When Norwegian bands are in town, chances are you’ll find Tom Dare slinking around for a good vantage point. When it’s Dimmu Borgir in the capital, you’ll struggle to keep him away. This time though, he wishes he had.
When Dimmu Borgir announced they were playing a London date, the initial reaction was “fuck yes!”. When the venue was announced as The Forum, the initial reaction was “oh fuck”. Anyone familiar with the venue will know of its… ‘interesting’ acoustics, and how a band with the grand symphonics like Dimmu could be particularly hampered. Yet this could not hint at the myriad of dire problems that would afflict a genuinely shocking headline performance.
Main support Enslaved are as predictably great as you would expect. With a back catalogue of songs that strong, and with the years of experience they have, it’s hard to imagine them failing to entertain- and they do not. Grutle’s voice is as fearsome as ever, Ivar and Ice Dale play with precision and ferocity and you inevitably find yourself turning to the bloke next to you to gush about some of the immense riffs broiling out of the PA. The sound could be better, some of the guitars becoming a little muddy at times, but the band cope as well as you could ask and are obviously in impressive form.
In case you’ve not kept up with the ins-and-outs of the Dimmu roster, the band parted company with their bassist and clean vocalist, ICS Vortex, as well as their keyboard player, Mustis, a few months ago. Rumours soon started circulating that Therion’s Snowy Shaw would be taking Vortex’s place, but only 24 hours after this was confirmed, he’d quit to go back to Therion. So we have absolutely no idea who the the blokes playing bass and keyboard tonight are, nor who’d be doing the clean vocals.
Dimmu Borgir’s current official line-up in costume
Things look like they might start well enough, the band looking fiendish in their make-up and costumes, but in fact the problems with tonight’s show begin almost straight away. Halfway through opening song ‘Spellbound (by the Devil)’, vocalist Shagrath saunters over to the drum riser and opens a lyrics book. It’s not even subtle – it’s four feet off the ground with a fucking desk lamp shining on it to make absolutely sure the crowd can see it. Shagrath returns to this every two or three minutes throughout the entire set – does he not know the words? Whatever the reason, it looks absolutely bollocks and any of the atmosphere they try and create with their theatrics is completely destroyed. But it gets worse.
Obviously with a new album about to drop, the band want to play a few new songs. While this is reasonable, the first half of the set consists almost entirely of new material, which is not. The album isn’t out yet, so no one has heard more than the two songs that have been released- the stomp of ‘Born Treacherous’ and the potentially anthemic ‘Gateways’. The other songs are rather flatly received, simply because no one has heard them, but the real problem track is ‘Gateways’. While it seemed unlikely the full orchestral might of the song could be delivered live, what you expect as a minimum is the female vocalist to appear onstage to sing that huge hook at the end. But no, they haven’t brought her, and the vocals are delivered via backing track. The effect is a flat disappointment. At what point did they think this would work? And yet still worse was to come.
Some of Dimmu’s greatest hits are largely conspicuous by their absence – ‘Kings Of The Carnival Creation’, ‘Reptile’ and ‘The Sacrilegious Scorn’ are all missing, as are other favourites, and the reason is clear – they don’t have anyone to sing them. Of course, they can’t get away without playing ‘The Serpentine Offering’ or ‘Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse’, and they do play them. And fuck them up. Their treatment ‘Serpentine’ isn’t going too badly (despite the ongoing sonic issues) until they reach Vortex’s old part. In the absence of the man himself, the backing track is once again employed – only quietly, and with Shagrath mouthing along, almost as if he’s trying to convince you it’s him doing the singing. ‘Progenies’ is utter balls, the symphonics far too quiet and lacking definition, and the clean vocals once again come from the soft spin of a CD.
Dimmu Borgir should maybe spend less time making videos and more time practicing?
Guitarists Silenoz and Galder play well and try to put on a good show, and when he’s not bending over his hymn book, Shagrath is charismatic and theatrical. But the bass player (Who is he? Anyone know?) is relegated to stand on a plinth at the back for half the set, and when he does come forward he looks totally lost, obviously not feeling part of the band in the slightest.
This is an appalling showing – lyric books on stage and backing tracks replacing a singer are not really acceptable under any circumstance, and trying to cover up the latter by flooding the setlist with songs no one knows is piss poor. The crowd looks stunned with what they are seeing, and enthusiasm is limited to the inevitable gaggle of die-hards down the front. This is simply not good enough.
Dimmu Borgir @ Kentish Town Forum setlist:
Spellbound (By The Devil)
The Chosen Legacy
Chess With The Abyss
The Blazing Monoliths Of Defiance
The Serpentine Offering
Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse