DIMMU BORGIR – Eonian Listening Session: “You Can’t Fake A Great Album”
February 22, 2018, a month ago
On May 4th, Norwegian black metal icons Dimmu Borgir will release their long awaited 10th studio album, Eonian, celebrating their 25th Anniversary. In the works for seven years, the album presents the band taking some bold new steps forward that will give the open-minded diehard fans plenty to sink their fangs into, and give the haters more to complain about. Pure and simple, Eonian is not your For All Tid / Stormblast / Enthrone Darkness Triumphant black metal from years gone by (although elements of said albums can be heard); it’s a lot more than that, for better or worse. Following is a first look into the new album with founding guitarist Silenoz, conducted in the wake of a listening session at Nuclear Blast's head office in Germany back in January.
BraveWords: The very first thing that stood out - and it carries through the first four songs - is how open and almost stripped down the songs seem. Some people might interpret that as saying the sound is watered down, but that's not the case. If anything it's an example of "less is more" even though the symphonics and choirs are still in there. The songs make a huge impact from the outset.
Silenoz: "It was partially intentional. On the vocal side, Shagrath made space for the choirs, and I have to give him credit for that because it's not something a lot of vocalists do (laughs). Normally a vocalist wants to hear more of himself or herself. When we were making this album we felt we were able to use our maturity in the songwriting and the arrangements, and have a more objective view. When we write the songs there are egos clashing, so it's important to step back and take a look at what's going on. I think we've reached a much more mature level and I give Shagrath a lot of props for that. We wanted the choirs to do more than just the operatic backing vocals; we wanted to give them lyrical parts and Shagrath was the one the demoed the way they should do it. Then Gaute Storaas, the guy that has been helping us with the scores and arrangements, transcribed those ideas for the orchestra and choir, so there's a lot of stuff going on."
BraveWords: You've basically re-invented yourselves on Eonian, and the motto for this album should be Go Dynamic Or Go Home. I’m undecided as to whether the black metal label fits this band anymore, but Eonian sends a message to other symphonic metal bands - black metal or not - that they can't simply upload and phone in orchestra software and expect to be taken seriously.
Silenoz: "I take that as a compliment because I know how much work went into Eonian. There were huge challenges in making this record, but that's the nerve center of this band. When you make music together you can't control it; you just have to let the monster live its own life, and even if you try and set a deadline on certain things... forget it. It takes as long as it takes. You can fake a good album to a certain point but you can't fake a great album. If you want to make a good album that's an easier job, but if you take the path less travelled you end up doing much greater things."
BraveWords: In many ways Eonian sounds like a guitarist's album. There's one guitar riff at the beginning of the album that sounds so absolutely '80s, and there's an orchestral intro that sounds like it was transposed from a guitar riff. The album seems very riff based.
Silenoz: "If you look at the album as a whole it is very riff based, yes. I think for the first time in a long time, many of the main ideas started with the guitars. I did less on the guitar front on this album compared to the previous one. Galder did a lot of the guitar writing, of course, but Shagrath was also heavily involved in that. We were all involved equally in the song arrangements. We all stepped out of our own egos to make this album. When you're younger you think 'I have to have my riff in there...' but now we're smart enough to see that maybe it's not the right time and place for something."
BraveWords: There are only 10 tracks on the album; it comes off as very compact and to the point. Was it hard cutting material out?
Silenoz: "That was hard, and it's always one of the biggest challenges. The record company always wants extra material and this time the answer was 'no' because we only made the tracks that appear on the album. We weren't going to put tracks on it that we thought less of just to fill up space. You get 10 tracks and that's it (laughs)."
BraveWords: I had no idea what to expect except for the symphonic elements, so the first three songs were a total surprise but in a good way.
Silenoz: "We were kind of afraid of having you guys coming in and judging something we've worked in for seven years as crap (laughs). So to hear the positive things that have been said today, that's a huge compliment."
BraveWords: Dimmu Borgir has been a trio for ages, but the new promo photo suggests that this is now officially a band of five.
Silenoz: "Daray (drums) and Gerlioz (keyboards) weren't part of the writing process on Eonian, but the album wouldn't sound the way it does if they didn't play on it. They've also been a part of the band live and on record for about nine years now, which is actually the longest standing Dimmu Borgir line-up... something a lot of people don't realize. We decided that their trial period is way past over (laughs) and they totally deserve the recognition. We felt there was a need to show that this is a band and it's natural that they should be incorporated in that."
BraveWords: The drums on Eonian are outstanding.
Silenoz: "We pushed Daray really hard, and he pushed himself really hard. I think he spent something like10 days recording the drums, from 8:00am until 6:00pm. He was playing using a click track so his hearing was gone by the end of it (laughs), and sometime he was lying on the studio floor trying to push himself to continue. He worked so damn hard on this album."
BraveWords: You assembled the symphonics and choirs with Gaute Storaas, but it had to start with the seed of an idea. How long of a process was it going from those basic ideas to the final result?
Silenoz: "The thing is we've always used the keyboards as a writing tool, but the bad thing is we can't really read notes. Gaute helps us arrange the parts for the orchestra and choir, and we also have sampled choirs as well. This is actually a very choir heavy album because we felt the need to use that element a lot more. We don't really have a set formula when we write the songs. It's just the three of us sitting around butting heads and exchanging ideas (laughs)."
(Photo by: Alex Solca)
BraveWords: Going back to the dynamics on this album and the amount of space in the songs, all the elements that make up the Dimmu Borgir sound are readily apparent. There's no clutter, no sense of trying to beat people into submission with the musicality of it all. It sounds stripped down at the beginning and the end compared to say the "Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse" era, when it seemed you guys were bent on putting as much into the compositions as possible.
Silenoz: "Well, it's like when we use a gong we want it to be heard, otherwise there's no point in having it there. And we decided early on that we wanted the drums to have a warm and organic sound. We wanted people to hear the dynamic range. The same with the guitars we used for the album; we used passive pickups for the first time in a long time. We were very basic in our approach to the guitars on this album. We have our endorsement deals, but in the studio we use what sounds best to us. The same with amps, pedals and whatever effects we use, it comes down to what gets the best sound out of the guitar."
"The most challenging part is mixing a Dimmu album. You can call it a clusterfuck, but this time the mastering was a big challenge because if there was a song that needed more bottom, it might ruin the sound of another song. So, there were points when we went part by part while mixing it and then mastered it that way."
BraveWords: You've been living with Eonian for the better part of seven years so it sounds different to the fans compared to what you hear. What was your impression when you heard the final version of the album?
Silenoz: "I'm proud of all the albums we've done, but even though we've lived with these songs for so many years now we're not tired of them. And that's even though we've heard different mixes and different masters of these songs so many times. That's a good sign because it hasn't always been that way. There have been some albums where we've spent less time writing them and get tired of them quickly. I can put Eonian on in the car and listen to a few songs, no problem, and that's a year after the album has been mastered and done."
BraveWords: Eonian is a far cry from the early days of Enthrone Darkness Triumphant or Stormblast, as is the stature of Dimmu Borgir. Are you surprised at just how far you've come in terms of songwriting, stage productions, label deals, budgets, haters, fans and recognition in general?
Silenoz: "I'll tell you something, we still use the same keyboard that appears at the very beginning of Enthrone (laughs). We've become way more than we anticipated we could back in the day. As we've moved along we've become more ambitious, because the ambition for any band from our generation wasn't necessarily to make it big. If it was we probably would have gone in a different direction. We just started as a bunch of guys that wanted to make music together, doing Iron Maiden and Tormentor covers before writing our own stuff. And the haters nowadays, they do wonders for us (laughs). Every time they mention our name somebody picks up on Dimmu Borgir, and that gives us some new fans along the way. And it's easier to brush that stuff off nowadays because the haters actually have no idea what we're about."
BraveWords: Is Dimmu Borgir still black metal? I have a hard time with that label judging by what I've heard today.
Silenoz: "The best compliment for me is when people can't label the sound of the album or the band. Of course you can hear the black metal influences of the past on Eonian - on certain tracks maybe more than ever, but they're camouflaged really well. If people still label Dimmu Borgir as symphonic black metal, fine, but we've always been more than that. We've always been looked at as the black sheep in the black sheep family, and we've always caught shit because of what we do, but that's helped us along the way."
On February 23rd, Dimmu Borgir will unveil their first single from Eonian, "Interdimensional Summit".