The Rickety Old Shack

Dimmu Borgir — Abrahadabra

album cover

It's really nothing special these days, to have black metal bands — or metal bands in general — adding strings and other symphonic elements to their music. In the formative years of the genre, such a thing was largely discouraged unless you had the street cred of a band like Emperor. Things have come a long way since then, but Dimmu Borgir and others took a lot of flack for their indulgences. While featuring a lot of synths and keyboards, Dimmu Borgir was chiefly a metal band that used these elements to enhance their core sound.

Abrahadabra changes all of that, with the songs feeling very much like they were written with an orchestra in mind. The material features rich strings as well as brass sections, each given their chance to add a lot of dynamics to the music. The symphonic parts of the album's songs feel genuine, rather than some ominous backing strings for the keyboardist to bash out during the live show. I've also got to credit the mixing job done by Andy Sneap; in a day-and-age where albums are absurdly over-compressed so they sound obnoxiously loud at all volumes, it's nice to see a production job — as well as accompanying music — that utilises a wider range of sound and frequencies.

Upon repeated listens there is a lot going on in each track, both in the foreground and the background. Abrahadabra definitely rewards the attentive listener with small flourishes that don't distract the listener but make repeated listens more rewarding. In addition to the Norweigan Radio Orchestra, Abrahadabra also features the Schola Cantorum Choir. According to Wikipedia, the album features over 100 musicians and singers. By any measure, I think this qualifies as 'epic.' Throughout each track, the guitars, orchestra, and traditional rhythm sections all shift around in the mix; giving each their turn to drive the songs forward. There's also some very tight syncopation and call-and-response playing throughout the album.

The title is a nod to Alistair Crowley — and his work titled Liber AL vel Legis (Latin for The Book of Law). In addition to continuing the band's abandonment of the three-word album title theme from their earlier albums, the subject matter the band tackles is still steeped in the same gothic nihilism as before. There has been a continual shift away from the heavy-handed Satanism of prior albums, and this record continues that trend while still remaining deep in the occult.

Musically, the band has gone through a number of line-up changes since their prior release, In Sorte Diaboli, however it does not seem to have affected the band's sound. There are some amazingly catchy hooks on this album, and a plethora of nods to archetypal black metal despite the grandiose production values. Everything about the musicianship on this album is incredible; tasteful solos, first-rate drumming, and some very tight song-writting. If nothing else, I think the vast multitude of guests on this album ensured everyone put in their best.

Something I find myself saying quite often has never rung so true: if you didn't like where this band was headed before, this album is not going to change your mind. While Dimmu Borgir have been making this sort of music for a long time, with Abrahadabra it really feels like they've nailed what they want to do — they even included a self-titled track as if to drive this point home. The scope of this album is just massive; the atmosphere of the album is tense and engaging; the whole record is incredibly listenable. I've never understood the 'kvlt' purists, and as Dimmu Borgir continues to evolve their sound and improve as composers and musicians, I'm glad that's the case.

Summary

Having taken their time with this record, Abrahadabra is the purest representation of of the current incarnation of Dimmu Borgir. Embracing their grand, symphonic elements, the band drops their deepest, more refined effort to date. Crushingly heavy, yet host to moments of beautiful, epic melodies, this record should satisfy fans of the band and infuriate their detractors in equal measure. The band doesn't stray from their niche, but the quality of the song writing and production continues to improve. Easily the band's most complete work to date.

Album Information

Release date: September 22nd, 2010
Record label: Nuclear Blast Records

Shagrath — vocals
Silenoz — guitar
Galder — guitar
Cyrus — bass
Brat — keyboards
Daray — drums

Track Listing

  1. Xibir
  2. Born Treacherous
  3. Gateways
  4. Chess With The Abyss
  5. Dimmu Borgir
  6. Ritualist
  7. The Demiurge Molecule
  8. A Jewel Traced Through Coal
  9. Renewal
  10. Endings And Continuations

—by Derek

Published: November 23rd, 2011.

Edited: March 6th, 2019.