Dimmu Borgir – Purveyors of Symphonic Darkness

Sunday, 21st May 2017

What really needs to be said about long-time veterans Dimmu Borgir? Easily one of the giants of the black metal genre, they’ve lasted well over two decades by evolving and tweaking their sound. Even if some “purists” have shunned them, their ability to push things to the next level has undoubtedly helped to pave their way as one of bands to watch.

After some relative quiet in recent years, rumblings have been getting noticeably louder from the Dimmu Borgir camp as of late. For once thing, their live album – Forces of the Northern Night has recently been released. A long time coming, but fans should no doubt be pleased with the final product. A grand, sweeping visual of the band firing on all cylinders on two separate occasions with an orchestra and choir to give them a sound worthy of spectacle. But that’s not all, after 2010’s Abrahadabra album, the band are set to release a follow-up. By the year’s end we should hopefully be able to hear some new Dimmu Borgir. With these two components in mind, we were able to chat with frontman Shagrath about all the recent and future hubbub.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that the new album [Forces of the Northern Night] was a milestone for the band, being able to do the live recording with a full orchestra and choir?

Shagrath: It’s definitely a career highlight so far. Especially if you check out the earbook edition, it comes with a huge 48-page booklet with both of the shows. For me, this is a power statement of what we are able to do. I’m really glad it was released so we can share it with the rest of the world. So that the people who were not a part of the shows are able to see it in their living room and be a part of it. I’m very proud of it.

Dead Rhetoric: In one of the press releases, I believe the term pinnacle was used to describe the release. In that regard, where do you go from here?

Shagrath: To the moon, I guess [laughs]. I think Forces of the Northern Night puts an end to an era for the band. There were a lot of songs on there related to the Abrahadabra album. So now we are starting with a blank page – we have a new album, and it has a different approach. We did not use an orchestra for the new record. So it’s a new start with different things…where we take it from here? Only time will tell, you know.

Dead Rhetoric: You mention a new album – how much progress has been made at this point towards it?

Shagrath: We have completed the new album. I’ve spent almost three years creating it – it is done and complete. Right now, we are focusing on the other aspects around the release. We hope that it will be out in the fall.

Dead Rhetoric: So it’s completely done and finished – what are you working on going towards its release?

Shagrath: We are focusing on all the details. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the future…music videos and preparation for live shows, and world touring [plans]. All sorts of different aspects around the release. There’s a lot of hard work in front of us.

Dead Rhetoric: Can you give any sort of hints as to the direction outside of having no orchestra this time around?

Shagrath: It’s still really grand and epic of course. I can’t reveal too many details since it’s so early, but what I can say about it is that it includes a lot of elements Dimmu Borgir is known for. You can hear references from 1993 up to today. It’s been 25 years and it’s a tribute to Dimmu Borgir, so to speak. It has all the elements we are known for, and the song structures are really well arranged. The production is nice, it’s very atmospheric and there is a huge choir on the record. It also has more primitive elements. Straight-forward, primitive black metal elements. It’s quite catchy, and each song is different from each other but it all has a riddle between them. We are very happy with the results and can’t wait to share it with everyone.

Dead Rhetoric: That’s great, I’m really looking forward to hearing it. It’s been a long time since there’s been new material…

Shagrath: It’s been a long time, and I know a lot of people have been complaining about that. But it’s not like we’ve been lazy or anything like that. We can only do one thing at a time – it’s been 7 years since the last record, but we don’t want to be that hamster wheel-type of band where we release albums every year. We want to give the fans an honest, authentic, great product and this takes time. On top of that, we have toured the world in connection with the previous album. There’s a lot of things happening behind the scenes that people don’t realize.

Dead Rhetoric: Going back to the live album, YouTube is a major source where people watch things at this point. Do you feel when you create something like this, do you feel you need to do something extra or make it spectacular in some way so that you don’t just have people viewing a stream of different clips on YouTube?

Shagrath: If [they] watch Dimmu Borgir on YouTube, I just feel sorry for them. They don’t have the right sound quality, the right picture quality. If you want something real, you should buy the real product and support the artists. Buy physical editions – it’s very important for the survival of bands for the future. I know that things have changed a lot because of the Internet, but watching music videos on YouTube is not the right way to experience Dimmu Borgir. If you want to maximize the experience, buy the real product.

Dead Rhetoric: How much set up and prep-work goes into huge shows such as those two?

Shagrath: You can only imagine. I don’t know where to start. It could take the whole time we have. If you look at the credits on the release, you can see how many people are involved in the whole process. It’s very time consuming – you need to have a lot of discipline and communication with the people that you work with. We were fortunate to work with very professional people and we made it happen…not only once, but twice. It’s a lot of prep-work.

The show in Oslo, was a bit more well-organized because we had more time to set up and prepare everything. You can only imagine when we played at Wacken, and you have a 35-minute change-over from the previous band, and you have 100 people on stage. There’s a lot of things that could go wrong, technically. It’s very difficult and there are a lot of details that people are not aware of, but we made it happen. I’m very proud of the final product and it’s really cool that people who weren’t there can experience it with really good sound quality and picture quality – the real version.

Dead Rhetoric: Did you have to do any extra work to make sure that everything “pops” the right way? Listening and watching it, there’s a very high quality to it.

Shagrath: It has a lot of dynamics. I think the sound and orchestra is more correct on the live album than it is on Abrahadabra. It’s a better sound experience in my opinion. But of course, as a perfectionist there are certain things that could be improved or done differently, but all in all we are very happy with it. The response so far, from people I’ve heard from, is that they are blown away by it. I’m very pleased with that, and I woke up to some good news this morning that we have entered chart positions at #1 in Germany, Austria, Finland, and Sweden. We still have dedicated fans around the world, and that’s really great news for us!

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned the Abrahadabra album, which looking back had more of a mixed reception to it. Do you think, through hearing the live album, that it may convert some people who might have had a more mixed opinion about it?

Shagrath: Yeah – first of all, every album is linked to a certain time period of your life and we do the best that we can. We cannot please everybody, so of course people will have their favorites. What people have to understand is that for each time we do something creatively in each album, it’s important for us not to put any limitations on our music. We take it in the direction that feels right for the band. We can’t please everybody.

We see a lot of bad comments, like “You should go back to For All Tid in 1993.” Why the hell would we go back instead of going forward? It’s like, use your brain – it doesn’t make any sense for us to go back in time or to a certain recipe that worked at that time. We need to develop, and we have never been a band that stayed [doing] one thing. As an artist, it is very important to develop things into new directions, and not be afraid to try out new ideas. Sometimes you fail, and sometimes you don’t. For me, Abrahadabra is an extremely great achievement and I’m very proud of it. I know certain people don’t like it, and that’s fine with me.

Dead Rhetoric: Right, because you did what you wanted to do.

Shagrath: Exactly. For the next album, we’ll do something totally different again. I’m sure that we will disappoint people, and we’ll make people happy. Everybody is different and that’s the way it should be. But what pisses me off is that all the time and effort we put into this – when they write bad comments about certain things – do they actually realize what is behind an album release? It takes several years of total commitment and dedication, and work 24-7 to make an album. Today’s generation, they don’t seem to appreciate and don’t seem to understand the amount of work that lies behind an album release…and that’s a shame. When I grew up, I used to buy records, pay for it, and of course I didn’t like everything I got, but I didn’t disrespect the band. I appreciate that people actually take the time and effort to do something.

Dead Rhetoric: Totally hear you there. Getting into metal just prior to the Internet, it was like, go to the store and if it had a cool cover or cool name, I bought it…

Shagrath: Yeah, and you gamble…you buy records because it has a cool cover. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s not. But you don’t have to share with the world that, “oh, this is shit” or whatever. People seem to be so unappreciative these days, which is a shame in my opinion. But Dimmu Borgir is a band that will always go against all the rules. It’s not for everybody, and it’s not music for the masses either [laughs]. You either like it or you don’t. Both ways are fine with me.

Dead Rhetoric: In terms of the setlist itself, knowing that this was going to be a big spectacle and production, did you think about which songs would suit that setting the best?

Shagrath: Yeah, there was a lot of planning that went into something like this, but we also wanted to focus on songs from that time period. We had just released Abrahadabra, so that was our main focus at the time, so we chose a lot of songs from that era. It’s difficult – we have been around for 25 years now and have a lot of releases behind us. To pick songs from each album, it’s very difficult. I can only imagine how it is for bands like Kiss, for example. Fans want to listen to certain songs from a time period, but you can’t please everybody. That’s how it goes, but we did have some classics that we have to have in the setlist. Songs like “Puritania” and “Mourning Palace” and stuff like that. But we also wanted to have songs that worked well with orchestral arrangements, so the setlist was picked very carefully in connection with the orchestration.

Dead Rhetoric: As you’ve said, it’s been 25 years and Dimmu Borgir is usually one of the first names that are mentioned when genres like black metal or symphonic black metal come up. What do you hope is the band’s legacy at this point?

Shagrath: The band’s legacy…it’s been 25 years, and maybe I’m seeing things differently than other people, but everything you do is always linked to a time period. I’m especially proud of this latest release [Forces of Northern Night], due to it having such a massive production and we actually finally made it. It’s hard to say really.

Dead Rhetoric: There’s a new album on the way…is there the idea, at least, that there will be some touring within the next year or so?

Shagrath: It’s all in preparation and planning. The new album is the main focus right now, and then hopefully we’ll be back on a world tour in 2018. I think we will hit North America in approximately March or April 2018….right now it’s all in the planning process. So if all goes smoothly we should be back out on the road again next year.

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