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Somewhat Entertaining, but Lacks Substance. - 70%

woeoftyrants, April 11th, 2007

Since their evolution into a full-blown symphonic metal band with their '97 release Enthrone Darkness Triumphant, Dimmu Borgir have certainly pushed the limits of exactly how far a metal band can go with symphonic flirtations. Their 2001 album was the supposed apex; full string sections were pretty apparent through the album's duration, and every other part had some sort of synthesizer layered over it. But that was nothing compared to what the band do on DCA; not only do they use a full orchestra with brass and strings, but actually make them a part of the songs rather than background atmosphere. It certainly does achieve a huge, epic sound to it, but for most, DCA is simply too cheesy and too overblown to make any real impact.

I dare say that as a unit, they took a huge step down in pretty much every department. They took a risk by basing the metal around the symphonics, not vice versa. (As it should be with any reasonable symphonic metal band.) As a result, the music behind the orchestra is pretty uninteresting. Silenoz and Galder play nothing but chugging power chord riffs here, probably in an attempt to add "power" to the orchestra. Sadly, they fail at that. Where are the ripping melodies and moderate degree of technicality that made the guitars in this band so great? They have all but been lost to monotonous chug rifffs that drone on for minutes at a time, without variation. This is painfully prevalent in "Lepers Among Us" and "Unorthodox Manifesto," whose utter lack of creativity or songwriting effort is almost unbearable. There are only a handful of good riffs and leads, but they only appear when the song is on the verge of failure, like "Vredesbyrd" or the ending of "Unorthodox Manifesto." "Cataclysm Children" features some fairly intense thrashy rhythms, and "Allehelgens Dod I Helveds Rike" features some decent tremolo riffs to bring back a bit of the old flair. Nick's drumming, while still incredibly self-indulgent and show-offish, isn't as prevalent because it's washed out by the orchestra and choir. Unfortunately, the drums nearly destroy themselves with a flat, sterile, and clearly triggered sound. There are no interesting or ear-catching drum patterns, and the only decent moments are faster numbers such as "For the World to Dictate Our Death" or the opener "Allegiance."

Aside from the band's musical abilities, the songwriting is lackluster and uninspired. It seems they went for a more accessible sound, as most of the songs are in the 4-5 minute range; but this is where it fails. All of the songs are very formulaic and repetitive, and things are hammered into the mid-tempo range for the vast majority of the disc. The plodding, empty riffs don't help matters, and even the orchestra can't save some moments. The way everything is put together will test your patience, and for some of you, it's an easily failed test.

The biggest thing that plays a role in Dimmu's sound here is the 40-piece orchestra and choir. While it certainly is epic, and helps to convey a certain apocalyptic atmosphere, it is almost laughable in its sappy melodrama. The only moments where it really helps the sense of drama are Vortex's clean vocal passages, especially on "Allehelgens Dod I Helveds Rike," which are backed by Mustis' twinkling keyboards and powerful melodies in the guitars. The catch is this; Vortex only has 2 parts in the whole album. You see what I mean? For the majority of the disc, the orchestra plays boring arrangements that add nothing to the music, and everything is composed pretty shoddily. The cheese factor of "Progenies of the Great Apocalypse" will leave some in obvious doubt of the band's musical future, but there are some decent passages that come through on "Eradication Instincts Defined" and "Blood Hunger Doctrine." Mustis as a keyboardist can't really be heard; there are some typical piano passages, but nothing outstanding or remotely interesting. Some programmed beats and samples are used here and there as well, but are really nothing but filler.

DCA also sees the decline of Shagrath's vocals; no longer does he use a fierce scream as before, but now relies on a buzzing "grim" croak that sounds worn-out, uninspired, and nothing remotely metal. The verses of "Blood Hunger Doctrine" are particularly terrible, but there are some decent parts on "Eradication Instincts Defined." Another thing that takes so much away from his performance is the fact that endless studio effects are used to try and spice up an unsuccessful attempt of sounding fierce. There are very few moments where Shagrath himself makes a good scream without the aid of effects, and his overall performance suffers. I will say, though, the vocal patterns aren't bad; they're not totally stuck on the music, and some moments have a call-to-arms effect to them.

If there's one other thing that saves this album, it's the production. Holy fuck, it's great. An album of this sort calls for a sharp, articulate production, and everything comes through in a crystalline manner without mar. The guitars use a suitably thick and deeper tone, and each instrument in the orchestra is sharp and focused.

Boring song structures, questionable guitar riffs, and cheesy epicness aside, DCA is a pretty entertaining album. Ultimately though, it lacks substance. It may kick ass for one or two full listens, but then you'll start to see the scratches underneath the surface.