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From the darkness of obscurity. - 30%

Diamhea, February 25th, 2014

"Atmosphere" is certainly an abstruse term. It is both broad and vague, with the freedom to be interpreted and deployed across a wide swath of topics and arguments. It holds a particularly special meaning in the case of Dimmu Borgir's first two records: For all tid and Stormblåst. Both are amateurish at best, but have a vocal contingent of individuals who often misconstrue obscure convolution for dour atmosphere rich in aural allure. In short, it is used as an excuse for the mushy, bumbling performances and hazy sound.

Stormblåst gets more of a pass due to the band finally utilizing Aarstad to his full potential, slathering the proceedings in layer upon layer of romantic piano textures. Dimmu Borgir also improved a lot as musicians in the two years between said sophomore release and the enigmatic For all tid. There is no excuse for the sloppy performances here, which should in no way be given a pass under the inveigling shroud of early black metal informality. In fact, a release date of 1994 precludes the association of For all tid with anything other than the oft-abhorred second wave. Despite revisionist claims by Shagrath, his merry group of misanthropes were indeed late to the party.

If For all tid can be called anything, it is certainly eclectic. The band attempts a multitude of styles here, more often than not finding themselves churning out optimistic synth melodies alongside a nebulous mass of aural gunk that was at one point considered a guitar tone. Aarstad has a sizable presence here, but his understated melodies don't necessarily come off as dank or particularly opaque. They sound too upbeat, and it mixes with the dissonant riffing about as well as oil and water. "Stien" is a great example of this, featuring a lethargic but passable riff set and velocity. Despite being a rush job two-minute number, the band feels the need to shoehorn in a cornball flute melody that sounds straight out of Runescape's archaic MIDI soundtrack and neuters the sinister atmosphere in short order.

I suppose that Silenoz's seething swells of distortion manage to squeeze out of For all tid while taking the least amount of damage, but the performance is still obfuscated and diffident in it's delivery. A simple glance at the liner notes proves how thinly the band had to stretch themselves in order to pull the entire performance off. Three members including Tjodalv contributed guitars, and Shagrath is responsible for most of the percussion. Nearly every track is a new exercise in eccentricity and incomprehensible songwriting. Aldrahn's operatic warbling on "Over bleknede blåner til dommedag" is deep and overacted, akin to early Limbonic Art material. There are also a number of spoken-word passages that seem tacked on and wholly unwelcome next to Aarstad's esoteric synths and the surging drums. In fact, Shagrath is the biggest offender of all, barely holding the percussive foundation together. His attempts at blasting are laughable, and there are a number of off-time ride cymbal hits that are both glaring and obvious.

Dimmu Borgir pulls it together on select occasions, notably during the intro, "Glittertind", and the title track. The latter two rumble by at a decent pace and "Glittertind" is mercifully an instrumental piece, save for a few protracted croaks that occasionally feel the need to surface. The opener "Det nye riket" serves as a precursor to Aarstad's grand performance on Stormblåst, with classical piano lines and anachronistic string sections delivering the bulk of the appeal. The clean tones that pockmark the title track are delivered with conviction, and the lead melody during the first minute or so evokes a great somber atmosphere. In fact, this is easily the best song here behind "Raabjørn speiler draugheimens skodde", featuring a slow-enough tempo to not test the lackluster musicianship of the band members. The best track is the aforementioned "Raabjørn speiler draugheimens skodde", which while inferior to it's later incarnation, manages to sound both arcane and heavy enough when it wants to be.

While there would normally be little reason to critique the production values, I can't necessarily give Dimmu Borgir a free pass in this regard, since the outmoded sonic aesthetics of For all tid were intentionally muddied in an attempt to associate it with the earlier Norwegian scene. Silenoz's roars are overwhelming and truly take over when they appear, swallowing up the rest of the band in the process. Tristan's bass is chunky and upfront, oftentimes damaging the lasting power off the riffs as it plugs away in the foreground. The presence of the guitars appears to ebb and flow from track to track, with nothing even approaching consistency in aural delivery. The cleaner tones are drenched in reverb as a stylistic decision, and this can perhaps be considered the one experiment that truly works to the band's favor.

Dimmu Borgir was simply not a cohesive-enough band at the point of For all tid's release, barely managing to pull it together and in the end delivering a laughable excuse at antediluvian symphonic black metal. While I can hardly call Stormblåst a success either, it at the very least showcases a crunchy riff set alongside Aarstad's twinkling piano lines. The same can't necessarily be said regarding For all tid, which will for all time serve as a point of contention between both fans and dissenters of the band.