One Step Closer to Armageddon
Dimmu Borgir, Hypocrisy and Norther @ London Astoria, 5 October 2003
by: Jackie Smit
While it is doubtful that they could eclipse Cradle of Filth in terms of album sales, if one were to compare the length of the queue lining up in anticipation of the arrival of Norway's favourite sons to that of the CoF show in April of this year, it would most certainly make a bold statement. Spilling over into the adjacent Oxford Street -- home to several overpriced stores and designer boutiques -- the spiked-up, corpse-painted punters conceivably have a good deal of the passers-by thinking that Halloween has arrived a few weeks early. As much as Dimmu Borgir's fervent detractors would have you believe otherwise however, tonight is not about image -- in stark contrast to many of the bands they are compared to, Dimmu Borgir are still firmly rooted in black metal, and as is evidenced by the distinctly dark and heavy approach of their latest _Death Cult Armageddon_ effort, are unconcerned with toning down their visceral aural assault to gain mainstream acceptance.

First on the bill this evening are Finnish newcomers Norther -- a tried mixture of traditional black and melodic death metal. Clearly drawing their influences from the same well as fellow countrymen Children of Bodom, Norther's finest moments come in the form of "Dream of Endless War" and "Cry". They're unlikely to set the extreme music genre ablaze anytime soon, but are definitely a notch above the masses of melodic mediocrity that pollute record label rosters at the moment.

Death metal has come a long way since Hypocrisy first invaded personal stereos with 1992's _Penetralia_. Although the band plough through a veritable wishlist of long-time fan favourites this evening, they still come across as decidedly dull. "Roswell 47" and "Apocalypse" are not much more than a once-great band going through the motions, and even an airing of a track off their forthcoming record fails to impress. It is only a rendition of the crushing "The Final Chapter" that makes their otherwise yawn-inducing set slightly bearable.

The moment the house-lights drop and smoke fills the impressively decorated stage, a rapturous ovation makes it clear who the audience have come to see. Backed by a fantastically atmospheric light-show, the Borgir collective appear, horns held aloft, and kick into "Allegiance". Bolstered by easily the most crystalline sound I have heard at a London show, the Norwegians are in top form throughout and storm through "In Death's Embrace" and "Vredesbyrd" before launching into the stunning "Kings of the Carnival Creation". While unsurprisingly focusing on latter-day material, they do treat us to some spectacular old favourites like "Spellbound" and "Alt Lys Er Svunnet Hen".

Despite the floor of the Astoria playing host to a number of mini-pits, Dimmu Borgir are a mesmerizing band, and the sheer scope of their almost militant overtures are overwhelmingly compelling in this setting. Nick Barker's drumming, as per usual, is nothing short of phenomenal and Shagrath's voice and stage presence are undoubtedly among metal's elite, but I.C.S. Vortex (also known as Simen Hestnaes) is easily the most effective weapon in their commendable arsenal. His amazing clean vocals are the sound of a fallen angel in his final throes of torment and soar out of the chaos of the band's music on "The Insight & the Catharsis" -- undoubtedly my personal highlight of the evening.

At 23:00 (the standard UK curfew) the performance draws to a close, and judging by the looks on the faces of the majority of the audience members, they would happily welcome another three hours of this. Yes, Dimmu Borgir have not chosen to remake _For All Tid_ again and again, and yes, their new record could potentially propel them toward a very un-black metal stratosphere of commercial acceptance. But the bottom line is that they have reached this level on their own terms, and if tonight's show were to serve as an effective barometer, it's safe to say that their attitude and mindset are still very much in the right place.

(article submitted 20/10/2003)


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