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Dimmu Borgir - Eonian (Album Review)

Friday, 18 May 2018 Written by Alec Chillingworth

Guns N’ Roses did not have a good time without Slash and Duff. The Misfits were not living their best lives after Danzig left to be spooky on his own terms. And let’s not talk about Iron Maiden in the mid-’90s.

When key members up sticks, bands have to show what they’re made of. They have to prove why we should still care, even with vital components missing. That’s exactly what Dimmu Borgir did in 2010, a year after bassist and vocalist ICS Vortex and keyboard player Mustis left the fold.

They released ‘Abrahadabra’, hamming up the orchestration and replacing Vortex’s clean vocals with a choir of over 100 musicians and singers. "Ha!", they thought. That’ll show ‘em.

And it did. It showed that there was still life in the Norwegian once-black metallers, that they could still churn out quality symphonic metal hits when they fancied it. But it’s taken eight years to follow that up. Eight years.

The fruit of that labour, ‘Eonian’, loosely translates into ‘life everlasting’. And, well, it does seem everlasting. At 55 minutes, you might find yourself getting Dimmu bored here. Not directly because of the length, nor solely due to its style.

The band have always used symphonic elements to embellish their hooks, their riffs and their hokey, foreboding B-movie shock tactics. But on ‘Eonian’, it’s almost as though they’re employing these methods in order to cloak the paucity of actual songs. Everything is drowned in choral vocals, strings and piano, yet for all its lavish excess, it struggles to produce much that’s truly memorable.

As The Unveiling opens the album, switching from tremolo-picked black metal-in-a-stadium to a massive choir and Sisters of Mercy-ish, balladesque verses, there’s a noticeable absence of vocal hooks, hummable keyboard lines or riffs. Nothing going on. Most of it just congeals into a pile of panda-faced gloop.

The only time it really clicks is on a song we’ve already heard: the single Interdimensional Summit. Here, the strings are ludicrously catchy and over-the-top, while Shagrath’s growls play sublimely against the choir. Galder’s guitar solo benefits the song, building to a final, obscene, Michael Bay-sized chorus. But even here they can’t help themselves, plaguing the thing with Crash Bandicoot keyboard effects.

Exactly why Dimmu Borgir decided to pepper the record with xylophone/steel drum-style sounds is anyone’s guess, but it’s so frustrating coming from this band. There are flashes of brilliance on ‘Eonian’: Alpha Aeon Omega opens with the sort of pompous abandon that could’ve sat on their breakthrough ‘Death Cult Armageddon’ record, while ÆTheric packs a riff Satyricon might want royalty payments for. And even on Council of Wolves and Snakes, where tribal percussion and shamanic, esoteric chanting take the band into new levels of ‘eh?’, it’s nice to see Dimmu undertake interesting experiments 25 years into their career.  

But it’s difficult to grasp the point of this whole undertaking. When you dissect it, modern-day Cradle of Filth handle the symphonic side of things with much more expertise and nuance, whereas Satyricon can still deliver those dirty old riffs. ‘Eonian’ sits between these two camps, not really sure where to go. It’s not for lack of talent, as ‘Abrahadabra’ proved they could thrive post-Vortex and Mustis. Maybe Dimmu Borgir second-guessed themselves. Maybe they ran out of ideas. Whatever the reason, they sound a little tired.  

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