Up From the Underground
CoC speaks with Norway's Dimmu Borgir
by: Henry Akeley
With the Nuclear Blast release (and fairly heavy promotion) of _Enthrone Darkness Triumphant_, Norwegian black metal has surfaced in its most unapologetically accessible incarnation yet. The combination of talent, ambition, and professionalism which these guys undeniably possess has drawn raves from many listeners (for example, see Pedro's review in CoC #22) - while proving less popular with those who favor crustier, more abrasive metallic material (for example, me). I recently spoke to bassist Nagash, hoping to find out more about Dimmu Borgir's priorities in the present, their plans for the future, and their attitude toward their own more "underground" musical past.

CoC: How has the response to the new album been so far?

N: It's been really fucking good. We've been playing in Germany all this week, and the crowd response has been way better than we expected. And we've sold like 40,000 of them now [in Europe], so everything seems to be going really well.

CoC: The album has a great sound - but I suppose that's what you get when you go to Peter Tagtgren, eh?

N: <laughs> Yeah, yeah, that's exactly what you get.

CoC: How did you like working with him?

N: Ah, he was really good. He would just wait for hours and hours, until you've got everything just right, you know? He didn't care how long it took. He was good and precise. And it's really cool, because we'll be going back in there next week to do a mini-CD, so it will be good to work with him again.

CoC: What's the story on the mini-CD?

N: It'll be out in September. It'll be two new songs and two re-recorded songs off the first album: "Raabjorn Speiler Draugheimens Skodde" and "Hunnerkongens Sorgsvarte Ferd Over Steppene". And we'll be doing a cover version again as well: "Metal Heart" by Accept. And we're recording the new album in January, so we're pretty busy.

CoC: It's been interesting to see the band progress and develop so quickly. That transformation is something I want to ask about, because the sound on the new album is, in a lot of ways, a lot different from the sound that you pioneered on the first two albums. So I wonder: what do you think of the first ones now, especially _For All Tid_?

N: That's the most atmospheric album...

CoC: Yeah, that's my feeling too. Anyway, let me put it this way: what's your attitude toward that earlier material, given that the material you're putting out now sounds so different?

N: I still like the material, and when we play live we still play that material. We still like it; we just naturally progressed. We don't want to make ten albums of _For All Tid_ stuff, you know? We love the songs, and _Stormblast_, too. We play them live. And that's why we re-recorded some of them: because a lot of people who hear the new album, most of them have never even heard of us before - it's like everyone thinks over here that this is our first album. So that's why we're recording some old songs and putting them on as bonus tracks, so hopefully they'll go and buy the old albums. But probably when they do buy the old ones, they'll be like "What the fuck is this shit?!" <laughs> 'Cause that's the mentality.

CoC: I really like the old ones. To be honest, I like them better than the new one, because I think they have a somewhat more unique sound. _For All Tid_, especially, because it's so atmospheric.

N: The thing is, we just re-mastered it, and Nuclear Blast is releasing _For All Tid_ again. We put the two songs from our seven-inch EP on it as well, and it's going to be a full digi-pack. Nuclear Blast owns the rights for it now, and they're going to release that again, too. It'll be funny: everyone will hear the _Enthrone_ album, and then they'll say, "Ah, must be the new album" - and they'll buy it and go "Whaaat?!" <laughs> But it's good.

CoC: Have you had to put up with a lot of criticism to the effect that you've become too commercial now?

N: Especially in Norway, I suppose. But we don't care about it. I don't like these people who run around and say "Ah, we play true underground black metal!" I say, Okay, but we want to be able to get the best out of our music. We want the best promoters that we can get; we want the best sound. You can't do that by not getting any money and just going to bad studios and stuff. So, for us, we don't care what anyone says about that shit. We're doing fine now, and that's what we care about.

CoC: How does it feel to be on Nuclear Blast?

N: It was different at first, but now it's okay. Like, sitting in the Nuclear Blast office eating pizza doing interviews all day - thats what I'm doing now. <laughs> For us, it's a relief. No Colours was okay with _For All Tid_, but they told us, "We cannot do anything more than what we've done." And when we went to Cacophonous, that was totally shit. They didn't do anything, basically. Promotion, everything we asked about, they'd say "Yeah, we'll do it," but they never did it. So then we got off them, and we actually rang Nuclear Blast ourselves, and they said "Oh, yeah!" So it's good - we were really surprised. We just rang up, just hoping, you know? <laughs> We got signed, off the _Devil's Path_ CD: that's what they heard to sign us. And when they heard the new one, they just couldn't believe it. <laughs> Everyone here is, like, just going off about it, which is really cool. And it's good because, like, we've been playing gigs this week, and all the Nuclear Blast people turn up and watch and support, so it's been really good in that way as well.

CoC: Have you been playing many shows since the album came out?

N: Yeah. We did a tour with Cradle of Filth and Dissection, about two weeks before the album came out, just to promote it. We'd only played twice ever before that! And then we're playing to huge venues and crowds - it's like, "Wow!" We got chucked in at the deep end, basically.

CoC: How did it go?

N: That tour was really cool. We played first, which was good for us. And it was good to play with Cradle of Filth and Dissection, because people who maybe hadn't seen us before or heard us before would come to watch them, you know? We played at Dynamo, and we just played at [Sorry - I can't make out the name of the festival on the tape. -- Steve]. That was strange: it was us, Megadeth, My Dying Bride, and Type O Negative or something - and there was like 20,000 or 30,000 people. I'm just walking past Dave Mustaine going "Wow!" <laughs> We're doing a six-week tour in October and November: all of Europe. It'll be us and In Flames and, I think, Night in Gales.

CoC: North America?

N: I hope so. We want to go. We've asked, but Nuclear just wants to check out the sales and stuff. We don't know how it would be: we could walk out on stage and there'd be no one there, or we could walk out and it'd be packed. For us, it's more just, you know, curiosity. So we'll just wait and see how the album goes over there, and if it goes well, then we should be there. But the thing is, we'd probably have to go with Cradle of Filth or somebody.

CoC: Since you've been touring around, what do you think of the state of the metal scene?

N: I think it's good. There are still [a lot of people copying other bands], especially here with the old German bands, a lot of people still copying Accept and Helloween and stuff. Which is okay, but... The black metal, especially in Germany, I don't like very much. We played with these black metal bands last night that weren't too great. But it's strange: I think a lot of big labels are going to start to sign black metal bands. Nuclear Blast just signed another band that I play in from Norway as well. So I just think big companies are going to start picking up the black metal bands, like Music for Nations and Nuclear Blast and Metal Blade and stuff. That's what it seems is just about to happen. So I think, in a way, it's gonna really take off, like in a year or two. But in a way, I hope it doesn't. <laughs> But in a way it's okay, too.

CoC: Why do you say you hope it doesn't?

N: Just because I think it's okay to have one or two black metal bands on each big label, but when they start just picking black metal bands out because they're from Norway or Sweden or something, you know, then it'll just be a trend thing, and you'll have really crap bands on big labels, bands who don't really deserve to make it there. It's just a reputation thing, and I just don't want it to get to that.

CoC: I'm interested to hear you say that, because from here in the States, it kind of seems like the big wave of black metal might be dying down a bit.

N: I don't know at all what it's like over there, but in Europe, it's going up. Myself, I haven't heard a really good American black metal band - but the thing is, I couldn't even name one or two, because over here we don't hear about it, or they don't get promoted at all. But I like a lot of American bands. Florida is my favorite musical part of the world! Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Deicide, Obituary - that's what I listen to.

CoC: What do you think of the more underground side of the scene? I know that's something that you were involved with early on.

N: I think it's underground. <laughs> And the people in that want it to stay like that, you know? So that's cool, because they're striving for what they want. But I don't know... especially at home, it's like everybody sits around really evil and "We're underground," and don't smile or laugh, and have spikes everywhere, walking down the street with corpsepaint and spikes... And the thing that really sucks about the underground scene in Norway is that basically, the worst people into it are like 13, 14-year-old kids, you know? They're like, wearing spikes to school and everything, and they just cause a lot of trouble, like beating people up and smashing windows, and "Ah, this is the underground, we have to make havoc," you know? But they're the ones who get us in trouble. But then there's bands like Satyricon and Darkthrone: they're really cool mates of ours, and they consider themselves underground while we're not, but we can still sit and have a normal conversation with them and drink out with them. Because we respect that they're striving for what they want to do, and that's to be underground, and they can respect that we're doing the best we can. It's basically the younger people who just sit around and don't laugh or don't do anything. That's what really pisses me off: they're little kids running around, and it's just not good, because they end up getting us in a lot of trouble.

CoC: Do you think that some bands end up limiting themselves creatively because they want to project some sort of underground mystique?

N: Yeah, yeah. A band like Darkthrone: if you speak to Fenriz... he just writes for simplicity, and when you hear his drumming, he always says he likes the straightforward beats and the easy drum rolls. He wouldn't vary from that, because that's underground, you know?

CoC: So I take it that you don't really care if someone tells you that "Dimmu Borgir have turned their back on the underground?"

N: <laughs> Not at all; no one [in the band] does. We've actually sat down all together and said "What do we do? Do we tell them to fuck off? Or just say nothing? Or..." <laughs> But nobody actually cares about it at all, and if we get hassled or get a question we just say "Look: you're doing what you want to do, and we're doing what we want to do. Respect that."

CoC: It seems like a lot of people in the underground don't have very much respect for people outside of it... which I can understand, actually, in so far as underground ideals are highly critical of everyday society, commercialism, and so on.

N: But ours are too! I hate society, and for us, everything is just chaos. You know, we do what we want when we want. I don't think it's the ideals that they don't like. I think it's just, like, being [available] in suburban shops - know what I mean? If your records are out in society, then I think that's what they don't like so much.

CoC: Yeah, then the mainstream folk can get their hands on it, and underground people don't have exclusive access.

N: Yeah, that's exactly right.

CoC: Did you ever really consider yourselves a dedicated underground band, or were you a band from the very start that wanted to take it as far as it could possibly go?

N: That's right. We never sat around and said "We're an underground band, and let's just play crappy demo tapes and shit," you know? We're always striving to get to the best, and we're still going, we're not even half way there yet - I hope. We've finally made it to a place where we want to be, and we hope it doesn't just, like, sit and go flat like everybody else sometimes does. We're just progressing all the time. The new stuff is different as well - just to do something different and keep it interesting.

CoC: In what way would you call the new (not yet recorded) material different?

N: It's much more dark and atmospheric, bringing some old sounds back - but with good production. And it's a bit more technical as well, as in more melodically technical. It's not as aggressive as _Enthrone_, but it's still really heavy, and it has the atmosphere there as well.

CoC: Do keyboards continue to be very prominent?

N: Yeah, definitely.

CoC: What would you like to see the band accomplish over the next few years?

N: We want to play heaps and make good albums and do a lot of good stuff. We just want to see how high we can go, you know? We're not just sitting here and going "Okay, we've made it now."

CoC: Any other news?

N: The keyboard player's out, since he (Stian Aarstad) didn't come to Dynamo. A half hour before we got on the plane, he rings us up: "I can't come." We're playing at Dynamo with like, 15,000 people, whatever. So we had to play Dynamo with no keyboards - and he had to go to work instead. After that, we're like, this can't happen again, so he's out. So for this tour that we're doing now and for all the summer tours, we're using Kimberly from Therion. On the mini-CD, we'll probably just do keyboards ourselves, among the band. And for the new CD... it's very hard to find a keyboardist, in Norway especially.

CoC: Any crazy stage show stuff going on?

N: We haven't been able to do much, because basically, at the moment, when we play gigs, it's really chaotic, because there's so much shit to do. But when we do the six-week tour, that's when we're gonna start doing crazy shit. <laughs> At the moment, we've just got the backdrop and the fire-breathing stuff, all the normal stuff.

CoC: Corpsepaint?

N: Yeah, yeah.

CoC: Is that something that you plan to stick with?

N: Yeah. Well, it mightn't always be full-blown, but it'll always be like the white face and the black eyes and stuff... it mightn't always be like the pictures on the CD. We look like that when we play live all the time, and we'll always look like that [in concert], but you might see some pictures where we have, like, just white faces - like a more Goth approach. But that'll be just for photos. Live, everything will be aggressive and full-on.

CoC: A lot of bands that were into corpsepaint early on are getting rid of it now. How come you guys want to keep it?

N: Because it's an expression of ourselves. That's the way I want to express myself, anyway. I could change, but at the moment I want to keep it like that. But I can understand the other bands changing as well, because if they've changed and it doesn't feel right, then they shouldn't wear it, you know? So I can understand it. But for us, we still want to have that kind of expression.

CoC: That's cool. I've always kind of liked corpsepaint - but it did get kind of overdone.

N: Yeah, very. Especially, coming to Germany and seeing German bands with corpsepaint on, we're just like "Oh, no." <laughs>

CoC: Do you get a lot of people wearing corpsepaint at your shows?

N: Yeah, and that's good, I don't mind that. Fans wearing corpsepaint is great, because they get to see us in corpsepaint, so it's cool, you know, looking out into the crowd and seeing people in corpsepaint. It's great, because they care enough, they want to show their appreciation by giving it back. But a lot of people now - because the new album sounds good and all that, everyone's saying, "How come you're still wearing corpsepaint when you're on Nuclear Blast?" and stuff. And I just say, "Well, nobody told Gene Simmons to take it off!" <laughs> And they weren't the evil-est band in the world, you know?

(article submitted 12/8/1997)

5/8/2007 J Smit Dimmu Borgir: Diabolical Masquerades
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
11/18/1996 S Hoeltzel Dimmu Borgir: Storming the Black Castle
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
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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