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Dimmu Borgir – Eonian (Album Review)

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My instincts direct to slag on this most recent offering from the Norwegian band with an Icelandic name. “It’s Rhapsody’s evil twin”, my mind tells me. “It’s twice the cheese for your lactose intolerance. It’s circus music for the devil.” I want to hate it. But my ears won’t let me.

While Dimmu Borgir were on an incredible roll in the late 90s leading up to 2001’s Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, the band peaked creatively and commercially with 2003’s Death Cult Armageddon, which saw the kings of symphonic black metal masterfully infusing Prague Philharmonic’s orchestral majesty and Dimmu‘s blackened savagery with ear-worm craftsmanship, topped off by Mustis‘ classically-influenced ivory tinkling and Vortex‘s inimitable voice.

But that was fifteen years ago. Mustis and Vortex, who undeniably injected Dimmu with a greater sense of purpose and finesse, are long gone. Their lone release since their dismissal, 2010’s Abrahadabra, didn’t exactly make a huge impact. Admittedly, my expectations for Dimmu‘s first effort in eight years weren’t exactly high.

So how’s Eonian sound? Well, it still sounds like Dimmu. “The Unveiling” get things off to a reasonably good start, opening an with Galder and Silenoz‘s ominous trem-picked melody that one would expect from a Norwegian band active since the early 90s; minor orchestrations and subtle choirs then give way to yet another trem-picked riff about a minute in, followed by Shagrath‘s Mikael Stanne-esque baritone rumble (seriously, it sounds like an homage to Dark Tranquillity‘s Haven for a brief moment) giving way to that familiar screech that helped make a metal-head out of Nicolas Cage‘s kid. “The Unveiling” is then followed by the ambitious but ultimately weak lead single “Interdimensional Summit,” where Vortex‘s absence first makes its presence ominous. While Eonian certainly makes a laudable use of choirs, it’s clear they are merely scabs on “Interdimensional Summit,” which would have benefited immensely from Vortex‘s menacing croon. A poor representation of the album, “Interdimensional Summit” indicates that Dimmu Borgir has become cinematic music punctuated by black metal, rather than vice versa.

“Eonian” Album Artwork

Mercifully, that choral superfluousness is obliterated by the brilliant vocal arrangements on “Ætheric,” where the choirs sound flat-out wicked. Additionally, the tribal vocals and drums on “Council of Wolves and Snakes” are a welcome expansion to the Dimmu sound, reminiscent of Moonspell‘s debut EP. The album’s mellowest moment comes at this song’s interlude, when the brakes bring the pace down to nearly half-time for an unexpected acoustic passage. An uneasy staccato rhythmic pattern complemented by Arabesque orchestration and a nearly Dani Filth vocal delivery highlight “I am Sovereign.” Dimmu would do well to explore these ideas on their future endeavors.

But it is “Alpha Aeon Omega” that reassures us that Dimmu have not lost their way. The new album’s undisputed highlight, it showcases their mastery of orchestral, choir-laden black metal, and may well be a demonstration in  perfection in unity. Eonian is then capped off by the eerily excellent instrumental “Rite of Passage,” a damn-near perfect conclusion to a surprisingly enjoyable record.

Longtime fans will surely be disappointed by Eonian‘s reliance on classical elements and the sometimes overbearing use of choirs to fill Vortex‘s absence. But after repeated listens, the sound that emerges is that of an evolving Dimmu Borgir, a Dimmu Borgir that has chosen to explore the cinematic in order to broaden their scope. While still distinctly Dimmu, Eonian sees the emergence of a band that’s reinventing itself rather than reinventing the wheel. I want to hate it. But I can’t.

Released By: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: May 4th, 2018
Genre: Black Metal

Band Members:

  • Shagrath / Vocals
  • Galder / Guitar, Bass
  • Silenoz / Guitar, Bass
  • Daray / Drums
  • Gerlioz / Keyboards

“Eonian” Track-Listing:

  1. The Unveiling
  2. Interdimensional Summit
  3. Ætheric
  4. Council of Wolves and Snakes
  5. The Empyrean Phoenix
  6. Lightbringer
  7. I Am Sovereign
  8. Archaic Correspondence
  9. Alpha Aeon Omega
  10. Rite of Passage
8.3 Great

Still Dimmu, but slowly becoming a new Dimmu. Leave your expectations at the door and prepare to be pleasantly surprised

  • Songwriting 8
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 7
  • Production 9
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