Dimmu Borgir – Eonian (Album Review)

Dimmu Borgir – Eonian (Album Review)

Eight long years after Abrahadabra, Dimmu Borgir has returned with Eonian, their first studio record in eight long years, and it arrives Friday, May 4, 2018, thanks to Nuclear Blast.

Some major lineup turmoil was afoot at the time their previous effort, Abrahadabra, was released in 2010, eventually resulting in the dismissal of longtime members ICS Vortex on bass and vocals (to the joy of Arcturus fans), and Mustis on Keyboards. Fortunately, no personnel shuffles are to blame for this most recent gap.

Instead, the band has been busy touring, and during these travels they made a concerted effort not to write new material. Fresh members Gerlioz (keyboards) and Daray (drums) return here from Abrahadabra, cementing their places alongside founders Shagrath (vocals) and Silenoz (guitar), as well as permanent fixture Galder (guitar).

Despite this lineup solidifying over the better part of a decade, some fans might feel Eonian is a choppy combination of new and reinterpreted elements. In the past, Dimmu Borgir could be charitably described as a booming, bombastic presence, fraught with sweeping orchestrations (both authentic and sampled) that set a definite mood of foreboding and fear. While some listeners found these efforts to be over-the-top, Dimmu Borgir had a product, one they could replicate and expand upon; one to be addressed but never ignored.

Eonian, on the other hand, finds the band at a more primitive point, and some could argue the lineup changes still find the band struggling for a new identity. Consisting of 10 new tracks, the album is overcome by two sounds that drown out most attempts at cohesion: a near-euphoric choral accompaniment, as well as some admittedly low-level keyboard work. The choral aspects approach Broadway levels of good cheer at times, while the keyboard in particular sounds almost like it was added deep into post-production, as an afterthought; its movements stick out of most songs where it is used, and its tone and pacing are at best out of place.

Frantic industrial orchestration and woozy choral machinations combine to quickly strangle the opener, “The Unveiling,” but any initial trepidation is quickly cooled with a strong guitar hook laid flat over blast-beat drums. This respite ends quickly, with Shagrath entering with some whispered, off-kilter growls tickled by simple keyboard accents. Eventually, both are overcome by the first appearance of the near-happy chorus, which continually sets an odd feeling of positivity. Some classic Shagrath pipe work does emerge later in the track, but, the vibe is certainly different for Dimmu Borgir. 

Later, “Council of Wolves and Snakes” falls into this same formula of a Techno opening and oddly directed chorus, with the added bonus of howling wolves. The verses are almost spoken word, with more of the expected Shagrath work forcing its way out. In addition to the chorus and keyboards, a new player has emerged: an Eastern-style chant that seems forced and trite. That in mind, “Interdimensional Summit,” the first teaser released by the band, is a near-typical Dimmu song, with the guitar work and vocals trying to out-rasp each other. 

Moving on, “Ætheric” emerges from silence with the sound of a space cadet guitar replaced suddenly by the typical blast beats you would expect from Dimmu Borgir. However, about a minute in, the song takes a dramatic shift and begins to sound like the band’s Norwegian brethren, Satyricon. On the latter half of the album, “Lightbringer” falls into this same mold. Perhaps these licks were meant as an homage, but for a band already well-established in its own right, sending such a nod to your contemporaries seems like an odd move. That aside, “Lightbringer” otherwise emerges as one of the stronger tracks from Eonian.

That in mind, “The Empyrean Phoenix” could be one the stronger tracks from the record, but the first half is a mishmosh of a handful of different genres. On a more positive note, the second half of the track ends with some memorable guitar work, combining staccato playing with a bit of minimalism, and the single operatic voice over top adds value without drowning out the other strengths.

On past albums, the smallest hint of any lightheartedness was surrounded and pummeled by the band’s over-the-top bombast of evil orchestration and guttural snarls. Here, there are portions where vocals, keyboards, and even guitar sound as clear and crisp as a bright spring day. The album eventually fades out with a number of songs that sound like proper closers: “Archaic Correspondence,” “Alpha Aeon Omega,” and the actual closer, “Rite of Passage.” All feel like they could be the end, making for an awkward progression, as if the band is making a series of encore appearances.

Two albums and eight years have passed since the sudden and acrimonious departure of Mustis and ICS Vortex, so change is and should be expected. This is Black Metal: changes come, members shuffle on and off, bands continue to record, replacing or superseding pieces as needed. Unfortunately, some fans may feel Eonian finds Dimmu Borgir still at a crossroads regarding the path it wants to take. Not a bad record, with an absence of the sheer wall of atmosphere employed in the past, Dimmu Borgir falls back on a guitar-heavy sound. Even still, it is great to see Dimmu Borgir back with new material, and we can only hope for more sooner than later, as well as more touring. For this, CrypticRock give Eonian 3 out of 5 stars. 

Purchase Eonian:
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Adrian Breeman
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