Review Summary: A pretty face with an overabundance of makeup.
Dimmu Borgir are almost too easy to mock. Numerous traditional black metal fans regard them as an ill, distorted and ultimately sacrilegious version of their beloved genre (a little ironic if you think about it). What’s more, even the band’s diehard fanbase seems acutely aware of Dimmu Borgir’s overwhelmingly silly presentation, accepting them as the fun symphonic act they are. It may be peace of mind for simply enjoying the music, but it isn’t earning these Norwegians any credibility in the grand scheme of things. Ailing matters is the amount of time since Dimmu Borgir released their last relatively solid album; the 15-year gap between Death Cult Armageddon
and the newly released Eonian
was a half-empty glass with three mediocre albums (one a re-recording) and eight years of inactivity. This then begs the question of whether Shagrath and company would return to Dimmu Borgir with renewed creativity or a bad case of relapse.
itself is a spelling variant of aeonian, which means eternal and everlasting. If this is meant to represent a statement from the band, then it comes across rather confusedly, because Eonian
is something of a grand mess. When the album opens with a vague, quasi-industrial prologue, one can’t help but feel immediately thrown off. Those five minutes leave us wondering if this is even the same Dimmu Borgir we’re used to, only to be thrust down memory lane with “Interdimensional Summit,” where the band’s old symphonic tricks come back in a full swing of bombastic glory. What ensues from this odd one-two combo is actually more of the same power play; Eonian
is surprisingly prone to juggling sound black metal moments with over-the-top glamour, often simultaneously. Dimmu Borgir have had a history of easily digestible material, particularly from Enthrone Darkness Triumphant
onward, and while Eonian
doesn’t exactly spring to mind when one imagines challenging material, it does feel strangely mindful. “Council of Wolves and Snakes,” the album’s second single, is a handy demonstration of this, contrasting tribal drumming and chanting with accelerated guitar riffs for the chorus, all before resorting to a dramatic choir chant for the crescendo. It’s not particularly tactful, but to say it’s uninteresting would be pretty disingenuous.
That’s probably the best way to describe Eonian
without going into detail: interesting, if a bit tactless. Hearing Dimmu Borgir experiment the way they have here, all while maintaining the faintest semblance of integrity is--if we’re being generous--refreshing. On a first-listen basis, Eonian
manages to be just curious enough through its many transitions so as to keep you guessing ever so slightly. Revisiting the album ends up being more enjoyable, since you become acclimated to the many zealous moments, often involving some combination of keyboards, synthesizers or the aforementioned choir. That’s not to say these parts stop feeling misplaced or overused, but that the likelihood of tolerating them increases. So when tracks like “Lightbringer” and “The Empyrean Phoenix” open up with promise only to turn a whimsical eye less than two minutes in, the response becomes less of a snort and more of a resounding shrug. Things do get frustrating when tracks contain the preferred and less preferred elements at the same time, with “Alpha Aeon Omega” being a shining example thanks to its ominous core rhythm being matched by the once-again overdone choir. This is where Eonian
will undoubtedly lose many of its potential suitors, not for a lack of effort or appealing elements, but for its ongoing insistence on decorating what should have been left alone in the first place. It’s a power play that permeates and ultimately defines the album, and while the results can be enjoyed to some extent, one can’t help but wish Dimmu Borgir practiced some moderation to keep their compulsive indulgences in check.