Listen, I don’t feel like spending a lot of time apologizing or contextualizing or tiptoeing around my point, so I’ll get right to it: I am of the opinion that A) Dimmu Borgir is a Very Good Band and B) Eonian is a Very Good Album. If you disagree with Point A, I doubt that you’ll concede Point B, and you are therefore kindly invited to take a hike. Nevertheless, Point B is particularly gratifying because In Sorte Diaboli and Abrahadabra, in brazen contradistinction to Point A above, were both Very Bad Albums. Where In Sorte Diaboli and Abrahadabra felt like increasingly faltering attempts to inject bits of the old symphonic drama into the more mechanical direction of Puritanical Euphorica Misanthropia and Death Cult Armageddon, Eonian feels refreshed, relaxed, and not particularly concerned with canon.
It’s not immediately clear what has prompted this album’s rewarding revitalization, given that Dimmu Borgir’s core trio of Shagrath, Silenoz, and Galder has remained constant since 2001’s Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia (the band’s personal best, in this humble dummy’s opinion, although Enthrone Darkness Triumphant is objectively their most important album). Given that relative personnel consistency, it’s tempting to think that the Dimmu Borboys just needed some space to clear the cobwebs from those previous missteps.
Eonian’s lead single “Interdimensional Summit” is a wickedly catchy tune that sounds made for dancing, especially when the choir belts out a brilliant Sisters of Mercy-styled chorus (“To the trained / Eye / There are no coincidences”). So, I said I wasn’t interested in tiptoeing or responding to imaginary internet strawman arguments, but the more I listen to Eonian and fall under its unapologetic spell, the more difficult it is to understand how someone who has been a fan of Dimmu Borgir in the past could dislike this album. I’m sure it’s possible, but… I don’t know. Certainly, ICS Vortex is badly missed, but Eonian is such a marked improvement over the last several Dimmu albums that joy seems the only right and proper response.
Here’s another thing that I guess doesn’t help my case: at several points on Eonian, Dimmu Borgir sounds as resolutely self-confident and orchestrally burnished as Nightwish at their peak (i.e., post-Tarja). The way the choir and orchestration meld with the extremely deliberate drumming during the instrumental break in “Ætheric,” for example, sounds as Holopainen-ish as nearly anything from Dark Passion Play. And look, Dimmu Borgir lyrics are, on the whole, pretty silly and not usually worth much investigation, but by keeping things relatively simple, there are some gems of wisdom here: “To govern thyself / You must know your darkness; / To govern thyself / You must know your past.”
“Council of Wolves and Snakes” throws a few curveballs with some guest percussion from Martin Lopez (formerly of Opeth) and some traditional Nordic joik singing (which sounds similar to the chanting tradition of several Native American tribes). But, same as it ever was, the best moments of Eonian are the ones most drenched in clenched-fist melodrama. “I Am Sovereign” is an easy album highlight, particularly as it rides out a fantastic outro with rolling drums and fully engaging choral accompaniment. The sassy opening riff on “Ætheric” and the bouncy riff of “Lightbringer” also add a pinch of Satyricon-esque black and roll to the album. Meanwhile, “Alpha Aeon Omega” sports a yearning orchestral melody over hyperspeed blasting in a way that might call to mind some of the best moments of PEM, but here (as throughout Eonian) Dimmu seems much more interested in smoothness than stridency.
In hasty conclusion, each one of us is free to love what we love and hate what we hate. Too often, though, we treat the world in front of us as a continuous, passive thing that happens to us: a timeline that scrolls incessantly until our eyes glaze over; a channel we can’t change because the remote is all the way over there; a day that dawns and fills and recedes while we watch out an office window. Some habits are hard to break, but those same habits are often the ones most worth breaking. For myself, I would like to make love a practice and not a reaction. I have loved Dimmu Borgir for much more of their career than I have disliked them, and Eonian renews that love in a way that feel generous yet makes no particular demand or imposition on the listener.
And hell, when’s the last time a sludge metal album attuned you to the currents of love that animate the life you can live as your best self?