May 26, 2017 Interview – Shagrath of Dimmu Borgir
Over the past two plus decades, Norway’s Dimmu Borgir have built a legacy that precedes them. A vital cog in the armor that makes up the history of Norwegian Black Metal, Dimmu Borgir began their journey back in 1993 and, while the scene has changed, the band still remain true to their art. Unifying the essence of melodic Black Metal with larger-than-life symphonic sounds, 1996’s Stormblåst, 1997’s Enthrone Darkness Triumphant, and 1999’s Spiritual Black Dimensions would catapult Dimmu Borgir into bonafide leaders in their respectful genre. Looking back on their humble heritage while keeping their eyes toward the future, Dimmu Borgir’s fire still burns bright in 2017 – as the band release the long anticipated live DVD/CD Forces of the Northern Night – with plans for brand new music for the first time since 2010’s Abrahadabra. Recently, we caught up with Lead Vocalist Shagrath to talk the history of Dimmu Borgir, the hard work behind their vision, plans for the future, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Over the last twenty years, Dimmu Borgir have become leaders in Symphonic Black Metal. From the band’s early beginnings until now, it has been a steady progression in style and form. First tell us, what has this incredible ride been like for you?
Shagrath – Well, it’s been ups and downs if I’m going to be strictly honest with you, but of course this is something that we live and breathe for, you know? This is a commitment for life for us, so it’s basically a lot of hard work and effort for this band. It’s been a great ride but it’s also a lot of hard work. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody to be honest (laughs). It’s great, I’m happy for what we’ve achieved as musicians over the years.
CrypticRock.com – It is understandable that it is a difficult road and you have a lot of challenges. As a band, you have to get the music to the people, you have to work with different personalities within the band. It is certainly a lot of work.
Shagrath – It is a lot of work. It’s a lot more work than people might think it is! Working in a band like Dimmu Borgir, it’s not like a 9-4 where you put your suitcase in the hallway and at 4 o’clock then focus on something else; Dimmu Borgir is 24/7. We work year-round, if people only knew how much. It’s been 7 years since the last album. Things had been going very fast and hectic for Dimmu Borgir, and these days we want to do things at our own tempo and do it the right way because everyone wants a piece of you somehow. At some point, we just kind of needed to take back the control, so to speak.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and as stated, it has been a steady progression with Dimmu Borgir. Many would say the band’s symphonic qualities are the most powerful of any band in the genre. How does the band approach putting together these epic compositions?
Shagrath – Usually it starts sitting in our pre-production studio and we build ideas. We sit alone and come up with different ideas and themes, and then sometime later we get together as a band and try to kind of blend our ideas together into a song. For me, personally, it’s important to kind of add elements to a song that give a certain surprise moment. That’s the cool thing about working with people who have a different mindset: it has a lot of challenges but it’s also great. The symphonic elements usually build from inspiration we get from whatever: it could be from watching a movie or something and we just kind of try to blend it together in songs. That’s usually how it starts.
CrypticRock.com – There is definitely a lot of cinematic quality in the band’s music. That said, it has been seven years now since Dimmu Borgir has released a full-length studio album, 2010’s Abrahadabra. In the time away, there has been other projects, including Chrome Division. What has the time away from Dimmu Borgir been like?
Shagrath – I’ve never been away from them, that’s the truth (laughs). There’s a lot of things happening behind-the-scenes that people are not aware of, you know. First of all, yes, it’s been seven years since the last record, but also take into consideration that since the release of that album we have toured the world more than once. We have also spent two years now focusing on a new record and trying to get it together the best way we can. We also played a lot of summer festivals in 2014. And yes, we have other priorities in life: we have families, we have kids, and also sometimes we want to work on side projects and do other stuff. The reality is that we’ve never actually taken a break from the band. A lot of things are happening, but things take time.
CrypticRock.com – Understood. Sometimes in the eyes of a fan or consumer, if they see no records release, they think that means the band is not active, but that is not always the case.
Shagrath – Yes, if they think we’ve been lazy, then think again: there are a lot of things to deal with when you work in a band like Dimmu Borgir. There are business sides to the band and contracts, agreements, and meetings besides being a creative force as well; there are a lot of aspects that need to be dealt with when you play in Dimmu Borgir. Hopefully those people are able to see it from our side, but it’s not like we’ve been lazy.
CrypticRock.com – Right, there is more than meets the eye. Speaking of new releases, Dimmu Borgir recently released a wonderful two disc/two DVD live collection, Forces of the Northern Night. These are two very intense performances. What was the concert experience like for you?
Shagrath – Without a doubt, it’s the highlight of our career so far. There was a lot of time, effort, and dedication put into this work. We’re very happy that we can share it with the world today for people who did not attend those two shows. It should have come out years ago and I know the fans have been waiting a long time for this, so we want to give them something a little extra and a really nice package. So we decided to also include the Wacken performance, which was done one year later than the Oslo show. Something extra for the fans!
CrypticRock.com – It is exciting to see it finally see the light of day. Obviously it is great to visually see the band, but also the audio quality is amazing. The live feel is there, but it still sounds so beautifully crisp as well.
Shagrath – Yeah, thank you. It’s a very dynamic recording so it’s turned out quite good, but, of course, as a perfectionist you can always see details of things that could have been better. All in all, I’m very happy with the result; I’m very proud of it. There are a lot of challenges when you’ve worked with over 100 people at the same time. You can only imagine all the microphones that were put up in a session like that, and also just to mix a live album like that with all those details is a lot of hard work. I think it turned out very good, so I’m not going to complain about it!
CrypticRock.com – Well, it certainly is a grand way to celebrate the band. Of recent, there have been talks of new Dimmu Borgir material in the works. What can you tell us about the forthcoming new music ahead?
Shagrath – I can’t go specifically deep into the details because it’s not going to be out until fall, but what I can say now is that we’ve spent almost two years making this new album. It’s recorded, it’s finished, and it sounds great; we’re happy with it. It has elements from all throughout the history of Dimmu Borgir: you can hear references from songs and atmospheres that we had back in ’93, so it’s a good combination of all types of atmosphere. We also have very good song structures on this record, but I think we also have very primitive Dark Metal elements and also have symphonic elements. We also have a huge choir, a 30 people choir on this record, but that’s about all that I can tell you for right now.
CrypticRock.com – Fantastic to hear. One of the very commendable qualities of Dimmu Borgir is that the band really are uncompromising. You have done whatever you wanted from the beginning. Back in 2005, you re-recorded Stormblåst and some fickle fans complained, but you were honest. In enough words, you said, “Look, this is what we want to do and it is what we are going to do and that is it.” That is very commendable.
Shagrath – You’re right! There’s always people who will be complaining about this and that! We can’t please everybody. We have to follow our own hearts and do what feels right for us in that moment. Regarding Stormblåst, it was something that we wanted to do because back at that time there were very limited studio budgets. We worked with an engineer that did not understand our vision for that record. The end result of that record, we were not happy with. Even though some people call it a classic today, which is fine with me, but I still prefer the re-recording of the album. It has more of the right vibe and atmosphere that we were looking to express through our music.
CrypticRock.com- Perhaps people hear one thing and that sticks with them. With that comes an expectation and some do not understand that maybe is not what the artist initially envisioned.
Shagrath – Yes, and there are also a lot of unappreciative people on the internet these days, which I think is a shame. But it is what it is and we can’t please everybody, that’s just how it is. We’re just going to keep doing what we want to do and if you like it that’s great. If not, just listen to something else, you know? Simple as that!
CrypticRock.com – Now, with new music ahead, people are going to start wondering will Dimmu Borgir be touring, more specifically in North America, sooner than later?
Shagrath – Yeah, that’s already in the planning for 2018. Right now we’re just focusing on the details regarding the new album and everything that goes along with it. But in 2018, I think we will be back in The States around probably March or April if everything goes as planned. We will do a US tour, we will back, of course.
CrypticRock.com – That is something to look forward to. North America definitely loves Dimmu Borgir. You have been to the USA many times throughout the years. A stand out in your history of visiting The States was when the band was chosen to play the main stage of Ozzfest back in 2004. That was very interesting, obviously there were in-the-know Dimmu Borgir fans attending the shows, but many people were in the dark about what to expect, so it was very different to see Dimmu Borgir on the main stage like that.
Shagrath – Yeah, I think it was in 2004 if I remember correctly and it was a really great tour. To be able to perform on the same stage as Judas Priest, Slayer, and Black Label Society, and opening for Black Sabbath the whole tour was amazing. It did the band a lot of good! I could also see from the stage that people had no clue what this was about. It was like, ‘What the fuck is this?!’ (laughs) But that’s all good! Maybe they discovered the band later and realized that there’s something to it? Some people didn’t, I guess, so it’s all good. It was a great tour and great memories from that time period.
CrypticRock.com – No question, that has to be an exciting memory to reflect on. The Black Metal scene has shifted in a lot of ways through the years. There have been various offshoots of the sub-genre. What are your thoughts on the artistic state of Black Metal in 2017?
Shagrath – To be honest with you, I’m really surprised that Black Metal is still as strong as it is through all these years. Of course, in the early ’90s, all the great releases that came out from that time period were magical for Black Metal. It has kind of faded though throughout all the years with the amount of new bands and all that, but I’m still happy to be part of the scene even though Dimmu Borgir has been a band that kind of carved our own way. We also come from the underground scene and I think it’s great. We have a lot of quality bands in the scene and it seems like it’s bigger than ever, which is a big surprise to me, but I’m happy about that.
CrypticRock.com – It is very interesting to see the popularity of the musical style expand like it has. Not to stereotype anyone, but there are even people one would not expect showing an interest in Black Metal doing so in recent years.
Shagrath – This genre has become more acceptable amongst people: it doesn’t have the same shock value as it used to have in the ’90s. It’s still all good in my book! I can see that also in the Norwegian festivals, like the Inferno festival. The amount of people that gather to see these shows and listen, it’s very much still alive.
CrypticRock.com – And that is excellent to see. You, as an individual, clearly have very diverse tastes, judging by your work with Dimmu Borgir and Chrome Division. It is easy to see you have a love for different types of Rock-n-Roll. Can you tell us a little about your influences?
Shagrath – I think that I have reached an age over 40, and as you get older you also hopefully get wiser and you also find interesting elements in different types of music. I have a lot of bands that I like but I try not to be a copycat and copy bands that I like. But you’re right, I have a very diverse taste in Rock-n-Roll music. I grew up listening to bands like KISS, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Marley. This is music that I still like to listen to. I have a very diverse taste in music, which I think is good for my own creativity when I create music.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly is, and a lot of musicians have a diverse taste in music. As stated, a lot of people assume that if you are in a Metal band you listen to Metal. They assume that if you are in a Rock band, you just listen to Rock, and that is simply not the case. Musician have many different tastes and are very open to different styles.
Shagrath – Absolutely. If you asked me, for example, in 1992, I probably would have had a completely different answer. You get more mature with time and more open-minded with time as well. You can find a lot of darkness in other styles of music as well, not just Metal.
CrypticRock.com – That is certainly true. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror and Science-Fiction films. If you are a fan of Horror of Sci-Fi films, what are some of your favorites?
Shagrath – I certainly wish I had more time to watch movies but I don’t. The most recent thing I’ve discovered is the Netflix series Stranger Things. I really enjoyed that and I even got the vinyl version of it. I’m a big fan of the Hellraiser movies, Freddy Krueger, and Indiana Jones, actually. Also, all those good movies from the ’80s like The Goonies (1985), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and all that stuff. That’s stuff that I really enjoy watching when I have the time to watch movies. I like the classics, especially from the ’80s. Sci-Fi, maybe not so much: Aliens (1986) is probably the closest to Sci-Fi that it gets for me.
CrypticRock.com – And the Alien films are basically half Horror and half Sci-Fi; they are a balance of both.
Shagrath – That’s something that I really enjoy!
CrypticRock.com – These films that you mentioned, even Stranger Things, are centered around soundtracks, more or less, the music plays a vital part to each of them. Have you ever thought of composing music for a soundtrack?
Shagrath – Yes, that would be a dream come true. That’s what I would love to work with more in the future if I ever get the time to make film music. It would be high-priority for me, personally. That’s definitely something that I would really like to do!
CrypticRock.com – Excellent! As we have spoken about the cinematic quality of Dimmu Borgir’s music, the band has done some really cool high-production videos with a lot of prosthetics and such. This in mind, do you have any interest in working in film outside of composing a soundtrack?
Shagrath – If I ever got the possibility, I would definitely consider it!