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Dimmu Borgir

Seven years of silence have gone by since the previous Dimmu Borgir album ‘Abrahadabra’ was launched at the world. Okay, the band could be caught on world podia until 2014 and we had the live registration with choir and orchestra ‘Forces Of The Northern Light’, but now that new work is about to be released with ‘Eonian’ early May, we left no stone unturned and talked to vocalist/composer Shagrath as well as guitarist/composer Silenoz about their new creation. That’s how we get a parallel vision on the recent activities of the Norwegian symphonic black metal band, just as they take us into their parallel worlds…

By: Vera | Archive under black metal

band imageSHAGRATH

It has been a while. How did you feel the last years?
I felt good, but it is also strange to have been away for quite some time, it feels kind of weird somehow. I have mixed feelings about it. We have not been lazy though. It has been almost eight years now since the previous record, but you have to remember that we have toured up until 2014. It has been a world tour and festivals, many different stuff. It seems many years, but after the last gig in 2014 it was important for us to stop the train a little bit. To get off that train, take a break and reflect a little bit about the history of the band. We were feeling that we were losing a little bit of our identity. We were working with a lot of people and we felt like we needed to stop and take back the control of the band. We had to change our management, we had to resign our record deal with Nuclear Blast, we had to reflect on all sorts of communication and a lot of time passed. On top of that we all have families. We all have kids within the band. Three kids have been born since the previous record: Me, Silenoz and Daray have become father and of course family life, it takes time and you have to find a balance between the musical scène and personal life. But it was important for us to take a little break and we are sorry to the fans of course, because we did not want to disappoint out fans, but it was important to take a little break.

I think they will understand, because having children and see them growing up, that’s something you can only experience once…
(laughs) That’s true. We kind of wanted a fresh new start and recharge our batteries. Approximately three years ago we decided, we had a meeting in a cabin for a weekend and discussed a bit what we were going to do. We decided that we would make another record. During the break we still had contact, but not so often as we probably would have had when just carry on. We needed some isolation between us to recharge and reflect. We agreed to go back to the preproduction studio and see if we could write some songs and what we could come up with. So we started writing and it was a bit strange, because we were starting with a blank page and we did not know what kind of direction we should go, but we all agreed that we would step back a bit from the grotesque symphonic works we had done, because we used so much orchestra on the previous record. So after the release of the ‘Forces Of The Northern Light’ DVD, that was like a chapter closed. We are done with that chapter now. So we wanted to start focusing more on creating songs that are more guitar orientated. So we took it from there and the first song we created for this record was ‘Archaic Correspondence’, which is track number eight. It went smooth actually. It was a little bit challenging in a way that you feel a pressure. We were thinking: ‘Where do we take it from now? What shall we do?’ But we had to close the world out and not think about opinions and try not to think so much about what we were doing We wanted to focus on what comes from the heart. So that’s what we did. When we had made the first song, it was easier to take step number two and three, the rest followed quite smoothly. You are in a bubble when creating songs, you know.

I think the first song is always the most difficult one, surely when it is a time ago that you were writing. You have to relocate yourself into that bubble, so to speak…
That’s what we did and it was important for us to not have any pressure. We really took all the time and attention that was needed and I think that also reflects on the record. We put a lot of effort and time in every song on this record as a whole and that was important too, because in the past we stressed a lot about the deadlines. Like: ‘now it is only three weeks to go in the studio.’ Then the result can be bad, but this time we said: let’s do an album and when it is done, we will call the studio and record (chuckles)..

Please tell me about that studio adventure now…
With this album, we changed a lot of things. Really starting with a blank page. We used Jens Bogren. We did not know him before, we never worked with him. We all agreed to go there. Sometimes in the past we had a lot of arguments about which studio we should enter, but this time we all agreed. I think we wanted to try that studio because there are so many good records coming out, done by them, like Katatonia, early Opeth, even Kreator now. It was challenging, the process of creating and completing this album. It was a new way of doing things.

What are specific characteristics about working with Bogren?
He is very specific about details. So everything that was done, The drums were recorded in Stockholm. The drummer didn’t have to do one take, but he had to do ten takes of each part. He was really tired afterwards, had pain in his shoulders, so he is very specific about how he wants to record. So that was challenging, but I think he really captured what we wanted to achieve with the band, the vision of the band. We made a detailed preproduction to show him what we wanted before we entered the studio. We had the time, so we were well prepared. It was a different way to approaching things, but it was very positive, because our music is also very complex, even though it is obviously more guitar based. There’s also choirs on this record to capture that cinematic approach.

How do you divide the job of writing music and writing lyrics?
We have a good understanding for this. We had different obligations in the band and for the last years he is focusing on that part and I try to adapt this to the songs and so I focus more on the songwriting process. That works very well for us. I still change lots of his lyrics to adapt it to a certain theme of a song, but I think we have a good understanding. That’s how we work together and this formula works for us. Whatever you are best in doing, that’s what you should do. I am more creative in music, putting the structure of the songs together. He works on the lyrics and we work together with the whole thing.

But I understand that you are three song writers, also Galder…
Galder is also a bit part of the songwriting. He is – what I should call - a kind of riff master. If you give him a guitar, he is going to come up with a new riff in two seconds. He is very good at adding good elements to the music. He has an important role, creating the main riffs and other additions to the music. We all have are roles in the band and this formula works well with us.

What about the rest of the band after these eight years of hiatus?
We have Daray, he has been our drummer for more than ten years now and we have Gerlioz who is more of a session member, but you can also hear him on the record. I think he put his signature on certain keyboard elements. He is also in the band for a long, long time. These five members are a tight unit. It is no secret that there have been many line-up changes in the past, this is the most stable line-up we have had for a long time, since it works well for everybody. Everybody knows their role in the band. Well, it works for now.

Can you tell a bit more about the choice of the title ‘Eonian’?
It took a while before we agreed on this title, but we all felt like this was a suitable statement for the complete record. ‘Eonian’ which is kind of linked to the illusion of time, everything that is and has been. It also reflects the twenty-five years of Dimmu Borgir. It is going back and forth between different dimensions, a parallel universe so to speak. Complex material. There is a lot of depth. It means ‘eternal’ or ‘everlastng’. It is a good strong title that represents this album in a good way.

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The album was a bit delayed…
Yes, it has been a little bit delayed because of the planning and also the label has a lot of other releases each month. They had to be able to focus 100% on the record. It took a while before the cover was ready. It took a while before we had the master of the record. To complete all the work you need to do to make an album is a time consuming thing and suddenly it is three or four months later. It is a little bit delayed, but I think this will be the best, for when it is coming out, everything will be planned and well organized.

What can you tell about the artwork?
It has two important factors: it is the hourglass, about the turning of time and the eternity symbol. That is kind of related to the lyrical themes on this record. The artwork is done by Bialek. He also worked with Ghost and many other bands. I really like his art expression and I really wanted to have him for this record. It was a little bit difficult and challenging, because he is so busy and so popular. He has a lot of things to do, but finally he got the time. We had to wait a bit for that too. So he has done the front cover. The backside and the rest of the layout is a collaboration between me and Marcello, a Brazilian guy we worked with on many other albums. It is a really nice package and I am really looking forward to see the vinyl version of this record. The twenty-eight pages booklet is amazing, with lyrics, band pictures, paintings and pictures of the place Dimmu Borgir as well. We surely recommend people to buy a physical copy of this record! It is important to have it.

Do you believe in fate or more in coincidences in life?
Heavy question. I believe more in coincidences I think, certain things yes… Without going too deep into that subject, I would say that’s a more personal question (laughs).

Did any of the things happening in Europe or the world – without being a political band of course – find their way in any of the songs on the record?
No, definitely not. The world of Dimmu Borgir has nothing to do with the world of today. I would like to see Dimmu Borgir more as a world of its own. Just like when you are watching a movie: you escape from this world in a certain sense. When you watch ‘Lord of the Rings’, it is a parallel universe, because I think today’s society – I don’t follow so much what’s going on in politics or be too occupied – is really hell. I rather work in my own world. Everything is going worse, but at the same time, the more all these problems in the world occur, the more we need a separate world to escape from. That’s how I like to see Dimmu Borgir and the universe of Dimmu Borgir. When you dive into a Dimmu Borgir album, you can freeze time and set the world on pause and just escape into something different.

Which is very important for your mental health…
Yes, exactly. I think so too. That’s why the imaginary and everything goes hand in hand to support a whole, to create something that has nothing to do with politics or personal opinions or about society. It is a world of its own and that’s how I want it to be. It is very important, more important now than ever to have this escape possibility.

Indeed, during the world wars people went to the movies to escape from harsh reality…
Yes, indeed. We need this more than ever now, because of all the bad stuff that’s going on in the world. But it will always be important for me that, whatever kind of black metal project or band I am working with, has nothing to do with politics or personal opinions so to speak. I leave that up to punk music, you know. There it is no problem. In the world of black metal, that’s a different world for me.

And what about the religious aspect?
Yes, it has been a big part of our lyrics in the past; not so much anymore because I think we kind of covered the whole aspect. We like to take it into new directions now. New topics and challenge ourselves with different stuff every time you do something new. It is important not to repeat yourself too much, exploring new territories. And we have never been afraid of doing so, otherwise we should just be a repetition of ourselves, then it makes no sense to be a musician.

Thus a constant development, like life itself. And like travelling… Of course you travel a lot with the band, but do you see traveling with your family as a hobby?
I have travelled so much in my free time as well as for the band, actually all over the world. I actually enjoy staying home. Travelling is still a big part of Dimmu Borgir, so for me, I enjoy staying home. That’s the result of years and years living in a suitcase and going to new places. That is great and I am glad that I had the experience and the opportunity, but at the same time as a father it is very important to have a home where you can spend time with your kids. A stable foundation so to speak. I have two daughters, so I enjoy the time spent with them, but I am getting a lot of creative outlet by staying home, because I have my own studio. So I can play and create and do things I like while being home and enjoy a glass of wine. I think the older you get, the more you relax and enjoy the small things in life. Before, like many years ago, I guess I was more restless, but these days I think I am more a relaxed person. So I enjoy staying home as well.

What about the visual thing with video clips?
We are still working on that stuff now. Some things should have been done a while ago, but actually next weekend we are going to shoot two videos. On location in Sweden, with Patric Ulleus again. We are even planning to do more videos, but these are the two first ones to shoot. Later we have a dream to go to Iceland to shoot some videos. It is no point to go there right now because of the weather, we will do that in Summer. In the meantime we will do a couple more videos and hopefully they will be ready before the album comes out in May. So we have a lot of things in the planning these days. I am really looking forward to that. I have the energy now, but it is also nerve-wrecking, because it has been a while, so we have to get back into the game and that really feels exciting!

Are there guests on the album?
Yes, we have Martin Lopez for a percussion part and also we have a guy doing the Shaman voice in the fourth song ‘Council Of Wolves And Snakes’, he lives in Norway. For the rest we did not include any others or invite people, we wanted this to be a band effort from the core members of Dimmu Borgir. It is good to have some extra spice sometimes to make it interesting, but all in all it was important to create an album merely made by the band.

What are the plans for playing live?
We have plans to do a European tour, of course, but we are starting with the festivals. We will come to the Alcatraz festival in Belgium in August, that’s already confirmed. We are going to do as much as possible festivals, then we will continue with tours in Europe and in the whole world basically.

band imageSILENOZ

So, it has been a while. What kept you busy during these years of absence?
Yes, but at the same time, actually, three of us have become fathers again since the previous album. So of course, the private life had to be focused upon a little bit. We also felt, as a band, that we needed a kind of regroup and start from scratch with a blank page. Get things in order. Then we had the DVD release that took some investigation and time. We have been actually writing the new album since 2012. Bits and pieces and some amounts of time I have been more inspired than others… before you know another year goes by and then… when we spoke last time I probably said that the album would be out late last year. That was the plan, but then another hang-up comes in… the cover was delayed, some of the costumes were delayed, way more than we expected, so we could not take the photos and before you know it, another two or three months have passed by, because they have their time table that the label has to follow. So the album was basically ready when we spoke last time, in April or so. It sucks for us to sit on the album for another year, while people are asking: “where is the album?”

But it is fine that there is interest and probably you have spiced up the whole thing even more…
Yes, of course I understand that they expect and hopefully both of their expectations will be fulfilled. It was important for us to understand that we cannot control this beast. It just has to take the time that it takes. I think that is in favour of us and the fans, because they don’t want something that’s halfway. I mean, we could easily do ‘Enthrone Darkness Triumphant’ II but that would be the easy way out. We have chosen a more challenging path.

After so many years, I still hear a constant musical evolution in the band… I applaud that…
Well, you only listened once to the album now. We know it is a lot to take in. If you hear the album more and more, you will probably get a different picture of it.

Dimmu Borgir’s music always demands several spins and on top of that, we have the complex lyrical themes. What can you say about that this time?
I could talk about the lyrics for hours, but then we would get too far. The whole idea now is to not think too much about the lyrical theme, because I have my subjective meaning, but if I tell what it means to me, then some listeners are going to have that preconceived idea about what it means. But maybe it means something else for them, so… but I guess you can easily say that… the idea of time as we know it as human beings is an illusion, because once you start traveling other dimensions, other worlds than we can see, we realize that time is non-existent. We live here now, for us this feels like now. The physical body that we have now will obviously go away when we die, but the energy that we possessed will remain. We are all made of stardust. It always fascinated me. I think I tried to incorporate, tried to described some of that as well, because once we travel between the macro-cosmos and the micro-cosmos, we are all and everything at once and that just does not go away. Also concerning the album cover art is something that we wanted to portray as a fact. Or maybe it is not a fact, but for me the feeling I have is that, as human beings or energies, we always are and have always been. So forget about the big bang, forget about an evil God creating the world and stuff like that, you know, once you step down the rabbit hole (chuckles) and search for truth and knowledge, what you are going to end up is even more questions than you had before.

Indeed, then you also have the issue of reincarnation…
Right! Rebirth and that can mean so much you know. It does not mean that we are getting reborn in this flesh, we can be reborn in whatever… just like the cycle of the sun and the seasons. We have too many similarities with nature to disregard the idea of us being eternal. So ‘Eonian’ is a title, trying to get people interested in that idea and challenge themselves to dive into this subject. Just for the lyrics, the album title can mean something different within the same range. I do not use lyrics or words as a conclusion thing I want to give the listener more questions.

The album is less symphonic you said, yet I hear a proper amount of orchestral arrangements and choirs…
We still wanted to use the real life choirs, in addition to also sampled choir, but a real life orchestra we haven’t used this time. We basically use samples. They have been arranged in a way as if you have a real orchestra. It is still the same amount of work to get everything done. We even used some eastern European orchestra sounds, that was pretty new at the time anyway, so the most updated things. You call these choirs sacral, but when I listen to the album, what sticks out for me is that it is a very empowering type of album. It has dark elements of course, it has melancholic parts, of course the symphonic parts, and also very primal elements, especially when it comes to some of the guitars, because we in the band, even if we play a kind of symphonic type of black metal, the type of black metal we listen to in our private lives, are more old school. They are old stuff, but we take that as an inspiration and utilize that for something to make our own expression.

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There is a wide range of possibilities. When you start, you have total freedom, except for expectations of the fans of course…
I think the biggest pressure comes from ourselves. If we don’t have the feeling that we cannot do our best at that time, then it has to wait. That is probably also another reason why it took a bit longer, because we have to be convinced. We need to convince ourselves that this is the best we can do at this point in time and once you reach that feeling, then it is okay. It is already a success for us, that’s how I measure success. When we are happy with the master in the studio, this is success. It does not matter what happens afterwards. Obviously we appreciate it if people like it, but if there are people who do not like it, that’s fine too. We have done our best, the best we can do at the moment… When I hear about other bands, saying: “we don’t care about the fans what they are thinking, it is only important what we think.” Well, okay, that is true, but if you say that you don’t care about what the fans think, then you are lying, because at a certain point, you always take that in consideration, especially after twenty-five years when you have established yourself as a band. You have an established name and you expect people to have expectations from you… Then again it is also healthy for us to expect something from the fans as well. I know that a lot of diehard Dimmu fans will love this album, some fans will most likely hate it as well. It is always like that, but it is a good thing. If people were all in the middle, it is okay, then I rather have explicit expressions.

How would you see this album in your discography?
I think if you listen more and more to the album, then I think you will notice that there are less vocals, compared to the previous one, and that is kind of done on purpose. That was Shagrath’s decision basically, because he wanted the music to breath more in order to make more room for the music. I think we all have become way much better producers, because one part of the process is to write the songs and you have the ego clashes, but we are also much more mature in a sense that we want to leave our egos there and go out to the scene as our own producers, looking at our music with objective eyes. We have full control over our stuff. On the previous albums too. We have demoed all the songs, down to the last detail. Then we keep the orchestral parts that we have from the preproduction and the choirs and all that stuff. Then we went to Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios and we did the drums, guitars and vocals again. But we kept all the other stuff that we already had recorded and of course it is a huge challenge to mix a Dimmu album (chuckles), but we know what we want and the good thing about working with Jens is that he got the best performances out of all of us, he took us out of our comfort zone. And I think we got him out of his comfort zone as well, which is good. The result speaks for itself and I think the fans that have been the most impatient, they will forgive us for the time, because they will understand that the album is overtime and appreciate and understand why it took so long. It is not simple rock-‘n-roll (laughs).

One of the strongest features is that you combine the harshness with a kind of catchiness…
I hope that is a strong point indeed. When you put Shagrath’s ideas into the pot and Galder’s ideas and my ideas, we all have different ways of writing songs, but once you can do it together… of course it is a challenge, because there is so much material that we need to dissect, but I think the chemistry writing-wise is very potent and it gives room for a lot of perspectives. So there is not a set formula to write a Dimmu song. It is not like we sit down and decide to write a fast song today. Whatever comes natural…

Do you live close to each other?
Our main headquarters, the Warehouse, is just half an hour from where I live. The same with Galder and Shagrath lives a bit closer to The Warehouse. That is our main base, but Shagrath has more studio stuff than me and Galder have, so we have done most of the preproduction in his studio. That’s how it works the best.

Are you raised in a family with classic music?
No, not really. My grandfather played tuba. My mom’s mother played the guitar a little bit. My mom can play piano a bit, but we are not really a musical family. I think my dad has not listened that much to music at all. Maybe when he was younger, he was listening to some old seventies stuff, I am not sure.

The last song, ‘Rite Of Passage’ is instrumental. Is that a bonus track?
No, it is just the last song. We decided to have that without vocals. We had way more lyrics. I think we had fifteen sets of lyrics, but we should not force lyrics or vocals on this song. It is called ‘Rite Of Passage’ and maybe that is the description of the bridge to the next album we are going to do. You never know. We already started a little bit with working on new ideas.

What are the plans to go out on the road?
We have some festivals confirmed for the Summer. At the moment we are working on scheduling a tour in the Fall, but I don’t have any specific dates or time frames really at the moment. We just try to collect a proper tour package, to make it interesting for the fans, because we are the type of band who wants to play live. We want people to feel that they get something worth their money. We are going to put a lot of time and efforts in building a stage set. For us it is not a nine to five job, it is 24/7 we are in the band. When you are not writing music, there is plenty things you can do band related as well. We’d like to go to the East, we have only been in Japan basically. In Australia we haven’t done proper headlining shows, so that’s another territory to conquer. India and China are growing markets, so who knows? We are all fortunate to do something we really love and share it with a lot of people. That’s a great feeling! We will definitely go where it is safe, but at the same time you should not let fear control you either.

What are the plans for making video clips, because the visual thing is also very important?
Of course, we have always been a visual band since the beginning. That changes of course a little bit from album to album cycle. We are going to do several videos for the album now. It has been a while since we have done a video, but it still is a very important thing and a good promotion tool for both label and band: having good looking videos. It is not that you reinvent the wheel, but I think people expect something cool if you are a visual band like ours. So I am looking forward to that.

What are your dreams for the band now?
I hope that we can establish ourselves again as a band. It is like starting from scratch in a way, after being away for such a long time. For us as a band, we have been working on music since the last album, it is not like on and off. So we have not been lazy or haven’t done anything, it is just that we deliberately kept a low profile in the media. We try to keep a bit of mystery, when people are wondering: what the hell is going on? Because that makes people talk and I feel it is better to be wanted than to be expected. There is a huge difference there, so hopefully for the future we can bring the magic back to the stages all over the world and share the energy of the new album with our fans, old and new fans.

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