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On the unfashionable conformity question. - 75%

hells_unicorn, December 2nd, 2012

There's a highly subjective air to the concept of fashion, so much so that one would be possessed to simply eschew the entire concept of trends given that literally anything can be described as such. There is an implicit meaning amongst underground black metal adherents that mainstream fashion deals both with how many people will like something and what kind of people will be included in said crowd. Where this definition may run into some trouble is the lack of accuracy or shallowness of perspective that tends to go with it, where something will be dismissed more so for not conforming to the orthodoxy of production practices yet this will be conflated with achieving a supposed "pop" sound of sorts. If this standard were applied consistently, most of the best works of Limbonic Art, Enslaved and Emperor would have to be dismissed for their consonant application of keyboard ambience and symphonic timbre, something that few would be willing to do.

This is all relevant due to the fact that, for better or worse, Dimmu's often panned opus "Death Cult Armageddon" owes most of its existence to the early works of Norway's more keyboard-happy adherents of the 2nd wave. It's an album loaded with a lot of extras that were not as common during the mid 1990s, such as a massive Wagnerian orchestra, a heap of melodic guitar leads that bear some resemblance to the Gothenburg sound, consonant to the point of being angelic operatic vocals at a few key points, and a punchy guitar and drum production that is equally as bombastic and polished as many modern thrash metal bands taking their cues from "Shovel Headed Kill Machine". Even the heavily produced solo works of Ihsahn would have to bow to the level of pomp and bluster that dominates every inch of this album. But by and large, if the underlying mechanics of this album are properly considered, its easy to see where "In The Nightside Eclipse" and "Vikingligr Veldi" fed into the broader songwriting formula at play here.

If there is a justifiable reason or group thereof to dislike this album, they tend to be shrouded by a lot of vague and ideological rhetoric. This isn't a shallow album by any standard, as it offers a fair display of variation and development that is generally absent from what tends to pass for actual mainstream music. The riff work is generally intricate, though playing off a limited template of palm muted thrash riffs and blurred speed picking after the Emperor model. There is a heap of other elements at play that tend to distract from the guitars to make them a bit peripheral, even when Galder takes an occasion to tear up the fret board with an impressive solo, which may be the fundamental reason for this album's negative reputation, as well as that of subsequent albums. From the beginning of Dimmu's tenure with Nuclear Blast, their sound has been quite more polished and modern in contrast to their first 2 studio LPs, but this is the first album where the really overt symphonic character of the band thrusts it into a similar movie soundtrack territory attributed to the likes of Epica or Rhapsody Of FIre.

To be clear, "DCA" is not what would be qualified as an outright superior album in relation to the likes of "For All Tid", or that of "Spiritual Black Dimensions" which is more comparable from a production standpoint (let alone all the classics of the early 2nd wave that came in around the same time as the former), but it is an enjoyable listen and an overall decent effort. Comparisons to the likes of Cradle Of Filth's "Damnation And A Day" are not without some merit given the similar largess of orchestral sounds, but Dimmu Borgir takes on less of an overt melodeath influence here (though still present obviously) and goes for something more along the lines of a modernized revamp of Satyricon's "Nemesis Divina", though without the mystique of the older production sound and a less compelling overall format. It's the type of album that is consistently solid from start to finish (save a few quirky hollywood-like interludes) yet doesn't have any particular moments that completely captivate or spellbind.