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it's amazing what an orchestral upgrade can achieve...
on 18 September 2003
Dimmu Borgir have served up an album as vast and sprawling as the sea of littered bones filling the brilliant apocalyptic artwork of the case (the album is available in no less than six different formats at its release). As majestic as ever, the band have again been moving upwards in their aspirations in the same fashion they have always succeeded in. However, for the first time, links to their previous album are far more pronounced. There is not the chasm bounding leap here that Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia offered, but rather a subtler enhancing of the style which made that album so powerful, confirming their place as one of the big guns of Black Metal.
So what are these changes? Most prominently is the upgrading of the orchestral side from a small chamber orchestra to a full 46-piece Prague Philarmonic Orchestra. The change results in an even grander sound, most noticably with the string sections which will always produce a far more authentic sound than a synthesizer. The use of the orchestra has also varied, now fully incorporated into the song composition, rising for key passages and then dying away behind the band at others, rather than simply echoing guitar riffs at certain moments. This, combined with the best production yet for a Dimmu Borgir album, has created an intense beast, indeed. Thankfully the somewhat overpowering pounding drums of the former album have been levelled off in the mixing to complement the other instruments more effectively. They are neither too prominent nor banished to the background, and Barker's performance retains its previous quality.
Some features may be a little disappointing, however. Shagrath's snarlingly distinctive vocals remain unchanged, but Vortex's clean and epic sound has been greatly reduced, appearing in only two songs (which have unsurprisingly become my favourites). Some will, of course, appreciate this, but I personally found those clean lines soaring above the heavy riffs to be Dimmu Borgir at their most powerful. Gone too are the purely orchestral tracks, and after the previous album's incredible "Fear and Wonder", it was disappointing to discover there is no repeat of such a performance. However this allows the band to dive straight in with the superb fury of "Allegiance", after a creaking sound as if the machinary is being cranked up for this phonic outburst.
The six-piece tinge their music and artwork with their satanic beliefs throughout, but thankfully unlike so many metal acts who cash in on the image's popularity in the current climate, Dimmu Borgir do not overuse references or overtly flaunt offensive anti-Christian messages.
Death Cult Armageddon is also much more of a group effort, with all the band involved in either the music or lyrics at some point in the album. This is an intensely powerful, majestic and varied serving of Metal (symphonic, black, doom, and more!), which, while not rasing the bar as hugely as might have been hoped from Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, still represents Dimmu Borgir's most accomplished work to date.