Dimmu Borgir assemble their Forces Of The Northern Night

Black metal’s best-known symphonic band that performs and records with symphonies has performed and recorded with a symphony for a new record. Ultimate realization, or unnecessary retread?

Fair warning up front: I’m going to switch off between “orchestral” and “symphonic” a bunch in this review. There’s just no way around it.

Dimmu Borgir have always had symphonic aspirations beyond simply writing black metal that’s heavy on keyboards. Melodies on songs like “Reptile” and “The Serpentine Offering” take inspiration more from film soundtracks than from the band’s corpse-painted peers, evoking cinematic sequences of advancing armies under storm-blasted skies, boasting ashen banners of a triumphant, enthroned darkness that promises to usher in atrocities from nightmarish, blackened spiritual dimensions.

In an effort to double-down on that muse, DB have been recording with an orchestra and/or symphony for each album of new material since 2001’s Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia – jump to 2010 and the band had fired two key members leading up to their most recent album to date, Abrahadabra, also featuring a live orchestra and choir. Working as a three piece, Shagrath, Silenoz and Galder were likely more than eager to showcase what they could accomplish on their own terms and booked performances in Oslo with the Norwegian Broadcasting Orchestra and Wacken with Czech National Orchestra, both accompanied by the Schola Cantorum Choir, and each performance featuring over a hundred musicians onstage. The resulting album (held up by several years of delays), Forces of the Northern Night, is a mix of tracks from these Oslo and Wacken performances.

With no new material to digest on this release, I’ll shamelessly steal the commenting format of our Flush It Friday posts and break this review down into the good, the bad, and the ugly.

THE GOOD

Most of these songs were written with an orchestra in mind, so the accompaniment is a natural fit. Symphonic elements are expanded and enriched, with the band mixed slightly down to make room for it all. The purely instrumental renditions are the album’s highlights, serving as palate-cleansing intermissions between bursts of bombast and giving you a chance to appreciate the layers of melody and instrumentation already present in much of DB’s recent and past work. “Vredesbyrd,” “Dimmu Borgir” (the song) and “Kings of the Carnival Creation” in particular benefit greatly from the orchestral accompaniment throughout their widely-varying sections, although the ICS Vortex vocals in the latter are sorely missed.

THE BAD

The album is almost certainly more impressive to watch than to listen to. Without the sweeping crane-cam views of cloaked choirs and a foggy stage, it can be hard to appreciate the amount of organization and effort going into cramming a hundred fucking people onstage to play these songs. This is a performance with live audience members (and DVD viewers) firmly in mind. Die-hard fans may even find themselves preferring the original versions since these songs lose a degree of punch and tightness live, and a few tracks like “Puritania” and “Mourning Palace” suffer from a bit of symphonic bloat, going all-in where staying minimal would sound more effective.

THE UGLY

That it took the band six years to release this material indicates that they may be getting crushed under their own weight – they’re slowly morphing into a Trans-Siberian Orchestra entity, unable to appear in concert with fewer than 75 musicians, two dozen roadies and several buses worth of equipment. A “return to our roots” album evoking the (comparatively) leaner, meaner sounds of their early work would surely be welcome among long-time fans, but then they’d risk alienating the legions of new fans who attend these shows specifically to hear the Norwegian equivalent of the Galactic Empire play soaring paeans to astral planes and elder gods. It’s a tough spot to be in.

This is strictly an album/live video for Dimmu Borgir completists and fans of metal-bands-playing-live-with-an-orchestra. Some songs sound fantastic, but others sound a little overstuffed. Since most songs have already been recorded with an orchestra for their respective original albums, seeing them performed live is dramatic, but feels somewhat redundant. Forces of the Northern Night is the apotheosis of Dimmu Borgir’s cinematic ambitions cultivated over the last 16 years, but where they go from here is anyone’s guess. A different orchestra on each song? Ten choirs? Scoring a film? Playing in space? Dubstep?

3.5 / 5 TOILETS OV HELL

(via)

If you’re a diehard fan, you can pick up Forces of the Northern Night next Friday via Nuclear Blast.

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Published on: April 21, 2017

Filled Under: Reviews

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  • CyberneticOrganism

    Some stray thoughts:

    Keeping the cameras away from the non-official band members feels like a dick move. They’re sweating under those big white leather coats same as the main three guys, they deserve a few more close-ups.

    Kings and Puritania sound kinda weird tuned a whole step down; they went through all that trouble to plan this thing but keeping a spare guitar tuned to E was out of scope?

    I recently watched this video of Skálmöld w/ the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, having never heard any of their music before, and enjoyed it thoroughly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yHsmZy-YS8

    • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

      I guess the problem was that if the guitarists changed tuning, every single musician would have to change tuning as well to stay in key. If its just 3 guys (guitarists and bassist) changing instruments I guess its not that big of a deal, but to bring a spare instrument for an entire orchestra, its pretty difficult. Easier to just play a couple of songs on a different tuning

      • CyberneticOrganism

        Maybe I’m showing my ignorance here, but would a cellist, for example, have to do that? Would they, like a guitarist, need to grab another cello with different string gauges or a different setup to play in E instead of D, or could they simply change their hand position?

        • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

          I’m not sure. I know that not all stringed instruments have the EADGBe tuning that guitars use, so maybe for some it would just be a matter of playing on a different key without changing tuning altogether. I was just guessing that to be the reason. It could also just be laziness and them thinking “ah, fuck it, we’ll just play the whole thing with these guitars”

          I know Satyricon nowadays plays everything on D, despite their earlier stuff being on E and Eb. That usually is done to adapt to an aging singer’s voice becoming deeper, but I’m not sure if that is also the case with bands that don’t use clean vocals

  • Dr. K

    That one trombonist who’s having an awesome time in the “Mourning Palace” video clearly makes this whole project worthwhile.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      I think there’s a couple guys like that in the Skálmöld video I posted as well. What an awesome change of pace if you’re a classical musician.

    • Tromboner.

  • KJM, Doom Scientist

    Saw them at Ozzfest 2004, wasn’t all that impressed.

    • Tom Warriors Beanie

      Same here. I remember Shagrath getting pissed at someone in the crowd flipping them off.

      • Óðinn

        “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. Mirab, with sails unfurled. Shagrath getting pissed at someone in the crowd flipping them off”

        • CyberneticOrganism

          Silenoz, his beard in braids

    • Depechemodeisgangsta

      I was looking forward to that tour since that was going to be my 1st time going to ozzfest, that is when i started to get more into music, unfortunately like always any tour down here is South FL in September is always at risk of hurricane, and that show got canceled, and that was the last day of tour.

      • that was quite the lineup, with Priest and Slayer (among other big names)!

        • KJM, Doom Scientist

          Sabbath/Priest/Slayer/Superjoint/Dimmu and others.

        • Depechemodeisgangsta

          Yea, i was looking forward, to this day i haven’t been able to see Priest live, miss out 2 other times, one sold out pretty quick, next one was waiting for my friend to buy the tickets, since he said that he was going to do it, and then he couldn’t get day off and didn’t tell me.

  • great review, robro! i might jam Puritanical [whatever] at work for a little nostalgia. i remember popping the CD into my car in college, and a passenger LOL’ed at the double bass work. i was like “muthafucka you’re a drummer, don’t laugh at that!”
    he liked punk, and is probably dead now, so it’s all good.

    • Wet W’s Whistle

      “…and is probably dead now.”

      Now I am too, James.

      • Waynecro

        That killed me as well.

      • sweetooth0

        yes that line was solid gold

    • FrankWhiteKingOfNY
    • CyberneticOrganism

      I listened to Puritanical so, so many times. It was my gospel for an entire summer.

    • Waynecro

      When I was in college, I had a design teacher who thought he was a rough-and-tumble rocker because he liked Metallica and played bass in a blues band. I burned a copy of Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia for him, and the music scared him so much that he actually returned the CD and never spoke of it again.

      • CyberneticOrganism

        lololol

      • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

        At my high school there were several jocks that liked to pretend they were hardcore metalheads because they listened to Mago de Oz, Stratovarius and Nightwish. None were able to sit through an entire Gorefest song (and it was their False album, hardly the heaviest shit ever)

        • Waynecro

          Dude, I remember Gorefest. I played the hell out of Mindloss back in the day.

  • AndySynn

    It was fucking awesome in person though.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      You were there? Which one?

      • AndySynn

        The Oslo Spektrum show. Literally flew in that day, grabbed a couple of hours sleep after the show, and then flew back.

        Worth it.

        • CyberneticOrganism

          Awesome. Didn’t get to see any of the city?

          • AndySynn

            Oh, I’ve done Oslo a few times now. Mostly for Inferno, once just for a trip with friends (where we still managed to go see Dark Tranquillity) but always made time to get out and see the city, enjoy the culture and the food. Love it there.

          • CyberneticOrganism

            Gotcha, only been once myself, loved it and would go back anytime.

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    Cool review dude, though it mostly just makes me want to dust off their older albums again.

    • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

      Whenever I’m in the right mood, I still like to give my Enthrone Darkness Triumphant copy a spin. Not much of a fan of too much symphony in my metal, but they had a great formula on that album.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laTpy0i9J0g

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Just linking to Reptile above brought back a whole ton of good memories of jamming that album in the car.

      • Waynecro

        Dude, seriously! That album was a total car jam. I remember having a car full of unruly metal dudes screaming along with “Reptile” on more than one occasion.

  • KJM, Doom Scientist
  • Going all the way back to Deep Purple and Metallica and Yngwie using orchestras, I always wonder if all these classical musicians aren’t just like “goddammit, those heavy metal knuckleheads are hiring us AGAIN?”
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/336cbea44d9a2b8d6b3e685074a24b17aa02d6d26f663034f5920ec1be29f9e6.gif

    • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

      Ha ha ha. Dude, I remember an aunt of mine saying “those poor classical musicians, the things they have to do to earn money” when I told her that Metallica had recorded an album with an orchestra

      • CyberneticOrganism

        THEN IT CAWMS TO BEEE THAT THE SWE-HEE-EET LAGHT AT TH’YENDA YO’ TUNNEL IS JUSTA FREIGHT TRAIN CAWMIN’ YO WAAAAY HEY HEY-HYEAH!

  • Nipples ‘n’ Such

    -“DB have been recording with an orchestra and/or symphony for each album of new material since 2001’s Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia…-”

    *In Sorte Diaboli didn’t feature any actual orchestra or symphony for the studio recording. All of the symphonic elements on the album were created via keyboard using MIDI samples of intruments.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Good catch, thanks for pointing that out.

      • Nipples ‘n’ Such

        Good article. I share pretty much the exact same viewpoint/opinion on the band as you described.

  • James

    Serpentine offering was where it started and ended for me.

    • Joaquin Stick

      I’m not sure if that is an ouroboros joke or…

      • James

        or?

        • Joaquin Stick

          You were just literally talking about DB albums. Please excuse my convoluted jokes.

  • Lord of Bork

    Aaaand now I’m listening to Stormblast again. Well played.

    • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

      Original or re-recorded version?

      • Lord of Bork

        First one, then the other

        • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

          I remember back in 2002-2003, I was always saying that Stormblast sounded like shit and that Dimmu needed to re-record it. Then when they finally did it in 2006, I didn’t like the new version at all. Now I only listen to the original

          • Lord of Bork

            I bought the re-recorded version around the time it came out and had no problem with it. I didn’t listen to the original until five or six years later. I think they both have their merits, but the original definitely sounds like shit.

  • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

    Cradle Of Filth > Dimmu Borgir

    • Incidentally, I’ve been on a weird Cradle kick all week.

      • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

        They were the band that got me into death and black metal, so I will always have a soft spot fot them. And even if they have done some pretty shitty and boring records like Thornography or Darkly Venus Whatever, to me Dusk And Her Embrace is still unfuckwithable

        • CyberneticOrganism

          Midian is what caught my attention. Right time right place I guess.

  • Waynecro

    Nice review, Cybro!

  • Xinen

    Not gonna lie, I enjoy throwing these guys on every now and then. Granted, its not on my first tier black metal that I’d reach for, but if the mood strikes I’m game. I’m going to have to pick this up. Nice review, told me what I was getting when I couldn’t be bothered to check out NB’s updates lol.