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The best thing to happen to Dimmu Borgir in years was the much-publicized split with long-time clean vocalist/bass guitarist ICS Vortex and keyboardist Mustis. Not that the transition was smooth in the least. To get to “Eonian” the world had to endure the colossal failure that was 2010’s “Abrahadabra”. If Dimmu Borgir’s very public crisis of identity has yielded anything substantial it’s that they have at long last shed the veneer that they are the vanguards of extreme metal, black – or otherwise. No. “Eonian”, like its rightly maligned predecessor, is power metal in everything but name. Trudging, dirgey, marching power metal with an undercurrent of triumphant, glorious melodies and a thick layer of would-be evil theatrics. As unbelieveable as it might sound, “Eonian” is the best Dimmu Borgir album in many, many years, or at least since 1999. It might sound nothing like the Dimmu Borgir of yore, or even like anything they have done prior for that matter. In point of fact “Eonian” is shockingly good at whatever Dimmu Borgir is attempting here. It is by far the least actively hostile outing this band has unleashed upon the world. …And 12 different versions of “Eonian”? That’s pushing it, even for Nuclear Blast Records.

Plenty of blood has been spilled on these pages detailing how terrible Norway’s most famous export is most of the time. A good deal of that venom warranted because Dimmu Borgir is godawful more often than they’re not. Over the course of 25 years Dimmu Borgir went from your average no-budget black metal band to Victorian age romantics, wanna-be Cenobites, and post-apocalyptic warriors to tundra gypsy-barbarians/pirates and now… futuristic hooded warrior-monks? "Eonian" is about a lot of things: letting go of preconceptions, overcoming barriers to reach one's maximum potential and cleansing oneself from spiritual detritus in order to attain complete and perfect awakening. In other words, roughly the same Buddhist subjects that Caelestis handles so wonderfully. So, Dimmu Borgir is really trying this time around. Trying so hard to distance themselves from their old sound that they might as well be an entirely different band, but trying indeed. At their most potent and pointed Dimmu Borgir was stunningly mediocre. At their worst they were actively hostile to the listener. Most of the time they were just bloody annoying. Moreso than on “Abrahadabra” does “Eonian” revolve around contrasting atmospheres and instrumentation. Whoever still believes that Dimmu Borgir plays, or ever played, black metal is massively deluded. The Dimmu Borgir of today is nigh on impossible to tell apart from the likes of Nightwish, Therion and Luca Turilli's Rhapsody. Except for the would-be evil corpse paint and costumes, that is.

“Eonian” is destined to be polarizing and utterly divisive, even moreso than any of this band’s other records. In the twenty-plus years since “For All Tid” Dimmu Borgir finds themselves back at the exact same spot where they started, except now they have Nuclear Blast Records behind them and every tool and resource at their disposal to indulge their every creative whim. ‘The Unveiling’ opens with industrial and Eurodance keyboards effects that would make Amaranthe green with envy. ‘Interdimensional Summit’ is a heavily orchestrated and choral pop song that in a different world would be a Nightwish or Therion outtake. ‘Ætheric’ plays around with some guitar psychedelia and stoner rock riffs very much like second advance single ‘Council Of Wolves and Snakes’, but it also has the very rare blastbeat. ‘Council Of Wolves and Snakes’ is a Middle Eastern tinged pseudo-doom metal track complete with psychedelic guitar noodling, ethnic chants and tribal percussion by former Opeth drummer Martin Lopez. The second (and pretty much last) blastbeat of the record can be found on ‘Alpha Aeon Omega’ which starts with an extended cinematic opening, sort of everything that ‘The Promised Future Aeons’ aimed for in 1999 but lacked the resources for. “Eonian” concludes with a grand finale in the form of the 5-minute instrumental ‘Rite Of Passage’. A closer so life-affirming and bordering on film score that you’d swear it was ghostwritten by Hans Zimmer or Armi Päivinen from Suomi epic metallers Ravenia. Whoever you prefer…

For the lack of a better descriptor “Eonian” sounds almost New Age-y in its choice of melodies and overarching atmosphere. Granted it fits with the overly prententious abstract esoteric and faux-philosophical concept they are pushing, but Dimmu Borgir was never known for its lyrical prowess. “Eonian” is custodian to lyrical gems as, for example, ‘Interdimensional Summit’ dispenses with the obvious by stating that “to the trained eye / there are no coincidences” and ‘Ætheric’ insists that “to govern thyself / you must know your past” or the memorable choral chorus in ‘Council Of Wolves and Snakes’ that mantra-like posits that “we are gods in the making / we are gods for the taking”. It’s all so wonderfully rich coming from a band as blissfully unaware of itself as Dimmu Borgir. No. Whatever this is supposed to be it doesn’t hurt as much, or at all, as some of this band’s prior records. “Eonian” is a Dimmu Borgir record where the keyboards are inobtrusive, where the orchestrations and choirs are responsible for the brunt of the dynamics and where Daray, one of Poland’s best underground metal drummers is reduced to a very expensive metronome. Poland’s best drummer is reduced to a metronome. It is so unadventurous Tjodalv could have drummed on it. In the production notes can be gleaned that Fleshgod Apocalypse keyboardist Francesco Ferrini and long-time collaborator Gaute Storås arranged the orchestrations, with the latter also handling the Schola Cantrum Choir and Jens Bogren engineering the thing.

“Eonian” is probably the best sounding Dimmu Borgir record thus far. Unless you care about little things such as guitars and drums. Since this was mixed by Shagrath the vocals, choirs, orchestrations and keyboards take prominence. Naturally with the guitars being as buried as they are, it’s surprising that they sound as crispy and clear that they do. Galder actually tries on this album too. Does he ever try. There are actual guitar solos again this time around and Dimmu Borgir still chugs as if they have a bone to pick with populist groove metal bands like Machine Head and their ilk. Speaking of Shagrath. He was, is, and continues to be this band’s weakest link. At least now his other talents are put to good use as he contributes on keyboards and shares bass guitar duties with Galder and Silly-Nose. Shagrath always better at everything excluding vocals. The Zbigniew M. Bielak artwork is probably the most restrained this band has had in a long time and includes an hourglass, a clock, the lemniscate and assorted Satanic imagery – eventhough “Eonian” at no point resembles a traditional black metal album. Dimmu Borgir’s reinvention as a power metal band would be complete if they finally decided to drop their overcooked black metal imagery and ornate stage costumes, but that is probably a tad too ambitious for this bunch. “Eonian” is pretty tolerable when you’re prepared to meet it halfway. “Eonian” continues on the path the band embarked on with “Abrahadabra”. Whether their fans will follow is another matter.

Never before has Dimmu Borgir sounded so focused and on-point as they do on “Eonian”. It’s nothing short of a miracle that Norway’s most popular export was able to conjure up an undertaking so bombastic, so melodramatic, so completely different from anything and everything they have done prior. It’s interesting to see where Dimmu Borgir goes from here and to what degree they will further embrace their newfound appreciation for power metal. It’s hard to come to grips with how good “Eonian” is when it fires on all cylinders, and even Shagrath’s tired croaks aren’t as annoying as they usually are. This time around the choirs handle the more ambitious parts – and the record is so much better for it. It’s hard to believe that this is the same band that wrote ‘In Death’s Embrace’, ‘Moonchild Domain’ and ‘The Insight & the Catharsis’. Two of these men were responsible for “Stormblast” and “Death Cult Armageddon”, one a record legendary for its atmosphere and thievery, the other for its relentless drudgery. Dimmu Borgir is nigh on unrecognizable on “Eonian”, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The masks have come off from The Kings Of the Carnival Creation, but it’s not like they are suddenly venturing into uncharted territory. “Eonian” is the product of writings that were on the wall many years ago to anybody remotely perceptive – and it actually is suprisingly good.

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Everybody’s favorite circus metal act returns for another round of the most overblown, symphonic metal this side of latter-day Nightwish. Like that Finnish band they also rely on superficial trivialities to hide the fact that they play pop music. At least Nightwish had Tarja Turunen to front the band, whereas Dimmu Borgir are a bunch of wimpy, old Norwegian men who look like they frequent a gay biker club. Where “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia” was a blasting helping of semi-industrial, sometimes orchestral but always irritatingly catchy death/thrash metal – this new record is a whole new level of awful. Once again Demon Burger was able to secure a full-blown philharmonic orchestra to back up their music, and what do they do with it, you ask? Well, they do what they always do: blare the keyboards louder! Bring on the chugging! Let Shagrath do that spooky vocoder speech! How somebody can take this band serious is something I’ll never understand, likewise I fail to understand how they remain popular, or relevant.

dimmu-borgir1“Death Cult Armageddon” (no, really. I kid you not) is the latest in Demon Burger’s line of orchestral backed productions, and it is the most offensive and downright stupid one to date. It is the fourth of a five-album cycle wherein the band employed a three-word album title as an easily recognizable gimmick. The album is a loose concept album about an unspecified death cult bringing on the end of the world for some reason that isn’t made entirely clear. Why exactly the death cult wants to bring on the end of the world, or what objective such an extinction level event is supposed to serve is never explained. You wouldn’t be able to tell this from the lyrics, or even the song titles – but there you have it. That should tell you something about the amount of thought put into this whole concept and the album’s narrative. They even namecheck an early Mayhem song in the lyrics to ‘For the World to Dictate Our Death’. As per usual the lyrics, like the music, tend to go nowhere. The guitar playing is rather docile compared to the preceding album, and there’s plenty of chugging to be found. Barker is reined in compared to the last album, but the orchestra now seems to take over the keyboards’ initial role. The orchestra is the lead instrument, and the band is happy to just chug along like they always have done.

This record is the preceding album’s signature track ‘Architecture Of A Genocidal Nature’ stretched out to feature length, with even more tame riffing and more orchestral parts to hide the fact that there were no new ideas in this latrine of mediocrity. There were no interesting song structures or ambition left apparently, because this sounds phoned-in and half-hearted at best, guys. Oh sure, Abbath from Immortal lends his tired froggish croak to two songs on the album, and there’s a few of them sung entirely in Norwegian. Is that supposed to be a selling point? Thank Houde the band opted to write in Norwegian again, that at least spares us two tracks of incoherent and disjointed “evil” lyrics written with a thesaurus in each spiked hand. Dimmu Borgir is known for a lot of things, but good lyrics aren’t generally among them. This record doesn’t change any of that. The lyrics are still entirely overcooked, half-baked concepts of evil with a lot of expensive words that don’t make a lot of sense, within concept or on their own merits.

‘Progenies Of the Great Apocalypse’ was featured in the opening credits of MTV’s Battle For Ozzfest reality-show/contest in the dying years (2004) when that channel still was dedicated to music, and not lifestyle and stupid pregnant teens. Granted, ‘Progenies Of the Great Apocalypse’ has a strong, bombastic opening. In parts it channels the “Hellraiser II: Hellbound” theme from composer Christopher Young, which is a plus. But beyond that it has little of note to offer. The first seeds of “Abrahadabra” are planted with this track, and from a compositional point it summarizes everything the band has made a routine: colossal riffs, intermittent chugging, keyboard/orchestra breaks, the clean-vocals section – otherwise they just let the orchestra do the heavy lifting for them. The entire movement of the track is based upon the orchestra, and not the band. Which is strange, because the band would never be able to afford orchestral backing for any sort of extended touring campaigns, domestic or international. Therefor it is strange for Dimmu Borgir to rely so heavy on the orchestra in terms of song construction, instantly recognizable hooks and arrangements. Now this has become clearer than ever before.

On its face “Death Cult Armageddon” is very similar to “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia” in terms of overall tone and construction on a number of levels. Actually, it could be argued that the album is two sides of the same coin: “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia” being the fast one and “Death Cult Armageddon” is its slower, more atmospheric counterpart. What “Puritanical…” lacked was atmosphere is what this record has in spades. Sure, the atmosphere is overcooked, silly and more comical than menacing, obscure, oppressive souding or threatening, but at least there’s atmosphere. The somewhat dark atmosphere of “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant” has been long since abandoned, and there are no signs of it ever returning. How does the record sound? This sounds more like the Star Wars prequels than, say, Limbonic Art or Emperor. I realize this is a weird comparison for a music album, but other than being catchy and having the type of riffing that instantly makes one’s head nod, there’s nothing else here. Lots of slow chugging, lots of orchestra flourishes, keyboards everywhere else – most of the time the metal feels tacked on, and unnecessary – but since this is a metal band we are supposed to applaud this band for combining the elements they do. Why? Hollenthon did this far better with actual classical pieces in the public domain on their first two albums “Domus Mundi” and the absolutely stellar “With Vilest Of Worms to Dwell” – is Demon Burger better or more compositionally ambitious than that band? No, not in the slightest. They do have better PR and continual financial/tour support.

“Death Cult Armageddon” is a lot of things. It is the most overblown and ridiculous in terms of imagery and promo videos. No, really. Just watch the promo video for ‘Progenies Of the Great Apocalypse’ on YouTube, and try not to break down in random fits of laughter. Cradle Of Filth is cheesy with its official music videos, but this is stupid in new, previously unattainable ways. It was the last record to have English hulking bald man Nick Barker behind the drums. It was the first since “Stormblast” (the 1996 original) to have songs sung in the band’s native Norwegian. Mostly it is very underachieving and, well, it is not very good outside of how catchy everything is. For one it makes one long for the type riffing that could be found on “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant” because that actually had some quantifiable pulse and liveliness to it. Sure, it was lifted from better bands and better albums, but at least there was something about the riffing. Here it is stale and generic for no other reason but to not intrude on the orchestral – and synthesizer sections that are the crux for the great majority of the cuts with this album. It is a puzzling decision that indicates that Demon Burger never really cared too much about the riffs, chord progressions and the whole metal aspect of their product in the first place. Like the record before it, this had better functioned as an EP because about 5 track in I get the distinct feeling in my gut that wants to throw on some actual metal with riffs and chord progressions that don’t feel tacked on and artificial.

In their Nuclear Blast tenure Dimmu Borgir never was, and never has been, black metal by any stretch of the imagination. “Death Cult Armageddon” has the band at its lowest, its most banal. They never were the most imaginative band to begin with, and this has only exacerbated by their continuing downward spiral in terms of instrumentation and songwriting. Whereas the band was mildly tolerable in its brighter “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant” days, here they have actually managed to regress in ways stereotypical of the average garage-level demo band. While other bands grow more ambitious, in terms of musicianship and writing as its catalogue amasses, Norwegian outfit Dimmu Borgir has managed to do the exact opposite. Anybody who seriously deludes him/herself into thinking this band matters, or that they play black metal needs to venture out of the clutches of mainstream metal fandom and opinion. Popularity should never be equated to or confused with actual talent and/or musical merit. There are plenty of metal bands, above and below the mainstream, that are and remain popular for reasons I will never understand. This band never had a whole lot to offer. “Death Cult Armaggedon” spells the musical death of an already outrageously overrated and mediocre band. This review will probably piss off its fair amount of Demon Burger apologists and fanboys, but the sooner people start abandoning this band’s fanbase the better. There is far better music to be found in the metal scene, boys and girls. This is not the band to look up to.