I’ve always loved Dimmu Borgir. Ever since I first heard the brutal strains of ‘Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia’ I felt them to be a band whose ambition was tempered only by the opportunities available at any given time. That view was soon given credence by the astonishing ‘Death Cult Armageddon’ which sounded like someone had given John Williams a terrifying, cyber-makeover grafting his lush orchestrations to a juddering black metal framework in the process. The band’s progress should have been assured, particularly in the wake of ‘In Sorte Diaboli’, which topped album of the year polls around the world, but line up instability caused the band to falter and whilst ‘Abrahadabra’ was a particularly fine album, the band played only limited dates in support of it, perhaps missing the powerful vocals of the departed ICS Vortex, and dropped temporarily out of sight following a tour celebrating ‘Enthrone darkness triumphant’. With a new album in the offing, however, Dimmu Borgir and their label, Nuclear Blast, have finally decided to release ‘forces of the northern night’, a live record of the band’s much-vaunted collaboration with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Choir.
Fans will already have noted that the concert comes in a bewildering array of options ranging from CD digi pack to full-blown box set. Details vary depending upon the outlet, but our version (the mid-priced blu ray ear book) came bundled with a double CD set of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra concert. This was a surprise as the packaging indicated only the blu ray discs and Amazon (UK) were under the same impression. Nonetheless, I can confirm that the Ear Book does contain two audio discs which means that the super deluxe edition boasts only the double CD of the Wacken performance as an exclusive, whilst the DVD’s simply duplicate the blu ray material. Whichever option you chose, however, features impressive artwork and a veritable feast of music including the Oslo show and a second show, also featuring an orchestra, recorded at Wacken.
With regard the concert itself this, my friends, is the motherlode. Dimmu Borgir have never been shy about putting on a show and this is an exemplary performance in every way. With a full choir and orchestra adding to the band’s customary bombast and the event taking place on the vast, beautifully lit stage of Oslo’s Spektrum, this is simply a treat to look at. The image is crystal clear and the editing expertly done, taking in both the scale of the event and plenty of close-up shots without resorting to the horrible, rapid fire editing of so many music films. There’s a dynamic feel throughout that really makes you feel part of the event and it truly feels as if Dimmu Borgir have raised the bar here with ambitious shots putting the viewer right in the heart of the action.
Similarly, the audio, mixed by Russ Russell, is an absolute treat. PCM and 5.1 options are both catered for and the surround sound option is sumptuous indeed with band, orchestra and choir afforded clear separation and the sheer depth of the arrangements given ample space to shine. Best played loud, it is a stunning mix in every respect that really captures the power of the live Dimmu experience. It’s not just the mix, however; Gaute Storaas deserves a huge amount of credit for his sterling work bringing Dimmu Borgir’s material thrillingly to life (particularly in his work bringing older numbers into the set) and the orchestra themselves play with a vigour normally reserved for the likes of Orff’s Carmina Burana or Holst’s Planets suite. It’s a sweaty, vibrant event for show and the result is one of those rare concert films that you’ll watch over and over again.
The first half of the concert is given over to ‘Abrahadabra’, which is represented by seven of its ten tracks, albeit slightly re-sequenced. From the moment the instrumental ‘Xibir’ gives way to an astonishing ‘Born Treacherous’, it’s clear that this was a truly memorable evening. It’s as if you’ve been watching a movie in black and white for years, only to discover that it was in colour all along such is the effect of bringing these songs to the stage. The band are on fire, playing with icy precision and the crowd response shows just how passionate a fan base Dimmu have cultivated. A gloriously over the top ‘gateways’, complete with guest appearance from Agnete Kjolsrud whose blistering performance firmly trounces the studio version, keeps the momentum flowing before the orchestra are given a chance to shine on ‘Dimmu Borgir’. Shagrath, ever the showman and resplendent in his white outfit, plays ringmaster to this demonic circus throughout, drawing all eyes as he keeps the crowd fully committed to the performance. The biggest surprise for me was how an album I thought I knew well turned out to offer gems that I’d previously overlooked. Songs like ‘Chess with the Abyss’ are so magnificently symphonic that it’s impossible not to be drawn into their dark melodies and ‘ritualist’ also gathers strength from the sheer overwhelming volume of band and orchestra together.
The second half of the show serves as a mini-greatest hits, with tracks like ‘the serpentine offering’ and ‘kings of the carnival creation’ outstripping their studio counterparts in every way. Of course, the biggest cheers are reserved for ‘progenies of the great apocalypse’, a song that has always felt huge and which is represented here in what is surely the definitive live version. It’s hard to imagine DImmu ever topping the sheer orchestral might of this , whilst the double whammy of ‘Puritania’ (sounding more apocalyptic than ever in this hell-bound rendition) and ‘mourning palace’ bring the set to a suitably grandiose conclusion.
Although it receives second billing, the Wacken concert is no mere afterthought. Indeed, for most bands such a performance would be a release in itself and, for the most part, it does not disappoint although the setting is not quite as spectacular and the daylight robs the lighting of much of its impact. The biggest issue is that the surround mix here is less potent than on the main blu ray with the Dolby Digital option considerably quieter than the PCM version. That said, the band are on bruising form and their actual performance, filmed in front of a less partisan crowd than Oslo, is correspondingly more energetic. The band also make use of fire blasts which add an explosive element to the visuals. In short, it is a fitting counterpart to the main event, and fans are liable to enjoy both sets for different reasons.
Dimmu Borgir have always revelled in their own excesses and this epic live set is no exception. Where some bands seem to collaborate with orchestras almost as a matter of course, Dimmu Borgir have always had a strong symphonic element in their music and seeing it performed with a flesh and blood orchestra only adds to the impact of the band’s music. With two full shows spread across two blu rays (or DVDs) as well as the Oslo show on CD, the limited-edition Ear book is a beautifully packaged souvenir of a truly special pair of dates. Moreover, Dimmu Borgir and Nuclear Blast have pulled out all the stops to produce a package that truly excels in every department. The Oslo disc, in particular, could easily serve as demo material for a home entertainment system, such is the quality of the footage, and the concert itself is exceptional throughout. This is everything you want from a concert film and DImmu Borgir fans will not want to miss this. 10