posted on 1/2006 By:
It's gotta be lonely at the top. Dimmu Borgir’s meteoric ascent into commercial success and corresponding loss of all street cred have at this point become an important piece of metal history; they’re the black metal answer to thrash’s Metallica as far as sheer ex-fanbase animosity goes. Now, to me the idea of something as esoteric and unfriendly as black metal having any real commercial viability seems a little preposterous, which may be why metaldom’s grymmer and kvlter members have been slinging NOT BLACK METAL ANYMORE accusations at ‘Demon Burger’ since they first started feeling out the whole three-word-album-title schtick. The band’s supposed betrayal of their original fanbase has obviously paid off in spades, and they’re offering stiff competition to the likes of Hatebreed and Lamb of God in the race to become metal’s biggest rags-to-riches success story. It appears as though Shagrath and company are becoming mindful of criticism directed towards their newfound leanings toward the symphonic aspect of symphonic black metal, as they’ve decided to pay a visit to the good ol’ mid-nineties with this rerecording of ‘96’s classic Stormblast longplayer. Now, it’s just as possible that this update is simply a nostalgia project between Death Cult Armageddon and Nihilistic Conflagration Eternal (or whatever the next one’ll be called), but it sounds for all the world like an attempt to bring some aggression and grit back to Dimmu Borgir’s sound. Of course, the ‘serious’ metal press has been quick to slam this album as by turns too stripped-down and not stripped down enough, and to them I have this to say:
Fuck you guys. This album really isn’t that bad.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Stormblast 2.0 has its issues, but it’s by and large a pretty enjoyable album. Unlike recent Dimmu material, Stormblast is a notably guitar-driven album, and there’s plenty of tremolo-picked goodness to be had from start to finish. Shagrath himself produces a very good simulacrum of his original style, which was never particularly blackened or piercing but always fitted the music’s instrumental pomp quite well. The keys and artificial vox have actually been toned down noticeably from their original commanding presence, and what’s left is a riff-heavy and reasonably varied stretch of epic-aspiring metal. The backed-off ‘boards are in large part responsible for the “look, we can be intense when we want!” feel of the affair; their comparative absence places the mass of the music directly on the guitars, and what’s left actually bears a notably Bathory-esque sense of wind-swept Viking grandeur (see opener “Alt Lys Er Svunnet Hen”). More ponderously-paced moments like “Sorgens Kammer” suffer without the aggressive drive, but when Dimmu Borgir kick things up a notch and particularly when they start laying down blastbeats (“Nar Sjelen Hentes Til Helvete” and the excellent title track) their appeal is easy to see. It’s not scathing or intimidating, but it’s enjoyably theatrical and will induce reluctant nodding amongst many a hard-bitten listener. Yeah, it’s polished, and yeah, it’s accessible, but the new Stormblast is a damn fun listen and it’s a shame so many are rushing to trash it just ‘cause one of black metal’s most despised bands (guess who the other one is) wrote it ten years ago.
Unfortunately, though, some of Stormblast’s detractors have a point: the shiny production seems a wee bit out of place. Well, not the shininess per se, but the kind of polish. I’m thinking that perhaps Peter Tägtgren wasn’t the best choice to produce this re-recording. It might be the marked (and understandable) similarity between wayward Mayhem skinsman Hellhammer’s performance here and Horgh’s work on Hypocrisy’s Virus album, or perhaps just the nature of the riffs themselves, but in many places the full and clear guitar and drum tones found on Stormblast make Dimmu Borgir sound like a melodic death metal band covering Dimmu songs. If my theory regarding this as the band’s attempt to reclaim their own ‘black’-ness is anywhere near the mark, they’re sort of shafting themselves with this excessively punchy tone. This might be a deliberate attempt to fuse the old and the new or it might simply be a product of Dimmu Borgir's reluctance to stray too far from their recent high-budget cleanliness, but in either case the mirrored sheen will be the source of much naysaying and teeth-gnashing amongst fans of the original. Personally, I love Tägtgren both as a musician and a producer, but his sound is enough out of place here to be a little jarring.
Production issues, however, just aren’t enough to justify utterly condemning Stormblast as an album. This is catchy, infectious shit, and while I’m not a fan of Dimmu Borgir’s recent direction I can certainly see myself giving this a spin when I’m looking for a little silly fun in my black metal (Axis of Perdition need not apply). Seethe and rant as much as you like, corpse-painted troglodytes: Dimmu Borgir have largely accomplished what they set out to do here.
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