On Friday, May 4, 2018, Dimmu Borgir released Eonian, their first full-length studio album in seven years. Fourteen years earlier, Dimmu Borgir were touring in support of what might be considered their “breakthrough” 2003 album, Death Cult Armageddon. Strangely enough, that tour eventually brought the band to Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. And that rare event gave me the chance to get Dimmu Borgir on the cover of the local alternative paper Echo Weekly. That feature interview is reproduced for your reading pleasure here, on Hellbound.
The Norwegian Difference: Dimmu Borgir Brings Black Metal to Kitchener
KW is no heavy metal mecca. Guelph’s at least got Razor to boast of, but as far as internationally recognized bands go, Kitchener rarely even serves as a stopping place. Well, prepare yourselves, because Kitchener’s about to earn a temporary spike on the aggressive music metre. This Friday the tri-cities get impaled with a jagged shard of Scandinavia as Norwegian black metallers Dimmu Borgir arrive to deliver an onslaught of grim sonic brutality.
On a day off between Ozzfest dates in the US, Dimmu Borgir is coming to Kitchener for one of a few headlining shows scheduled to help “finance the whole trip,” vocalist and songwriter Shagrath explains. “We don’t make so much money doing Ozzfest. We have to finance the bus and the crew and all that. That’s why we do the headlining shows in between.”
Despite the low pay scale, Shagrath feels that joining Ozzfest this year was the right move. “It’s a good thing for us to do. It’s very well organized. Everything’s very professional and we have the chance to play with the big bands like Sabbath, Judas Priest and Slayer and all that, so of course it’s a good experience. But when we play there’s not so many Dimmu fans at the actual shows – more potential fans.” While the Norwegians may be unfamiliar to Ozzfest audiences, the Dimmu devotees are definitely not staying away from the headlining dates. “It’s good to come back to the old thing where you have all the fans coming and the people are really getting into it,” he adds.
The past year has brought Dimmu Borgir increasing recognition – a Norwegian Grammy win, positions on Billboard’s Top 200 and Heatseeker charts this year, cracking the 50,000 sales mark in the US with their latest album on Nuclear Blast – but Shagrath doesn’t feel more “successful”. “Of course we do things in a more professional way than we have done before – music-wise, the way we tour, and also bigger budgets for what we’re doing. That’s also the reason we’ve also been concentrating a lot on the American market. Black metal is not really a big thing over here, and to be able to sell records you have to tour and show your faces to the people.”
Coming from the land of Vikings, fjörds, and forests, Dimmu Borgir’s grimly ferocious brand of metal may seem to have little in common with capitalist markets, but Shagrath takes as pragmatic an outlook on merchandising as he does on touring and selling records. “Dimmu’s a very big band in Europe, but right now it’s Nuclear Blast trying to get it big in the States. But we’re a band that always had a lot of merchandising, everything from candy to condoms to bikinis, whatever. Merchandise is very important to be able to promote what you’re doing, to promote the band and to also be able to make a living out of it.”
While you may be able to buy a Dimmu Borgir bikini, the band’s music absolutely does not bring to mind images of sunny beaches, nor are their songs as brutally raw as the work of more traditional “true” Norwegian black metal bands. Instead, albums like the latest Death Cult Armageddon or Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia tend toward the epic and grandiose, complete with bombastic arrangements and orchestra performances. Shagrath explains that it’s all about doing things differently. “First of all we’ve been a band that existed for eleven years, and most of us guys have been into this underground scene for a long, long time. There are a lot of good black metal bands out there but we have chosen to work our own part. We mix the different music styles together, everything from heavy metal to thrash metal to death metal, black metal and everything. We want to explore new territories in music, and we don’t want to repeat ourselves too much either. It’s important for us as musicians to do that. It’d be boring to just do the same thing over.”
Balancing the orchestral and metal requires a certain amount of skill and attention, as Shagrath acknowledges. “We care a lot about the arrangements, and also we have become better musicians so we know how to do this. We have the experience and we’re only getting better at it every time. It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of thinking behind everything, all the arrangements, the riffs. So it takes a lot of time and all that, but as I said, we do things differently – the way we like it.”
While extreme metal has a reputation for indistinguishable lyrics, words are still an important facet of the music, which is why Dimmu Borgir chose to switch to English from Norwegian early on, reaching out to a broader base of fans. But that doesn’t mean new listeners necessarily have a grasp on the subject matter. “If they want to discover the world beneath it then they should look at the lyrics, because the lyrics are very important in the music we do,” Shagrath says. “It’s a very serious form. There is a lot to discover if you actually sit down and see what we’re doing.” In Dimmu Borgir’s case that involves anti-Christian, Satanic and misanthropic themes, he adds. “That’s what we’re all about.”
Although they may be getting the most North American media attention right now, Dimmu Borgir is just one of the numerous black metal bands to emerge from the extreme Norwegian scene. Shagrath believes the reason Norway breeds so many black metal bands lies in the people. “People [there] think differently. They’re not afraid to try out new things, go their own directions. We do have all the best bands, and the most original bands, and all that. It’s so hard to put words on it, but the Norwegian people are quite different from the rest of the world, I would say.
“In other countries and other metal scenes so many bands have tried to copy each other. I think that’s the main problem with black metal bands from overseas and other countries. It’s like, ‘let’s start a black metal band,’ and then they maybe don’t know shit what it’s about, just because they think it’s cool, whatever. And that’s the totally wrong elements to start a band with. That’s like not the way to go.”
Although he believes that black metal is definitely a “24/7” lifestyle, and an indefinable one at that, Shagrath has no intention of shutting out other musical genres. Besides listening to old heavy metal, blues, and rock, he plays in a stoner rock band on the side. “It’s good when you have been playing one style so many years, as I have. It’s a very good thing to do something different for fun. Of course Dimmu Borgir will always be my main priority no matter what, but it’s just good to get some fresh air, you know. It’s good to do something that sounds totally different from what you normally do.”
Fun and fresh air aside, don’t expect to hear any blues or stoner rock anytime Dimmu Borgir takes the stage. When black metal’s come to Kitchener this Friday it’s going to be an unrelenting takeover, Norwegian style.
Friday, August 27 at Elements, Kitchener: Dimmu Borgir w/Darkest Hour and Eclipse Eternal
I also had the chance to review and shoot the Kitchener show for Exclaim. That review, and one of my photos, are still online at exclaim.ca.