Dimmu Borgir - Abrahadabra (Nuclear Blast/Riot)

Abrahadabra is another worthy string to Dimmu Borgir’s ever burgeoning bow and with the sidestep that was In Sorte Diaboli, can be considered as the next musical step after Deathcult Armageddon. There is a great maturity in the songwriting, and they have managed to make use of the Orchestra. No doubt they will have learned many things in the process - and I, for one, eagerly anticipate what they will do next time.

With all the recent turmoil within this band, from ejecting members, threats of legal action over ownership of material involving said previous members, newly announced members leaving in a heartbeat, prominent members marrying the ex-wives of Hollywood Actors, and a rotating drum stool which makes that of Spinal Tap look stable, the credibility of Dimmu Borgir was starting to wane considerably.  Their announcement that they were now officially a 3-piece was (as purveyors of THE SYSTEM would know) bordering on suicidal.

Based as much on these facts as well as the incongruous title, I approached Abrahadabra with much skepticism. However, I can say straight off the bat that Dimmu Borgir have delivered the goods and created a landscape of musical architecture which does the utilisation of a 100-piece orchestra justice.  On first listen the album was clearly grand and epic, and needs to be played loud for its impact to be fully realised.  The songs initially came across as a little quirky, disjointed and non-cohesive in their structure; but by the time I reached the end of the album, I had acclimatized and, just like with the flash game Lola and Popy I was itching to have another go and see if things would go over the line.

The first track is an instrumental, which in itself is a little cliché but a fair way to kick things off.  It starts off sounding almost tribal, and then morphs into an orchestral piece.  The first thought that came to mind was Cradle of Filth, say from Damnation and a Day, but that thought quickly faded. It became apparent that was about as obtuse a generalisation as to say that all metal bands sound the same because they use guitars; the album doesn’t sound like Cradle of Filth.  What is quickly apparent however is that the compositions are written primarily with orchestration in mind and then adapted to metal rather than vice versa.  The orchestral version of Gateways drives this point home, sounding like it is the original version of the track rather than an adaptation of what should probably be more appropriately titled as Gateways (metal version).

 

That being said, after a few listens, songs like Born of Treacherous and Gateways are prime examples of how well Dimmu Borgir have managed to integrate the orchestra with their music. The quirky chanted vocal breaks, orchestra interludes and even the initially demented, child-like sounding vocals in the early part of Gateways start to make sense and make the songs more interesting.  The orchestra is not relegated to a supplemental atmospheric role, which would have made it a glorified keyboard.

Snowy Shaw does an excellent job on the bass, keeping things interesting and the mix is friendly to him. Daray’s drumming is pretty much what the music calls for, and whilst (necessarily for the sake of the overall production) sounds a little emasculated there is still a fair slab of brutality being delivered.  I have to say though; I feel [former member] Tjodalv’s drumming would have fitted in perfectly on this album; his capacity to lay down a groove and some different beats along with his sense of finesse would have interplayed and accented the musical context well: feel can sometimes carry you further than technical prowess. Sadly, as long as Dimmu Borgir only has a session member on the drum stool, they will find it hard to cultivate any such feel from anyone.  Hellhammer may have pulled it off, but he got bored in the process.

Snowy Shaw’s vocals don’t make an appearance until Chess with the Abyss, though here they aren’t really prominent and play more of a backing role to Shagrath’s vocals, complementing them very well (more on that later). Regardless of the lyrical content, the track almost has a swashbuckling Pirate vibe to it. That may sound wrong but the song itself isn’t.  In fact by this point, something else is becoming apparent. In past albums (mostly Death Cult Armageddon and Puritanical) some of the tracks would start off aggressive and full of energy, then taper off and get a little drawn out and boring past halfway mark, as if they got lazy.  The tracks on this album are more consistent in their intensity throughout, this becoming more apparent as the album progresses.

The track Dimmu Borgir is rather interesting; my first thought was why on earth is there a self titled track. The choir sounds amazing, and is a blunt reminder of how much better the real thing sounds than a sample, however what becomes interesting is the atmospherics which sound very reminiscent of Stormblast (particularly the re-issue); the album where Dimmu Borgir did in a way come of age and start to find their sound. Some of the melodic riffing and other elements sound like they came from the pre-Puritanical era so perhaps the song title is appropriate, signifying that this track is a distillation of what is the essence of this band.  Speaking of melodic guitar work, Astennu’s melodic guitar sound would have added an extra dimension to this album; the potential interplay between his guitar sound and the orchestra being a lost opportunity. All personal and professional considerations aside, without him something is missing from the band.

Speaking of things being missing, one of the darkest clouds hanging over this album was the absence of Vortex and his clean vocals. I have to say, I for one did not miss them at all, if anything they had gotten to the point where they were just being used for the sake of coming across as being sophisticated or innovative.  Ritualist heralds the first time Snowy Shaw’s vocals are used in a more prominent capacity and they work very well, adding a dark shade to the music that is very welcome, and almost, in a tiny way, sounding like a clean adaptation of Shagrath’s aggressive vocal style.  They fit well and the only gripe is that his vocals aren’t used any more. Perhaps this precipitated his expedient departure from the band.

The remaining tracks on the album are solid,  A Jewel Traced Through Coal and Renewal in particular being heavier blast-driven songs as an overall entity yet not one-dimensional, with Renewal featuring Snowy’s vocals, the only other track to do so on the album, and again adding a darker texture.  The Demiurge Molecule, whilst being a slower track in parts manages to touch on an element of darkness which I have always been looking for in Symphonic Black Metal, and not to be confused with standard atmospherics.  This is something hopefully they may build on with the next album. The album closer Endings and Continuations is a little more upbeat and grand, but also incorporates some aggressive drumming from Daray and builds to an almost anthemic vibe. Krystoffer Kreig's (from Ulver) clean vocals feature heavily in a capacity analogous to what Vortex would have delivered.  Though it is a little curious why Snowy Shaw didn’t deliver the vocals here, Krystoffer’s vocals work for this track.

On an abstract note, the video clip for Gateways shows us that Dimmu Borgir have also managed to come up with even more ridiculous outfits. Thumbs up guys, this was important! They would have done Arcturus proud.

Abrahadabra is another worthy string to Dimmu Borgir’s ever burgeoning bow, and with the sidestep that was In Sorte Diaboli, can be considered as the next musical step after Deathcult Armageddon. There is a great maturity in the songwriting, and as well as they have managed to make use of the Orchestra no doubt they will have learned many things in the process. I, for one, eagerly anticipate what they will do next time.

Dimmu Borgir's Abrahadabra is out now on Nuclear Blast/Riot.