Diabolical Masquerades
CoC chats with Shagrath of Dimmu Borgir
by: Jackie Smit
You're likely to have heard the rumours by now -- and let's face it: if you haven't, you definitely ought to consider using the Internet for something other than downloading porn -- that Dimmu Borgir's latest opus, _In Sorte Diaboli_, shifted more than fourteen thousand units in its debut week alone. And whether you love or loathe their musical antics, there's no taking away from the fact that their considerable success has come with very little pandering to the mainstream. Indeed, listening to the album opener and lead-in single, "The Serpentine Offering", it's clear that the Norwegian sextet have -- abstract elements notwithstanding -- ostensibly stuck to a course they had mapped out as far back as _Enthrone Darkness Triumphant_. Not that Shagrath, the band's matter of fact frontman, would agree; at least not as far as genre tags are concerned.

"We are so much more than a black metal band now", he starts. "We have some of the elements that those bands are known for, but we are so much more as well. We incorporate all sorts of other elements into our music; death metal, thrash metal, classical and a whole lot of other stuff. The term black metal today is so watered down anyway, I don't know what black metal is anymore."

While recent efforts by Deathspell Omega, Lunar Aurora and, most recently, Marduk may not quite put paid to the latter half of that frankly unsurprising quip, it's also worth considering that Dimmu Borgir have long since ceased to cater to the aforementioned acts' comparatively niche audiences. Rather they have remarkably ascended to the same lofty heights as the metalcore pretty-boys that dominate MTV. So, with so much momentum behind them, why risk going the route of the concept record now, particularly considering how many others have tried and failed dismally to do so?

Shagrath: The idea came back in 2004 when we decided to take a break after having done the Ozzfest. At that point we had spent so much time together we were all getting sick of each other, so we needed some time out. Several people in the band had also been dealing with separate family issues and having children and whatnot, so Silenoz [guitarist] was probably the only one out of all of us that ended up having time to really work on anything new. So he came up with the concept of the new record, and he started to write the story then, and we eventually finished it up together when we hit the studio.

CoC: So it's been a long time in the making then?

S: Yeah, the idea has been around for a while. But we write music and lyrics very separately, so completing the concept was more about getting the words to fit together. I should also say that nothing about the concept is actually different to any of the things that we've spoken about before; it's just presented in the shape of a story this time. None of us really participated developing the actual concept either, that was all Silenoz.

CoC: Given how long particularly yourself and Silenoz have been working together now, did you change anything about your method or your approach in the studio?

S: We weren't as well prepared as we normally are for this record. We'd only spent about six months putting all the songs together when we booked the studio, and I was actually really worried about how it would all turn out. A lot of material wasn't finished yet, and I had only worked on vocal patterns for three of the songs. So I wasn't sure whether we'd be able to do everything on time, and in the end we put together some of the songs while we were already in the studio. Apart from that, the whole process actually went much smoother than it's gone for us in the past. Everything from getting the sound for the guitars and the drums and doing the tracking was really easy. We all came in separately and did our parts, and we spent about five weeks on the recording in total, which is much shorter than we've done in the past. The _Deathcult Armageddon_ album, for example, was done in three months; and probably the big reason for that was that Fredrik Nordstrom's studio was then still located in the centre of Gothenburg. So we'd only work from about eight until four every day, and then go out every night and spend money on drinks and on strip clubs and whatever else. But now Fredrik's studio is located in the countryside, and there's nothing around for miles except for a restaurant, so you're forced to spend more time working. Plus we had a second producer [Patrik Sten] working with us, so we were able to do a number of things at once.

CoC: I was interested in the dynamic behind using two producers, actually. What made you guys decide to bring in another person, especially given the fact that you've been working very closely with Fredrik for the past few records?

S: Patrik actually works for Fredrik, so it wasn't quite a case of bringing in two guys who didn't know each other at all. It was really just so that we could get more things done in a shorter amount of time. At the same time, it was good to have someone else to give their opinion on things who we hadn't worked with before. All the ideas come from us though, and both Fredrik and Patrik only gave a few small suggestions here and there. The music and everything else is all down to us.

CoC: Having taken some time out before you did _In Sorte Diaboli_, how did you feel about the response that you'd received for _Deathcult Armageddon_? Did that weigh on your conscience at all when you started on the new record?

S: The response for that album was amazing, but we did a lot of hard work for it as well. We toured so much and we did so much promotion, and that's probably also why it sold quite a lot -- especially in the US, where the sales really went up right after we had done the Ozzfest. So, it's very important that you show your face if you want to sell records. You can't just release an album and sit on your ass and expect things to just happen. If you want it to happen, you have to make it happen.

CoC: How do you feel about that album from a musical point of view after four years of performing its material on the road?

S: I love it. I think it's probably one of my favourite Dimmu albums.

CoC: There are a few changes on _In Sorte Diaboli_ though; at least as far as the record being much more guitar-orientated and the symphony orchestra no longer being present.

S: Well, the main reason for that was actually that most of the material was written on guitar this time round. Our keyboard player [Mustis, aka √ėyvind Mustaparta] wasn't very inspired to come up with new material. So in the end, the record was a lot more basic and a lot more organic than some of the things we'd done on the last two albums. I think there's a thrash metal vibe to some of the songs for sure. There's also some traditional heavy metal elements on there; all kinds of extreme music, really. But that's always been a part of our package, and to be honest I enjoyed doing things a little differently with the new album. I don't want us to be a band that repeats itself too much.

CoC: Was doing the Chrome Division project last year a way for you to exercise a couple of musical impulses that wouldn't normally have had a place in Dimmu Borgir?

S: Yeah, well I love rock 'n' roll, and that's not really something that could ever be a part of Dimmu's music. Most of this band are all into a lot of different styles of music, but none of us take inspiration from our favourite bands to use in Dimmu Borgir. That said, from time to time you need to live out the fantasy of playing in another band or doing a different style of music, so from that point of view doing Chrome Division was really good for me. To play in a rock 'n' roll band, work with other people and do something different was something I was really into, and it's something that's now made me even more focused on Dimmu. I think that everyone in the band is more eager to work with Dimmu now, because it's been a while since we've really done anything new. Still, I think that everyone will also still be doing side-projects from time to time.

CoC: Staying on the topic of the differences on the new album, what made you decide not to use a symphony orchestra again?

S: Well, we'd done it so many times before, and plus it's really hard work to record with an orchestra. You have to spend a lot of time beforehand getting things right; they're tuned in a different way to the rest of the band, it's very hard for them to follow a blast beat, and so on. It also makes for a lot of work after you've actually recorded it. So this time now, we decided just to use orchestrated sounds on the keyboard, which creates the same effect anyway.

CoC: Hellhammer first worked with you guys doing the re-recording of _Stormblast_ and he's been brought back for _In Sorte Diaboli_. Does this imply that he's going to be a permanent fixture in the Dimmu line-up moving forward?

S: No, he won't be a permanent member, because he's so occupied with Mayhem. He's also in Arcturus and a bunch of others I can't even remember the names of. So we'll keep him as a session member for the time being. Beside our drummers leaving us, we've been stable for a while now and we don't feel that we have to have another permanent member in the band.

CoC: You generally seem to have such bad luck with drummers as soon as they become permanent members anyway...

S: <laughs> Yeah, that's right. We don't want to get anyone else in as a permanent member at this stage.

CoC: After eight albums and probably more success than any black metal band on the planet, what do you feel is still left for Dimmu Borgir to achieve?

S: That's a good question. I don't know, actually. I think we've done almost everything that we could have possibly expected, and when you get to the top, there's only one way you can go, you know? So, I don't know. I think there are possibly a couple of things that we may try and do with different types of shows in the future. We could possibly do something with a live orchestra in the future; that could be an idea.

CoC: Last question: given the buzz that's already built up around the album, I imagine the next two years are going to be pretty busy for you guys?

S: Oh yeah. We're doing the North American tour now, which will last right through May. Then we have festivals throughout the summer, the European tour which will kick off around September, and hopefully if we have some time left, we'll get back to the States before the end of the year.

(article submitted 8/5/2007)


CHATS
4/29/2004 P Schwarz Dimmu Borgir: In Deep With the Deacons of the Dark Castle
8/22/2003 J Smit Dimmu Borgir: The Death Cult Beckons
5/13/2001 A Bromley Dimmu Borgir: Majestic Visions, Triumphant Sounds
8/12/1997 S Hoeltzel Dimmu Borgir: Up From the Underground
11/18/1996 S Hoeltzel Dimmu Borgir: Storming the Black Castle
ALBUMS
4/20/2007 K Sarampalis 8 Dimmu Borgir - In Sorte Diaboli
11/24/2005 J Smit 7 Dimmu Borgir - Stormblast (2005)
9/21/2003 J Smit 8.5 Dimmu Borgir - Death Cult Armageddon
3/26/2003 Q Kalis Dimmu Borgir - World Misanthropy
3/13/2001 C Flaaten 9 Dimmu Borgir - Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia
3/14/1999 P Schwarz 8 Dimmu Borgir - Spiritual Black Dimensions
11/19/1998 P Schwarz 5 Dimmu Borgir - Godless Savage Garden
7/14/1997 P Azevedo 9 Dimmu Borgir - Enthrone Darkness Triumphant
4/9/1997 S Hoeltzel 8 Dimmu Borgir - Devil's Path
8/12/1996 S Hoeltzel 8 Dimmu Borgir - Stormblast
GIGS
10/20/2003 J Smit Dimmu Borgir / Hypocrisy / Norther One Step Closer to Armageddon
8/12/2001 C Flaaten Dimmu Borgir / Destruction / Susperia Puritanical Destructive Predominance
5/13/2001 M Noll Dimmu Borgir / In Flames / Nevermore Crimes in the Mourning Palace
5/19/1999 P Azevedo Dimmu Borgir / Dark Funeral / Dodheimsgard / Evenfall The Darkest Night of the Year
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