Dimmu Borgir – For All Tid

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Dimmu Borgir, taking its name from the Mývatn volcanic formations in Iceland, was founded in Oslo, Norway by guitarist and occasional bassist Sven Atle Kopperud (Silenoz) plus multi-instrumentalist Stian Tomt Thoresen (Shagrath) and Ian Kenneth Åkesson (Tjodalv), a drummer who also occasionally played guitar. The band’s early line-up was rounded by top-hatted keyboardist Stian Aarstad and bass guitarist Ivar Tristan Lundsten (Brynjard Tristan). This constellation released private rehearsal tapes in January, February and August of 1994, but never formally demoed. Instead the band debuted without any noteworthy past experience on the controversial German label imprint No Colours Records, famous for contracting early Polish black metal unit Graveland, in late 1994 with the atmospheric but entirely inconsistent “For All Tid”.

There’s an agreed-upon consensus that the two albums that Norwegian metal band Dimmu Borgir released prior to signing with Nuclear Blast Records are worthwhile. Supposedly “For All Tid” and “Stormblåst” are superior to the band’s later catalog because of their more atmospheric - and folk inclinations. That the band never evolved beyond these humble roots, outside of bigger production budgets and brand visibility, is often left out or curiously omitted. In truth, Dimmu Borgir was never a particularly good band to begin with – and the very same aspects that (for some reason) are praised on the first two efforts would only be magnified to the point of excess on the later albums. “For All Tid” was the first Dimmu Borgir product after a swath of private rehearsal tapes, and frankly it shows. A glorified (and slightly better produced) demo compilation at heart - “For All Tid” has the band still searching its sound, and discovering along the way where its strengths and limitations lie. “For All Tid” is a sluggish and medieval tinged folk metal album, at worst – and an atmospheric dark metal album at best.

Every cardinal sin that Dimmu Borgir would commit on future recordings first surfaced here: too upbeat rhythm sections, meandering chug riffs that sound more folky than anything remotely metal, black or otherwise. Overbearing keyboards and effects and songs that plod on without no apparent direction, or objective in mind. A problem that would be magnified on “Stormblåst” is the apparent duality of Dimmu Borgir’s modus operandi. While anti-christian lyrics are a staple of the genre since its inception in the 1980s, here they are set against overly cheery melodies, and atmospheric keyboard flourishes that accomplish the polar opposite what the lyrics intend to convey. Interestingly, the bass playing is a lot better than it would be on future output, as it follows the drum patterns instead of the seemingly endlessly chugging rhythm guitars.

Two fundamental problems stand out in particular: the nearly constant midpace, and the very basic instrumentation. The lack of speed, or variation in dynamics, is excuseable given the timeframe when it was released. There’s almost a doom metal sense of dread and desolation to a lot of these (often directionless) tracks. While Dimmu Borgir was probably a stronger folk metal band, it is the songwriting choices made here that would come to define its future. There is no expansion beyond playing slow, and drenching the entire album in atmospherics and light folk melodies. The listless chugging and reliance on simple power-chords is excuseable here as the band had just formed the year prior. How they use their limited skillset is another matter entirely, as famed American death metal bands like Autopsy and Obituary used equally simple tools and chords, but coupled it with a superior sense of composition that enhanced the strength of its instrumental simplicity along with a dynamic range that is wholly absent on this album.

For the majority of its playing time “For All Tid” sounds too upbeat and happy to be considered either black – or doom metal. At best it is an atmospheric folk metal album, or a particularly toothless Viking metal one if you are feeling charitable. The only track that really works, outside of the atmospheric introduction track ‘Det Nye Riket’, is ‘Raabjorn Speiler Draugheimers Skodde’, which was re-recorded for the “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant” session as part of a limited edition bonus track. Most of the album meanders on aimlessly, and a great deal of the songs offers no significant payoff or dynamic range to be of merit. ‘Under Korpens Vinger’ and ‘Over Bleknede Blåner Til Dommedag’ differs little from each other. The latter has no notable improvements over the midtempo dirge that precedes it, outside of sparse blasts, cringeworthy dramatic vocals and a synthesizer break. ‘Over Bleknede Blåner Til Dommedag’ is notable for its guest vocals by Dodheimsgard members Bjørn Dencker Gjerde (Draugh Aldrahn) and Yusaf Parvez (Vicotnik). ‘Glittertind’ is something you’d expect to hear on an early Finntroll album. That album highlight ‘Raabjorn Speiler Draugheimers Skodde’ is preceded by a pointless filler track in the form of ‘Hunnerkongens Sorgsvarte Ferd’ is telling enough in itself of how much thought went into the pacing of the record.

Just as Satyricon with its “Dark Medieval Times” debut Dimmu Borgir can’t decide whether it wants to be a very basic sounding dark metal, or a full-blown atmospheric folk metal band. That both were released the same year is a notable coincidence. The two share no commonalities outside of the screeched vocals and subject matter. The metal component feels like an afterthought in comparison to the atmospherics and folk oriented sections. The only worthwhile contributions come from Stian Aarstad, who bathes the album in synthesizers, piano and effects, and bass guitarist Ivar Tristan Lundsten (Brynjard Tristan) who provides the record with its bottom-end heaviness. Admittedly, Silenoz is a better vocalist than Shagrath (whose vocal contributions are, thankfully, minimal here) ever was or would be, but with a package this illconceived and poorly put together it is of little consolation to the more discerning listener. Gustave Doré's illustration for the poetry book "Idylls of the King" by Alfred Tennyson, an image representing Camelot, is the only thing of note on this forgettable auditory platter. Why a Scandinavian band singing about pagan heritage and Viking culture would choose an image from the Arthurian legend is another matter entirely. At least it looks cool, right?

“For All Tid” was recorded at Stovner Rockefabrikk, from July to September 1994, with Bård Norheim producing. The album has a very bare bones but functional sound, it is not as underproduced as some other demos of the time, but not quite as accomplished as label-sanctioned releases of the day either. At least the bass guitar can be heard throbbing, and the drums have a very earthy and organic tone. It captures all the instruments and evens them out well enough in the final mix. Indicative of its future output most of “For All Tid” feels underwritten, and each track is derived from the same singular idea. That defect is somewhat excuseable here as “For All Tid” is a glorified demo compilation at heart, and the band didn’t quite master its instruments yet. There wouldn’t be too much of an evolution, or improvement even, in between this and the second album “Stormblåst”. For some unfathomable reason both this record, and its successor are held up as a yardstick of quality in the band’s discography. Truth be told, “For All Tid” is just as trite, listless and unnecessary as the rest of the band’s output. If atmosphere is the sole indicator of quality then “For All Tid” succeeds with flying colors. On all others aspects it is wholly lacking, be it in instrumentation or songwriting, unfortunately Dimmu Borgir wouldn’t improve much after finding its niche.

The Nuclear Blast Records output certainly sounds better, but how much solace offers that exactly?