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Exclusive! Interview with Dimmu Borgir Guitarist Silenoz

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Wednesday, November 12, 2003 @ 4:29 PM


Pure Fucking Armageddon: Dimmu

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Dimmu Borgir guitarist Silenoz reckons the bandís new album, Death Cult Armageddon, is the soundtrack to the end of the world. Itíd be tough to argue otherwise.

From its carpetbomb guitaring, tornadic drumming and vocalist Shargrathís misanthropic growling about mankindís consuming impulse to destroy itself, Armageddon delivers what it promises. And making it all the more convincing is the ominous accompaniment of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, who lend strings, horns and percussion to a good part of the album.

Where the 16-piece string section Dimmu utilized for 2000ís Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia gave the bandís black metal bombast an added grandiosity and eerie beauty, the 46-piece Prague Philharmonic make it seem like the four horsemen have saddled up and are ready to ride us to our doom. Say what you will about it making it sound all fancy, the sheer majesty and power of the presentation makes the bandís apocalyptic prophesizing all the more convincing.

But until the end of days comes, Dimmu Borgir can revel in the fact that despite their grim tidings and ostentatious brutality, more and more people are tuning in. Armageddon debuted at #2 on the Norwegian album charts, scored well across Europe and followed Cradle of Filth in bringing black metal onto the Billboard Top 200.

After six albums, an EP and DVD Ė and nearly a continuous series of line-up changes that seems to have ended as keyboardist Mustis, drummer Nick Barker, Old Manís Child guitarist Galder and ex-Borknagar bassist Vortex joined ranks with lone original members Silenoz and Shagrath Ė Dimmu Borgir is at the top of its game.

The band just embarked on a U.S. tour with Nevermore, Hypocrisy and Children of Bodom that will run into mid-December. After having just started a tour of Europe with some shows in Norway, Silenoz called in to offer the following about the bandís incredible growth, affinity for orchestration and fixation with the apocalypse.

KNAC.COM: An obvious first question, since youíre on the road again, how have the shows gone?
SILENOZ: We just started last week, so we still feel a bit rusty onstage (laughs). We played last night, and we are heading to Oslo for a show tonight. This time around weíre starting with seven shows in Norway and they are really smaller venues, like 300 or 400 people. But it was packed and it was really small stages, you could hardly fucking move, especially with six of us up there. I think itís a cool way to start a full tour because then you get to see what songs work out live and what songs the audience likes.

KNAC.COM: Have you incorporated much of the new material?
SILENOZ: We have been playing five songs from the new album. We play a pretty long set this time.

KNAC.COM: With the orchestration on this album being more pronounced and complicated, how is it working out?
SILENOZ: Of course we donít have the ability to use the full orchestra, but we try to reproduce as much as we can from the album in the live situation. Itís very hard when you donít have an orchestra and our keyboard player only has two hands (laughs). It works out amazingly well, actually. And I think when we play live itís a totally different thing than listening to us on the record. The live situation is more about getting the aggression and intensity across and get that Dimmu groove going. Itís cool to show the fans the different sides of the band.

KNAC.COM: Where along the line did you guys decide to go with a bigger orchestra?
SILENOZ: Really after we finished the album. The strings are cool, but the horns and percussion add so much more, it adds an imperial feeling to it. It was something we had the opportunity to do, we had the budget for it, so we said why not go for full on and see where it leads us and it came out killer.

KNAC.COM: It sounds very Wagnerian, especially with those battle horns.
SILENOZ: Yeah, you need those horns if itís going to be the soundtrack to the end of the world.

KNAC.COM: Emperor had just one horn on ďIn The Wordless ChamberĒ on their last album and it totally transformed the whole song.
SILENOZ: Yeah, itís so fucking killer. A little detail like that can make all the difference, it can take you right over the top.

KNAC.COM: Now that you have done the 46-piece orchestra thing and made it bigger and badder than last time, where do you go from there?
SILENOZ: You never know, maybe weíll record the next album on a four-track and not give a fuck (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Something like that one video on your DVD where itís just three of you in the basement jamming?
SILENOZ: Yeah, that was from way back where it was me, Shaggy and [ex-drummer] Tjodalv and it was pretty crude. Itís kind of embarrassing, but everyone starts somewhere and we wanted to show where we came from. Obviously with the new album just coming out itís too early to say what we might do next time. Weíll may go way over the top or go back to basics, but we wonít know until we get there.

KNAC.COM: There must be some parts on the new album you canít even think about playing live?
SILENOZ: Exactly, thatís the thing. Thereís some orchestral parts on the album where itís ďhow the hell are they going to do this live?Ē And we are not (laughs). We donít try to hide that fact either. So I guess people will have to bear with us when they see us live. There were actually some orchestral parts on the album that we rerecorded on keyboards because there were certain parts that sounded better with keyboards. But thatís how we worked with the last record, too. We let the orchestra record what they have to do and then we edit later. If we think it sounds better with keyboards here and there we will do it that way.

KNAC.COM: Do you plan to do a show or performance with an orchestra somewhere along the way?
SILENOZ: Thatís of course a possibility. It could be done. I wouldnít want to do a whole show, like Metallica did, or something like that, I donít think. Too many compromises would have to be made on our end for the sake of the orchestra that weíre just not willing to make.
I guess it would have to be for a more mid-tempo song because some of the fast songs we have, for an orchestra to play on top of that would be very difficult, not to mention pretty hard to hear. It could be done, but it would have to be fully rehearsed. You only get one chance to make it right. If you fuck it up, you might as well stop playing, because youíre not going to get back in.

KNAC.COM: I read something recently about Entombed being involved with a ballet in Sweden, so stranger things have happened.
SILENOZ: Yeah, I heard about that too. I didnít really get the details, I think they played and they had some psycho fucking ballet going. I donít really know.

KNAC.COM: Put a mosh pit onstage and dress everyone in tutus.
SILENOZ: (Laughs) Yeah, total Hamlet style.

KNAC.COM: I spoke with Galder when he put out the last Old Manís Child album and he said this Dimmu album was done a lot differently than the last one.
SILENOZ: Yeah, it was more like a group effort. We had everyone on-board this time -- he joined right near the end of putting the last one together. And we did a lot of work for that while we were in the studio. This time, we did a full pre-production, demos for the new album before we went into the studio. Weíd never done that before and the felt a lot better, working in your own studio and putting the songs together there. Itís so much easier and less stressful and itís cool to be so well prepared before you record, you get an idea of how it will sound and how everything will sound together.

KNAC.COM: Was that something youíd wanted to do before but couldnít because of the economics or because you were replacing members?
SILENOZ: There were a lot of different factors why we couldnít do that earlier. But this lineup seems to be really stable. Iím not going say anything that Iím going to regret in the future, but I think this is by far the strongest line-up weíve ever had and hopefully it will stay this way.

KNAC.COM: This is the first time youíve had the same line-up for two consecutive albums?
SILENOZ: Except for the first and second albums, and that time Shagrath changed from drums to guitar and the guitarist [Tjodalv] switched to drums (laughs), that caused a bit of confusion. And then things started to get kind of ridiculous because we had people in and out all the time.
I think thereís been something like 16 different line-ups with this band, which seems pretty silly, but we work very hard and we like to tour as much as we can and itís hard to find people around here who share that kind of determination and dedication. In the end, even though itís been a big pain in the ass, itís all worked out for the best.

KNAC.COM: Things are holding together okay, even though some of the guys are still playing in other bands?
SILENOZ: Yeah. Thereís no conflict with Galder doing Old Manís Child because itís his own thing and he can do it when he wants, itís more of a studio thing anyway, so it doesnít interfere with Dimmu. When Vortex [bassist] was still in Borknagar there was a conflict and he had to make a choice and he chose Dimmu.
Nick [Barker, drums] also plays with Lock Up, but they are not going to have much time to do many shows or anything in the near future because the other members are also in other bands. The Napalm Death boys are pretty busy and Tomas [Lindberg] is in like six different bands, so heís always busy. They do that whenever they all have time off at the same time, which isnít too often.

KNAC.COM: Youíve got three legitimate frontmen in Shagrath, Vortex and Galder. Are Galder and Vortex cool with stepping back from that role?
SILENOZ: I think everyone is cool with that. In fact, when Galder joined the band he was like, ďfinally I can be part of making something with someone else and not have to do everything myself.Ē He can concentrate on just playing guitar; I donít think he wants to do any singing anyway. We asked him if he wanted to do some backing vocals and he didnít want to, so that was that.

KNAC.COM: You had Abbath from Immortal do some vocals this time ...
SILENOZ: Yeah, he ended up participating on two songs [ďProgenies of the Great ApocalypseĒ and ďHeavenly PerverseĒ]. That was something we had been wanting to do for a long time. We did decide pretty early on that we wanted to have some guests on this album, so we asked if he wanted to come over and do some stuff and he was totally into it.
He was really respectful towards us and of course weíve been into Immortal since their first seven-inch came out. It was like a mutual admiration thing (laughs). We told him to just fly over and weíd take care of him, which I guess we did because the bar bill came to $700. It was great.

KNAC.COM: Since you did a video for ďProgenies,Ē which he sang on, was he also in the video?
SILENOZ: No. A lot of people asked why doesnít Abbath appear in the video? But itís Shaggy doing his part of the song because, after all, Abbath is not part of the band. Heís such an eccentric person and a really cool personality and it was cool to have him be part of the album, but thatís all that was.

KNAC.COM: Because Immortal had just split up, I remember reading some stuff about him joining the Dimmu?
SILENOZ: Yeah, I saw that too (laughs). But that was not something we discussed. It was just for those songs. We sent him the demos and the lyrics and told him the parts we wanted him to do and he said yeah that was perfect. Lyric-wise, especially on ďProgenies,Ē it fits his way of singing really well. It came out killer.

KNAC.COM: Are you hoping to have a big impact in the States this time?
SILENOZ: Yeah, I think weíre going to take it as far as it go with it in the States. Weíre going to do loads of touring. In November and December we will be headlining, and maybe next year we will try to get a support slot with a much bigger band. We donít really care who it is, as long as we can capture some more of the kids Ė so to speak (laughs) Ė and make them listen to some real metal.

KNAC.COM: Youíve already got a pretty good foothold here?
SILENOZ: Yeah. I think [Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia] sold close to 50,000 copies, which is an amazing amount for our kind of music. Nuclear Blast is still a really small, independent label in the states, although they seem to be growing a lot lately. But they can only do so much. To get yourself a name in the states you have to be willing to tour a lot. Just work it. And we are willing to do that.
You can tell that for every time we were over there was more and more people coming to the shows and you can see that weíve progressed every tour. I think itís been a good evolution and I hope that this tour that weíre going to do is gonna be a major success. I hope so. Thereís going to be four bands that are totally different from each other but still have an extreme musical expression and that way we can try and capture some of each others fans and try to build on that.

KNAC.COM: Have you guys maxxed things out in Europe?
SILENOZ: I donít think so. We are still at the same level as far as the amount of people at shows. The next step will be to play in small arenas and we donít have a big enough fan base to do that yet in a successful way. Itís still at the same level as the last album, but at least we sell out most of the places, and thatís pretty cool.

KNAC.COM: I thought maybe you guys and Cradle Of Filth perhaps had taken things as far as they could go popularity-wise, at least as far as extreme metal was concerned.
SILENOZ: I think with this album weíll take a small step even further. Today we got to know that we charted in second place on the Norwegian charts. Thatís pretty crazy. Itís just a matter of exposure. I think the audience for extreme music is always growing, especially as more people are exposed to it. They get tired of the same old thing. So there is always more people out there, if you can reach them.

KNAC.COM: Who kept you out of No. 1?
SILENOZ: The guy who won the version of the ďAmerican IdolĒ contest that we have in Norway. He has his own record out, so heís totally hyped up.

KNAC.COM: No kidding.
SILENOZ: Yeah. I think that thing is as big here as it is in America. Itís probably like that all over the place. We did finish ahead of Iron Maiden, they were in third place, so thatís something of an honor. The albumís doing good in Finland and Germany, where we usually do good, France, Italy, basically all of Europe Iím sure weíre going to chart, which is great.
Iím looking forward to doing the tour, too. Some of the places are totally sold out already and they are asking to get us a second show, but unfortunately the whole tour is already booked, so we donít have time to do second shows here and there. But I guess we just have to do a second run, you know.
It seems to be pretty well received. Iíve seen quite a lot of reviews already and I havenít really seen anything negative at all. I guess when we did the promotional tour the only negative aspect was a German journalist said that he thought the album title was too easy (laughs). And if thatís the worse thing someone can say, I guess we did okay.

KNAC.COM: Death Cult Armageddon Ė what inspired that?
SILENOZ: We wanted to find an easy title Ė just like the guy said (laughs) Ė a three-word title like that last three, which is kind of our tradition. We wanted to find something that describes the musical and the lyrical state we are in and how we also view the rest of the world with all the religious bullshit and all the wars and conflicts going on. Itís maybe a pre-warning for what is to come for our race.
As mankind, we are really good at making things to benefit the human race, but at the same time we are even better at destroying it. And with all of the religious zealotry you see in some parts of the world, and the reaction from the other side to try to stamp it down Ė somethingís got to give. Itís like a powderkeg, get the flame too close and itís going to explode.

KNAC.COM: As isolated as you are, is Norway as politically involved in current affairs as some of the other European countries?
SILENOZ: Yeah, the government is obviously on the American and English side of subjects, they donít really have much choice either because they are part of the whole thing politically and economically. They always go and do what the big man says. I think Norway as a country is too small and, like you said, too far away from things to have a huge impact.
And I think there a general apathy among the population because of that. All the politics, itís all about fucking talk all the time and no action. Itís always been like that. It doesnít really interest me that much because I canít do much to change stuff, and I think most people feel that way. I can use my voice Ė or at least my words Ė but I canít force change. So I try not to let it irritate me too much.

KNAC.COM: Because your lyrics are pretty complex, and the vocals hard to make out, do your fans ďgetĒ the points you are trying to make?
SILENOZ: I think some do. Obviously people listen to the music, thatís what comes first to the ear. But thereís quite a few people that get the lyrics. Even now, after we have done four shows in Norway and the albumís been out for basically one week, thereís kids in the front row who already know the lyrics, and thatís incredible. That makes me feel that, since I wrote nearly all of the lyrics on this album, that thereís actually some people who are into it and are trying to understand what we write about.

KNAC.COM: Is there any particular reason why you wrote most of the lyrics this time?
SILENOZ: I started writing lyrics almost immediately after we finished touring for the last album, I already had a lot of stuff written before we started making music and the other guys said ďwell you take care of itĒ because I guess they had a lot of confidence in what I had done, and with my English (laughs) or whatever.

KNAC.COM: But youíve got a couple songs in Norwegian.
SILENOZ: Yeah, thereís two songs that are all in Norwegian. They are kind of on the same level as far as the content goes. But when itís written in Norwegian it sounds a bit harsher and grim, in a way, I guess.

KNAC.COM: They way the lyrics are integrated with the music and with Shagrathís voice, itís hard to tell whatís in Norwegian and whatís not, without seeing the titles.
SILENOZ: Yeah, thereís some people who are friends of mine who have listened to it and theyíll be like, woah was that a Norwegian one (laughs). So it can be hard to hear, but itís more about the tone it sets and the mood in evokes.

KNAC.COM: For your lyrics, is there anything in particular that really inspired you?
SILENOZ: I guess itís a constant inspiration. You just take a look around. Thereís enough negative stuff in the world, you can use it in a constructive way. Iíd rather get it out on paper. I donít want to use the word ďtherapy,Ē but it works in the same kind of way. Itís a positive thing. It lets me get everything out of my system. I guess the other guys have to do all of the killing (laughs).

KNAC.COM: There was enough trouble with that a decade ago. Does that, in fact, all feel like ancient history, or are you constantly reminded by, well, people like me asking you about it?
SILENOZ: No. Because that was something we were never a part of, it really is like ancient history. The bands that were involved with that then that are still around now just focus on the music. Back then it was basically teenagers that took it a bit too far. Iím really happy that we as a band were never connected to that stuff. We have made headlines because of our music and not because of anything else. Iím really proud of that.
It was cool in a way back then, the shock effect was massive. At least around here. I donít know if many people would have even heard about it if it hadnít been for that book [ďLords of ChaosĒ]. And at the same time, if you are a musician, it doesnít really help you when you have spend 10 years in jail.

KNAC.COM: Burzum keeps putting out our albums even though Varg Vikernes [who was recently involved in a bizarre escape attempt] is in jail, but it sounds like he only can work with whatever instruments they might give him at the time.
SILENOZ: Yeah, Iím sure he thinks back on it and wonders was it really worth it? But thatís his problem. Thereís not much else you can do in prison.

KNAC.COM: After Sept. 11, a lot of musicians from your part of the world seem have visa trouble when they try come to the states. I wonder if thatís because thereís some lingering concern from what went on back in the day, or whether thatís the case for everyone?
SILENOZ: I canít speak for anyone else, but we already have the visas for the States, and I guess they are valid for like a year, so itís good to have them out of the way. We havenít had problems, but after Sept. 11 itís so fucking hard to get into your country. You have to fill out like three or four different sets of forms, they almost want to know what kind of underwear youíre wearing (laughs).
But some bands do have members who have gotten into trouble in the past, and it has caused them problems, which Iím sure has to do with their criminal records, regardless of how they got them. But itís not us the States have to worry aboutÖ


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