As part of Black Metal History Month, we will be spotlighting classic albums that we feel are essential for any fan of black metal. This album is a part of that series. Make sure to pick up our limited edition Black Metal History Month t-shirt.
For many American metal fans, Dimmu Borgir opened the gates to the dark romanticism and despair of Black Metal. I can remember back in 2004 when all of us high school kids were blown away by "Progenies of the Great Apocalypse" (and rode around feeling like we were riding in the Batmobile!) and got hooked to other catchy tunes like "Puritania". By then, I had been introduced to inner-circle Black Metal bands like Emperor, Darkthrone, and Mayhem; but for a metal fan who was still working off the taste pallet of big 4 thrash metal, a band like Dimmu Borgir was easier to digest at that moment in time. Now, you may be saying to yourself, "Drew, you don't mean to say that Dimmu is a gateway metal band in the same sense that we'd say Korn or Slipknot is? Like in the way we enjoyed the cartoons we enjoyed as a child?" While I'm sure there are some elitists who would now elect to put Dimmu in this space (you know…God forbid more than 10,000 people on planet Earth can relate to a band), this is definitely not what I mean, as the band has a wealth of brilliant material to its name, particularly 1997's soaring masterwork, Enthrone Darkness Triumphant.
Now, before going on to say anything about that record, I should mention the two records that come before and the two that come after it, as EDT acts as a bridge between two era's in Dimmu Borgir's career. First of all, no collection of black metal is complete without their first two records, For All Tid (1994) and especially Stormblast (1996). Both embody the raw and grim atmosphere traditionally associated with Black Metal and are executed with a theatrical style and originality that would see a high-production makeover with Dimmu's later work. Call me a heretic, but I am partial to the 2005 re-recording of Stormblast, featuring Mayhem's Hellhammer on drums. The two later records are Spiritual Black Dimensions (1999) and Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia (2001), both essential for fans of Dimmu Borgir and loud, well-produced Black Metal. And though their last three albums are by no means "bad", they represent a more formulaic and predictable approach the band finds itself comfortable in. But anyone who dismisses Dimmu as some mainstream pariah is missing out some of the most engaging metal ever made, which brings me back to EDT.
In many ways, symphonic black metal reached its artistic apex in 1997 with many acts releasing their career's best work: Emperor's Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, Cradle of Filth's Dusk… and Her Embrace and others that came out around the same time (Carpathian Forest's Black Shining Leather the next year). Dimmu Borgir's album that year saw many new developments for the band. It would be the first album with bassist Nagash, their first record on Nuclear Blast records, and as you may notice, it is Dimmu's first all-English language release. Speaking of the language, EDT would see Shagrath's vocals begin to move toward the mid-range growl and robotic snarl he is known for on later records, rather than the usual black metal shriek he uses on the first two albums. With their transition to Nuclear Blast came a very clean production that took their sound and gave it some fresh gleam and polish. Though I usually detest over-production as it can suck the life out of most records, here I believe it was done tastefully and despite what some fans claim, this does not suddenly make the album "not black metal" even as it deviates from standard second-wave black metal orthodoxy.
Mourning Palace is of course a fan favorite and rightfully so, as it contains an instantly recognizable synth line and a fantastic bridge with swirling keyboards, double bass, and a classic melodic riff (it starts around 3:42). Dimmu Borgir keeps up the pace with "Spellbound (By the Devil)" and "In Death's Embrace", two songs which embody the best of the guitar-synth-piano-double bass combination. One weakness the album (and the band) as a whole has is its tendency to take this combination and beat the listener over the head with it constantly. However, with EDT we do have a track like "Entrance" with its captivating piano piece and a reworking of For All Tid's "Raabjørn Speiler Draugheimens Skodde". And while they don't reach the same heights as the others I just mentioned, "Relinquishment of Spirit and Flesh" and the almost Gothenburg-esque "Master of Disharmony" are nothing to shake your tr00-kvlt panties at either.
What makes Enthrone Darkness Triumphant essential black metal listening is its example of the genre's attitude and atmospherics successfully set in a polished format. It may not impress many of the genre's fans who prefer the crude, grim chainsaw howling of the traditional sound, but it allows the style some space to explore and spread its wings with results that are truly…well, triumphant.
Read more articles on Black Metal History Month, and make sure to pick up our limited edition Black Metal History Month t-shirt.