Aside from the 2017 live CD/DVD set Forces of the Northern Light, Dimmu Borgir fans haven't heard anything new from the band since it released Abrahadabra in 2010, and haven't seen them in concert since they ended the tour for that record in 2014. After that cycle, the main band members — vocalist Shagrath, guitarist and composer Silenoz and guitarist Galder — became sick of being together and needed a year apart in order to strengthen their musical bond.
"We look at our band like a family," says the shaven-headed, long-bearded Silenoz. "When we tour, we're with each other all the time and that can become confining and can drive you a bit crazy. We argue a lot sometimes, but we're in it together and we all want the best for each other. Sometimes that can be hard to see and we need to get away to realize that we may have different creative visions, but we all want what's best for each other and the band."
This approach to life and music has been critical for Dimmu Borgir's survival and evolution from the moment the band formed near Oslo, Norway in 1993. They've gone through multiple member changes and been greeted both as saviors and destroyers of black metal. Founding members Silenoz and Shagrath quickly learned that the only way to progress is to stick together and view their career as a collective learning process.
"We have sacrificed so much over the years to do what we do and I think that has maybe not been so healthy at times," Silenoz admits. "But I think that's the only way to go. If you want to walk to plank, you have to step out and jump into the water where you know the sharks are waiting for you. You have to go out of your comfort zone. That's the first step of doing something good."
During the break between Abrahadabra and their new full-length Eonian, some major life changes took place for Silenoz, Shagrath, Galder that didn't involve their musical family: each had children. Silenoz points out that the experience of raising his son, Liam, who is now six years old, has changed his perspective and opened the musician up to new ideas.
"Being a parent is never anything you can predict or be ready for," Silenoz says. "There's never a perfect time. You hear a lot of people say things like, 'Oh, once I have everything in order I'm going to become a parent,' but that's not how it works. The purpose of becoming a parent is that you're getting a huge learning experience in patience and paying attention to things besides yourself. And something that huge that's going to teach you something is always going to come when it's least expected."
The same could be said for their music. Dimmu Borgir have honed their compositional skills ever since their third album, 1997's Enthrone Darkness Triumphant, which included sweeping string and keyboard passages that transformed the band from a traditional black-metal group into one of the most creative symphonic-metal outfits. Since 2001's Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, the band has worked with string sections and choir vocalists. They upped the bar even further in 2010 with Abrahadabra, which featured a full orchestra (strings, horns and tympani) and choral arrangements. Now, Dimmu have crafted their most eclectic album to date. With so many orchestral passages, choir vocals and black-metal elements swooping in and out of the mix, Eonian, is perhaps best described as a multi-dimensional black-metal opera.
"The album itself is very choir-heavy on purpose," says Silenoz. "It just worked with the way we wrote the album and with what we wanted to present. From the start, we had in the back of our heads that the choir was going to do actual lyrical sessions, not just background ah-ahhs."
At the same time, there is more defined guitar work on Eonian than there was on Abrahadabra – possibly since Dimmu Borgir used orchestral samples this time instead of real symphony passages. Doing so allowed the band more control over the classical parts and gave them a greater grasp on how the guitars and synthesized strings could complement one another.
"Early in the process, we figured out, 'Let's just stick with the samples we were working with,' because the library of sounds we had for this writing session was really great and it still sounds really orchestrated," Silenoz says. "We love melody and we love extreme heaviness and we like to have all of that in our music. And when we blend all of this together in our grinder — the primitive and the primal with the more modern — it comes out as the current state of the Dimmu affairs."
The band took a fresh approach to the lyrics on Eonian as well. Taking its name from the Greek word for eternal, the record is a concept album about the perception of time, the multiverse and battling personal and interpersonal demons.
"For me Eonian represents everything that was, everything that is and everything that will ever be, just to sum it up in a way to describe our reality here and now," Silenoz says.
THE WAY YOU INTEGRATE ELEMENTS OF CLASSICAL MUSIC IS MORE COMPLEX AND INTERESTING THAN MOST OTHER SYMPHONIC BLACK METAL. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOU INTEGRATE THE TWO STYLES?
SILENOZ We are a band that are symphonic from the get-go. When we start writing one theme or two themes for a new song, the symphony idea is already in the beginning of the structure. And this time, we realized we could do the orchestra parts ourselves and they sounded really good. So instead of having a full live orchestra, we wanted to have a full live choir.
IS IT EVER DIFFICULT FOR CHOIR VOCALISTS TO BE ON THE SAME PAGE AS BLACK AS METAL MUSICIANS?
No, because they're so professional. We had help from Gaute Storaas again to transcribe our ideas and our melodies down into notes because we don't know how to read notes. And then the choirs sang out the parts.
SO MANY BLACK-METAL BANDS ARE DRIVEN PRIMARILY TO MAKE THE FASTEST AND MOST VICIOUS MUSIC POSSIBLE. YOU SEEM MORE MOTIVATED BY EXPRESSING THE DUALITY OF EXISTENCE. SOME PARTS ON EONIAN FEATURE TREMOLO GUITAR AND DOUBLE-BASS DRUMMING AND OTHER SECTIONS ARE FAR MORE CINEMATIC AND SOMETIMES ALMOST POPPY.
When I listen back to the album now I can kind of agree about that, but that was also not done on purpose. This album, more than the previous one, is based on guitar ideas. I think it's easier after you get used to the album — after you get under its skin after a few spins you will find that, "Ahh, there's more guitar work on this album than on the previous one." That was very important to me. And I think on our new album, no song is like another. They're all different and some are more experimental, some are back to basics, but I think we are touching on many elements on this record.
SHAGRATH STILL SOUNDS SINISTER AND THE ALBUM CERTAINLY HAS ITS AGGRESSIVE AND ANGRY MOMENTS, BUT OVERALL EONIAN DOESN'T FEEL HATEFUL OR HORRIFYING.
To me, the album is very victorious, empowering and triumphant. We've always been the type of band that mixes minor and major keys. We have a lot of melody but also have a bit of dissonance, especially in some of the guitar sections. And then we have some melodies that some people would call happy. We prefer to use the word empowering, something that gives you power to go into battle. And that battle could be anything. It doesn't have to be a war. It could be with an obstacle that you have within yourself or an argument with a person, or whatever.
HAVE YOU BEEN IN A WELL-ADJUSTED PLACE DURING THE FIVE YEARS OR SO THAT YOU SPENT WRITING THIS ALBUM OR HAVE THERE BEEN BATTLES YOU'VE HAD TO WAGE?
There have been some really dark nights of the soul, for sure. But those are extremely important learning processes and something you have to go through to get to the next level on the ladder. I'm extremely happy and satisfied with where I am today.
WHAT TRIGGERED THOSE DARK MOMENTS?
It's more private stuff, and after you go through it you come to the conclusion that, "OK, this had to happen for me to get to the next step on the ladder." It's not something to share. You battle your demons. We all have them. But instead of battling them too much I try to befriend them and come to peace with them and negotiate with them. That's my strength, I think.
EONIAN ADDRESSES IDEAS OF ALTERNATE DIMENSIONS. WHAT INSPIRED THOSE THEMES?
To me, it's hard to describe, but there is this theory about infinity within infinity within infinity, and infinite dimensions overlapping back and forth. This is part of the lyrical content. And it's up to ourselves to find meaning in our space. It's very much important to stay in the moment and understand everything is here right now. You cannot predict the future and you cannot change the past, but you can do whatever you can to make the present as good as possible.
ALBERT EINSTEIN SAID THERE WAS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE. HE ARGUED THE PERCEPTION OF TIME IS AN ILLUSION AND EVERYTHING IS ONE SINGULAR EXISTENCE.
I am totally open to such a suggestion. I've become old enough now that when an idea comes to me I will try my best to figure out or theorize about it or find out as much about it as possible without forming an opinion there and then, because there will always be new information coming to you so it's very important to not be conclusive about things. Everybody has a journey to make in this life and once you start going down the rabbit hole and you ask questions, you're obviously going to gain more knowledge. But at the same time as you get more and more knowledge, there are more and more questions and less and less answers.
THERE IS AN ENERGY TO YOUTH THAT SOMETIMES MANIFESTS ITSELF AS ANGER. AS WE AGE, SOME OF THAT AGGRESSION OFTEN TURNS TO INTROSPECTION AND WE DISCOVER THAT THE MORE WE LEARN, THE LESS WE KNOW. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'VE TRANSITIONED INTO MORE OF AN INTROSPECTIVE PERSON?
No, I feel like I've been introspective ever since I was a little kid. My first love as a three year old was solitude. I was outside playing with my toys by myself and I had this overwhelming feeling of contentment. For me, it feels great to be alone. So I think subconsciously I've utilized that feeling in the back of my head in difficult situations.
THERE ARE REFERENCES TO MAGIC AND THE OCCULT IN EONIAN. THE LYRIC "AS WITHIN, SO WITHOUT/ AS ABOVE SO BELOW" IN "ARCHAIC CORRESPONDENCE" IS THE BEGINNING OF THE EMERALD TABLET, WHICH IS THE CORNERSTONE OF MODERN MAGIC. AND YOU HAVE A SONG "LIGHTBRINGER," WHICH IS ABOUT LUCIFER. YET THE ALBUM DOESN'T EMBRACE DARKNESS FROM A NEGATIVE PLACE. IT SEEMS LIKE YOU'RE TAKING A MORE INTELLECTUAL AND ANALYTICAL APPROACH.
I take that as a huge compliment because I feel like boundaries are man-made illusions. They are products not of reality, but of the way we map and edit reality. So to me, it's about total decimation and annihilation of what you believe is you. And I think that with the experiences of the Shamanic practices and doctrines we have been raised with, [everything] basically dissolves, whether it be religion, politics, culture, language [or] our perception of time. They are all just archetypes of distraction and separation. None of it means anything in the higher planes. If you are open to the possibility of other realms interacting with this reality here and now, I think that's going to make you grow a lot as a person spiritually and mentally.
HAVE YOU EXPOSED YOUR SON TO MAGIC OR THE OCCULT OR IS IT THE ABCS AND 123S FOR NOW?
I think he's a very open-minded little kid. He's a bit interested more and more in what I do. He hasn't been to any shows yet. That's because we haven't played live for four years, but I'm sure that's going to happen this year. He likes dinosaurs a lot. He's totally engulfed in anything that has anything to do with dinosaurs.
ARE YOU AT ALL WORRIED THAT AS HE GROWS HE'LL HEAR STEREOTYPES ABOUT BLACK METAL AND SATANISM AND POSSIBLY BE SHUNNED BY SOME PEOPLE BECAUSE OF WHO YOU ARE?
I'm sure close-minded people will probably do that but they would do that with anything else as well. I'm not too concerned about that. I just know he's going to have the freedom to do whatever he wants, obviously within the confines of not being a criminal. But I've been wondering what he's going to rebel against when he gets older? Is he going to become a pastor? You never know.
DO YOU HAVE ANY REGRETS ABOUT WAYS YOU MAY HAVE ACTED IN YOUR YOUTH?
I wouldn't say regrets because looking back at stuff you did when you were younger and were more stupid, I look upon it as learning processes. They were teachings.
WHAT'S THE STUPIDEST THING YOU DID THAT YOU LEARNED FROM?
I'm still learning from it — trusting people. I'm not going to say it gets easier the older you get. It actually gets more and more difficult, but at the same time, I can say I've become better at understanding and knowing people and reading energy.
WAS THERE EVER A POINT AFTER YOU GOT OFF THE ROAD IN 2014 WHEN YOU SAID, "THAT'S IT. I NEVER WANT TO DO THIS AGAIN. I'M OUT."
I'm sure. It was good to take some time off after the tour. But if I'm in a mood where I go, "Fuck this shit. I can't tolerate this anymore," maybe the other guys are in a whole different headspace and think the opposite. And other times I'm the one that says, "Yeah, let's pull together. Let's do this." And then again, when you think you don't want to do this anymore you go, "Wait a minute. I've done this for so many years and sacrificed so much to get where I am." So there is no option. There is no plan B. You just fight through it.
DOES DIMMU BORGIR ENJOY A HEDONISTIC LIFESTYLE ON THE ROAD?
Not as much as we used to when we were younger, obviously. We're there to do a job and people pay a lot of money to see us perform. It's like cheating your fans if you go onstage hungover or drunk. We've had some experiences with that in the past and that's a feeling I'm never going to have again.
CAN YOU RECALL ANY PARTICULARLY HARROWING DRINKING MISADVENTURES FROM THAT TIME?
It wasn't with us. There was a Polish fan that came up to our bus on the Abrahadabra tour. We were somewhere in Germany and we had a homemade moonshine chili drink that [another] guy who handed it to us on the bus called the suicide throat cutter. I didn't taste it because I knew it was going to be really strong. But this fan was there trying to impress, so someone gave him a shot and he just poured it down and went, "Oh yeah, this is some really cool shit." Two minutes later we almost had to call an ambulance because he was on the ground puking his guts out and shivering. We were really worried, but after a few minutes, he became better. I guess the drink lived up to its name.