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“Abrahadabra” sees Dimmu Borgir, never the most gifted band to begin with, in the latter stages of creative decay. After acrimoniously splitting with keyboardist Øyvind Sven Mustaparta (Mustis) and bass guitarist/clean vocalist Simen Hestnaes (ICS Vortex) the band reformulated itself as a trio. Where its post-“Spiritual Black Dimensions” output has been uneven at best this new record has the core trio charting new lows. It is the most turgid and belabored of all its Nuclear Blast Records releases available to date. In what was a long way coming Dimmu Borgir repositioned itself as a heavily orchestrated symphonic metal band, even though they kept up the black metal charade for the sake of its established brand name. “Abrahadabra” is the high-budget, populist equivalent of its unforgivingly slapdash 1994 debut “For All Tid”. Almost two decades after forming Dimmu Borgir is at the same spot as they were when they formed.

dimmu_16The addition of choral parts, along with an even stronger reliance on the orchestra, slightly longer song lengths, and minimal keyboard enhancements give the illusion that these songs are complex. Upon closer inspection these are still the same dull songs Dimmu Borgir has always written. It are the same directionless, trudging midtempo tracks that they have been peddling since “For All Tid”. As with its often forgotten past all these cuts are full of chugging, power chords and various, admittedly wellplaced, vocal – or orchestral breaks, but nothing beyond that. While the trio’s standing, visibility and production values have increased the songwriting has stagnated, if not outright regressed in its most crucial parts. Dimmu Borgir has sunken to new creative lows with “Abrahadabra”. For all the bells and whistles it certainly is one vapid, turgid album. The record is loaded to the brim with guest singers, and whenever one of these guests appear they only expose further how terrible songwriters the main trio are. Agnete Kjølsrud and Kristoffer Rygg are sorely wasted on what “Abrahadabra” amounts to. A good 16 years after “For All Tid” and despite the increase in overall skill, resources, and visibility the band is still at the same spot creatively as they were when it started…

Nothing about the record sounds remotely threatening, or morbid in either its songwriting choices or the atmosphere the band aims to convey. It mostly sounds very expensive, and a bit unsure of itself. This uncertainty mostly comes from the band throwing together disparate elements from its recent past (2001 and onward) in a desperate bid to sound coherent. Thankfully there are no more experiments with industrial and electronic music, so at least they learned something. The first record without long-time keyboardist Øyvind Sven Mustaparta (Mustis) and bass guitarist/clean vocalist Simen Hestnaes (ICS Vortex) is a simplified version of “Death Cult Armageddon”, itself a watered down version of “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant”, which in itself was a vanilla edition of various popular metal styles, with a speed boost as heard last on the incoherent and rightly maligned “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia”. At least it subtly breaks from tradition by being only the second album (and the first on Nuclear Blast Records) so far to not have a gimmicky three-word title.

A good portion of the lyrics are meaningful this time around as that they deal with the acrimonious, much publicized split of its two former members, and the rebuilding of the brand during the aftermath. Almost half of the songs are dedicated to the subject (‘Chess With the Abyss’, ‘Dimu Borgir’, ‘Ritualist’, ‘Renewal’ and to a lesser degree ‘The Demiurge Molecule’). The lyrics to ‘Born Treacherous’ seem to at least mildly suggest that the trio is content to be lost in its own little fantasy world, detached from reality. ‘Dimmu Borgir’, the band’s ideological vessel in the face of recent tribulations, even sounds strangely uplifting and life-affirming – which is about the worst thing that could happen to any self-respecting metal band (power metal excepted), let alone one which goes out its way to sell itself as black metal, of all things. No doubt the production work is excellent, but it is completely and utterly wasted on a band of this ilk. Imagine what Bal-Sagoth could pull off with this type of leverage and resources at its disposal.

dimmu_borgir_image_band_hands_look_12311_1920x1080‘The Demiurge Molecule’ is a much slower cut, thus playing up more to the band’s limited skill set, and one of the few highlights of the album. The lower tempo recalls the band’s earlier pre-Nuclear Blast material, and it is probably the only cut worth remembering. That the band is at the exact same place as songwriters as they were when they formed in 1993 is a telling fact. ‘A Jewel Traced Through Coal’ is a fast song that recalls the stronger written cuts of the “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia” era. At its most potent and inspired this songs here aren’t able to hold a candle to Emperor’s or Limbonic Art’s prime era material. The keyboards are thankfully kept to a bare minimum, merely functioning as an atmospheric enhancement in the background in most of these songs. If there is one upside to the schism within the band’s ranks this must be it. Shagrath is a better keyboardist than he ever was a singer, guitarist or drummer. The band has become so reliant on the backing of the orchestra that the moment they lose its services the carefully constructed façade (and much of its repertoire) comes crumbling down. Less is more, but in Dimmu Borgir’s case they need more to hide how less is actually going on in these songs. For a band that was once considered an innovator in its niche they have little to show for it after all these years.

The guitar leads/solos, appearing only in two instances, aren’t played by any of the core trio as one would reasonably expect given the acrimonious split that led to the conception of the album, but by producer Andy Sneap. We are indeed a far way from the bygone times when Australian transplant Jamie Stinson (Astennu) pushed the band to the very limits of its abilities, and into more muscular territory in his lamentably short tenure. The bass guitar is audible, but it hardly does anything worthwhile. A lot can be said about Simen Hestnaes, but at least he would craft funky bass licks if the material was up to the required standard. “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia”, an album mired by its horrid experimentation with industrial, at least was redeemed by its throbbing bass lines and relentless drumming. Speaking of which, Polish musician Dariusz Brzozowski (Daray), most famous for his run with stalwarts Vader, is another in a long line of underutilized drummers, but he is given nothing worthwhile to work with. Along with the bass guitar he is demoted to merely interchangeable studio musician status.

While the band’s output over the years has been pitiful at best, and downright terrible at worst – this supposed comeback album has failure, exhaustion and desperation written all over it. The very same critical flaws that (for some hitherto unexplained reason) make the band’s pre-“Enthrone Darkness Triumphant” material loved appear here only magnified to the point of annoyance and excess. From the endless chugging and needless repetition, the atmospheric breaks to the poorly stitched together songs with little to no attention paid to coherence or flow. Nigh on two decades after its lamentable debut “For All Tid” there has been no evolution to speak of, or worth noting with Dimmu Borgir. Despite the expensive high-end production values, the numerous guest vocalists and ornate stage outfits the undynamic trio of Shagrath, Silenoz and Galder haven’t evolved as musicians in the slightest.

The artwork by Jeremy Luetke is stylistically nearly identical to that of “Death Cult Armageddon”, but it is as inconsequential as everything with this unit. The orchestra, as was the case with “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia” and “Death Cult Armageddon” before it, does all the heavy lifting for the band in terms of arrangements and moods – while the trio is content to just chug along. Regardless of its increase in production budget, resources and visibility on the market the band’s lack of growth as songwriters here spells certain demise. “Abrahadabra”, regardless of its big-budget production and extensive marketing campaign, has Dimmu Borgir at its lowest.

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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.