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Plot: paranoid delusional drives aimlessly around the Nevada desert.

If it weren’t for eloquent film vlogger Georg Rockall-Schmidt we probably would never have been exposed to the deranged world of independent Las Vegas filmmaker Neil Breen. Breen was an architect, and one-time real estate agent, who like entrepreneurs-turned-filmmakers Hal Warren and H.B. Halicki before him took to writing, producing, and directing his own films as a bizarre part-time hobby. Since debuting with the opaque Double Down in 2005 Breen has directed an additional four features. Double Down has all known Breen-isms that would make their return, in one form or another, in I Am Here… Now (2009), Fateful Findings (2013), Pass Thru (2016), and Twisted Pair (2018). Once you see a Neil Breen film you can never unsee it again. It has the power to ensnare, or to annoy.

While other directors dabble in easily exploitable genres (action/science fiction or fantasy/horror) Neil Breen is, like Gabriella Cilmi, on a mission. Almost every one of his productions has been thinly-veiled Christian propaganda, filled with heavy-handed, overt symbolism; a gratuitous helping of stock footage and PG-13 nudity (something which has faded out in his post-2013 offerings). Double Down was the first of Breen’s nigh-on inpenetrable metaphorical religious-patriotic-jingoistic supernatural thrillers. Next to Neil Breen, a hack as Tommy Wiseau comes across as soberingly, shockingly lucid in comparison. Truly, Neil Breen is the Christian wingnut reincarnation of Coleman Francis and Double Down is his The Beast Of Yucca Flats (1961) for the millennial and Instagram generation. It will make you pine for the competence of Coleman Francis.

Double Down takes the concept of outsider art to whole new, previously unseen levels. This is fringe cinema taken to the utmost extreme. Neil Breen’s debut is so outré that it has to be seen to be even believed that such a thing exist. It makes for compelling viewing to see every written (and unwritten) rule of cinema broken and trampled upon. The Asylum, TomCat Films, and Kings Of Horror have better directors on average. Helming a feature film is a daunting task under any circumstance and it’s probably down to simple economics that Breen has taken to manning every department possible. As the old saying goes, just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should.

There’s something endearing about the idealism of the Neil Breen canon. Every one of his productions handles some important socio-political-economical problem and casts himself as a messianic Christ-like figure that prepares mankind for salvation. The Judeo-Christian rhetoric is a constant in every Breen production, as are trashy braless, blonde and brunette women, ostensibly many years Breen’s junior, who will shed clothes in one or more scenes, but never expose themselves. Double Down is the only truly original Neil Breen feature as I Am Here… Now (2009), Pass Thru (2016), and Twisted Pair (2018) all are loose remakes of existing older properties. Fateful Findings (2013) is a loose reimagining of Double Down even though it’s not acknowledged as such. If you’ve seen Double Down you’ve seen Fateful Findings (2013).

In the Nevada deserts a man sporting a black wifebeater, denims, and snakeskin boots clacks away at various laptops and cellphones. He is Aaron Brand (Neil Breen), a much sought-after covert operative and mercenary for the highest bidder, and he’s caught in an inter-dimensional time loop. He’s a decorated military veteran, a genius computer scientist, and a devoted husband to a loving wife (Laura Hale). One day his wife was assassinated by agents of the very government Brand had pledged his loyalty to. Brand transfers his dead wife’s consciousness into his laptops as an AI construct. In the trunk of his car he keeps her lifeless body in hopes of one day reviving her. Vowing to expose the widespread corruption of his government and bringing those responsible to justice, Brand has planned a relatively minor act of bio-terrorism in Las Vegas. That attack will function as a distraction to a much-larger coordinated act of terrorism that will bring the corrupt government to its knees. Under the threat of detonating explosives in seven strategically important cities and massive civilian casualties Brand will coerce the government into doing his bidding. While he’s preparing and putting his masterplan in motion Aaron is constantly haunted by memories of his dead wife, their shared childhood, all while he’s susceptible to periodic blackouts and sudden fits of clinical depression. Every time he blacks out he’s forced to relive a random timeline from his days as a high-ranking government agent and face his various victims.

One day he finds God (George Kerr) in a cave and is given a rock which he believes to have magical properties. A friend invites him to dinner and Brands lays hands on his friend’s daughter Megan (Alexis Fitting) to cure her of brain cancer. She dies anyway. In another hallucination, or alternate timeline, he meets the ghosts of his parents (Maynard and Rose Mahler). Endowed with near god-like powers Aaron allows the hotels on the Strip to be evacuated before he razes the den of sin and secularism to the ground. He does this in audience of the Director of the FBI (Alan Rogers), the Director of Homeland Security (Huel Washington), the Director of the CIA (Bill Frid) and a senator (Marry Taylor). It dawns upon him that all his various lived (and re-lived) timelines share a common element: Nevada. Having exorcised his demons Aaron at long last finds peace within himself. As a result the time loop is closed and Brand is returned to his own time. Now that he’s been imbued with godly powers Aaron resurrects his wife and destroys his laptops and equipment now that her construct is no longer needed. Happily reunited with the love of his life the two walk off hand in hand into the horizon. Corruption has been ended, the guilty have been punished, and Brand has been reunited with his lost Lenore. Everything is right with the world again…

Either that, or it’s about a paranoid delusional hallucinating from mercury poisoning and driving aimlessly around the Nevada desert. At this point it could be both.

Double Down spends around two-minutes on a stock footage credit montage in which exactly three credits appear: the title card, and two production lines. It then launches into a six-minute monologue that heralds a wave of near-constant stream of consciousness narration that lays out all the backstory and exposition. Not even Coleman Francis had the cojones to do that in The Beast Of Yucca Flats (1961). After the credits and opening monologue it takes well over an additional ten minutes before Breen can be seen interacting with another character. Better brace yourself to hear and see Breen constantly narrating himself. Three-quarters of Double Down consists almost exclusively Breen walking and driving around the Las Vegas strip and Nevada desert accompanied by near-constant monotone narration. In a more charitable mood the randomly shoehorned in scenes of with the blackouts and clinical depression could be called subtext, except that there’s no main text. Breen obviously cares about mental health and psychological well-being. He’s concerned about the way American society sees/treats the mentally ill. It’s also entirely within the realm of possibility that Neil Breen has had a relationship with one particular woman turn sour, and that he continues to long and pine for said woman. The way Breen agonizingly screams “where are you?!” is probably too melodramatic and maybe a tad too earnest in its sincerity.

It’s fascinating to see one man fumble his way through his own movie so gloriously. The Room (2003) had the good fortune of looking like a particularly deranged Friends (1994-2004) episode, Double Down for most of the time barely qualifies as a movie. That it features but two locations (the desert and the Strip) doesn’t help either. Instead of the Las Vegas of glamour and excess that the late Andy Sidaris captured so well (on similar non-existent budgets) the Las Vegas scenes with Breen are rather flat and sort of mundane in an everyday sense. Laura Hale was the first to be cast as a love interest and despite being a linchpin in the main plot her character is abstract, to say the least. Hale has a scant few lines before disappearing and hasn’t been seen again in the Breeniverse since. It’s a question where Neil keeps finding all these young actresses to appear in his productions. As with anything from Breen it ranges from mildly strange to utterly bizarre and Double Down lives up to its name that it indeed doubles down on the insanity that it promises. Fateful Findings (2013) had better production values, but this is madness unchecked. Perhaps Neil Breen imagines himself as some kind of visionary director who makes important movies. The world may never know.

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.