Remember Dimmu Borgir? Well they’re back, in prog form. Eonian is Dimmu’s first album in eight years, following 2010’s Abrahadabra. What sets Eonian apart? Well, simply put, this album sounds more like Epica than Dimmu. They’ve gone whole hog, banking on big choral vocals, strings, horns, keys, and there’s guitar in there, too.
I’m not overstating it when I say roughly 60 percent of the vocals on this album come through a full choir. At least, it seems like it. Maybe I am overstating it. Look, I’m not going to go count the minutes. Upon first listen, track one, “The Unveiling,” delivered a fair bit of operatic choral vocals, and I thought it was reminiscent of some of my favorite sections from Dimmu of old. But then, the voices just kept coming. There are some Thagrath lines in there, don’t get me wrong. He more or less speaks the verses, and then we get the choir again.
Where they really lose me is in track two, the delightfully named “Inter-dimensional Summit,” which sounds more like a title off Ziltoid, the Omniscient or something. Anyway, the chorus is just too silly and poppy to be taken seriously. “To the Trained eye, there are no coincidences.” Getting a little Alex Jonesy, there. The delivery is too goofy. Silly chorus aside, this track sounds a lot like the first—a problem that persists throughout the album. That isn’t to say the music is bad, but a lot of it does bleed together.
Things do get more interesting at track four, “Council of Wolves and Snakes,” which I’m pretty sure is a magic: the gathering card. The track begins with an interesting guitar distortion. It’s got that nice sinister quality you want from Dimmu, but also a strange, metallic, almost industrial twist. We get more of that industrial sound in track eight, “Archaic Correspondence,” as well as with the very start of the album. “Wolves” has some pretty cool riffing, and what sounds like a native American chant in the background of parts. There’s a classic atmospheric section and then they return to the formula with the choir delivering exposed, and less than impressionistic lyrics. Rinse and repeat.
Another part of note is the bridge of “I am Sovereign.” We get a little death metal flavor for a moment here. The vocals deepen, and there’s a nice chuggy guitar riff. And again with the profound lyrics: “We learn as we teach; we teach as we speak; we speak as we seek; we seek what we learn.” See what he did there? Full-circle, baby.
Amazingly, “we speak as we seek” might not be the worst line in this album. Perhaps “As pawns in this secret game, no one knows nothing,” or “Dead at nothing, alive at everything. You travel time, and time travels you.” In Soviet Russia…. Now, we have to cut these guys some slack, as I’m sure English is not their first language, but then again, they’ve been at it for a while. This is their 10th release over the course of twenty-three years.
There’s a definite theme of ignorance and blindness running through the lyrics, but I’m not sure any of those lines actually mean anything. “Rise above the secrecy and silent deception. Clarity is determined at the depths of murky waters. The potion of black earthed blood is the sludge draining the conscious.” Is this an attack on the fossil fuel industry? “When the dust settles on the tavern is when we’re liberated from illusion.” Stop drinking so you can think straight?
The album is oddly preachy, considering it is immensely vague about what it wants you to do. It also seems to point to some intangible conspiracy against knowing any real truths. This one really bothers me, from track three, “Ætheric”: “To govern thyself, you must know your darkness. To govern thyself, you must know your past.” Then, from the same song: “All retrospection is invalid, as we’ve been fed disdain. Confined to the fence of knowledge, we need to die, die again.” Okay, I don’t even want to get started on the “die again” thing, ’cause wtf? But I don’t think you could give a more mixed message than “you must know your past…all retrospective is invalid.” Just tell me what to do! Teach me your secrets, oh enlightened ones!
Look, it’s easy to poke fun at Dimmu, because everything is so over the top—the costumes; the full orchestras and giant choirs; lyrics about wolves and dragons and phoeni (which I assume is the plural of phoenix [as though there could be more than one]). The truth is, a ton of work clearly went into this album. I don’t know how many artists participated, but it’s a lot. Whether or not Dimmu takes themselves seriously is a fun debate to be had, but fans of this band should know what they are getting into. If you want some big, epic, nerdy, sinister music to listen to while you play D&D or Skyrim, this should get the trick done. If you want an inspired, groundbreaking, profound piece of melodic black metal, you’re gonna have to look elsewhere—maybe Panopticon or something. Overall, the album is plenty of fun, and the lyrics are a trip. Just don’t take it too seriously.
FAVORITE TRACK: “Council of Wolves and Snakes”
RELEASE DATE: 5/4/2018
FOR FANS OF: Behemoth, Epica