Dimmu Borgir – Eonian Review

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.

Release date: May 4, 2018. Label: Nuclear Blast.
To be sure, Eonian is still marked by sweeping drama and orchestral bombast, but the band feels less tethered to their own legacy than ever before. They are again joined by the Norwegian Schola Cantrum chamber choir conducted by Gaute Storås, and although those players have all worked with Dimmu Borgir previously, their contributions stand out more forcefully on Eonian because they are given more space of their own, instead of fighting with harsher black metal sections for supremacy. The entire midsection of album opener “The Unveiling,” for example, sounds more like a showcase for the choir, with the Borgdudes leaning back in a supporting role.

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?

Posted by Dan Obstkrieg

Happily committed to the foolish pursuit of words about sounds. Not actually a dinosaur.

  1. I enjoy how we both liked this album… but not always for the same reasons. Sometimes bafflingly different ones, in fact.


    1. Tell me more! Did you hate all the songs I loved, or what?


  2. Great review of a great album.


  3. Norwegian Nerd May 15, 2018 at 5:48 pm

    The techno sounds needs to go. Beginning of Unveiling and at 1:16 in Archaic.

    First riff in the Unveiling is cool. At 1:15 it sucks. Stupid. Next part is Nightwish 2 and pretty lame. The dreamy choir part in the middle is nice.

    Interdimensional Summit fucking sucks. Wow, what a stupid song. Nightwish 2. Fuck.

    Ætheric sucks.

    First riff in Council is cool. Tribal stuff and the parts without guitar sucks. Riff at 2:13 rules. Awesome. Dreamy part is cool, but should’ve been an outro. Ditch the choir here.

    The Empyrean is pretty cool. Best at 4:06. Should’ve been more of this.

    Lightbringer is OK.

    Sovereign is lame. Only cool thing is the choir “riff” at 5:11, 5:26, etc.

    Archaic is the best song on the album, even though the playful drums in the beginning 0:09 is a tad silly. The riff at 2:17 is sweet! Should’ve been played once more.

    Alpha is OK. The riff at 1:33 is awesome. From 2:25 it gets silly again. Sounds like something Nightwish could’ve made. Choir is stupid here aswell. More awesomeness at 3:07.

    Rite is OK.

    All in all, pretty disappointed. Next album: more guitars, less choir, less cheesy quiet parts, less orchestra, subtle choir on keyboards is fine. A little more evil and brutal like Blessings Upon, Maelstrom, The Blazing Monoliths, and the older stuff, and a hint of Broderskapets Ring 2005.


  4. In Sorte Diaboli was incredibly boring, but why does everyone hates Abrahadabra this much? It was a fun record, and contains one of their best songs ever (Gateways).

    But I agree that Eonian kicks ass, I’m surprised I like it this much. And Dimmu is coming here on tour this fall, I can’t wait :D.


  5. Abrahadabra was utterly fucking terrible, but I thought In Sorte Diaboli was decent. It may have been a transparent attempt to meld their new and slightly less new directions into an even newer (or less new?) one that would please all fans (an impossible pipe dream for any band, yet one often striven for). But it was also a leaner, faster, and more consistently compelling album than the bloated DCA, which I find difficult to listen to from start-to-finish despite its highlights. ISD even brings in some touches of Old Man’s Child, slightly dials back the Danny Elfman of it all that took hold of the previous album, and ups the Vortex quotient.

    Vortex, Mustis, and Hellhammer also overshadow every person that has been brought in to replace them thus far. Their leaving made the band into something totally defunct to my ears. But even the OGs that stuck around just sounded better on ISD. It was Shagrath’s last respectable performance, and there are more riffs coming from Galder and Silenoz in a given track on ISD than on all of Abrahadabra. The few highlights of the album are just tired imitations of their better days (e.g. that melody at the end of Gateways that just screams “I WISH VORTEX WERE HERE”).

    Anyway, great review as usual, Dan. Thanks. Normally I’d have just cringed and moved on. But I’ll give this a spin.


    1. You’re absolutely right that In Sorte Diaboli is much better than Abracagoddamnit, but I just don’t really have time for either of them these days. And you’re also right that Vortex is always missed anyplace he is not present. Definitely curious to hear what you think of this new one once you’ve had a chance to dig in.


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