» Shagrath/Silenoz - Dimmu Borgir
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Interview conducted March 8 2018
Interview published May 7 2018

"Some people hated it and we were always accused of being gays and of being commercial."

Norwegian metallers Dimmu Borgir dropped their new album Eonian on May 4th and as Shagrath and Silenoz came by Stockholm on their promo trip, Metal Covenant was able to score some time with the boys and talk about their newest making.

Tobbe: It's taken a very long time to get the new record out and what took you guys so long? It's somewhere between 7 and 8 years.

Shagrath: Yeah, I mean, we understand that it looks like it took a lot of time, from kind of a fan perspective. For us, I guess we see it a little bit differently. I mean, we played the last show in 2014 and while we are kind of in the live mode, then we need to kind of focus on that. It's hard to write songs and multitask many things while we're in the middle of live preparations. So there you go; 4 years. And then we needed to kind of put on the brakes a little bit to reflect and to try to improve certain things behind the scenes, like changing some of our working partners, and there were certain things, I don't wanna go into detail, but a few things that we were not very happy about.

And we felt, I guess, at some point, that we were kind of losing a little bit of our identity, in the way that some people were making decisions on the band's behalf, which felt very wrong. So it was important to kind of start from scratch and start with a blank page and take our time. We had, like, a meeting in a friend's house and we agreed to "Okay. Let's do another album.".

(Silenoz:) And already before then we had some pieces of music written since 2012-2013. But I guess it was, like, 3 or 4 years ago where we really started to finalize and conclude full songs and that's when the ball started rolling again and we felt that we were working on something really special. So the time off has been really good to us. We've never been the typical recording/touring/recording/touring type of band anyway, so it just feels great that we can do it in our own tempo, with no deadline, and just focus on what we want, you know.

(Shagrath:) Yeah, it's not like it's fabricated and everything goes, like, in a printer. We're very passionate about what we do. We put all our effort into this and it needs to be an authentic expression, you know.

Tobbe: Dimmu is quite versatile, like, within symphonic black metal, and you seem to not be afraid of visiting new territories and stuff, so what kind of different or new elements did you bring to the new record?

Shagrath: I think we're just very open-minded. I guess us being music fans in general also put a little mark on our open-mindedness to add elements. (Silenoz:) We like to step out of the comfort zone, because we know that as a person and as a musician you have to do that to accomplish something new. There's no other way to do it, so. And that's how we've always done it, really. Looking back at the history of the band: we've always done exactly what we want and what we think is best for us, despite what other people expect or want, and I think that's one of the keys to our musical success.

Tobbe: And just how important is it to kind of stick to the Dimmu sound all the time, even if you're traveling on new roads?

Silenoz: We can not really get away from the Dimmu sound, even if we tried, because it's so implemented in our being. (Shagrath:) As soon as we kind of work on something we put our signature on it. Whatever types of riff it is, or an idea, then it becomes Dimmu in a way, you know. Which is kind of interesting actually, when you think about it, 'cause we all have our ways of doing things. (Silenoz:) And we don't really have to try that hard to achieve it either.

(Shagrath:) And it's not like we're talking about every step on the way, like "Should we do this or that?", you know. Certain things come very naturally and it just becomes something, you know. I mean, we have different tastes and sometimes it can be complicated to make Dimmu songs, but it's also important that everyone is happy, and that can be challenging too, so it usually takes quite a lot of time to make a Dimmu song.

(Silenoz:) And especially this album. We knew pretty early on that we just have to take the time it takes to finish it. It has to live its own life, you know. And trying to control this beast would be just totally wrong.

Tobbe: I think you have made some progress on the new record and maybe becoming a little bit lighter and what would a band be without progress?

Silenoz: Exactly. I mean, for us, luckily, the progress and the changes come naturally. It's not forced. It's just a really great feeling of accomplishment, since we kind of started from scratch some years ago and then we built up everything around the band again. I think we could easily force it and make Enthrone Darkness Triumphant number 2, but what would be the point?

(Shagrath:) That would be a fake expression. And when you look back at it: every album that we have done sounds different from each other and I think that's a very positive thing, to be honest. And we can see the natural progression also, that we become better at what we're doing. Of course there's certain fans that like maybe the early era of the band, whatever, but the way we see it is very different, I guess, and we become more aware of what we want, what we need, what this is, you know. It's natural growth, so to speak.

And of course, I mean, if we would release For All Tid, our debut album, today, it wouldn't stand a chance, you know, with the amount of bands that is around today, but at that time it was something… It's kind of an amateurish recording session, but still it has a lot of charm, you know, and it kind of sticks out from the amount of records that was released at that time. It was something very different, you know. Some people hated it and we were always accused of being gays and of being commercial. All kinds of words were thrown at us, mainly because we used keyboards, and we always had melodies in our music and some people hated that.

I used to hang out in the Oslo area, where a lot of black metal people used to go to, like, the pub Elm Street, and almost every week there was some person coming up to me saying some negative bullshit words about Dimmu Borgir, you know. The funny thing, looking at it now, is that those people, and some of those people that complained played in bands themselves, don't play in a band. It never survived, you know. So it's funny, 25 years later, to see who are the dedicated ones that put their heart and soul into what they do.

(Silenoz:) It's always a good sign if people now take the time and energy to comment on social media and do a lot of talking in a negative way, because that means we're doing something right. You know, that's the best proof that we do something right.

Tobbe: So how far might Dimmu Borgir's sound evolve in the future? In a distant future maybe.

Shagrath: I don't think we put any limits on ourselves. Whatever feels good for us, if we both agree to do it, of course. It can be a jazz album, for all I know.

Tobbe: You'd lose a lot of fans, I guess.

Silenoz: The way we think is that if we would start thinking in limiting ways, then that would fuck everything up. You have to have an open mind to anything that comes to you and then take a decision when that happens, you know. And I think with this new album, in particular… You know, after the first 2-3 songs were written down, then it kind of flowed really well. Of course it's a challenge, because we have so much material to choose from. So you have to kind of find the pieces that fit the puzzle and shave off the fat. We never throw musical ideas away. We keep them in a bank for later maybe. So we have tons and tons of material. Great material that didn't make it to this album, so maybe in the future… It just wasn't time for that right now, but maybe on the next one.

Tobbe: And maybe you'll adjust those parts just a little bit.

Shagrath: We fresh up and polish certain things. That's always good. But yeah, we don't like to put limits on ourselves, so we'll see, you know. Maybe we have a different feeling for the next one and wanna do something completely different again. It's hard to say at this point. And no matter what we do, it will still have the Dimmu signature on it, so to speak.

Tobbe: And lyrics-wise on this album. What kind of subjects do you deal with this time?

Silenoz: It's on a metaphysical level. [Laughs] I think you will have your idea of it when you read through the words because we have purposely not wanted to dig too much into it, because we want the listeners themselves to try to use their imagination. They are not written in a conclusive way. It's more about questioning. And that's how music should be, I think. You should not dissect it or analyze it too much, because it's about a feeling and an atmosphere and it's supposed to take you on a journey and the lyrics combined with the music and the artwork and everything else go hand in hand, you know.

(Shagrath:) It should be an experience you go through. We understand that a journalist needs to ask these types of questions, so to speak, but still, it's hard for us because this is art and it's like you're expressing inner emotions and it's like: when you take it apart you kind of ruin the magic a little bit, you know. You can compare it with a painting, you know. (Silenoz:) "Why did you use this and this type of brush to make this?" And there's no exact answer to that.

Tobbe: But still, are the lyrics as important for the fans as they are to you?

Silenoz: For me the lyrics obviously are important, because when we're gonna play and perform this live I want the lyrics to be something that I'm connected with, you know. The music is easier to describe, like "This part is epic. This is more melodic.", but a word that I write can mean something a little bit different for me than to Shagrath even and that's how I want it to be for the fans too. They need to, you know, use their imagination a little bit.

(Shagrath:) I think the whole package is very important. Not specifically just the lyrics, but the whole approach to things is equally important. Of course lyrics are important, words are important, but music speaks also. Music can speak without words. That's why music is so powerful. But yeah, everything is important. [Laughs] The total package.

Tobbe: Is it still possible to really be as excited and as inspired as you once were?

Silenoz: Yeah. And I think we have proven that for ourselves with the new album and I think also we'll stand the test of time. I mean, we have had some pinnacle releases in the past, like Enthrone Darkness Triumphant was one and Death Cult Armageddon was one, and we believe that the new one is also gonna be one of those pillars in the catalogue, you know. I don't think I've ever felt that inspired before, really. I mean, I think we had, like, 14-15 sets of lyrics even before the first song was finished in the musical sense.

(Shagrath:) And we also kind of feel a little pressure, because you're starting on a blank page, and at least for me, in the beginning, when we started putting the first song together, I was not nervous, but you felt some kind of demons on your shoulders, like some kind of pressure. But as soon as we had done preproduction for the first song, and it went quite smoothly, then that pressure kind of disappeared. And then you have to have confidence in what you do and believe in what you're doing, otherwise you'll fail. [Laughs]

(Silenoz:) And when you have 3-4 songs done you feel like "Okay. We're onto something here.". That doesn't mean it's not challenging, because you're gonna meet the wall somewhere along the way, but you're more prepared for it and you're more confident about it, so you're able to meet those challenges head on.

Tobbe: What kind of sources of inspiration are there at this point in your career?

Silenoz: It could be anything, you know. I think it comes with age and being a bit more mature and more open-minded and that sips into your consciousness, you know, and you use it to make something on your own, your own expression, and it's really helpful to not have a limited way of seeing things. We have to be honest and realize that there are more to this reality than we see. You know, that's just a given, and then we're already talking about esoteric things about this album, but I'm gonna leave that up to the listener.

(Shagrath:) I think musically I would like to see it as we are expressing a feeling from within. Not like taking inspiration from other bands, because we've never been copycats or anything like that and we sound very different from maybe bands that we like. So I like to think that it's something that comes from within. You know, when you create a guitar riff or a keyboard riff or whatever, you're kind of expressing an inner emotion, so to speak. And people have different moods throughout the process and then you kind of do express your mood at that point.

But I don't know; it's hard to explain inspiration actually. Sometimes you're aggressive, sometimes you're depressed, sometimes you're flat, sometimes you're in between and then you kind of express yourself off that type of feeling you have inside, I guess. Well, I'm not a shrink so I can't say for sure, but… [Laughs]

Tobbe: Even after so many records out and after 25 years, do you feel that still today everything you do gets compared to the '90s?

Silenoz: A lot does, but that's something we're prepared for, you know, and it's natural for some people to always compare to the past. I mean, when you release a debut album you have nothing to compare to, but after 10 albums of course there is a lot to compare to and that's just very normal, I think.

Tobbe: In what way do you look at new bands and the situation they have to live with today?

Shagrath: I'm impressed by the talent of younger bands today. Within the world we live in, or the genre, I'm quite impressed by the talent they have. But I guess it's different. We are self-taught musicians, but today you can easily go on YouTube and learn songs and have tablatures. But still, being good at your instrument is only a very small part. (Silenoz:) Talent is 2 percent. The rest is hard work and sacrifice.

(Shagrath:) Yes, hard work, dedication and sacrifices and all that. And we've seen that in so many cases. You know, we know a lot of great musicians who have never really gotten anywhere. Which is kind of a sad story, because there's so many talented... Take for example, guitar players, you know, who can play like Yngwie Malmsteen… (Silenoz:) But that doesn't mean they can write a song. They can be great performers though. (Shagrath:) …but they don't get out of their room, you know, and that's kind of a sad thing to see. But there's a lot of good bands that's popping up, but for me it's the amount of bands that's around today. It's too much, you know. If you try to keep yourself updated about what's going on it's hard because there's too many. (Silenoz:) It's like you give up and "I'll listen to the old records anyway. Fuck it!". [Laughs]

(Shagrath:) We did an interview in Paris yesterday and for the first time we heard about the black metal subgenre or something… (Silenoz:) Yeah, post, post modern, or post black metal… (Shagrath:) …and that's a term I've never heard before. So that means either I'm getting really old or I just can't keep up with what's going on. The world is going too fast. [Laughs] (Silenoz:) I think also when you're older the less and less it means something to put a label on things. You don't really care that much, because to me it's either good or bad music. And that's my subjective opinion and it doesn't mean that it's the same for another person. So I listen to the stuff that gives me something and if I don't catch something then I go to the next one.

(Shagrath:) We try to keep an open mind for new things, but you're also a little bit stuck with, you know, the bands that you liked early in the '90s and you continue buying and supporting those bands as well, more than listening to new stuff maybe. But a band that has really surprised me is a Swedish band, Tribulation, and the last record was mind-blowing in a way that it was something really fresh. It's kind of dark, not pure black metal-ish either, and they're not afraid to use melodies. Like Dimmu Borgir, so I guess that's why I like them; I don't know. There's something about that band that caught my curiosity and I've been playing that record and that's probably one of my favorite records right now. It's an amazing band and that's a good example of kind of a younger generation who do their take on the thing.

Tobbe: Explain to me why Dimmu Borgir isn't in general too light for black metal and not too heavy for heavy metal, if you know what I mean?

Silenoz: Yeah, we've always been, like, floating and intertwining different genres. You know, taking inspiration from all different kinds of music, really. I think we have always had our own identity and that has been helping opening doors for other bands and fans maybe use us as a doorway, you know, to other types of extreme music. And I'm proud of that.

Tobbe: Now it's time for you guys to brag. Just how important has Dimmu Borgir been for heavy music in Norway?

Shagrath: Just like he said, I think we have opened doors for many other bands. There's a few bands that we have toured with that have come up to us and said that, that we have opened doors for other bands that maybe didn't dare to go out of their shell, so to speak. And we always went out of our shell.

(Silenoz:) In the beginning of our career people, like, looked at us with maybe disgust because we did what we did, but then 10-15 years later we received Grammys and nominations for all those other types of awards and then people who were talking shit behind your back suddenly wanted to be your friend, you know. And I think that's very typical for many bands, that come as an underdog, and we love being an underdog, you know.

(Shagrath:) In the underground scene there were kind of strict rules, or unwritten rules, that you should not play live, you should not do this, you should not do that, and I think many bands were scared of doing anything different. But we always did things differently, so as he said, you know, we did open doors and then others followed. So in that sense we're kind of pioneers. Well, you mentioned bragging. [Laughs]

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