When Norwegian black metallers Dimmu Borgir came to town, we sent Tom Dare off to chat to guitarist Galder about new album, Abrahadabra
After three years and the departure of two band members (keyboard player Mustis, and bassist & clean vocalist ICS Vortex), Dimmu Borgir are about to release new album Abrahadabra. At a top-secret location in London (i.e., a Travelodge), we got to listen to this vast and ambitious slab of evil. After recovering, we sat down with Galder, guitarist with arguably the biggest Norwegian black metal band going, to discuss the band’s new record, Aleister Crowley, touring with Korn and potentially being spat on.
Having just heard the album, it seems safe to say it’s going to surprise a few people.
“Yeah, I think that’s fair enough.”
Was this deliberate?
“As soon as we made this album I knew this was going to be an album that would surprise. And yes it was sort of intentional. We wanted to do something different to what we’d done before – not too extreme, but we wanted to fool around and experiment a lot more. There are a lot of samples here that are from the Norwegian natives for instance that we’ve never done before, and lots of crazy samples. And also the music too is a bit different from what we’ve done before. So yeah, we always knew that this would surprise. It’s an album you need to listen to more than once because there’s so much going on – so much orchestration, so much choir and so many samples and guitar and vocal stuff. Shagrath has been experimenting so much with his vocals too.”
The female vocals on the record are one of the biggest surprises.
“We wanted to try something new out. That’s something you’re not prepared for in Dimmu Borgir, so it takes a while to get used to that. I think she did a really cool job and made that song a lot better. Agnette [Kjølsrud, female vocals] is a girl from Norway who played in a few other Norwegian bands. She has a reputation in Norway; she’s a very professional singer and a very metal girl.”
It’s a very primal sounding record. Was that something you were aiming for?
“I don’t think that we aimed for that. It turns out the way it turns out, you know? It depends on what type of amps, drums and studios you use. We recorded in three different studios- we did the drums in Sweden, the guitars in Norway and then we mixed it up at Andy Sneap’s. We just mixed up all those elements together and it sounds the way it sounds. But if it sounds primal then that’s good! We were a bit afraid that it was going to sound too polished, that it was maybe going to sound a bit too good because we didn’t want it to sound too good either so it’s good that you say that!”
Even by Dimmu Borgir standards, this is a very dark record. Given the line-up changes, was there a dark feeling within the band that might have contributed to that?
“It drove us to push ourselves to make it harder, because we were afraid the fans would be saying “the band is over and it’s not going to happen anymore because those two people left”, so we were thinking “no that’s not true, we can be even stronger”. Even though it was very hectic at that time because they left the band in the middle of this process, it really pushed us to want to make it stronger, to make it aggressive. So of course, maybe there is some of that stuff shining through in the end result. It’s hard to say, but there might be something in there- a little bit more aggression maybe than the previous albums.”
Am I right in thinking the composer of the orchestration [Gaute Storås] conducted the orchestral recording of Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia? Was that the reason you chose him?
“Yeah, it was mainly because we worked with him before. He was offered the job and he’s a very good friend of ours now, so that was the main reason. On the last album [In Sorte Diaboli] we didn’t use an orchestra, we just used media on the computer, so that didn’t sound too authentic. So on this album we wanted to it properly- more like the Death Cult Armageddon feeling on some of the songs. So we decided to take him back and give his ideas to the band. It worked out good. He worked really hard at home for several weeks. He pretty much just took our ideas that we made on the keyboard and transferred those to the different instruments in the orchestra. He came in pretty early [in the writing process] – I think we had a meeting after we made a song or two and then had a meeting with him. We asked him if he wanted to do it and he was offered the job.”
The title, Abrahadabra, has obviously caused a fair amount of discussion. The tradition of having had three words has been dropped. With there being a track called ‘Dimmu Borgir’, was there ever a thought of breaking tradition even further by using two words and self-titling the album?
“We talked about it but it didn’t really happen. That could be an idea, but we didn’t want to have a song that was on the album as a title so we wanted something else. We were fooling around with titles for a long time actually – we didn’t know what to use. Should we use three words, should we use two- what the fuck should we do here? Since the whole album was about doing something different and new, we just decided a one word title was the best thing and to break the rules. But it’s not the first time – Stormblåst was a one worded title so it’s been done before.”
Watch Galder and Silenoz teach you how to play Dimmu Borgir songs here:
There’s what sounds like a strong occult theme running through Abrahadabra rather than the satanic themes of previous albums…
“Occult is a very good word to describe the album. We used a lot of inspiration from Aleister Crowley, and he’s a lot about the occult. I’m not going to go into the lyrics too much as Silenoz writes all the lyrics, but it is about the occult. It’s still about satanic stuff but maybe in a different approach than we have done before.”
There was talk of the concept from In Sorte Diaboli continuing onto the new record. Was that ever going to happen?
“No, I don’t think so. We fooled around with a concept album at that time because that was what we wanted to do, but with this album we started talking about how we didn’t want to have a concept album. In a way it’s like a concept album because there’s a lot about Dimmu Borgir and about the roots of Dimmu Borgir- like the title ‘Dimmu Borgir’, that song is about Dimmu Borgir – but it’s also about the occult and a lot of things about Aleister Crowley. So it’s not really a concept album at all.”
One thing that’s very noticeable is that it’s very black metal riffing on pretty much every song. Does being seen as black metal still matter to you?
“Black metal is the roots of Dimmu Borgir and has been surrounding the band, but we don’t really look at it as old-school black metal because we know it’s not. We know it’s too well produced to be old school black metal. We like to keep it a bit primal and to have black metal riffs, but even with the guitar riffs it’s more new black metal than old black metal. We keep the riffs very open and very simple, so that’s not very Dimmu but maybe more of the new black metal – kind of Mayhem-ish, more of the picking type.”
Mayhem was the name which came to mind listening to the album…
“Yeah, but we’re not stealing anything from them. That’s just my guitar style!”
What do you think about the world of black metal at the moment? Do you think it’s doing well?
“It’s doing well, but black metal will never again be the same as it was back in the 90’s. If you ask me, that’s just a train that’s left the station. It’s sad to say it but all music moves along. Black metal moves along, and it can’t be the same, you know? It can’t all sound like Darkthrone today because it wouldn’t be the same. Studios evolve, musicians evolve. It’s cool, and we still have black metal today, but it won’t be the same as it was back in the day. But that’s good because all music needs change, it needs to go in new directions otherwise it dies out, and black metal has survived for a very long time. Twenty years it has survived and it’s still going strong so that’s very good. Not many musical styles go for that long – death metal didn’t really last for twenty years. I’m very proud of black metal surviving that long. Hopefully it will last another twenty years – with good digital sound!”
Do you think black metal moving beyond the territories it started in to be a much more global force will help keep it alive?
“It will keep it alive, but at the same time it’s always the original stuff that, for me, is the best. I think the Scandinavian bands are the best but it’s cool we have bands from other countries. That’s just how the story goes – like how death metal started in America and moved out to Europe. If that’s the way it needs to be for black metal survive, it’s cool – as long as it stays true to its roots and as long as black metal stays evil and about the dark message. I’d rather that than for it to die out.”
Watch Dimmu Borgir playing ‘The Serpentine Offering’ live at Wacken here:
You’re touring the UK with Korn in September…
“Let me hear it!”
Well, they didn’t seem like the obvious band for Dimmu Borgir to tour with…
Were there any concerns about doing that tour?
“We know it’s different, and we knew that people would go “Korn?!?” because we were thinking “Korn?!?”. We just wanted to do something new, and it’s not like we’re selling out, because if we want to make money we’d go on a headline tour! That’s not why we’re doing it. We’re doing it because it’s something new and we can play in front of more people and see the reaction and see “how’s this going to be?”. It’s not like we’re going to tour with Korn and then evolve from that to go on tour with all punk rock bands or whatever, we’re going to go back and tour with Enslaved. It’s just a cool thing for us to experiment with there and then, and see how it goes. It’s a new thing for Dimmu to do. We’ve toured so much with other black metal bands, and for 17 years Dimmu has only toured with metal bands. It’s about evolving, trying stuff and seeing how it goes.”
Are you worried about how you’ll go down with Korn fans?
“They might spit on us but we don’t care. It looks cool from a stage show point of view. I don’t know- we shall see. That’s why we want to do it, to see how they’ll react. We won’t change what we do, we will play brutal songs and do our stage show live and if they don’t want to see us then they can take a beer and wait for Korn.”