Dimmu Borgir is one of those bands metalheads discover in their formative music years. As the radio-friendly riffs become stale, and that yearning for something heavier, darker and demonic kicks in, it’s hard to resist Dimmu’s crushing combination of roaring strings, asphyxiated snarls and brooding black metal. Attend one of their shows, and you’ll often hear the same story - “Dimmu helped introduce me to black metal.”
And the fact that the near sold-out (by about eight tickets) show in Sydney pulled the kind of age-bracket that would have discovered Dimmu ten, 15 or even 20 years ago, is a testament to the band’s consistent mastery of the genre. Their first headline tour of Australia was a wonderful combination of nostalgia, and celebration that Dimmu are still among the best in the business.
Why? Because they’re nothing if not damn fine entertainers. From the second they walked on stage through clouds of smoke beneath red and blue strobes, the struck the perfect balance between menacing and maniacal fun without stumbling into the dreaded metal cheese. Sure it’s all a bit silly, but whenever the show risked becoming corny, Dimmu struck a chord that fuelled the metal fires within the fans, which made the moshy collective conclude “damn, that was f**king cool!”
Yes, the guys in Dimmu know how to take symphonic black metal and make it really badarse. These moments peaked however, when Shagrath, draped in robes that hung low across his arms, struck a pose akin to crucifixion, as backlights burned across the stage. It created a harrowing, priestly silhouette that loomed over the room with a gargantuan, ghoulish presence.
Though each member fell into their corpse-paint riddled character, throwing deathly glares across the room before cackling and screaming with the unhinged ferocity of a mythological beast, they could barely contain their enthusiasm. Through layers of hellish makeup and desecrated monk-like robes, came plenty of smiles, sing-along’s and excited acknowledgment that their first proper Sydney show was going down a treat. For a band that embraces the theatrical, they had no shame in showing the humans underneath, and it was god damn beautiful.
Of course, so many years later anyone even vaguely familiar with Dimmu will be aware of their musical stylings, but the live performance has become such a well-oiled machine it’s almost impossible to fault. Of the lean 75 minute set, five songs were plucked from their latest record, Eonian, while the other seven was made up of fan favourites.
“The Chosen Legacy” threw the room into a ritualistic chant, “Mourning Palace” took the old-school fans on a dark, deathly and downright epic walk through the fires of memory lane, and the visceral attack of “Puritania” cut through the crowd like daggers. It was a feeling the crowd seemed to enjoy based on the mighty roar that erupted as Shagrath uttered the song’s opening lines.
And it’s moments like these, not to mention the enormous conclusion to “Gateways,” that really get to the core of Dimmu on stage. For a band that trades in blast beats, distorted guitars, shrieks, growls and haunting chords, they’re deeply engaging on such a fundamental level. As soon as a song starts, you’re completely locked in, and it’s a skill that’s not limited to the studio. The on stage-persona is so perfectly attuned to entertainment, that when each member extends a bony claw and beckons you into their dark, yet somehow whimsical world, you’re overrun with a hypnotic instinct that willingly leads you to their their grasp.
Tight, intense, unrestrained and utterly theatrical, the guys in Dimmu Borgir are true performance masters. There’s no mystery to the show, when you buy tickets to a show you know exactly what you’re going to get. But that doesn’t matter because when you see timeless tunes executed with effortless perfectionism, that are delivered with the force of a ten-thousand tonne hammer, there’s pretty well nothing to criticise.