the face. Actually, besides being brutal, having few fast keyboards here and there and interesting lyrics, that's all that could be mentioned about this song. The next track, Dreamside Dominions, is quite similar to In Death's Embrace and Prudence's Fall from the previous album. It has a beautiful piano intro and thrashy guitar riffing to aid it. Most of this song's piano parts are played beautifully, but in the end they bring you to the thought that it's inspired by In Death's Embrace. Two elements of this song make it enjoyable though: ICS Vortex's backing vocals and the awesome guitar solo at the end. Too bad that the song starts fading away when the guitar solo begins.
United in Unhallowed Grace has an epic and sudden beginning. The church organ creates a fabulous atmosphere, and the piano which follows after Shagrath shrieks: "May her cursed beauty haunt me forever" just creates the romantic feeling which I got while listening to A Succubus in Rapture. And lyrically, this song seems to be a continuation of the aforementioned track. The Promised Future Aeons begins with a symphonic intro which reminded me of something that Dimmu would do on Stormblast. This intro sets the perfect mood for the chaos that is about to follow. The rest of the instruments burst in, but the keyboard remains dominant with its fast pianos. And that's pretty much it for this song, after the beautiful intro it's all heavyness, grunts, dominating piano, and a guitar solo near the end. The Blazing Monoliths of Defiance so far is the first real 'satanic' song we encounter in this album. Its lyrics being blasphemic and calling the listener to participate to the great war against the heavens. Wow, as if they didn't already use this theme in their other releases... But leaving that aside, the synthesized choirs create a great atmosphere along with the guitar in the intro. The grunts are brutal as always, and the rest of the instruments try to keep up with their brutality. Shagrath and Nagash even do some awesome shrieks on this one. I think this song's best part is on 2:02 when the keyboard comes in and Shagrath screams: "Unleash the tempted beast!"
Ah, and here comes the masterpiece of this album and one of my top favorite Dimmu songs: The Insight and the Catharsis! Everything in this song makes it perfect, and due to the fact that it's a titletrack, its lyrics and music practically sum up everything this album is about: atmosphere, transcendence and spiritual purification. As a matter of fact, Catharsis means spiritual purification through art. If that's the case, Dimmu just had an epic win when making this song. The fast keyboards, Shagrath's grunts, Vortex's singing, the guitar solo, all blend in perfectly when creating the first half of the song. The lyrics so far describe a spiritual journey in other dimensions, and it seems that the passenger finally arrives at minute 3:20 of the song. That's when a beautiful piano plays with some choirs in the background. It almost makes me feel as if I've reached another paralel world filled with new possibilities and the wisdom that man had been reaching for ever since he was born. The following lyrics mix up perfectly with this concept: "In circles of dominance emotional deeps unite/Fiction and transcendence woven together/In the essence of purity lies wisdom/Join the forces, the Spiritual Black Dimensions!" An entire spiritual philosophy is well packaged with high quality music. This certainly has to be one of the most epic moments in Dimmu Borgir's history ever. Then another awesome guitar solo follows the piano, and sadly, this epic moment ends after like 1 minute and 5 seconds... Moving on, the guitars play some heavy riffs and then you hear Shagrath grunting about how knoledge is power and the power is his, etc. Then Mustis repeats the beginning riff of this song and Shagrath keeps grunting about how the children should come to him, as if he's some kind of second Michael Jackson. Leaving the joke aside, the song's final part begins with some epic strings which kind of remind me of some kind of movie soundtrack. A few seconds later, a piano joins in to create more atmosphere, and then ICS Vortex shows us his true vocal talent as he sings some kind of prayer. Then the guitars play a heavy riff with a church organ in background that are sure to make your head bang once again. Afterwards, the string and piano riff repeats itself and Vortex concludes this song with his epic singing. I've said it once and I'll say it once again: this song is a true masterpiece!
The next track, Grotesquery Conceiled (Within Measureless Magic), is a pretty cool track. Has some nice fast pianos, some guitar solos here and there, Shagrath grunting and some lyrics about occult magic practices and once again - transcendence. Arcane Lifeforce Mysteria adds more to the transcendence and spiritual journey feeling with its entrancing keyboards. The guitars are pretty awesome too, and the musicianship can be felt in this song almost as serious as in the title track. And thus we reach the final track, Masses for the New Messiah. This song begins with a fantastic keyboard riff which kind of reminds me of some Islamic desert song for some reason. The drum gallop which accompanies the keyboards is quite awesome and a bit power metalesque in my opinion. Then you have the typical Shagrath and Nagash grunts and atmospheric pianos, practically the same deal as the rest of this album.
Sadly, this album marks the end of Dimmu Borgir's glory era. It was the last true effort of the band, a release to which many great musicians had contributed. But as the SBD era ended, half of the band was gone and new musicians came to replace them, and a whole new era would begin for Dimmu Borgir. And it won't take us more than 3 albums until we'll say about this band: "Oh, how the mighty have fallen!"
Favorite tracks: Reptile, Dreamside Dominions, United in Unhallowed Grace, The Promised Future Aeons, The Insight and the Catharsis
When I was 14 I was given this album by a German foreign exchange student on first listen I considered it to be just a load of noise as all other music she had given me. I was a young American who had not yet learned to appreciate non-mainstream well produced MTV loved "metal". A few years later i popped this album in to reminisce the old high school days and what came out of my radio surprised me. My ear was trained on picking up the murkyness of the likes of Darkthorne and other early black metal. Though this album is in no way as murky in its production quality as they early black metal albums were it still had an overload of sound that needed to be listened to in each individual instruments sector.
From the opening track "Reptile" to the final track "Masses for the New Messiah" I was in a trance completely captured by the music. Everything seemed to merge together in a perfect synergy. It seemed to me that the synth, guitars, bass, grim and clean vocals, and the drumming all were carefully place and written to give each song its own character and allure. 10 years later I can still put this album in and listen to it from start to finish.
What stood out to me the most was the melodies and how they intertwined with the more punishing speed of each song. A mark of good song writing for me has always been smooth and good sounding transitions and this album is loaded with them. There isn't one song on Spiritual Black Dimensions that is either sheer speed or melody instead its an ingenious balance of the two.
There also seems to be a sinister almost lurking feeling to the atmosphere made by the synth throughout the album. The use of organs, piano, and mixtures of multiple settings are used excellently by Mustis who was a superior replacement for Stain at least for one album.
Finally, the solos on this album complement each song seemingly perfectly to me. No noisy crappily added mindless shredding just smooth well placed melodic measured added as another layer on a seemingly perfect work of musicianship and songwriting. It's not the most technical nor the heaviest its just very well put together album that in my opinion is a gem of symphonic metal.
Spiritual Black Dimensions is, probably along with their debut For All Tid, Dimmu Borgir’s least well-known album. The reason for this is because this is a relatively discreet album caught between the very popular Enthrone Darkness Triumphant and the very widespread (some say sell-out, although I disagree) Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia. Unfortunately I don’t consider this album underrated or unfairly ignored as it’s probably the band’s weakest record to date and it’s considerably weaker than their much less-appreciated newer albums.
First of all, most of the songs here tend to blend together much more than they ever did on Enthrone Darkness Triumphant. The opener, Reptile, is a highlight almost only because it’s the first track, as there is very little that distinguishes any of the tracks except maybe for the more unique bonus track on the deluxe version that I have, the tenth track, Masses For The New Messiah. I’d say that The Insight And The Catharsis is slightly different too, as is The Promised Future Aeons.
This album witnesses the appearance of the band’s new backing clean vocalist, Simen Hestnæs, the lead vocalist of Arcturus who would later be known in Dimmu Borgir by his stage name ICS Vortex and who’ll also start doing bass starting with the next album, Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia. His clean vocal performance gives the album a much-needed distinguishing element, which if absent would quite probably cause the album to be little less than a weak Enthrone Darkness Triumphant clone with none of the strong symphonic elements found on that album.
This leads me to what is probably the biggest flaw on this album. The keyboards are totally misused. Instead of creating interesting melodies around the music like on the previous Enthrone Darkness Triumphant, the keyboards are simply used everywhere, drowning the rest out and while there are some very nice synths throughout the album, the overall effect is very hard if not impossible to appreciate.
The rest of the instruments are also pretty hard to notice specifically. They do, however, create a very similar feeling to Enthrone Darkness Triumphant in this respect and I don’t really mind that, although everything is much less technical than what would come on the next few albums, especially Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia. The reason is that at this stage the band seems to be made of nameless (little-known) and tired musicians…Mustis’ debut on keyboards is, as stated before, pretty ridiculous, Astennu and Silenoz’s guitar playing is relatively unnoticeable, Nagash’s bass playing is competent although not spectacular and inferior to Simen Hestnæs’ bass playing on the upcoming albums. Tjodalv’s drumming, however, is pretty solid, although repetitive and not up to the capabilities of the much more competent Nick Barker who’s replacing him on the next album. Shagrath’s vocals are for the most part the same stuff he always does: competent and somewhat black metal vocals which are good but not extraordinary.
Despite all these flaws, this is a good album overall. It’s their weakest but that still means it can be pretty good. It was my first Dimmu Borgir album and, despite the saying that the first cut is the deepest, it’s the exact opposite here as I like this the least compared to any of the band’s other albums. The cover art is also pretty unpleasant and weak, as it’s not really artistic or grim in any way, and the booklet’s inside artwork featuring close-ups of hooks inside skin is pretty disgusting and repulsive, not grim or violent just…shitty.
It’s an overall good album, but plagued by many flaws and I strongly suggest any other of the band’s albums to anyone who wants to start listening to Dimmu Borgir, or maybe not as I am a big Dimmu Borgir fan despite this being my first album…anyway.
Ironically, this is one of the first metal albums I ever purchased. I, being new to metal and thinking that Dimmu Borgir were the essence of true black metal, bought this album on Half.com for six bucks used. Looking back on that fateful day, it seems I have been ripped off. Even back then, when I thought Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth were the bees knees, and that every black metal band should have at least three pentagrams in their logo for every band member, I rarely put this album in for a spin. There was just something about it that made it hard to listen to, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. So here I am, a few years older and more versed in the ways of metal, and I realized what it was that made me hate this album.
1)The keyboards. Never before in my life have I seen such an obnoxious overuse of synthesizers and keyboards. Every song is riddled with pointless synth pieces that go nowhere. In fact, I have trouble finding a part of this cd that doesn’t have synth in it. Not only that, they are mixed in such a way that the synth drowns out the everything else except the drums and Shagrath’s horrible vocals, which leads me to my second point..
2)The vocals. No, Shagrath has never been a great vocalist, but this has to be the low point of his career. His pathetic performance makes me cringe every time he opens his mouth. He tries to be “grim” and “evil” but mostly just comes off as “cheesy” and “childish.”
3)The guitars. It would be nice to hear the guitars without having to listen to the crappy synth, but I guess Dimmu Borgir thought that they should play a more integral role in the songs and less of an afterthought. Most of the riffs are so-so inoffensive filler, some are downright awful and a select few are great. The lead guitar work on ‘The Insight and the Catharsis’ is an impressive high point on this album.
4)The bass…. Was either mixed out of the album or drowned out by synth.
5)The Drums. The least offensive part of the album. Well performed and balanced between blasting and standard drumming. Also the only thing loud enough to drown out the awful keyboards. Too bad everything else on this album is shit compared to this.
Overall, this album sucks. Badly. HOWEVER, this album is about a thousand times better than their three sequential albums. Avoid this stinking pile of sheep shit, even if you are sixteen and just getting into metal. There are much better symphonic metal and black metal albums out there that you should try first.
Spiritual Black Dimensions is for the most part a bloated, exaggerated mess. The loss of Aarstad caused irreparable damage to Dimmu Borgir's creative unit, forcing the band to scramble and improvise. They responded by recruiting two new members: Astennu on guitars and Mustis on keyboards. The former's presence is hardly noticeable due to the fact that multiple band members, including Shagrath, contributed guitars during this period. Mustis, on the other hand, sounds the proverbial death knell for the band's atmosphere. His over-the-top, bombastic keyboard lines neuter the sinister atmosphere that Dimmu Borgir yielded in spades on earlier albums such as their masterpiece Enthrone Darkness Triumphant just a mere two years earlier.
Being the album that transitioned the group into their more modern, sterile sound starting with Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, Spiritual Black Dimensions suffers from a lack of identity and clear purpose to its trinkets of terror. The guitars primarily manifest themselves as tremolo-picked passages and atmospheric surges during specific points. The performance is more in line with the group's earlier work, being modestly technical and hardly impressive on their own. There is a proclivity to experiment with more involved leadwork, an approach that hadn't been fully realized up until this album. The rare soloing is also a nice touch, giving tracks such as "The Promised Future Aeons" a bit more of an identity. There is also a melodic, Iron Maiden-esque section during "The Insight and the Catharsis" that turns heads. Nagash is probably the most skilled songwriter in this lineup, so it is something of a shame that Tägtgren's busy, uneven production buries his presence behind the other instruments and orchestrations.
The keyboards are obviously upfront and demand attention whenever they appear. However, the guitars, while sonically impressive and crunchy, are pushed into the background whenever Mustis is neutering the atmosphere with his lame keyboard lines. This approach would be passable if the keyboards were impressive like on later-era Vesania albums, but they are just so soulless and stereotypically "evil" sounding here that it ends up being Spiritual Black Dimensions' biggest flaw. On all of Dimmu Borgir's later material his actual keyboard performances would play second-fiddle to the real orchestras, leaving this album as the first time he had the chance to impress fans with his chops, but boy did he miss the mark. Aarstad, plagiarist or not, at least had the ability to summon a gritty, foreboding atmosphere combined with beautiful piano passages. Mustis experiments with a multitude of different keyboard sounds, and it ends up sounding cheaper and less convincing than ever before. If it seems like I am dwelling too much on this one aspect of the band, it is because they rely on him far more than anyone else to carry the main melody for the rest of the band to revolve around. It does more damage than one would think.
Tjodalv's swansong performance is by far his most impressive. He reaches dizzying levels of speed on the double-bass, but seems to be less capable of blasting, so there is an obvious trade-off present. He goes off on some impressive tangents with some atypical tom and cymbal work, providing an impressive backbone to the rhythm section. Sadly, he is also gutted by the album's repellent mix, even though most of his kit is triggered. The vocals represent Shagrath at his most impressive. His roars are overacted, but not as vile and revolting as on later Dimmu Borgir albums. Hestnæs makes his vocal debut here on "Reptile", also giving "The Insight and the Catharsis" a great counterpoint to the harsh barking. His performance sounds less sure of itself than on later albums, but the potential is indisputable.
Despite most of these tracks being fairly concise by Dimmu Borgir standards, most of this album is incredibly boring and fails to really get cooking in any specific direction. "The Insight and the Catharsis" is clearly the best track here, finding something of a balance between the disparate performances, resulting in a worthwhile experience. "United in Unhallowed Grace" is also solid, mainly because the keyboards feature a modicum of restraint not present on the lion's share of the album. "Grotesquery Conceiled" also has its moments. The rest sounds like B-sides from Godless Savage Garden at best. Although the band would continue with the style being pioneered here, they would end up doing it much more convincingly than the half-baked keyboard driven approach present on Spiritual Black Dimensions. A few good tracks can't save it.
This happens to bands all the time, they release their most popular album, Enthrone Darkness Triumphant in Dimmu's case, and the one after it usually gets underrated, that's the case with Spiritual Black Dimensions, people expect it to be another ETD, this IS pretty much a continueation of ETD, but it's still got something different to offer at the same time, this album is more keyboard driven than ETD was, so theres lots of keyboards, but I think they knew how to use alot of them on this album, because it's all in the right places, now some people complain that the keyboards drown out the guitars, I don't see that, because I can hear both instruments just fine, so no complaints about the production from this person, also I hear black metal fans say Dimmu weren't Black Metal after Stormblast, Newsflash!, Dimmu have always been Black Metal, even the newer stuff is, it's just crappy.
"Reptile" Is the opener here, and what a song to open an album with, this song is a fucking masterpiece, starting out with a melodic keyboard, that works it's way into the song, then Shagraths demonic howl comes in, right off you can hear the keys are in the right places, very killer riffs in this song, reminding the listener of ETD at times, and the chorus is very nicely done, an actual sung chorus, with beautifull keyboards behind it, this song is great, "Behind the Curtains of Night - Phantasmagoria" This song will REALLY remind the listener of ETD, this is faster than Reptile, but it rules, love the keyboards and riffs in this song, also Shagraths vocals, this song is fucking heavy, "Dreamside Dominions" Also reminds you of ETD, especially the keys and riffs, it's kind of like "In Deaths Embrace", the break is killer too.
"United in Unhallowed Grace" Is pretty fast throughout, this is just a good song, but theres not much different about it that would make me explain it, "The Promised Future Aeons" Starts out with a melodic symphonic sound that lasts about 2 minutes, and then, bang, out of no where, the band starts, catching you off gaurd, this song is pretty mid-paced, with some killer riffs and keyboard fills, and excellent vocals by Shagrath as always, and the breakdown is fucking heavy as hell, theres a spoken part at about 5:28 into the song, very cool.
From "The Blazing Monoliths of Defiance" to the end of the album are good songs, but as I stated on United in Unhallowed Grace" theres nothing much different about them to mention, but they are good songs!, so theres no bad songs on here, some are better than others yes, as with every album.
If you loved "Enthrone Darkness Triumphant", and don't mind a few more keyboards, then check this out, as I stated, it's alot more keyboard driven, but it sounds wicked cool, and then know when to use the keys, this is no basement Black Metal band doing this.
This was actually my first exposure to Dimmu Borgir, and for once it doesn't have any real sentimental value. Unlike some folks here, I don't mind their later output quite so much, but this CD was disappointing for me on a couple levels.
First of all, the mix is awful! It's washed out with no clarity or definition and comes off as a swirling mess of dominant keyboards with occasional riffs coming to the surface and Shagrath's vocals dominating. The bass is no more than a drone in the background, but that's marginally better than the usual "kvlt" black metal album where all you hear is trebly guitar noise and tin can drums. Speaking of drums, poor Tjodalv sounds like he's working hard behind that kit, but the mix drowns him out, especially in the frequent blast beat parts. Kick drums? What kick drums? Is this really an Abyss Studio production? What was Peter Tagtgren smoking when he did this album?
Shagrath still sounds like Shagrath, and therefore has somewhat of an identity amongst the "grim/kvlt" types who seem to think that doing their very best Wicked Witch of the West impersonation through a distortion filter will make them sound more kvlt than thou. Simen Hestnaes' clean vocals are his own as always, speaking of identity--nobody out there sounds like him and this is good in the long run. And Astennu, once they actually let him out to play, does whip out some nice leads into the bargain. But the tunes just aren't there most of the time, and all this talent is wasted on tunes that, well, don't really go anywhere.
There's at least one good riff on each tune on this CD, but they tend to be crowded out by others that are superfluous or simply unimaginative. "PEM" has better riffs than this by far. Though "Dreamside Dominions" features a nice arrangement, probably the best on the album, as well as excellent layering of vocals and a KILLER solo by Astennu at the end--I didn't expect to hear such blatant Yngwie worship on a black metal CD. He starts with a slow, bluesy bend, tears into a volley of shredding balanced by more melodic passages, then uses sweep picking to quote the piano melody in the song. Of course, just as he really gets going, they fade him out. Everything else, well, it's just kind of...there. A bunch of ideas just tossed together to see what stuck more than anything else, the songs on this album sound like, for the most part.
The lyrics are for the most part not so good, either, sounding forced and Gothic more than black metal. They just don't sit well with me as I try to read them in the poorly-laid out/scanned booklet--and I coulda done without the nasty photos in the booklet, too, for that matter. They strike me as excessive and just plain gross.
I'd hesitate to recommend this album to newcomers to DB, as I think "Enthrone Darkness Triumphant" is a far better album with superior production and songs. Some would recommend the earlier material like "Stormblast", but my point is that there are better DB albums to get than this one. If you must get this in the spirit of completism, then do so, but don't expect brilliance.
As the Dimmu Borgir unit continue to change their sound around for the meaning of accessibility the LP, Spiritual Black Dimensions, shows Dimmu Borgir as they return to the humble sounds of their second release, Stormblast. I was very dissapointed with this release. Despite it's polished faggothic keyboards and production the album was basically an album recorded on the low end. This low end production is great, yet it's flawless and polished none the less.
The orchestration on this release is again returning to the Stormblast rountine with the useless symphonic elements being the full backbone. When you listen to the ever so basic guitar and bass lines on this release you can tell this band is so lacking in talent on this release. After releasing a couple good candidates that predate this release i was very dissapointed to have come across this release myself. It makes me dissapoint myself knowing that if they continue this path it will be the end of Dimmu Borgir. There's some solos trying to contradict what i'm say but the solos sound pretty basic.
The vocals....what the fuck. Sometimes Shagrath seems to attempt black metal vocals and fail. Other times it's meaningless metalcore sounding screams. I can't believe this. They're so shitty on this release and fucking boring, generic in everyway.
This album sounds so much like a Cradle of Filth album. With the overdose on orchestration. The rhythm, and pitch that Shagrath uses (going from low grunts to higher wannabe black metal vocals) the basic guitar riffs. This album proves Dimmu borgir's interest in sucking the corporate cock as much as they can.
This album is a huge dissapointment compared to Enthrone Darkness triumphant, as well as the mediocrity of their EP, Godless Savage Garden. The whole album has no diversity or anything of interest. I do not recommend wasting money on this wankfest.
Weird to read Dimmu fans praising this music as a profound emotional journey, or whatever. Maybe they just haven’t heard much, or they've got a totally different set of ears than I do. This album sounds like it was put together by some studio musicians hired by Nuclear Blast who were handed a couple of Emperor albums as a template. It’s like an artistic vacuum.
The guitar work is mostly thrash or heavy metal based stuff left over from the 80s. In light of the sweeping melodies or bizarre dissonance used by real black metal bands, it’s pretty tame and standard, and the guitar tone's overproduced to the point where it sort of blurs into the keyboards anyway.
Of course, the keyboards are what you're really going to be hearing when you put this album on anyway. The synth tones they use are clearly meant to sound as huge and grand as possible, and they’re mixed very high in the production. They're very frilly but very shy on depth; they're very obvious, very bombastic, very empty.
I can’t take this stuff seriously, but I might at least be able to enjoy it as a guilty pleasure if the songwriting were stronger. Say what you will about a band like Cradle of Filth, for instance, they at least try to write memorable songs. Most of this album just sounds like homogenous mush to me. The only parts I like are when Simen from Borknagar sings. If the whole album were in the style of the last couple of minutes of “The Insight and the Catharsis”, which is a nice little gothic/melodic bit, I might actually like it a little. Sometimes I put on the album just to listen to that one part, but I have to fast forward past the rest of the song.
I recommend that the reader "fast forward" past this entire band if you're even going to bother to make the leap past mainstream music at all, as there is certainly more interesting underground metal than this.
"Spiritual Black Dimensions": if ever a title managed to frame the essence of a record, it has to be this one. This album, from the beginning to the end, sounds like a metaphysical journey through dark, unmeasurable realms of undescribable emotions, free from any corporeal bound. This album found the "new" Dimmu Borgir at the peak of their creavity and will to experiment. There's no questioning how daring and diverse this music is, nore how much talent and effort was put into its summoning. Every single member of the band is 200% into it, and it shows.
The sound on SBD is most peculiar; nobody could say it has been recorded in the highly praised Abyss Studio. In complete contrast with the very sharp edged sound adopted on EDT, Dimmu went into building a maelstrom of sound where wide keyboards rule a tide of deep, relentless guitars, insane vocals and distant, inhuman beats. It's the opposite of ear-friendly, and I don't know how intentional it was (Dimmu themselves would later dismiss SBD as the album with the blurriest sound, and would head to Studio Fredman for the following record, "Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia"), but despite all it might be lacking from a mere technical point of view, it's IDEAL when feelings speak their opinion.
Of course the sound doesn't create an atmosphere on its own, it enhances the atmosphere which the various songs conjure... and here, my people, atmosphere is key. SBD will lead you drifting away into unearthly aural domains, an experience beyond any human description, be it spoken or written.
"Reptile" begins the journey... majestic synths lure you into a dreamlike seductive vision, but soon the guitars and drums tear their way into the trance with a fierce, fast and deadly assault, joined by an inhuman growl rising from unfathomable depths. Welcome into the Spiritual Black Dimensions.
Right from the start, you know what to expect from the album. First, it's pretty amazing to hear how high the synths are in the mix; sure when the other intruments kick in the impact is guaranteed, but not as hard as one oculd expect (or else any speakers would be blown to pieces, as well as any windows and other fragile objects in the range of several yards). The keyboards are a key element is this record, but don't fret, they are the exact opposite of tasteless; actually, I would have never thought that synthetics could interact so well with an extreme Metal structure until I discovered this album. The new keymaster, Mustis, had a lot to prove by filling in Stian Aarstad's shoes (it was indeed his amazing synth and grand piano work one of the elements which had granted EDT such an enthusiastic response), and he couldn't have asked for a better introduction than SBD. The synth melodies and sounds are completely undescribable; I usually dislike keyboards sounds that sound excessively fake, yet they are used with great taste here (and are mixed with a good dose of more realistic patches, e.g. strings, piano and choirs) and enhance the surreal feeling of the record. Finally, a lot of different synth sounds and effects are used in every song, and some times all at once. Yes, this is a very complicated and multi-layered record, and this is one of his strong points.
It's not just about synths, however. The guitar work on this album is top notch, showcasing an amazing variety of tremolo picking, wider chords and screaming harmonics. The drums are euqally overwhelming; Tjodalv's last performance with Dimmu was once more memorable. All these elements create the subtle driving force of SBD, its immense variety and depth, the discovery that becomes more and more interesting with each and every listen.
Shagrath's voice also deserves praise. The man retains his powerful scream which he'd already displayed to a great effect on EDT but integrates it with a much more noticeable variety and depth. At points he uses several different kinds of voices at once, following very closely the atmosphere of the songs.
There's also a huge new entry vocal wise: superb, almost operatic clean vocals, provided by Simen Hestnæs, better known as ICS Virtex of Borknagar fame. He makes his first appearance in the chorus of "Reptile", definitely confirming its status of perfect album opener. This song continuosly twists and turns towards blazing fast riffs to slower and more menacing sections, from melodic truces to flat out aggression. It has everything... and yet, it's only just begun...
A powerful percussive firework unleashes the relentless assault of "Behind the Curtains of Night - Phantasmagoria", the shortest and most violent chapter of SBD (and arguably the whole Dimmu catalogue). Shrieking distortions, earthquake beats, inhuman voices and eerie synths - a supersonic, dazzling nightmarish tempest, as well as huge display of playing technique from the whole band.
"Dreamside Dominions" opens with a desolate melody backed by intense piano work, soon joined by Shagrath's voice; the song then evolves into a descent into bizarre dark soundscapes, where Shagrat's growls are matched by Vortex's chantings. This songs really begins to show how original the chor structures on SBD actually are: most of the melodies use almost exclusively minor chords (which is pretty unnatural and plain wrong when judged by musical theory), yet are arranged so that they flow on very naturally. Again, like I already said about the sound, emotions overcome sheer technique, with excellent results. Astennu completes the picture by adding a great solo right at the end.
"United in Unhallowed Grace" displays some clearly Thrash-influenced rhythms and more guitar-based breaks; once again the synths provide the hook for the listener to follow during the faster and "weird" melodies, but once you are used to the album's sound, try to follow the guitars; Silenoz and Astennu conjure some tremolo-driven sub-riffs which are definitely worth attention and praise.
The overture to "The Promised Future Aeons" is actually a small song in itself... here we are greeted by more than a minute and a half long synth symphony. It begins with some strings and then grows wider and louder with the addition of thunderous timpani, a vast unearthly choir and various effects. Astonishing. Then the proper song kicks in, and the great keyboard work refuses to stop, as most of the song is constantly accompained by a relentless piano arpeggio. Shagrath makes the atmosphere even more unsettling by adding some very deep growls, and Astennu unleashes yet another lead which fist the melody like a velvet glove. It's amazing how this man can work out his scales so that they fit the weird chord progressions typical of this album. Unbelievable.
"The Blazing Monoliths of Defiance" is the most groovy offering of the lot, with Mustis's many voice just in the background for a change; the guitars and drums nail monster dynamics riff after riff, with abrupt and unpredictable tempo changes. I haven't mentioned Nagash's bass work so far; the point is, the bass is barely audible on "normal sounding" records already, and SBD has an even more blurry sound. However, you will easily notice that the album has a very deep low end, and after some listens you may pick up notes in the background thar you can't figure out too well. That's Nagash and his thick strings. His work may not be very apparent but trust me: without an extremely solid foundation, SBD would sound like a senseless mess.
"The Insight and the Catharsis" stays on generally slower patterns and focuses more on sobre yet enchanting atmospheres; Vortex's divine vocals and Astennu's aggressive yet melodic leads soar high above the majestic synth-sculptured soundscapes with sublime results. The songs closes with a slow and extremely melodic passage, graced by one of Vortex's most intense contributions ever, sealing the emotional floodwave with a highly remarkable grand finale.
"Grotesquery Conceiled (Within Measureless Magic)" is more dynamic from the very beginning, with an insanely fast simil-harpsichord arpeggio soon joined by the other instruments; a short blasting section introduces on the albums most original and dark riffs, which stretches further on when the rhythm slows down and gives Astennu another chance to display his talent. The middle section is slow, neacing, oppressive; another unsettling riff is first used by Shagrath as a hallucination theatre for himself to stage his schizophrenic vocal fantasies, then by Astennu which provides yet another memorable hook. Then the speed goes up again, and how, and the song closes just as it began, a foray into darkest depths and back.
SBD is rounded off with one final deviant epic, namely "Arcane Lifeforce Mysteria". This one begins with a very slow and relatively calm clean guitar riff, as usual joined by the other instruments and Shagrath's deep recitation, but then a wicked tremolo riff leads the way into a much faster ride through odd tempoed passages, ethereal synths and aggressive screams. Vortex makes one last cameo when the intro riff comes back, then it's pure aggression until the end, which seems to come much too soon.
There's nothing more to add... the music speaks for itself, so just go and plunge into the Spiritual Black Dimensions yourself.
As a final note, whether you love it or hate it, it's ridiculously obvious that bashing this album because "keyboards = gay" or because it has "Dimmu" and "Borgir" etched on the front cover doesn't find the least hint of confirmation in the amazing music showcased on this record. Enough said.
I am off to the Spiritual Black Dimenions once more.