We’ve often heard the name Dimmu Borgir, but rarely their music. Through their 25 year career, they have carved out quite the niche for themselves. Beginning as a straight-up black metal group, they have embraced such alien concepts as “melody”, and dabbled with slower tempos. When Suffolk’s Cradle Of Filth offered up Cryptoriana last year, it seemed that black metal had reached the zenith of accessibility, but Eonian suggests differently from the very start.
The band’s sound is perhaps best described as “symphonic black metal” but that really doesn’t do it justice. There are a lot of symphonic bands at the extreme end of metal and they generally sound so cheesy they could soundtrack ads for Dairylea. The same can’t be said of Dimmu Borgir. The breadth and scope of the music are what set this album apart. The romantic, choral contributions of Gaute Storaas and the Schola Cantrum Choir pitch the symphonic end of Dimmu Borgir somewhere between Blind Guardian and Edvard Grieg, with overt nods to both Carl Orff and The Sisters Of Mercy.
Opening with a blast of industrial machine music, a burst of black metal tremolo guitars accompanies the choral vocalisations of ‘The Unveiling’ before the blastbeats hit. One time Fleshgod Apocalypse synth player, Gerlioz, plays simple keyboard lines throughout, accentuating the band's melodic side. His playing is restrained and unpredictable. It typifies their approach on Eonian. The two singles, ‘Interdimensional Summit’ and ‘Council Of Wolves And Snakes’ showcase the yin and yang of Dimmu Borgir. Thrumming kick drums and ferocious riffs segue seamlessly into monster choruses and soaring string sections. ‘Aetheric’ has a groove reminiscent of Dimebag Darrell at his best and pairs it with Wagnerian vocals, a plinky-plonky keyboard line, and the inevitable blastbeat to great effect. There are genuinely thrilling moments in the opening quartet of tunes; spine-tingling tone changes become the norm.
After such an exhilarating beginning, there is some disappointment in the middle three songs. The creative urge is abandoned in favour of straightforward black metal misanthropy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but after the rich cocktail of the first four tracks, it comes across a bit regressive. Thankfully, Dimmu Borgir are not yet done and Eonian recovers, delivering ‘Archaic Correspondence’, ‘Alpha Aeon Omega’, and ‘Rite Of Passage’ before it ends. The former is a singalong anthem, the latter; a contemplative instrumental, and ‘Alpha Aeon Omega’ is what would happen if Jeff Wayne composed a musical for Morbid Angel and Sabaton.
What makes this album all the sweeter is the resounding cries of “Sellout!” from the metal purists; usually the sign of a record worth listening to. If Dimmu Borgir have set out to storm the mainstream with Eonian, then they have failed. This is an ornately gothic, macabre collection of morose beauty. It also happens to be great for head banging. If this is what Dimmu Borgir can do after eight years off, then we’ll happily wait another eight for the follow-up.
Eonian is available from Nuclear Blast.