Dimmu Borgir – ‘Abrahadabra’ Album Review

In a conversation with a good friend recently the new Dimmu Borgir album came up and after some discussion of the band’s relative merits and disadvantages we came to the conclusion that Dimmu Borgir have transcended their black metal roots to simply become a great metal band. Actually, upon further listening to ‘Abrahadabra’ I have come to the conclusion that  this latest instalment in Dimmu Borgir’s extensive and excellent back catalogue does for Dimmu what ‘the black album’ did for Metallica. It is simply bolder, bigger and brighter than anything the band have previously attempted and if, as they have now chosen to do, they must rely upon session musicians rather than the golden tonsils of ICS Vortex and the keyboard flourishes of Mustis, then so be it because it does not seem to have slowed the band down one bit.

Of course, as with all bands who grow and develop beyond the boundaries of their original genre (witness the moans and cries of the fans of Paradise Lost, Cradle of filth, Metallica and Ulver for proof of the distressing short-sightedness of purists), there will always be a minority who pray for a return to the days when Dimmu sounded like they were recorded in a kettle, but for anyone who enjoyed the band after the original issue of ‘Stormblast’ then Dimmu’s development into a band who produce such stirring, grandiose music is nothing short of magical.

At just over fifty minutes (including the obligatory bonus track) this is a concise attack on the senses which incorporates elements of black metal, symphonic metal, power metal and even classic rock (which should come as no surprise to those who were paying attention when Dimmu covered Twisted sister’s ‘burn in hell’) to great effect. Opening with ‘Xibir’, a stunning orchestral piece even by the band’s own lofty standards which sounds as if it has been lifted wholesale from an epic movie soundtrack, the band launch into one of their most shamelessly hook-laden tracks since ‘the serpentine offering’ with ‘born treacherous’, a memorable, violent, orchestra-laden feast which throws everything but the kitchen sink at the mix but survives thanks to the remaining band member’s clarity of vision and justly deserved confidence. Romantic, dark and still as heavy as ever it is the sound of a band not afraid to take their own path, something for which they would deserve commendation even if the results weren’t as stunningly spectacular as this. The single, ‘gateways’ is up next and although some pesky spirit who shall remain nameless compared the female vocals to Cerys Mathews of indie dullards Catatonia (and try getting that out of your head once it has been suggested) the multiplicity of riffs and taut drumming mark it out as a genuine grower and a fine song to experience form the mosh pit. Better, however, is the magnificent ‘chess with the abyss’, a dark, heavy track that incorporates all of Dimmu’s ambitious elements into a satisfyingly brutal slice of pure heavy-rock theatrics. Moreover Shagrath, perhaps missing his clean-voiced foil in Vortex, has tightened up his vocals to a near perfect degree with each vocal line perfectly phrased and, more often than not, backed up by a full choir which makes for a vast sound which remains resolutely uncluttered despite the myriad elements involved (no doubt due in part to Andy Sneap’s legendary skills).

‘Dimmu borgir’ is up next and it forms a near staggering statement of intent from a band hell-bent on repairing the damage done by the open and painful loss of two members of a band they thought secure. With a simply massive central riff and drums that leap from the speakers (and which would sound more in place on a full on recording of ‘Carmina Burana’), ‘dimmu borgir’ is a thrilling piece of music that not only reaffirms the band’s place at the top of the metal pile but which further serves to blur the boundaries between classical music and metal – something that only a handful of bands including the mighty Therion have managed with any real success, a connection that is further emphasised by the appearance of that band’s Snowy Shaw who adds bass and vocals to the mix.

Rather heavier, although still maintaining a heavy orchestral presence, is ‘ritualist’, a storming, brutal track which makes good use of Shagrath’s darkly industrial vocal style that appeared most notably on Puritanical’s ‘puritania’. It quickly dismisses any idea that Dimmu Borgir have ‘sold out’ and indeed it’s hard to imagine exactly to whom the nay-sayers imagine Dimmu have sold out to given the relentless nature of the album, even with all its orchestral bells and whistles. Another highlight is ‘the demiurge molecule’ which stands as a cross between the brutal black metal approach of old Dimmu and the soundtrack to an over-blown horror movie. With Silenoz and Galder’s guitars as incisive as ever it’s a blistering attack on the senses and the tortuous mid-tempo slog that forms the centrepiece of the song is as grand a moment of head-banging action as you may wish to hear while the slick compositional approach will impress as many fans as it dismays those who prefer their music to sound like Hellhammer’s ‘demon entrails’ set. ‘A jewel traced through coal’ is a coldly atmospheric track that opens with an eerie orchestral piece before the band crash in with some of the most majestic material they have ever produced with a nod towards Behemoth’s epic approach on ‘Evangelion’. It pays off because the blisteringly fast moments that follow make this one of the heaviest tracks Dimmu have committed to tape in some time and it’ll make an excellent addition to a live set already teaming with gems. ‘Renewal’ continues the run of heavy material and it’s as if, with only a few tracks left, the band have shaken off the self-control exercised earlier in the album to create a truly breathless finale even while the solo that precedes the vocals is pure classic rock rather than black metal. Final track ‘endings and continuations’ (perhaps a sly nod to their departed members) closes the album in fine style and it’s only then you realise that fifty minutes of your life have flown by without you noticing and with not a single track skipped. A final orchestral bonus track (for those who buy the special edition) is a nice, if inessential, touch.

It is probably fair to say that fans of Dimmu have already decided if they want to approach Abrahadabra. Those who took to Puritanical… and the albums that followed will find a huge amount to admire even while this disc offers up a wider, bolder sound than ever. While ICS Vortex’s vocals are a genuine loss (his Viking-esque clean vocals were a consistent highlight), the band have adapted their song-writing style to minimise the loss and they have done well. The orchestral elements are well integrated into the mix and the songs, never sounding forced or tacked on and the guitars are still very much present with the majority of the tracks creating an instant hit of adrenalin. Equally the drums, ably handled by Daray, are perfectly aligned to the Dimmu approach and he certainly does not suffer in comparison to Hellhammer’s performance on the last album as many thought he might.

Simply put, this is a fantastic metal album and it is hard to imagine it not reaching a wider audience purely because of the extraordinary attention to detail that has gone into crafting each of the ten songs on offer here. A stomring tour-de-force, this is the moment when the world sits up and takes notice of Dimmu Borgir as never before and that notice is richly deserved. Ambitious, stunning and often even beautiful, this is a fantastic metal album that deserves to sit on the shelf of any serious fan of the genre. Staggering.

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