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When Dimmu Borgir used to be great... - 89%

Hellish_Torture, September 6th, 2014

Dimmu Borgir is probably one of the most overrated pseudo-black metal acts of the current “extreme” metal scene. They’re revered as one of the greatest bands ever to mix black metal (black metal? Sure?) and symphonic/orchestral elements. Well, to be honest... listening to albums like “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia”, “Death Cult Armageddon” and “In Sorte Diaboli”, I have just found a little, basic formula: little chunks of decent (more or less) black metal, awkwardly mixed with many pompous and overused orchestral parts and many inconsistent pseudo-half-thrash parts. They’re constantly put in competition with their British “cousins” Cradle of Filth, considered by most “true blacksters” as goth faggy clowns because of their “gothic” sound and their laughable pseudo-goth image. But, well, Dimmu Borgir may have a more “tr00 satanic black” image, but most of their music is still inconsistent and far from being what people call “tr00 black metal”, and however their “satanic image” is clearly fake and commercial, resulting to be even more ridiculous and poser than Cradle of Filth’s goth image.

But, well, stop complaining about how much Dimmu Borgir is overrated nowadays: let’s do a huge jump backwards in 1994, when black metal was at its most shining moment, especially in its homeland Norway. You all know that, at that time, there was a cult scene of great bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, Emperor, Burzum, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, Satyricon, Immortal, Carpathian Forest, Thorns... and between all these honorable names, there was also a newborn band called Dimmu Borgir, which used to play a very personal form of symphonic black metal, developing a quite different sound from the rest of the scene. Yeah, Dimmu Borgir used to be a great band, back in the day. Their first three full-lengths are actually brilliant examples of how to mix real melodic black metal with beautiful symphonic elements. Emperor were the inventors of symphonic black metal (with their monumental, occult masterpiece called “In the Nightside Eclipse”, still the peak of the genre) and Dimmu Borgir managed to bring this new genre to a different, interesting form, with more external influences and a more “atmospheric” approach. So, their first full-length “For All Tid” was born.

Take note: this album is largely different from early Emperor albums, which keep an evil and totally dark atmosphere in the vein of “classic” black metal bands like Mayhem. “For All Tid” is absolutely more melodic and suffused. Dimmu Borgir’s black metal is a “melancholic” kind of black metal, a sort of mixture between Burzum’s slowest and most “depressive” episodes and the most “melodic” ideas of Emperor’s first full-length (very different from the kind of stuff that Shagrath used to play in his old primitive black metal band Fimbulwinter, more in the vein of Darkthrone and Bathory). The “symphonic” component includes huge influences from medieval, romantic and norwegian folklore. This is a very experimental sound, but it works fucking well and doesn’t sound “dumb” or “pompous” at all. I don’t see why many people define this album “immature”, “ridiculous” and “overdone”. This is not “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia”, where all the ideas are thrown randomly without a minimum logic sense. The symphonic parts of this album aren’t grotesque fillers put there just to mask the lack of good metal stuff, but they actually build up real, intense, epic and melancholic atmospheres, organically mixed with valid metal riffs. No matter if the album sounds “immature”... I find these songs to be very coherent, cohesive and well-composed, the total opposite of what Dimmu Borgir would have become in the future.

So, the riffs here are very melodic and have a somewhat decadent feel. The best ones are on “Glittertind”, “Under korpens vinger” (supported by some excellent guitar harmonies), and “Den gjemte sannhets hersker” (truth be told, that one is a pretty old school riff). Given the desolate atmosphere of the album, rhythms tend to be mostly slow or mid-paced, but we have some very good blast-beats, more often in the classic black metal vein, but sometimes also in a “thrashier” way, like on “Raabjørn speiler draugheimens skodde” (very reminiscent of primitive stuff like Motorhead and Venom), or some parts of “Den gjemte sannhets hersker”. Another particularity of this album is that Shagrath isn’t the lead vocalist: he does some backing vocals here and there, but the lead vocals are performed by Silenoz. Now, I can’t discern who sings what, but I think that these vocals are far better than usual, for the band’s standards. You can hear some really tortured screams (like on “Glittertind”) and some very raw, primitive and “necro” raspy growls, and also the spoken parts are very suggestive. On “Over bleknede blåner til dommedag”, a clean and profound voice “declaims” some beautiful medieval chants, giving an awesome epic feel and sounding much better than Vortex’s choirs.

Talking deeper about “symphonic elements”, I could spend several hours talking about what you can find here. “Det nye riket” is a solemn orchestral intro (very medieval of course), with some piano parts and spoken vocals in norwegian. The “synth parts”, in general, create very majestic atmospheres on this album, along with some very well placed epic arpeggios: on the title track, you feel like you’re walking in a desolate valley, wearing a shining armature and branding proudly your sword; this feeling is amplified also by the prominence of the bass in the mix. But the biggest surprise is on “Stien”: over some evil and fast black metal riffs, you will hear... the soft and innocent touch of a flute. And, trust me, it works. This is without doubts one of the best tracks of the album.

The production is pretty weak. Guitars are a bit too low in the mix, while there is much space given to drums and synths. But this is not a damage to the album: the atmosphere takes benefits from this production, guitars are still pretty audible (but a better engineering work would’ve been appreciated) and there are no sloppy, horrible regulations like for the awful production of “Spiritual Black Dimensions” (a mediocre effort in every way). All in all, it doesn’t differ too much from most black metal albums, where the sound is pretty raw and not well engineered (and let’s avoid to talk about demos, please). I don’t see why to condemn this album for a reason like this.

“For All Tid” is a beautiful, romantic album for all those who love medieval atmospheres and intense melodies. It’s far from being cash-metal shit and, yes, it shows Dimmu Borgir to be a competent band. After this one, they made other two great albums, “Stormblåst” and “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant”, then it all went downhill and the band became a parody of every concept represented by black metal, obtaining the consensus of a bunch of pseudo-black metal kids who like to feel “satanic” while they don’t even know the real meaning of this word. Yeah, nowadays Dimmu Borgir have become sellout clowns, but don’t forget their early stuff. Even if I prefer the occult and majestic atmospheres of an album like “In the Nightside Eclipse” or the intense rawness of an album like “The Principle of Evil Made Flesh”, “For All Tid” is actually a great album, and very close to be a masterpiece of symphonic black metal in general. Undoubtedly, it’s one of the most representative albums of the genre.