METALHEAD


DIMMU BORGIR, “Your parents brought you up in a bad way.”

by on Apr.25, 2018, under INTERVISTE

(Clicca qui per la versione in Italiano) A band with history, emblematic, the landmark for many… for better or for worse. Thanks to Dimmu Borgir a lot of people approached black metal, people that later opene their eyes towards a music ecosystem previously unknown or simply ignored. In a sunny afternoon in Milan, in a pub, I find myself peacefully sat down at a table with Shagrath, the lead vocalist and founding member of the band. A smooth interview, quiet, more something like a chat between two guys thinking the same way and that, in a way or the other, have sold their souls to a music genre, with all its labyrinthine deviations, evolutions, mutations… with a lot of written or not written rules, expressed or not expressed thoughts, clear or unclear ideas. After almost one decade of artistic silence, Shagrath, with extreme courtesy, kindness and patience, answers my questions, which do touch the history of the band, its future, the rules withing the band itself, without leaving aside a a provoking taste. Shagrath turns out to be an extremely balanced person, transparent, convinced of the quality of hiw own work. The artist from whom I get the best description of ‘art’ I ever had. It doesn’t matter if you love or hate the music of Dimmu Borgir. It doesn’t matter if you respect or not their position or role in the scene. If you consider yourself an intelligent being, well read their point of view, without blindly locking yourself inside your own mental fence. Sincere, straight forward, not arrogant at all and without any corpse paint. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Shagrath: the man, the human being and the artist.
MH: When I got to know the band, it was probably 1997, probably “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant” tour…
S: or maybe 1996…
MH: and I went to see in Italy the gig of Kreator.
S: With Kreator, yes! (I am pretty sure it was December 21st 1997, in Pordenone, Italy, doesn’t matter anyway, editor’s note)
MH: I didn’t know Dimmu Borgir at all, because somehow back then there wasn’t internet so spread around yet, and it didn’t arrive to me yet… you back then had only “For all tid“ and “Stormblåst”, so it was still an unknown band. I just went to see Kreator, which I loved, and when you went onstage I was like, ‘wow! This is it!’ So my question is: what would you say to the fans of back then, the one that are there since the beginning and to the new ones, the new guys, the 20 years old one that get to know your band now with “Enonian”.
S: I think that this new record kind of sums up the 25 years of history we have, you know, you would be able, if you know each Dimmu album through these years, you would be able to find certain elements that you can link to previous time period with the band, also from “Enthroned” area, “For all tid” area… some of the guitar riff are also… I mean I think this is a good way of explaining that it kind of sums up the history, so to speak, so it is for us kind of a 25th anniversary with this release, we can see it like this; but I also feel that it is a little tribute also to Norwegian black metal history, because there’s a lot specific ways we have recorded this record which has been… some inspiration sources for a certain type of drum sound or a certain type of keyboard sound … has been used by several other bands, without being a copycat or anything, but just for the inspiration stuff. Yeah, I think it’s a good sum up of the 25 years.
MH: And what would you say to the new guys, the teenagers that discovered your sound right now, since they didn’t even exist back then…
S: Yeah, exactly, I know, I mean… if you are interested in what we do, then go back and see what we have done before, you know it’s a sign that we have grown a lot, as a band I think for all these years. It has always been important for us to -every time we decide to do a record- that we do something new and fresh every time, we don’t want to kind do a repetition of what we have done before, it has always been important to look forward, not backwards.
MH: I agree with you, it should be so for everything we do…
S: Yeah! Yeah! Also all the album is a natural progress of what we are today, with more experience, better songwriting, a new chapter of the band so… I mean if you discover the band now, I think… yeah, go back to the history and see if you find other releases that [you like]… I think it’s important to keep an open mind… at least we are very open minded and I think the music explains that itself.

MH: Back to the history again, I want to talk about the line up. There is somehow a fixed line up and a flexible one apparently. It’s you and Silenoz, plus in the later years also Galder… while all the rest of the guys have been spinning around… so what’s the concept of the members of Dimmu Borgir.
S: Today, you mean?
MH: Yes, of course…
S: Yeah, we did, we had a lot of line up changes. Me and Silenoz are the only original members left. But, you know, things happen for a good reason, people have different ambitions, some people quit the band, some people… get fired for, you know (laughing, editor’s note) we keep on going for some reasons, but the three main songwriters are me, Silenoz and Galder, you know, on this record. And then of course we have Gerlioz at the keyboards, also, we have Daray, he has been with us for almost ten years now, so he is the longer lasting Dimmu drummer actually. Everything goes well, we also give them more space in the band now, but on the previous records it was more like you can have some served coffee before you get in, you know, you have to work your way up. So to speak, but they have proven themselves that they are taking this very seriously and so of course we give them their way to put their signature to the music also. To have a good feeling it is important, but the three main songwriters are us.

MH: Last one about the line up: once upon a time you had somehow a steady clean vocals, with members like ICS Vortex. What about this kind of resource nowadays. Because I remember when you come up with.. .was it “Puritanical…”? When you first had the double voice… when I heard it I was (again) like, wow, this is fantastic!
S: Vortex, he did some guest singing on few songs on “Spiritual Black Dimensions”…
MH: Yeah, it was “Spiritual…”, I was wrong…
S: …which came out in 1999, and that was more more like a guest thing, there was, it was supposed to be the singer from the Fields of the Nephilim (Carl McCoy, editor’s note) that was going to sing that part… but he didn’t have the time or anything, so we ended up asking Vortex because he was friend of us back then. And then he came and did some guest singing. Later when we had to go on tour with “Spiritual Black Dimensions”, we also needed a bass player too because Nagash had quit the band and focusing more on his other project Covenant, so it was just that he felt into place…
MH: At the right time!
S: At the right time, right. It was like “you can play bass, you can sing those parts, so yeah!”. We won with that, you know.
MH: And… do you plan to have another fixed clean vocalist in the future… or use it in a more intense way…
S: We do, but it’s had to predict what we’re going to do in the future; but for this era of the bands we use more choirs now…
MH: Like on this album…
S: Yes, give it a cinematic ground, epic feelings which we have been searching for. So there’s no plan to add any more guest singers for doing anything at the moment at least.

MH: Somehow Dimmu Borgir has been the band that brought black metal to mainstream.
S: I don’t know if we can say ‘mainstream’ but I think we have been outcast in general. And we had carved the way for many other bands later…
MH: Yeah, indeed, that’s why I believe that with you black metal went outside that underground it was condemned to somehow. What do you feel about this, and what do you say to those ‘old-schoolers’ accusing you of that.
S: I am old school. Very old school. I am old school myself but for me as a musician is important to grow, you know, we have never been afraid of carving new territories, we do what we want to do, we don’t… we always break the rules, we were the first…
MH: This is the thing that should be basic statement of any rock’n’roll band!
S: Yeah! There’s a lot of narrow minded thinking in the underground scene. I really appreciate a lot of really great bands from the underground scene, I feel I am very much connected to it myself. But I think differently you know. Dimmu Borgir has never been afraid of trying new elements. If we want to do something we do it. And we cannot work being afraid. It doesn’t make sense to me to be a musician just to follow certain rules that were set… back in the early 90s. I mean I appreciate a lot of bands. I still today I listen to a lot of old school stuff, but for Dimmu Borgir it has been important to carve our own way, you know. That was not really acceptable back then, but a lot of bands later have came up to us and said that we opened a lot of doors for other bands that came later. That’s something positive in my opinion.

MH: I agree on this. Talking about “Eonian”: this is a question you can answer with your feelings, What is this eternity you mention in the title? And what is eternity in music, in your music and art?
S: “Eonian” represents what’s the basic lyrical content of the record, that’s about time and illusion of time. It is also a suitable title for this ground piece, so to speak. It took a while before we had a title name … it is always challenging of course to find something suitable to title a record, but it deals with… I don’t want to go deep in the subject, because you perceive it in different ways. We don’t want to tell you what this is about, you should discover yourself what “Eonian” is about. And to the content you might have a different approach to it than I have. And that’s what we want, we want people to make up their own opinion about it. Also I think it is hard to explain art, you know, in a way … because it’s like you are expressing an inner emotion musically and lyrically. And if you dissect it and try to explain each process, it’d ruin the magic a little bit in my opinion. You should take the time, if you have it, and if you have time you will discover something in my opinion. There’s a lot of depth, you know, but it is also open for the interpretations.

MH: You probably gave me the best definition of art I ever got in an interview. Thank you.
S: (laughing, editor’s note) It’s just that. It think it’s hard to explain this subject. Also, like if you see a painting, you know, an artist… it’s hard to ask to the artist ‘why did you paint this color’, you know, sometimes it’s hard to put down that definition of art…
MH: Probably he (the painter, editor’s note), doesn’t knows either…
S: Yeah. Something that comes from inside, and sometimes that’s hard to explain.

MH: The new album, and it’s something you already told me somehow, has some fixed pattern that I found out on all your previous releases. Which is what you said. But each of your albums had, let’s say, a hit or some hooking tune. I am talking about Mourning Palaces, the Reptiles, the Kings of the Carnival Creation, the Progenies of the Great Apocalypse, etc. The hit on this one is clearly “Interdimensional Summit“. But having spun the whole new album at least a dozen time, I think there’s something really different outside the hit or the single. Like you did a this hit to please the market or the masses, but the real work is on the other nine tracks of the album.
S: Yes. This first single doesn’t represent the whole album. It’s just a part of the puzzle. Each song stand on its own feet but you cannot judge “Eonian” record by listening to only one song. No. There’s a whole picture. But we felt that was the song that was very representable for Dimmu Borgir, it’s catchy, it’s a headbanger, straight to the point, has a lot of epic parts that the band is known for. So we were just like, we have to pick a song that suits that. Some people like it, some people hate it (laughing, editor’s note).
MH: There’s a war out there about the song (the interview happened before the band released the second single, editor’s note). Some say ‘they sold themselves’, some say ‘it’s great’….
S: We cannot relate to it, because we cannot take into consideration what people think of it. If they don’t like our music , just listen to something else. It’s so simple.
MH: The world is full of music…
S: Exactly! There are so many bands out there, so many good bands out there. So that’s what we say, because we will forever continue doing stuff the way we want to express ourselves musically. But you cannot make your full opinion just by listening to “Interdimensional Summit”. That song was also created in to 2012, so it’s probably more linked to the “Abrahadabra” era. At the same time there’s a lot of different type of songs on this record, and I think you should wait to scream out loud before you hear this record and also you need to hear it more than one time. Maybe like five times.
MH: I confirm. There are songs such as that one with an exotic sound…
S: Shamanic voice, like a tribal…?
MH: Which is a pretty different thing for Dimmu Borgir, say, catalog. (we never mentioned the title but were going around the atmospheres of songs such as “I Am Sovereign” or “Council of Wolves and Snakes”, editor’s note)
S: Yeah, because that song sticks out in a way, that explains we like to carve new territories in music and we never have been afraid of exploring new things, you know. We like to evolve into doing something new and fresh, you know, and that song specifically is a good example of Dimmu Borgir stretching the limits. Some people will hate that. And some people will love it. Hopefully they can see it from out perspective, that as an artist it is important to evolve and not be afraid of trying new things, you know. It doesn’t make sense to be a musician and just do what you’ve done before, it’s boring. You need to expand. We have never been afraid of doing it.

MH: What have you been doing from “Abrahadabra” to “Eonian”? It’s really an ‘eonian’ time in between.
S: It took a long time. We can see see it from our fans perspective, we can understand it. But from our perspective, it’s a little bit different. Because we have not been lazy. We actually have been very busy behind the curtains, but we kept a low profile. And we did our last show in 2014, so we toured the world with “Abrahadabra” release, we cannot make music while we are in live mode, you know, so it takes time… and there you have four years. Then we took a little break and focused on our side projects, doing smaller stuff, and there’s been three more kids born… you know family men… that takes time…
MH: I know the feeling…
S: I think it was important for us to step back a little bit.
MH: To let the inspiration come back…
S: Yeah, reflect and let the things grow naturally. I am happy we took this time without any stress to complete it in our own way, with no deadlines and that gives the result we are very happy with, you know. It’s quality down to the last minute. So it’s, for me there’s no album fillers on this record, I think. All the song have very good parts in it.
MH: Probably it’s the first album of yours that have no fillers at all.
S: Yeah! Good to hear it! (laughs, editor’s note). Thank you!

MH: My next question is about when did you started to write it. The earliest things…
S: As I said before one of the songs actually has been written in 2012. But then we took it back, polished it and changed some things. But most of the record was started…
MH: That’s when you decided to do a new record…
S: Yeah, approximately three years ago. We had a trip to the mountains, a cabin in the mountain for a weekend. We made good food, and drank good wine, listened to music. That’s when we decided, ‘ok guys, let’s start to work again properly!’. So from that point on it was non-stop and we kind of shut-off the world around us and just been focusing in doing this for almost three years.

MH: The band, I already introduced you this topic, but now I want to go deeper to understand it. The band at a point reached quite a stardom level. On the media I mean. But whenever people read stuff like that the frontman of a famous band got a sexy girlfriend (in 2008 Shagrath was engaged and about to marry with american actress Christina Fulton, editor’s note) -all those things you get off stupid magazines- somehow people say that ‘the pure evil is gone’ (given the music genre and image of the band, editor’s note)… while I just say that’s well done, it’s your life after all. But my question is that, well Behemoth had gossip like this, getting famous in Poland, on the mainstream and ending into reality shows and stuff like that…
S: Everything that is different, people will complain about it. You know. If you do something not within the boundaries, withing the terms of underground you automatically are a sell out. So whatever, I cannot listen to that bullshits. It’s bullshits, you know, people have to understand evolution.
MH: How did you deal with such stupid press and the music press that instead should be interested in what you do artistically?
S: Well, you have to distance yourself from it, because everybody today have an opinion about everything.
MH: …way too much…
S: What I think is sad; when I grew up as a kid I went to the record store to buy a lot of album…
MH: …me too…
S: …and then I’d go home, study the cover and artwork, and some music was great, some music was not that great, but I didn’t go out an complain about it… I appreciated that the band took the effort to actually make a record. Because I know what it takes to make a record now. And the sad thing today is that everyone, because of the internet, everyone has an opinion about everything and they complain about everything, and they want everything for free and they don’t understand from our perspective. You are entitled to have an opinion but to me, if you have to go online and talk shit about everything… well…
MH: The problem of the social networks is they gave people a global right to speak, a right they shouldn’t have.
S: Yeah! If you have to go on the internet and talk shit to everything you don’t like then to me it tells me that you have bad manners. Your parents brought you up in a bad way. Because most people with common sense, they don’t do that, you know. And of course they are entitled to have an opinion, but you don’t have to scream about it on the internet; at least I don’t do that. I mean there are a lot of bands I don’t like either but I don’t, you know, I keep that for myself! (laughing, editor’s note). Because that’s MY opinion. So as an artist I cannot pay attention to this anymore, so I don’t read comments. I know that with the first single we put out there have been mixed reactions, but still we have to see that this song has reached about one million views (this was on March 13th. By the end of the month that counter was close to 1,5 million, editor’s note), very soon and in a few days or something, and there is more likes than dislikes. In general there seems to be more likes than dislikes… so I think we have, I don’t know, 20 thousands likes on youtube and maybe twin thousands dislikes, but that’s a very good percentage. There would be more reasons to worry if people did not talk about it. I’ve to see it from that perspective.

MH: Just to be straight forward and clear, not running around the concept, what would you say to those saying that you are not black metal anymore?
S: I would say that we are still, and kept a lot of traditional things from the black metal, but we have carved it into our own thing, you know, that’s what we’ve always done. We have always been the outcast in the jungle, so that’s nothing new to us, you know, it is what it is and people can either like it or hate it, and either way is fine with me.

MH: What’s next after this release? Tour? Future releases? Ore are you plaining to stay away other 7 years?
S: We are planning a lot of live shows, and we want some selected ones.
MH: Will you come to Italy too?
S: Yes! Yes! We will! A lot of things are going on with the planning. I don’t have all the details, but they will come soon… and we are in the preparation, starting off with the festivals, we will be doing the first fest in Montreal, Canada, 16 of June (Montebello Rockfest, editor’s note), then we have a lot of summer festival in Europe, and then there will be more touring in the fall, I think. So, we want to be more exclusive this time and pick selected things instead of touring everywhere, but we will be still touring and trying to cover the most countries.

MH: Well, a message to my readers, your fans, and whoever is going to read this interview, be them haters or not.
S: I think if you find elements of Dimmu music that you like, you will not be disappointed by this new record. I think you should take your time to discover the world of “Eonian”, take your time to that and you’ll find something you like. And we’ll be back in Italy hopefully soon!
MH: Thank you very much!
S: Thank you too!

(Luca Zakk)

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