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DIMMU BORGIR Forces Of The Northern Night

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Thursday, April 27, 2017 @ 1:36 PM

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Forces Of The Northern Night

Nuclear Blast Records

With even stripped-down acts like ENTOMBED doing the sort of symphony collaboration shows that have become so common — and in its case several times, including once with, of all things, the SWEDISH ROYAL BALLET for 2005’s Unreal Estate live album – you had to figure it was just a matter of time before Norway’s DIMMU BORGIR would get in on the act.

After all, the band pretty much set the benchmark for symphonic black metal over the past 20 years as its albums have grown ever-more ornate and ostentatious, employing orchestras and choirs to take its already grandiose bluster that much farther over the top, even as its lineup has been pared down to three core members – frontman Shagrath and guitarists Silenoz and Galder.

DIMMU’s last studio album, 2010’s Abrahadabra, was its most elaborate – and arguably overblown - yet, despite the acrimonious departure of keyboardist Mustis, who composed or at least facilitated much of the earlier orchestrations. Yet it wasn’t until May 2011 that the band actually tried to pull off the full S&M treatment – to borrow the title of METALLICA’s performance with the SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY in 1999 that really got this whole classical/metal tag-team ball rolling - in a live setting.

Rounded out by touring members Cyrus on bass, Daray on drums and Gerlioz on keyboards, DIMMU performed with the NORWEGIAN BROADCASTING ORCHESTRA and SCHOLA CANTORUM CHOIR (which was featured on Abrahadabra) for a show that was broadcast live on Norwegian TV. A similar show followed at the 2012 Wacken Open Air festival, with the SCHOLA CANTORUM CHOIR being joined by the CZECH NATIONAL ORCHESTRA.

Since then, though, things have been pretty quiet on the DIMMU front. At least until now. With a new album apparently in the offing for the fall, the band has finally gotten around to issuing the long-, long-awaited live album/DVD taken from the symphonic shows. Not sure whether the delay was strategic – to rebuild interest prior to the new album – or economic as these undertakings were no doubt pricey and DIMMU is not a band with unlimited resources, since this is black metal after all. Anyway, better late than never I guess.

Forces Of The Northern Night takes its name from the first symphonic concert at the Oslo Spectrum and is available in several formats – as a CD featuring the full Oslo concert, or as a two-disc DVD/Blu-Ray that includes both the Oslo and Wacken shows along with some documentary footage. For our purposes here, we’ll just focus on the music - although there is some compelling imagery in the video, like the eerily cloaked choir, occasionally corpse-painted or headbanging orchestra members and DIMMU being utterly dwarfed by its accompanying cast of about 100 musicians and singers, not to mention Silenoz having shaved his head somewhere between the first show and the second.

The larger than life setting and spectacle fits DIMMU to a T and finds the band in its bombastic element. The sextet seems as confident and comfortable performing with the orchestra and chorus as they do performing with the band. Indeed, the presentation seems all but flawless and boasts the imposing, brooding energy typical of any DIMMU show.

The first half of the set focuses on Abrahadabra, which is played almost in its entirety, with the orchestra opening the show with “Xibir” before the band kicks in at full roar for “Born Treacherous”. As on the album, DJERV frontwoman Agnete Kjølsrud joins the fray to provide her caterwauling guest vocals on “Gateways”.

An all-orchestral version of the signature “Dimmu Borgir” precedes a full rendition of the song and the first half of the set closes out with the increasingly more brutal “Chess With The Abyss”, “Ritualist” and “A Jewel Traced Through Coal”. Yet just as things are reaching their calamitous peak, an orchestral take on “Eradication Instincts Defined” puts on the brakes and provides a serene segue into the second act that highlights the band’s older “classic” tracks.

The propulsive “Vredesbyrd” from 2003’s Death Cult Armageddon gets things started in its full horn-blaring glory followed by the monumental “Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse”, where the choir provides the clean vocal parts once handled by one man alone - bassist ICS Vortex, who departed at roughly the same time as Mustis under similar circumstances. This gives the song a more majestic, even elegant sweep.

The same strategy is employed during “The Serpentine Offering” and the chaotic “Kings Of The Carnival Creation” with similar effect. The martial “Puritania”, always one of DIMMU's most sinister songs, and the gothy “Mourning Palace” from Enthrone Darkness Triumphant that really put the band on the symphonic map in 1997, round out the set in resounding fashion.

Because the band has worked and composed with symphonies and the chorus before in the studio, the transition to the stage is fairly seamless from a musical standpoint – compared with the jarring contrast of ENTOMBED’s orchestral collaboration or even that of SATYRICON, where the classical scores were written to embellish songs that had been around for some time. Indeed, much of the Forces material doesn’t sound a whole lot different than what can be heard “on vinyl”, as it were, it just is more fully realized and epic with the added instrumentation and vocal treatments.

And that’s perhaps the biggest drawback of the Forces package, at least musically. DIMMU almost always used “taped” or synthesized representations of the orchestrations in a live setting – a la SEPTICFLESH, CRADLE OF FILTH, FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE, etc. - so that element was rarely absent. Close your eyes, and you could barely tell there wasn’t a sea of musicians in tuxes behind the band all fiddling and tooting. Thus, while the whole notion of performing with a full orchestra and chorus is still pretty cool, it’s perhaps not as special as it could have been, especially for anyone who just wants to listen.

3.0 Out Of 5.0

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