It’s rare that any band sticks around for a quarter century, especially in extreme music. However, Norwegian symphonic black metal quintet Dimmu Borgir — pioneers of the second wave of the genre — is commemorating the milestone on May 4 with Eonian (Nuclear Blast), its first album in eight years, and a world tour in support of it.
Although it has been the better part of a decade since its last album, 2010’s Abrahadabra, singer Stian Thoresen, better known as Shagrath, says the time between releases was well spent. “We can understand it from the fan perspective that eight years is a long time to wait for a record, but we’re not the type of band to make prefabricated, mass-produced stuff,” he says. “It needs to come from the heart.
“The only thing I can say to justify it is that we toured up until 2014, which means four years of touring around the previous record,” he continues. “And it’s hard for us to be creative while we are on the road and we’re focusing on doing live shows because it requires so much of our attention. So we did our last show at Bloodstock in England in 2014, and after that, it was necessary for the band to take a little longer of a break. We needed to put on the brakes and reflect a bit and make some changes within the family.” Some of those changes included a renegotiation with longtime label Nuclear Blast and a change in management.
When it came time to write Eonian, which is based on a philosophical concept dealing with the illusion of time, the band agreed to not have a strict timeline for writing and recording. For instance, first single “Interdimensional Summit,” which arrived in February, dates back to 2012. On a whole, the album is more riff-based and more economical in terms of its composition than anything Dimmu Borgir has released in years. While there’s still plenty of bombast, it’s not at the sake of the songs, which can’t be said for some of Eonian’s predecessors.
“We decided to get creative and really spend time focusing on the stuff, and we’d be ready when we were ready,” Shagrath says. “I’m actually really glad we did it like this, because this record feels so much more complete. Looking back at it, there’s not anything I would want to change about it. We did a lot of preparation before we went into the studio this time … For us, it’s already kind of a success in that we don’t measure success in record sales, but in the satisfaction of working hard on something with a good result.”
However, recent output from Dimmu Borgir hasn’t been totally absent. In 2017, it released the double DVD Forces of the Northern Night. The package contained two complete concert recordings showcasing the band at its most bombastic: one in Oslo with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra in 2011 and another at the Wacken Open Air Festival in 2012 with nearly 100 musicians onstage. But while Eonian still contains orchestral elements and choirs, don’t expect the band to tour on that level this time out.
“We feel the orchestral side of the band is a closed chapter,” Shagrath suggests. “That’s why we wound up using sampled sounds on the new record instead of having an orchestra. Of course, it’s a more raw side to the band when we play live, so we have to use some backing tracks. We make it complicated for ourselves, adding choirs on songs and stuff.”
As to whether he thought at first that Dimmu Borgir would last 25 years, Shagrath says no. “When you first start a band, you don’t have high ambition levels,” he observes. “That comes with time. The feedback that we got from the beginning from friends and people we were trading tapes with all over the world in the beginning of the ’90s made us pursue this so-called dream further. Music is not what we do — it’s who we are. It’s an expression of our inner feeling. For us, it’s very natural, and we would do it no matter what, and suddenly, it’s 25 years [later].”
Shagrath feels that Eonian serves as an encapsulation of the band’s career as well as the art form of the black metal genre. “If you know the history of Dimmu Borgir and you know the history of Norwegian black metal, I think [the album] sums it up,” he asserts. “So that, for me, is kind of a celebration. I think the album includes a lot of elements that we have used in the past from the early records we did.” He adds that since the group has its own studio, it’s always recording, and it had stockpiled over 500 ideas to consider for Eonian.
And while Dimmu Borgir and black metal as a whole have come very far in 25 years, don’t ask Shagrath for his take on the current state of the scene. “We feel very much connected still to the black metal genre and the expression and the music, but I never really felt part of the unwritten rules,” he says of the original black metal ethos that encompassed elements like purposely lo-fi production and a very regimented look. “The next generation will have their take on it, and who am I to judge? I think maybe the amount of bands [that people are aware of because of the Internet] is too much. Everybody wants to play in a band, obviously. But there are still a lot of quality bands out there, so I try to keep myself updated as to what’s going on.”
He singles out Swedish band Tribulation as one of his favorite newer acts he has been listening to in the last six months. “I don’t think they can be categorized as pure black metal, but it’s something I’m really interested in,” he says. “I really like their latest album, Down Below, and it’s something I myself can identify with. They’re also not afraid of using melodies, even if they have a somewhat stripped-down sound compared to Dimmu Borgir. They’re a band I really dig.”
Dimmu Borgir is supporting Eonian with tour dates Europe, Mexico, South America and Japan, as well as handful in North America, beginning June 15 at Rockfest in Montebello, Quebec. For complete tour dates, go here.