Norway’s best-known export, Dimmu Borgir needs no introduction – they’ve been the leading exponent of symphonic black metal since helping to establish the genre’s roots in the mid-1990s and have crafted some of the darkest, most memorable albums in modern metal, period. Eight years since the last full-length, fans finally have the chance to hear their long-awaited tenth studio album Eonian, released May 4th on Nuclear Blast Records. Soaring expectations coupled with the band’s reputation have made this one of the most anticipated heavy records of 2018. The only problem?
It’s really not that good.
While Dimmu Borgir has become synonymous with constant growth and sonic experimentation, often incorporating new elements with each subsequent release, they’ve always managed to keep their core identity intact; broodingly intense and distinctly threatening. By contrast, Eonian feels rather tame in its overall approach – lacking the urgency that made their earlier records so captivating.
The most noteworthy addition to these arrangements is the inclusion of live choir vocals which are heavily featured throughout the record. At times, as on “Interdimensional Summit” and “Lightbringer,” these add a welcome depth and atmospheric texture to Shagrath’s vocals, but they are overused and quickly become predictable on many of the other tracks. Prominent symphonic elements continue to define Dimmu’s sound and are also used liberally, but without the elegance heard on In Sorte Diaboli or the ferocity of Death Cult Armageddon, they often stand in the way of the guitar riffing and undermine the darkened lyrical thematic. There are also some strange, oddly-chosen synth melodies that sound like late additions in the production process and feel, very much, like contrived afterthoughts. The epic, Viking-battle-anthem vibe of “AETheric,” for example, is all but ruined by the juvenile xylophone motif that seems marooned on its bridge section.
All that said, there are some worthwhile tracks on Eonian. “Archaic Correspondence” harkens back to a more familiar death metal sound, as the band burns through blastbeat verses and some impressive instrumental wizardry. Industrial influences can be heard on the bridge and are well-executed. “Alpha Aeon Omega” features highly-finessed orchestral arrangements, striking a nice balance between straight ahead speed metal and elevated theatrics. All in all, though, it’s just too little, too late.
Having been delayed in production since 2013, this most recent LP seems a touch incohesive and is fraught with lapses of inspiration, feeling more like a timid goodbye than the powerhouse return-to-prominence we’d been hoping for. And while there’s no doubt that Dimmu Borgir’s legacy has already been cemented, Eonian does little to strengthen it any further.
Written by Mickey Ellsworth
*edited by Danielle Kenedy