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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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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.