Artist: Dimmu Borgir
Album Title: Eonian
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date Of Release: 4 May 2018
Eight years can either seem like a lifetime or the briefest of moments depending on the circumstances and your own personal viewpoint. For many, like me, it can be viewed as a combination of both. If I think of all the things that have happened over the past eight years, there is no denying that it is a significant period of time. Moving house twice, the birth of two daughters, a change in career – so much has changed. And yet, it doesn’t feel that long since I was sitting in a London hotel room, listening to ‘Abrahadabra’, the ninth record from Dimmu Borgir, and formulating a review of it for Powerplay magazine on just that one listen.
I can still see the room in my mind and I still vividly remember the problems that Shagrath and Silenoz experienced when trying to play the record back to a small but select group of UK-based hacks. It wasn’t ideal and, reading back my words from that day, neither was my review. I gave the record a positive score and said lots of nice things. I maintain to this day that ‘Abrahadabra’ contained some good moments, even a couple of exceptional ones. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that it is the record that I play least within the Norwegian’s entire back catalogue.
To put all this in context, I must reveal that Dimmu Borgir are one of my very favourite bands. Long-term readers of manofmuchmetal.com will probably already know this, but for everyone else, I think it needs to be restated before I plunge further into my review of ‘Eonian’, the long-awaited tenth studio album from a band that has become a Goliath in the extreme metal world.
As I have written elsewhere, I ‘discovered’ the Norwegian black metal band upon the release of ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ in 1997. I bought it on the strength of the front cover when this country lad saw it nestled on the shelf, a miniscule part of the largest metal section he’d ever seen in a record store at any one time. Mind you, this was the flagship store for HMV on Oxford Street at a time when HMV were half-decent and actually sold music.
Something drew me to ‘Enthrone…’ I can’t say what, but it was not a decision I have ever regretted. Happily, the music made an even bigger impact upon me and it remains one of my all-time favourite albums over 20 years later.
This does not mean though, that I am one of those fans who wants to hear Dimmu release ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ part two. Over the years, Shagrath and co. have steadily moved further and further away from their black metal roots and more and more into symphonic metal territory. And I have liked a lot, probably most, of their subsequent output. This inexorable shift towards a more symphonic output is very much a trend that continues here with ‘Eonian’ arguably even more grandiose and opulent than ever before. That said, the black metal DNA within Dimmu Borgir has not disappeared entirely. And throughout the ten tracks and 54 minutes of new music, there is sufficient material in place to enable some to put together a cogent argument to say that Dimmu Borgir will always have one foot firmly entangled within the roots of black metal. I guess, after much thought and intense listening, I’d count myself as one of these. Mind you, I’ve never subscribed to the ‘trve cvlt’ black metal view that the genre needs to be low-fi, raw and lacking melody to be considered to be genuine black metal. That’s just tosh and piffle.
As has been the case for several years, the core trio of Shagrath (vocals), Silenoz (rhythm guitar) and Galder (lead guitar) have been responsible for the songwriting on ‘Eonian’. And once again, they have been joined by Daray (drums) and Gerlioz (keyboards), as well as enlisting the assistance of Gaute Storaas with the choral arrangements for the Schola Cantorum Choir, which returns to add its unmistakable stamp to the already bombastic and arresting output.
At this juncture, it is time to admit that I was significantly underwhelmed when hearing ‘Eonian’ in full for the first time. I had heard the lead single, ‘Interdimensional Summit’ some time ago and had been relatively unmoved and undecided by what I heard, so perhaps my opening foray had been clouded by these pre-existing feelings. However, as my familiarity with ‘Eonian’ has increased, so has my overall enjoyment.
‘Eonian’ is an elaborate, multi-layered and enormous affair. And, although it may not land in full-on concept territory, ‘Eonian’ does have a conceptual theme than runs through it. Meaning ‘eternal’, Shagrath has gone on record to say that ‘Eonian’ ‘represents the illusion of time, everything that is and always has been.’
So there’s a lot to ‘Eonian’. But make no mistake, it is not the perfect Dimmu Borgir record, and there are aspects of it that I still struggle with. So let’s get these out of the way first.
To begin with, I can’t help but feel that the guitars, drums and bass, the core metallic instruments, have been pushed a little further into the background on this release. The upshot is an album that has lost a little of its edge. In places, it feels just a touch too smooth, too safe and lacking a bit of grunt. It is clear that the orchestration and choir are the primary focus on this record and it has impacted arguably a little too much on the more ‘traditional’ instruments. I’d have preferred this material to pack more of a punch if I’m honest.
I also think that Shagrath has to be careful because he is in danger of playing second-fiddle to the choir vocals on ‘Eonian’. I do like Shagrath’s heavily effect-laden delivery, especially when he injects his trademark venom and spite into his performance. However, he does get a bit lost within the bombast occasionally, with the choirs making the greater impact.
I’d also have liked to hear a touch more variety within the guitar-playing overall, especially where the riffs are concerned. Naturally, as you’d expect from a band from the black metal realm, the overriding delivery is fast-paced staccato riffing, but there is a touch of the ‘did I already hear that riff before?’ going on in my mind. It could just be me, but it’s a thought that crossed my mind nonetheless.
But in spite of all of these misgivings, I can’t deny that I have got caught right up in this album. The atmospheres, the pompousness, the all-encompassing depth of the compositions and, more pronounced than on the last couple of records, the melodies. All these ingredients do combine to provide a hugely enjoyable listening experience. If it wasn’t I’d never have been able to listen to ‘Eonian’ front-to-back, five times in a row and not get thoroughly fed up, bored and irritable. In reality, I have been able to listen to this record on repeat and smile as I discover something new each and every time.
The opening to the album, via the aptly-titled ‘The Unveiling’ had meinitially fiddling with my speaker cables as distorted electronic industrial sounds of the intro spewed forth. Within a few moments however, a typically Dimmu Borgir-esque fast-picked riff takes over, joined swiftly by grandiose choirs. I must admit that this is one of my favourite riffs on the record as it swirls around my ears gratifyingly. The pace is slick, led by plenty of double-pedal drumming and the tinkling of the keys adds a level of sophistication to the song, built upon by a classically-influenced and opulent choir-led section, full of melody and oppressive intent.
Initial lukewarm feelings towards the aforementioned ‘Interdimensional Summit’ have gradually changed into genuine affection. Yes, there’s a strangely upbeat and almost friendly vibe to it, but there’s no escaping the power of the melodies that get under your skin with a few concerted listens, especially embellished as they are by the choir. Plus, I do love the guitar solo that appears towards the end of the song.
The mid-section of ‘ÆTheric’ is rousing and epic, with a lavish film score feel to it, whilst ‘Council of Wolves and Snakes’ has to be one of the stand-out compositions on ‘Eonian’. There is a tribal vibe to the early stages, accentuated by the pounding drumming, ethnic chants and unusual sounds and textures that bathe the track. But it is the way in which is so swiftly changes tack and flits between all-out attack and quiet, eerie introspection that most grabs my attention. Again, the melodies are superb but they are not overplayed, used as a stark juxtaposition against the more tumultuous sections within the song.
I’m a huge fan of the gigantic anthem ‘The Empyrean Phoenix’ which carries with it a faint sense of ‘Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia’ as well as a couple of old-school Dimmu drum rolls which I find rather delightful.
It might be ‘Lightbringer’ however, that grabs most people’s attention, thanks to its more overt black metal feel, complete with tinkling keys, fast abrasive riffs and more of a savage, uncompromising edge than anything that has gone before on ‘Eonian’. But even then, they’re not afraid of lacing much of the song in a majestic cloak of melody and symphonic drama.
Talking of symphonic drama, look no further than ‘I Am Sovereign’ – it is truly enormous and is currently my favourite track on the record because it is just so huge and overblown, with possibly the strongest and most immediate melodies on display, not to mention a wonderfully dark yet uplifting aura about it.
And, although it might not be quite as bombastic and powerful as ‘Perfection or Vanity’ from ‘Puritanical…’, closing instrumental ‘Rite of Passage’ is nevertheless equally as melodically-charged and, dare I say it, beautiful.
So there you have it. ‘Eonian’ is in no way the perfect return from the Norwegian juggernaut known as Dimmu Borgir. However, after an eight-year hiatus, the perfect album would have been nigh-on impossible. What I will say about it however, is that I do enjoy listening to it despite all the misgivings that I still harbour. And one thing is for certain: I will listen to it a lot more that ‘Abrahadabra’ and ‘In Sorti Diaboli’. In fact, I probably already have. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait quite so long for the next one.
The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse