There was a time when the purists and die-hard adepts would have burned them disks on heaps of flaming plastic. Like those churches they liked to torch in Norway. We talk about those records that emanated from bands that stepped away from pure path of flaming, spiked and red-hot Black Metal. Those that reduced themselves to screamy bombast and loads of make-up. Cradle of Filth comes to mind for instance. Even if Dani Filth and his merry warriors are adamant that they are no Black Metal band no more. But still, this is pure blasphemy to the goat!
Or theatrical maniacs like Carach Angren emerged from the depths of the pit. Those shamelessly abuse the unholy goodness of the Dark Lord to produce elaborate productions of swarthy cheese. Bound in wrappers reeking of Black Metal flavors, but not quite containing them.
Yet still, this stuff sells and the symphonics in Black and Extreme Metal garnered an important following throughout the years. The aforementioned Cradle of Filth for instance make a killing on each friggin’ record they release. Same goes with Dimmu Borgir that – as the first Norwegian band after A-ha – cracked the top 50 on the US Billboard 200 in 2007 with In Sorte Diaboli. This same record got to #1 in Norway. And earned a ban in the UK for some silly reasons. Now this is not bad for a Black Metal band, even during today’s more metal-heavy days of reckoning.
Now, after a super-lengthy 8-year wait Dimmu Borgir is back with their 10th studio album Eonian. Very undead, refreshingly unholy and covered in layers of corpse paint and strange robes. At first we get a taste of industrially tainted Extreme Metal. For the starting shot neatly called The Unveiling. But then the band lets loose with a variety of styles and directions that the RMR officescape found truly refreshing. Eonian did definitely not fall prey to the repetition bug. And this in a genre that is very prone to exactly that major fault.
Now, the trve aficionados of Black Metal who still lust after the old, kind of bare-bone brand of the Norwegian kind will not be amused. If anything, Eonian confirms the course Dimmu Borgir took so many years ago. The blackened cheese in the bombast they project is – if anything – a continuation or even a refinement of their past work. To a point that even the operatic geekery a Fleshgod Apocalypse musters will pale in comparison.
Yet, sometimes enthusiasm seems to bubble way over the top, to a point that Eonian resembles some evil alliance between Epica and Nightwish, assaulted by Townsend-ish shenanigans. To add insult to injury, the often somewhat frugal keyboard work almost makes me go look for blood infusions, it is that anemic. Also, their penchant towards space-time metal electronics often found in the cheesier realms of Power Metal does not really help coherence. And this seems to get worse, as the record moves towards its grand finale. In Rite of Passage for instance that – sadly – turns out to be one giant outro.
On the other hand, where other bands project way too much bombast, Eonian serves a much better balanced mix of hardy metal and epically challenged theatrics. As in compared to Carach Angren, who sometimes forget about the brake pedal. Dimmu Borgir also put great pains into song structure and arrangement, and I admire that. The somewhat sludgy, but very meaty riffing that gets to prominence in Aetheric delivers this much needed change to the tremolo madness prevalent on Eonian. This also serves as a welcome counterweight to tracks like Interdimensional Summit with their case of déjà-vu. This one sounds like Nightwish after they go cold turkey on Black Metal. But this song also boasts this delicious solo in the midst of all that symphonic overload.
The seemingly Native American chants, together with the slow-marching beat in Council of Wolves and Snakes make this track one of the sturdiest items on Eonian. If not THE best track on the album. Don’t I just love the solemn, kinda doom-ish flavor of the Symphonic Black Metal on offer.
Also, the band got the clear-cut split between crisp Black Metal and operatic symphonics down pat. Lightbringer (aka Lucifer) positively shines because of this. An arcane and pretty cool piece of storytelling. This – in itself – is one of the main qualities on Eonian. Quite often bands lose themselves in a wild mix of symphonic and blackened elements. To the point where the tune descends into a cacophony, a wall of sound of horrors, if you will. But Dimmu Borgir navigated that specific reef with an extreme portion of savvy.
So, did Eonian drown everyone in corpse painted goodness this time? Dimmu Borgir stayed on safe ground and built – yet another typical Dimmu Borgir record. That they did not descend into the swamp is however no sign of a bad record. The attention to detail, the elaborate, astute song structures and the undeniable crunch forge this delicious slab of folded steel. Metal for the sturdy, but surely nothing for the wusses of the poppy realm.
Now, a slice or two less bombast, epic choir chanting and noodling about the instrumental realm would have made a hell of a difference, though. And would have transformed Eonian from good to great.