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After the stillbirth that was “Death Cult Armageddon” there was no way to go but up for Norwegian symfo metal outfit Dimmu Borgir. Having “removed” Nick Barker from the line-up sometime prior to the recording the band took to it not enrolling anybody within the foreseeable future. “In Sorte Diaboli” is the fifth of a five-album cycle wherein the band employed a three-word album title as an easily recognizable gimmick. Written entirely by Silly-Nose (erm, Silenoz) it is another loosely conceptual album with a narrative not worth summarizing. As expected notorious drum whore Jan-Axel Blomberg (Mayhem) sat in with the band for this session, as he had done for the dreadful predecessor to this record, the entirely unnecessarily re-recording of the band’s atmospheric and tolerable but underwhelming 1996 platter “Stormblåst”.

Supposedly, this was the first of a three-part concept cycle of which, thankfully, the proposed latter two chapters haven’t materialized (as of this writing). The gimmick, Demon Burger always needs a gimmick, this time around being that all tracks start with the article “the”. Always late to a trend, Dimmu Borgir capitalized on doing something the equally wretched The Haunted did the year before with its 2006 album “The Dead Eye”. There are 9 (or 10, depending on which version you own) songs on this album. The lyrics are so non-committal and general that, without the band’s persistent insistence that is supposed to be a narrative-driven album, you’d be hardpressed to actually notice such a thing. Content not only to capitalize on one trend Demon Burger also apply a Latin album title here, which is something every black metal band has been doing since…. 1994 when Mayhem did it with “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”? This might be just me, but is Demon Burger trying desperately to reclaim whatever miniscule underground credibility it had years ago by vainly attempting to appeal to genre purists? It looks like it by the sight of things. Granted, it is the first decent artwork they had in many years.

Dimmu Band ShotAre there any differences with “Death Cult Armageddon”? Sure, a few minor ones. This batch of songs is a bit faster and more technical compared to the previous session. But this is Demon Burger we’re talking about. The band hasn’t suddenly leaped forward in terms of songwriting or arrangements. Far from it. The orchestra has been toned down somewhat, and the metal aspect once again leads the songs – but we are a long way from “Spiritual Black Dimensions” or even “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant”. The band’s biggest faltering is still its reliance on chug riffs and power-chords to carry the bulk of the songs present. Even the presence of Blomberg, who usually brings a certain amount of technicality and undeniable flair to his work, is mundane and trite sounding. A record like this makes you wonder why this band needs two guitarists if all they do is chug. The guitar work was the most interesting when Jamie Stinson was in the line-up, as it was varied, technical and contained plenty of sparkling leads/solos. None of that is to be found here, which begs the question what Galder exactly brings to this band, musically. Does he just imitate Silenoz’s style, and that’s the end of it? If so, what is gained? His presence hasn’t resulted in better, or more involving songs, far from it actually.

With the kind of artwork that graces this record, one would assume that Dimmu Borgir would finally take the chance, and actually prove they can write very dark, or abstractly theological lyrics about the Satanic philosophy. No such luck here, as the lyrics tiptoe around the darker themes – and much of it is the typical banter that plastered the preceding albums. It all sounds really profound in the moment, and the band hasn’t yet cast aside its thesaurus – yet when you stop to actually think about what they have written, you realize just how pointless and futile the whole endeavour really is. They finally capitalize on black metal’s fixation with Latin too, never mind that Mayhem did it as early as 1994, one year after this sorry chameleon formed. Even Dark Funeral and Gorgoroth capitalized on this trend much earlier, but that doesn’t stop Demon Burger from trying its hand at it.

“In Sorte Diaboli” sounds as vacuous and trite as it title suggests. High production values, big-budget promotional clips and the strong promotional push from the label can’t hide how redundant, futile and pointless of an exercise in banality this truly is. For a band that had been active for nigh on 15 years the accumulated experience and expertise isn’t reflected in the finished product. Is “In Sorte Diaboli” better than the two records preceding it? Yes, it is – but that isn’t saying much of anything. Especially when you consider that many bands in the underground were truly pushing the boundaries of the genre, with involving songwriting and increased levels of proficiency in regards to instrumentation. This record sees Dimmu Borgir returning to a semblance of coherency after two highly inconsistent albums.

That merely makes this record competent, even if it for most of its running time sounds like soundtrack to an early Tim Burton movie with chugging guitars and vocoder vocals. Even Jan-Axel Blomberg plays far below his skill level with the insipid, midtempo, lowest common denominator death/thrash he is given to work with with this batch of songs. Simen Hestnaes graces only a few of the songs with his golden pipes, but he is merely cashing a cheque as far as his bass playing is concerned. No interesting patterns are to be noted. The riffing of Silenoz and Galder is more involved and demanding than the repetitious chugging that adorned the atrociously awful “Death Cult Armageddon”. The record is more guitar-centric, but even then it is a forgettable, mediocre and bland offering that relies far more on sheen and perception than actual songwriting skill. Even if the guitar work is leagues better than the preceding record, it still doesn’t excuse the absence of leads/solos. The band’s old habit of blaring the keyboards louder when they don’t know where a song should go is (sadly) continued.

Shagrath’s voice has further deteriorated; this becomes especially clear during the spoken and vocoder parts. His screech was never particularly impressive, or good, and it doesn’t sound any better here. As always his voice is bathed in numerous studio effects and filters. That the band never exploited Hestnaes more vocally remains puzzling to this day. His extended vocal parts in ‘The Sacrilegious Scorn’ and ‘The Invaluable Darkness’ are the only worthwhile moments in those pitiful tracks. Despite appearances the record still has nothing to do with black metal in the slightest, and even the presence of notorious drum mercenary and Mayhem figurehead Jan-Axel Blomberg doesn’t change that. This is competent orchestral death/thrash metal with rasped vocals about spooky antireligious subjects, but that’s the extent of it. No matter how hard the band pushes its black metal imagery, they never were or ever will be associated with it.

As expected Dimmu Borgir was able to work with the best in the business. “In Sorte Diaboli” was recorded at Studio Fredman with Fredrik Nordström, Patrik Jerksten and the band producing. The album was mastered by the much in-demand Russ Russell at his Loud As Fek facility in Kettering, England. Additionally, three big-budget promotional videos were shot (for the tracks ‘The Serpentine Offering’, ‘The Sacrilegious Scorn’, and ‘The Chosen Legacy’) by famed Swedish music video director Patric Ullaeus for Revolver Films but they can’t hide how utterly vacant this record is. The artwork is supposedly based on paintings by Hans Memling, whose ‘The Last Judgment’ triptych already was used whole, or in part by God Dethroned and Hate Eternal – but it is too little too late as Dimmu Borgir had been awful ever since the early 2000s. For some reason this band remains ever popular within the more populist demographics, and the corporate metal press for that reason. Anybody with some standards for his/her metal has written off this joke of a band many, many years ago. “In Sorte Diaboli” is a terrible, terrible record - even for the lowly standards of Dimmu Borgir - and you know it.

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After the band imploded due to the extracurricular activities from its members in the wake of the “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” release – it was surprising to see Mayhem resurfacing so unpredictably quick after what would have killed any lesser underground band, or any band whose history or its alleged legend and underground reputation far outweighed its actual musical output. For this session, we have de facto leader Jan-Axel Blomberg (Hellhammer) - the sole survivor of the previous incarnation of the band, and now the inheritor to the Mayhem brandname - returning behind the drums. Early vocalist Sven-Erik Kristiansen (Maniac) was redrafted along with original bass guitarist Jørn Stubberud (Necrobutcher) to give an aura of credibility to the proceedings. Replacing late guitarist and main songwriter Øystein Aarseth (Euronymous) was a then-unknown guitarist by the name of Rune Eriksen (Blasphemer), who had a comparable but far more technically proficient playing style than his predecessor. His substitute was the next best thing in absence of the original. So, what is “Wolf's Lair Abyss” exactly? It is a structural and musical retread of “Deathcrush” in more ways than is healthy.

3059807_640pxTo get the most obvious thing out of the way, this is a modern interpretation of what “Deathcrush” was. Like that EP it starts off with a semi-industrial, martial intro here being the track ‘The Vortex Void Of Inhumanity’. The intro in effect foreshadows the direction the band would explore on the polarizing 2000 concept record “Grand Declaration Of War”. Like “Deathcrush” the EP kicks off with the most violent and abrasive track of the record, namely the uniformly crushing ‘I Am Thy Labyrinth’ and just like its famous predecessor “Wolf's Lair Abyss” will then throw another fast song at the listener with ‘Fall Of Seraphs’, before giving a slight breather with ‘Ancient Skin’. Like “Deathcrush” concluded with ‘Total Fucking Armageddon’ this EP ends with another notable blaster in form of ‘Symbols Of Bloodswords’. Then there’s also the fact that Maniac screeches his way through this EP and the earlier, arguably more legendary one. The overlap in personel only serves to emphasize the similarity in terms of composition and overall architecture. The differences are only superficial, and besides Maniac’s incessant screeches and a few riffs here and there it’s hard to tell apart from contemporary death metal as far as intensity and technicality is concerned.

‘I Am Thy Labyrinth’ opens with same Aarseth-written riff that fellow Norwegians Emperor had used the year before in tribute to their fallen comrade on ‘Ye Entrancemperium’ on its second full-length “Anthems To the Welkin at Dusk”. One thing you’ll instantly notice is how violent the band sounds on this EP. Where “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” was just a basic ‘90s death metal record with slightly different riffing, ghoulish vocals and abstract occult lyrics, this new EP is black metal of the Norsecore variety: percussive, dense and speed-based more than anything. The drumming on the last record was thrashy, and tasteful in regards to fills and rolls – here it sounds as if Blomberg is auditioning for the likes of Angelcorpse, Krisiun, Hate Eternal or Nile. The whole thing becomes considerably less impressive when considering that Swedish former death metal band Marduk had written two records in the same style a few years prior. Just like “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” before it, and like the Swedes in Marduk, this EP is incredible in its pumping bass-heaviness and overall level of clarity.

Maniac sounds even more depraved and demonic than on his first recording with this unit. The early singers for Dark Funeral, Marduk and Gorgoroth all sounded ghoulish and unearthly, but here Kristianesen takes it to a whole new stomach churning level. Assisted by the delicate clean vocals and monk chants of Kristoffer Rygg, the vocal performance on this EP is second to none. This easily matches Attila Csihar’s psychotic and strange vocals on the preceding “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” album on every aspect in schizophrenic delivery and overall weirdness. The fact that Mayhem here sound exactly like everybody would imagine they did isn’t very surprising. The band needed to re-establish its brandname after the extended hiatus of the previous recording, now overshadowed by its reputation and criminal record, there was no way the band could just return with an “okay” album or EP. No, this needed to sound familiar and relentless.

This is meat-and-patatoes, completely unadventurous Norsecore by one of the Scandinavian scene’s most enigmatic practitioners when it comes right down to it. The fact that this EP does little of interest musically only serves to prove that Mayhem the legend was more interesting than Mayhem as a band. The added injury comes with the fact that despite black metal was never meant to be commercialized and commoditized here its most famous unit gladly cashes the cheque that its non-musical activity had brought them in terms of marketability. Mayhem never was the most gifted or the most impressive of the Norwegian black metal hordes, and this EP doesn’t really change that fact. First, it proved that even death, incarceration or lack of members can’t stop Mayhem and second, Mayhem was never above imitation. “Wolf’s Lair Abyss” sounds nothing like the Mayhem of the past - but like a carbon-copy of “Heaven Shall Burn…” Marduk and “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” Dark Funeral, both released the year before in 1996. These innovators have a trackrecord of imitating the day’s popular sound – and “Wolf’s Lair Abyss”, like the two infamous releases before it, is not any different.

The EP was recorded at Studio Studio and Far Out Studio in Norway with Kristoffer Rygg producing. No stranger to controversy and perennial provocateurs the EP lends its name from Wolf’s Lair, Adolf Hitler’s secret headquarters on the Eastern Front. The lay-out was handled by Stephen O’Malley.  “Wolfs Lair Abyss” is a fitting return for a band that has always been eclipsed by their non-musical activity, and scene importance. That “Wolf's Lair Abyss” is nearly identical in construction to “Deathcrush” is no surprise, as the band needed to re-establish its musical relevance after the disastrous events of the preceding record tore the band apart. This sounds both familiar and reinvigorated, and it isn’t very surprising that Mayhem chose to go into a different direction after this EP.

This EP sees the return of the ‘The True Mayhem’ in its logo, a gimmick which the band continue to milk to this very day, mostly through their merchandising. This is the most flat-out ridiculous and downright silly thing when you stop to think about it. There aren’t many outfits called Mayhem today with same amount of notoriety, scene clout and industry leverage. Every single original member of Mayhem was either deceased (Øystein Aarseth), or ousted (Kjetil Manheim) long before Blomberg took over the creative – and business aspect of the Mayhem brand. Blomberg, who didn’t appear in the picture until “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”, wasn’t even an original member himself! This pushes this whole “The True” business into the realms of the absurd, the comical and the preposterous. Kristiansen and Stubberud were the only original members. That makes 50% of “The True” line-up hired guns, or paid employees, whatever you want to call it. There was nothing ‘true’ about this Mayhem, and if it weren’t for the economic viability of the brand - this band would have remained buried, as it probably should have been.