Dimmu Borgir - Abrahadabra
Nuclear Blast
Blackened Symphonic Metal
12 songs (58:21)
Release year: 2010
Dimmu Borgir, Nuclear Blast
Reviewed by Tyler
Major event

Oh, how time flies (when I’m having fun?). It seems like years ago that I first heard Gateways, the first single off of Dimmu Borgir’s new album, Abrahadabra. Granted, it has been a solid 4 months since I heard the track for the first time, and another month and a half since the whole album came out. Since then, however, that dirty little bastard of a song has dug itself into my mind; it has become one of the defining songs of 2010 for me, personally. In all honesty, while it is a great track, it is not one of the best songs I have heard all year; I just can not get away from it, try as I might. When it first came out, I listened to it a number of times before stumbling upon a YouTube video of a pitch-shifted version of the song that seemed to suggest that the band’s ex-clean vocalist, ICS Vortex, actually had sung the last part of the song (as opposed to the credited female guest singer, Agnete Kjølsrud). After seeing the video, I introduced the song (and the aforementioned video) to a friend. What followed was a string of weeks where the friend and I listened to Gateways countless times at dangerous volumes and developed an unhealthy infatuation with ICS Vortex. This little Dimmu phase lasted right up until the new album’s release, by which time by expectations for said album had become quite high.

If you have not read my review or the forum posts for the Gateways single, there are a few notable aspects of it that I would like to touch on. In the review, I explained the issues involving band members that the band had experienced leading up to Abrahadabra, including the infamous Snowy Shaw incident. I explained that while I enjoyed the track, I was put off by some of the female vocals, but that the last few moments of the song were particularly memorable, and that over all the song was solid. Finally, the response to the review on the forum was, for me, quite unexpected. I predicted that the response would be mixed; Gateways is certainly a somewhat strange song. But the vast majority of the comments were exceedingly negative. The comments ranged from the minimalistic (“Dimmu sucks”) to the shallow (“they look silly”), from the justifiably off-put (“the female vocals are annoying”) to the questionably silly (“more WWE wrestling anthems coming our way”). I especially liked that last one. I really could not understand why there was this much hate directed towards the band on this website; the band’s full-length albums that have been reviewed by this site have received scores of 79, 94, 95, and a CLASSIC status for Enthrone Darkness Triumphant. Sure, the band has changed their sound greatly since their humble beginnings as one of Norway’s many corpse-painted monstrosities, but despite accusations of “selling out”, it seems the band has remained relatively close to the scene. Over the years, the band has done collaborations with Abbath of Immortal and Hellhammer of Mayhem, Garm from Ulver contributes guest vocals on Endings and Continuations on the new album, and the band is currently touring with universally beloved Norwegian quintet Enslaved.

The first point that I would like to enforce about this album is that this is not, by any stretch of the categorical imagination, a black metal album. It has been justifiably argued that the band stopped being a black metal band as early as their 2001 album, Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, but this album more than any other abandons any notion of fitting into that already narrowly interpreted genre. Shagrath’s vicious growls, screams, and croaks remain high in the mix as always, and the album is not devoid of the occasional blast beat or tremolo riff. Other than those few elements which are present in your typical “true” black metal band, however, Abrahadabra shares little with the cult classics of the 1990s. In fact, the album almost feels like an intentional effort by the band to distance itself from anything even remotely black metal. After all, black metal was, at the time of its birth, a complete rebellion against everything happening in music. Abrahadabra is, in many aspects, a polar opposite of the typical black metal classic. Instead of the typical low fidelity production style (“necro”), the production on this album is crystal clear and incredibly vibrant. Instead of black clothes and spikes, the band wears lavish white coats lined with fur in promotional pictures for the album. Instead of constant, monotonous shrieking, Shagrath utilizes a number of voices alongside a full choir (the Schola Cantorum) and the three guests I mentioned earlier. Instead of a basic band set-up playing a few minor key riffs to some blast beats, this album features the Kringkastingsorkestret (the Norwegian Radio Orchestra), a full orchestra that is often just as prominent musically as any guitar riff or drum beat. Now, I am of course oversimplifying classic black metal, and merely deviating from the original “necro” sound does not ensure any level of uniqueness or quality; if anything, such a defiant rejection of the genres core principles could have resulted in some mainstream black metal atrocity (it has happened before, and the results were not pretty). However, this album, in my opinion, is much too dense and ambitious of an album to be considered even remotely commercial.

Abrahadabra is an album that makes its intentions clear right out of the gate; within the first few moments of opening orchestral piece Xibir, it is clear that this is Dimmu’s most symphonic album to date. Gone are the complex synth arrangements of In Sorte Diaboli; in fact, there is very little keyboard to be heard throughout the album. Abrahadabra’s symphonic elements are almost completely handled by the orchestra and choir, who both actually do a really wonderful job here. On many of the tracks, such as Gateways and Ritualist, the symphony picks up the main melody of the song, with the guitars providing a chugging, metal backdrop. There are a number of moments on the album where the symphony and the band tag-team with each other to create some of the best symphonic metal moments that I have ever heard; see the whacked-out breakdown in Born Treacherous to see what I mean. And while the symphonic elements never really go away, there are some shining moments of pure riffery. Lead guitarist Galder shines brighter on this album than on any other Dimmu album that he has played on thus far; check out Born Treacherous, Chess with the Abyss, and Dimmu Borgir for some of the album’s best riffs and licks. Also, master shredder turned sought-after producer Andy Sneap contributes some of the album’s best leads on Gateways and Renewal.

This album succeeds where some of the band’s other albums have failed; in my opinion, this is one of Dimmu’s most consistent, varied album since Enthrone Darkness Triumphant. Songs like Born Treacherous and The Demiurge Molecule are stomping and slow, while Dimmu Borgir is a catchy, choir-driven anthem, and A Jewel Traced Through Coal is one of the heaviest tunes that the band has put out in awhile. Front to back, there is not a song on this album that sounds like another, and there is not a boring or unmemorable song to be found

While Abrahadabra is certainly an effective and defiant stand against the band’s critics who said that the band could not make a good album without former keyboardist Mustis and bassist/clean vocalist ICS Vortex, there presence is certainly missed at times. While the full orchestra and symphony goes a along way towards alleviating Mustis’s absence, ICS Vortex’s truly excellent clean vocals are missed sorely. The man had a knack for entering into a song and catapulting it to a higher plain of overwhelming epicness; my single favorite moment of any Dimmu song is his clean vocal break in The Sacrilegious Scorn, which I still sometimes listen to on YouTube, rewinding to that part about five or six times before listening to the rest of the song. On the new album, the band has tried to compensate for his absence with a full choir and the clean vocals of Agnete Kjølsrud, Garm, and Snowy Shaw. Unfortunately, none of them fully fill the void. While Agnete’s back-and-forth crooning with Shagrath towards the end of Gateways is an album highlight, and Garm provides some truly excellent vocals on the album’s last track, nothing on this album matches the vocal ascendancy that was every single one of ICS’s singing parts. Most of this album’s clean vocals are handled by Snowy Shaw (currently of Therion), who also does a solid job of handling the bass lines. While Snowy delivers a solid performance that usually befits the music quite well, his vocals are somewhat odd, and I imagine that many of the album’s detractors will cite him as one of its primary flaws. While I have given up the notion that ICS actually sang the last part of Gateways, hearing the YouTube video of the pitch-shifted version of the song, in which Agnete’s vocals sound nearly identical to ICS, it is hard not to think of what could have been.

Other than a debilitating lack of ICS, I only have a few minor issues with Abrahadabra. One of these is Shagrath’s vocals. Now, I don’t mean to alarm anybody, because his growls/screams/croaks/whatever are at top form, when he uses them. However, for who-knows-what reason, he does these odd spoken vocals numerous times throughout the album. They are not bad necessarily (can spoken vocals be bad?), but he just uses them so frequently in situations that do not really even call for them, and I think it takes away from the songs sometimes. Shagrath has some of most full-bodied, articulate vocals in extreme metal, so I’m not exactly sure what he was getting at by using the spoken vocals so much. Also, the sheer bombast of the album can be a tad distracting. There is a thin line between ambitious and pretentious and on Abrahadabra, Dimmu actually bounces between both. This is really an especially minor complaint, though, because pomp and bombast is now what Dimmu is about, anyway. From the band’s image to their music, everything about them is huge. It is metallic grandeur at its most grand, and inevitably, it can come off as a little pompous. But when all is said and done, with an album this good, the band can get away with it.

Lyrically, this album differs from any other Dimmu album in that it is the band’s least violent album, and it has all of one vaguely Satanic reference. Instead of those worn lyrical themes that lyricist Silenoz essentially strangled lifeless on past albums, Abrahadabra draws upon occultism and the teachings of Aleister Crowley to create a unifying theme of self-discovery, self-empowerment, and other such egocentric ventures. I would say that, for the most part, the lyrics avoid narcissism, and instead deal with the recognition that one has been made “blind” by modern society, and the following journey of self-discovery, with all of the loneliness, alienation, doubt, and eventual empowerment that comes with it. This is merely my personal interpretation, of course, but regardless of interpretation, these lyrics are among the best and most deeply philosophical that Silenoz has written to date.

I am not so naïve as to think that this review and this album will not be subjected to some of the same overwhelming negativity that the Gateway review received. As with every forum, there will be those who will barely give this a chance before writing it off as mainstream black metal crap (I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the“WWE wrestling anthems” guy will be one of them). There will be those who go on a tirade, disguised as best as it can be with quasi-intelligent wording, that attack me along with the band, but the general “he doesn’t know shit, Dimmu sucks” theme will remain intact. Which, of course, is really a shame, because Abrahadabra and Dimmu Borgir in general, despite their flaws, are quite great. The band did not get to where they are today without cause, and no, they did not achieve their success because they are “mainstream”. Calling them accessible is a completely reasonable claim, because they are in fact incredibly accessible; very few extreme metal bands have managed to be so incredibly dense and sophisticated in their arrangements while still maintaining some legitimate songwriting ability and catchiness. However, those who call this band “mainstream” have an incredibly skewed idea of what mainstream music is. Last time I checked, the general populace was not listening to bands who wear corpse paint and have full symphonies and orchestras along side distorted guitars on their albums, or who play guitar solos and write lyrics about occultist philosophies. At any rate, I suggest you leave your preconceived notions at the door and have a listen to Abrahadabra, because it is easily among the most ambitious releases of the year, and a clear highlight of 2010.

As one final note, I would like to mention that I got the Hot Topic version of the album, which came with covers of DMDR (Dead Men Don’t Rape) by GGFH and Perfect Strangers by Deep Purple, as well as the music video for Gateways. Both covers are actually executed very well, the former being an especially daring undertaking by the band, and the two tracks are wonderful treats after listening to the album all the way through. Some of the other editions of the album contain orchestral versions of a few of the album’s song, but for my money, the Hot Topic edition is the way to go.

Killing Songs :
Pretty much all of them.
Tyler quoted 87 / 100
Other albums by Dimmu Borgir that we have reviewed:
Dimmu Borgir - Spiritual Black Dimensions reviewed by Tyler and quoted 88 / 100
Dimmu Borgir - Gateways (Single) reviewed by Tyler and quoted no quote
Dimmu Borgir - The Invaluable Darkness DVD reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Dimmu Borgir - In Sorte Diaboli reviewed by Dylan and quoted 79 / 100
Dimmu Borgir - Enthrone Darkness Triumphant reviewed by Jay and quoted CLASSIC
To see all 8 reviews click here
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