Masters of Disharmony
Dimmu Borgir guitarist Silenoz talks about battling lineup changes and striking out in new directions in the run up to the release of their latest album
As a band, Norwegian symphonic metallers Dimmu Borgir are no strangers to controversy and but nothing’s come close to the drama surrounding the release of their ninth studio album, Abrahadabra. Last year saw the exit of backup vocalist ICS Vortex and keyboardist Mustis even as the remainder of the band ”“ guitarists Silenoz and Galder and vocalist Shagrath ”“ started work on the new album, forcing them to finish up touring and writing with a host of guest and sessions musicians. The induction of new members in the band was shrouded in secrecy, with rumours doing the rounds that Snowy Shaw (ex-King Diamond, ex-Dream Evil, Therion) would take up bass duties. The band finally confirmed that Shaw had been tapped as bassist, only to have him leave the very next day after the announcement to rejoin his old band Therion. In August, Dimmu released the first single ”˜Gateways’ from the album, featuring almost punk-like female vocals that had fans accusing the band of using Vortex’s old vocals and pitch-shifting them to make them unrecognisable. (The vocals incidentally belong to avant-garde Norwegian Agnete Kjolsrud who also features in the ”˜Gateways’ video). Now, as they ready for the Indian release of Abrahadabra this month ”“ which will also be the first Dimmu Borgir album to be released in the country ”“ founding member Silenoz talks about the inspirations behind it, touring with Korn and the exit of Vortex and Mustis.
What were you thoughts when you heard your album was being released in India?
I just thought it was about time [laughs]. Of course, I’m really happy about this happening and hoping that it could also lead to, somewhere down the line, coming to India and playing. I for sure want to go to India personally, but it would be even better if we could go there and play.
Were you aware that you had a fan base here?
Yeah, we are actually aware that in countries that most people wouldn’t expect to have a fan base we do, because ever since the early Nineties when we started out as a band, through tape-trading and all that stuff, we got aware that we had fans in Asia, Africa, all over the world, you know. We don’t really know how big your fan base is but we’d like to find out.
You’ve broken with your tradition of three-word song names for the first time since StormblÃ¥st (1996). What does Abrahadabra mean and what is its significance?
We came up with the idea of a one-word album title since we thought that was kinda like a new beginning for the band and that it was time to do something new with both with the artwork, with the clothes and the image ”“ if you want to call it the image ”“ and the stage shows. The album itself feels like a renewal and we felt that the word Abrahadabra… I don’t know if you’re familiar with Crowley, that’s taken from one of his works, so we felt that it just really made sense to have that. At first, it just felt weird to have just one word for the album title but with that it says a lot and it’s also very cryptic and those who are interested in the occult and magic will recognise a lot, not only in the album title but in a lot of the lyrics too. And when they have the music to go with it, it’ll be a really great experience.
Last time around you guys had a concept running through your album In Sorte Diaboli and it was implied that the concept would be carried forward on the next album. Does Abrahadabra pick up where Diaboli left off?
No, it’s not a continuation of the last album; this is completely different in that sense. Most of the songs can stand on their own separately but of course if you want to draw conclusions between the lyrics, that’s possible as well, because lyrically for this album I was heavily inspired and fascinated by Crowley. I’ve always been fascinated by him as a person and magician but it went a bit deeper this time and I took the time to really research. I found myself in many of his situations and therefore I think it was easier this time to also write lyrics that were separate from each other.
So, this album was personal, in a way, in the themes and ideas you explored?
Yeah, I feel very connected to a lot of stuff that he experienced. He was heavily influenced and obsessed with the idea of rebirth and reincarnation and I find myself closer to that than anything else. It just felt natural to embark on that type of road where I could write about that so to speak, from my end, my point of view obviously.
Abrahadabra was in the works for quite a while, wasn’t it? More than 11 months.
Not really. I mean, yeah, we started working on musical ideas in September, I think it was, last year but it’s not like we worked every day. Some days we don’t have much inspiration other days we have a lot of inspiration so you have to spend the time as best as you can and it goes up and down but the lyrics were pretty much finished written before we started working on music last year.
That’s interesting. Not many metal bands work that way. It’s mostly music first.
Yeah, actually we’re not afraid of doing it the opposite way. I guess it’s more normal in the pop music world to write the music around the text but that’s not really normal in the metal world I suppose. We’ve done this in the past too and sometimes that, of course, is a bigger challenge because you have to think a little bit differently but we’re always up for a challenge. I think it works really well and we’re extremely happy with how everything’s worked out.
You also worked with a 100-member orchestra and choir. Is that the biggest orchestra you’ve worked with?
Yeah it is, and the best orchestra, I would say, too, because for the first time in many years we have used an orchestra again. Last time was on Death Cult Armageddon in 2003, which came out really well at that time, I think, because it was a big attempt to create something different and I think we did. But it was just the beginning of it and I think we completed or at least continued from that road on this album because it’s more cool, the orchestra is bigger and it sounds better, it’s recorded better and it’s overall just much better. And also the addition of the real choir adds to the really awesome feeling.
Did the exit of Vortex and Mustis affect the sound of the band on this album in any way?
No, it didn’t. I think the negative aspect of changing personnel in the band has always worked for the better, in terms of the fact you get a kick in the ass and you want to show yourself, the fans and the people around you that the core of the band the last 10 years has been Galder, Shagrath and myself anyway. I’m not going to take away any credit from what Vortex and Mustis contributed to the band, but once people hear the new album they will understand very quickly that their influence wasn’t as big as people think. The music always speaks for itself and I think the music is more important than anything else that’s why we haven’t announced who the guest musicians are or the sessions musicians are because we want people and the fans to focus on the music.
Coming to your tours, you announced a few dates with Korn this month and there’s been some griping and criticism from fans…
What I think is important for people to realise is that it’s not something that’s new to us, playing with different types of bands. I mean I remember in ’98 we played with Faithless in Finland and that’s like a techno band [laughs] and we’ve played a lot of alternative festivals through the years and I think that’s how we have also gained an alternate fanbase, you know what I mean? I know that Jonathan [Davis, Korn frontman] is a fan of Dimmu. It just shows how little people really think about Dimmu and Korn as bands because we in Dimmu also listen to a lot of different music and I’m sure that’s what the Korn guys do as well. That’s how you draw your influences. If we would listen to black metal 24×7, we wouldn’t sound the way we do, you know. It’s just the way it is and I’m glad we’re open-minded and grown-up enough to see things from a different perspective.
But as a fan of a band myself… let’s say, when Twisted Sister recorded Stay Hungry a couple of years ago, I was like “No! You can’t do that!” At the same time, we did the same with Stormblast, the album we recorded in 1995; we re-recorded that so I’d be a hypocrite in a way but as a fan I totally understand it. But as a musician and a member of the band we have don’t think objectively about our music, we think as a member of the band.