The latest instalment of my ‘Albums that Changed my Life’ series takes me back to the late 1990s and therefore to when I was in my mid-late teens. I was at high school, undertaking my ‘A’ levels and starting to learn to drive. Halcyon days.
At this time, I was heavily into Cradle of Filth (see previous chapters) and gradually getting heavier and heavier in my music tastes. Primarily, I was interested in the sounds of black metal, although admittedly the more melodic end of the spectrum at this stage.
The story around this choice of album begins with a trip to London. At the time, I had family who lived in London and, whilst visiting them, I was taken to Oxford Street for a shopping trip. It was my first foray as far as I can remember to this part of London as previously, any day trips were usually of an educational or sightseeing purpose. I had heard of a mythical place, something wondrously called ‘the flagship store’. In fact, there turned out to be two: HMV and Virgin.
My generous aunt and uncle gave me and my brother £50 each and we headed off to find the mother ships.
Despite knowing that they existed, nothing prepared me for what I was to be confronted with. In Ipswich, at that time, we had no less than five record stores: HMV, Virgin, Andy’s Records, MVC and an independent by the name of Rex Records. They all had some heavy metal records on their shelves but usually mingled in with the general ‘Rock & Pop’ and certainly not to any vast amount. The only segregated metal section could be found at Rex Records but it was only small, perhaps 20-30 CDs in total.
HMV was the first stop and, after diligently following the signs, found myself looking at a shelving unit approximately ten to fifteen metres long jam packed with row upon row of heavy metal music of all genres. At first I thought it was just one sided but remembering my knowledge of the alphabet under all the excitement, I realised that I was just looking at M-Z. A-L was replicated on the other side. 20-30 metres of pure heavy metal? My mind was blown.
The choice was simply staggering and Virgin was not a lot different either when, for the sake of thoroughness, I thought I ought to have a look while in the vicinity. Ultimately, I returned to HMV and pondered what to buy.
The choice took me the best part of two hours if I’m honest and in amongst all the other purchases I made, was one record that changed my world. That album was ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ by Norwegian black metal band Dimmu Borgir. Before this visit, I’d not heard about this band. So what was it that made me take a punt on this album?
My reasoning was multi-layered. Firstly, it was the rich green front cover which grabbed my attention. It looked really professional and had a dark vibe to it without appearing tacky or over-the-top. The digipack packaging further enhanced the feeling of quality and when I have always had a weakness for good artwork and packaging, this album ticked two boxes immediately. The sticker on the front that then said ‘limited edition’ pretty much sealed the deal.
The Nuclear Blast logo on the reverse meant that I knew, even then, that this was likely to sound really good production-wise. And finally, I was certain that this was an album to fit in with my interest in black metal and my craving for another band not too dissimilar to the Cradle of Filth formula.
It was a risk, but a calculated one. It was a risk that paid off handsomely.
I remember that it was late at night when I first listened, on a portable ‘discman’ with headphones. From the opening keyboard-driven intro to ‘Mourning Palace’, I knew that I was going to like this record. However, it wasn’t until track two, ‘Spellbound (By The Devil)’ that I fell in love. The closing melodic section coming after a rather furious opening couple of minutes was just nectar to my ears; manna from heaven…or, more appropriately, hell. From that moment on, I kept thinking ‘just one more song and then I’ll sleep’. But I remember getting ever more excited as each song just delivered the goods. I found it impossible to stop listening. I was too excited to hear the entire album initially and then, as it finished, I pressed play again.
Whilst I listened, I pawed through the booklet. I was struck by the band photography and the daft top hat worn by the then keyboardist Stian Aarstad, making him stand out from the spikes and swords of the remainder of the quintet. I read the lyrics under dim light, following them diligently as Shagrath growled, screamed and spat his diatribes. The whole thing was thoroughly infectious to me.
I still love this album, some 20 or so years after I first heard it. But then, what’s not to like? I am personally drawn to the wonderful juxtaposition between the sharp staccato riffing and the powerful and vibrant keyboards which create massive amounts of atmosphere as well as rich, sumptuous textures and bold, compelling melodies. The production is pretty good by the standards of 90s black metal too. The guitars do have a slightly raw, buzzy sound but not to the detriment of my enjoyment; if anything, it enhances the experience. On tracks like the mercurial ‘In Death’s Embrace’, the bass is unusually important to the composition and isn’t rendered absent in the mix.
I could cite just about every song on ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ as being a favourite. However, if I was to pick just a few, I’d settle on the majestic, sweeping ‘The Night Masquerade’ even with its bizarre closing male and female vocals, the epic ‘Prudence’s Fall’ with the way it swings from melody to brutality so effortlessly before ending with its gorgeous melodic outro and the elegant, brooding ‘A Succubus In Rapture’.
But, as songs like ‘Relinquishment Of Spirit and Flesh’ and ‘Tormentor Of Christian Souls’ demonstrate, Dimmu Borgir could deliver an uncompromising slab of brutality as well, minus most of the melody and with added speed and aggression.
As my ‘Top 5 albums of all time’ post confirms, ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ remains one of my all-time favourite albums. It has had a massive impact upon me throughout my entire adult life and is an album that I come back to time and time again.
And hearing ‘Spellbound (By The Devil)’ ring out across the field of Catton Hall at Bloodstock Open Air festival in the late summer twilight a few years ago was a magical experience, sending shivers of delight down my spine. I’ve seen Dimmu Borgir in concert many times but this gig was special.
However, the most memorable was when the tour bus found itself outside Colchester Arts Centre in 2011, a small provincial venue just 20 minutes from my home and a deconsecrated church for good measure. What’s more, the Norwegians had arrived to play ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ in its entirety. I managed to position myself in the front row and allowed the magic to happen…but not before I’d had a chat, on the bus with guitarist Galder.
That was a night I shall never forget…and ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ is an album that I’ll always hold close to my heart.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, check out the others in this series: