By now, Dimmu Borgir are no strangers to the extravagant and grandiose accompaniment of Gaute Storaas. After the departure of Mustis and ICS Vortex post In Sorte Diaboli, the band has reached for Snowy Shaw to supplement this loss but have since found themselves void of some of the worlds best symphonic and vocal talent. What do you do when you lose two of the most prolific members of your band whose scope inhabits the realms of over thirty musicians each to even approach their eminence to the band? How do you even begin to move on? The task of replacing Mustis and ICS Vortex is monumental and using entire orchestras and choirs is a logistical nightmare. Yet here we have Dimmu Borgir taking the road less traveled and doubling down on the orchestral and choral approaches. They opt to employ the entire ensembles on both fronts and have inducted, rather unofficially, the maestro Gaute Storaas into the fold to help guide the symphonies and choirs into their sound.
With such a huge undertaking, incorporating hundreds of instrumental and vocal tracks into every aspect of their music, they were bound, simply by the law of averages to come out with some great stuff. Eonian is littered with amazing moments from both the sleek black metal end of the spectrum and the opposing “practically a fantasy video game soundtrack” end of the spectrum. It’s absolutely massive and Shagrath’s mastery of dominating these huge arrangements, his restraint and total black metal aesthetic elevates these tracks into Dimmu Borgir territory. But there is a concession made by the band on this album. It doesn’t take the ideas far enough and it doesn’t excel in any particular area.
Overall, Eonian is fine. An entertaining and expansive listen full of grandeur and epic moments. But it’s hard to endure it’s hour-long runtime and not feel the absence of a once greater band. They aren’t reaching anymore as a band in terms of quality. They’ve created one of the most over the top sounds with an overly ambitious approach of incorporating symphonies and choirs into the writing and recording process but have also lost their cutting edge. No longer are Dimmu Borgir the mainstay of Symphonic Black and Gothic Metal but rather, they now exist as a product of it.
You’d be hard-pressed to not enjoy Eonian but it just doesn’t occupy the same space that classic Dimmu Borgir does. Eonian is chock full of great moments, but these moments tend to be a product of either the choir, the symphony or the main band. A chasm has grown between the classically trained vocalists and instrumentalists and the standard black metal band. Each element exists independently. The black metal too seldom blasts away at lightning speeds in order to keep pace with the symphony. The symphonies and choirs too often drown out the core band with their massive breadth. It leads to epic moments but songs that overstay their welcome and a yearning for a heavier or more sinister Dimmu Borgir.
On the occasions, however, that all three elements gel and we get the full Dimmu Borgir experience, it undoubtedly leads to classics. Namely the single “Interdimensional Summit” and “Archaic Correspondence” incorporate all of the traditional elements of the Dimmu Borgir sound as well as the more ambitious ones. The latter featuring these wicked neon raindrop sounding synths that have been hinted at throughout their career but never prominently featured until now. In fact, their keyboardist Geirloz driving the song on “Archaic Correspondence” and having it be one of the most memorable tracks on the album implies to me he was criminally underutilized. And naturally so when you have entire ensembles at your disposal. But it would serve the band well to tone it down a notch. Dimmu Borgir being just a good band feels less serviceable than most other bands being “just good”. This is a band that reaches for the stars. They throw everything and the kitchen sink at their music and it has paid off for decades. Just good, isn’t good enough and it’s more than clear on Eonian that they can be great again. Being bogged down by your ambitions isn’t a dealbreaker. Whether or not Eonian was a success, it’s alien territory for anyone to have these many elements in your music so this review still comes as an endorsement. For all its shortcomings, Eonian is still very entertaining and well produced and you owe it to yourself to sift through the album and find the stuff you like. Just don’t expect Death Cult Armageddon 2 or even In Sorte Diaboli 2.