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Dimmu Borgir's "Death Cult"

Norwegian black metal ambassadors make inroads in America

Posted Nov 07, 2003 12:00 AM

When British blasphemers Venom released their second album, Black Metal, in 1982, no one could have predicted that such an amateurish and thin-sounding record would give rise to an entire sub-genre of metal, a raw style punctuated by comically blatant Satanic imagery and lyrics. Now more than twenty years later, the standard-bearers of modern black metal, Norway's Dimmu Borgir, create wickedly majestic music that bears only a slight resemblance to the low-grade thrash Venom first propagated.

The band's seventh full-length release, September's Death Cult Armageddon -- which features the fifty-person Prague Philharmonic Orchestra on the majority of its tracks -- is so ambitious in its scope that it transcends the confines of the genre. It is the album the band suggested it was capable of making in 2001 when it issued the equally bold Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia and caught the attention of the world outside of the tight-knit black metal scene.

Death Cult Armageddon also marks the first time the same Dimmu Borgir lineup -- vocalist Shagrath, guitarists Silenoz and Galder, bassist Vortex, keyboardist Mustis and drummer Nicholas Barker -- has recorded two albums together. The fully collaborative effort resulted in a metal epic that combines demonic riffing, beyond-the-grave vocals and pummeling blast-beat drumming with powerful orchestral crescendos. "This album is so varied," Silenoz explains from a stop in Portugal on the sold-out European leg of the band's latest tour. "Every song is strong on its own and is a very good representation of the music we make today. You can hear everything clearly. We always strive for the perfect sound, and this is as close as we've come."

It is such an enormous and complex sound that reproducing it live -- as Dimmu Borgir will attempt to do beginning tonight on their headlining tour of North American with Nevermore, Children of Bodom and Hypocrisy -- is going to be a tricky task. "Before we record an album we always do demos of the songs with only keyboards," Silenoz says, "just so we can have an idea of how it will sound on the album later on with the real orchestra. That, in turn, gives us an idea of how it will sound live using just the keyboards to play the orchestra's parts. The difference is not that great as people might think." In addition to the power of the orchestra, Armageddon also makes use of samples, industrial beats and "clean," operatic vocals, which serve as a dynamic foils on punishing songs like "Cataclysm Children," "Eradication Instincts Defined" and "Unorthodox Manifesto." In that way, Dimmu Borgir reach beyond what the purists may consider the traditional boundaries of black metal. "The motivation is always to do what we as a band think is better than all we've done before," Silenoz explains. "I guess you can never get it perfect but you can try as hard as you can to make it as close as possible."

As for pleasing black metal purists, Dimmu Borgir aren't too concerned. There have always people critical of the band because it is reaching larger audiences. "You get called 'Judas' and 'sell-out,'" Silenoz says with a chuckle. "It's the same when a soccer player changes teams -- he suddenly becomes Judas because he's someone else's. But that's something that we don't pay attention to. We just continue our road and we don't even bother with people like that."

Death Cult Armageddon hit Number Two on the Norwegian charts and the Top Twenty in several other European countries, and it's clear that the band has outgrown the constraints of the black metal scene. The album even cracked the American charts at Number 178.

"It seems like people are getting more and more into extreme stuff," Silenoz says. "There are a lot more people interested in this kind of music now than when we started." Dimmu Borgir may still be a long way from platinum status, but they've brought black metal to a place that Venom never could have dreamed of.

Dimmu Borgir tour dates:

11/7: Buffalo, NY, Showplace Theater
11/8: Detroit, Harpo's
11/9: Chicago, House of Blues
11/11: Toronto, Government
11/12: Montreal, The Medley
11/13: New Haven, CT, Toad's Place
11/14: Asbury Park, NJ, Convention Hall
11/15: Philadelphia, Trocadero
11/16: Pittsburgh, Club Laga
11/18: Atlanta, Masquerade
11/19: Tampa, Masquerade
11/21: Houston, Engine Room
11/22: Dallas, Deep Ellum Live
11/23: Austin, TX, Backroom
11/25: Tempe, AZ, Bash On Ash
11/26: Los Angeles, House of Blues
11/28: San Francisco, Great American Music Hall
11/29: Portland, OR, Roseland Theater
11/30: Seattle, Showbox
12/1: Vancouver, BC, Commodore Ballroom
12/3: Salt Lake City, Bricks
12/4: Denver, Ogden Theater
12/5: Lawrence, KS, Bottleneck
12/6: St. Louis, Pop's
12/7: Minneapolis, The Quest
12/9: Milwaukee, The Rave
12/10: Cleveland, Agora Theate
r 12/11: Washington, DC, 9:30 Club
12/12: Brooklyn, L'Amour
12/13: Worcester, MA, The Palladium
12/14: Albany, NY, Saratoga Winners

ADEM TEPEDELEN
(November 7, 2003)

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