Dimmu Borgir's brand of symphonic black metal, industrial rock and near-classical melodic fare has been developing nicely since their beginning in the 1990s. The crew backing Shagrath's lead vocals -- killer guitar by Erkekjetter Silenoz and some wonderfully harmonic backing vocals that are near operatic, or at least influenced by Jon Anderson and Yes -- have become a brand in metal. With In Sorte Diaboli, the band has gone the route of Therion and numerous others in creating a concept album about a man who grows up in fear and ignorance and believes in the Christian church, and somehow, after studying for years as a monk, rejects everything and becomes a heretic who runs afoul of the church. In doing so, he understands his fate is at stake. Musically, Dimmu Borgir are unrelentingly brutal and harmonic all at once. Songs meld and blend into one another, becoming a nightmarish brood of shred and scrape dreamscapes. The transitions in tunes such as "The Conspiracy Unfolds" and "The Sacrilegious Scorn," the former with its intense blastbeats and ranging power riffs and the latter tune's classically themed melodic invention, are simply seductive as keyboard and snares and toms give way to powerful guitar and bass thrums. When the chorus enters, full of four-part harmony and key changes that open onto a vista of darkness, it's almost irresistible. One can't fault Dimmu Borgir for their position that manmade Christian religion is a form of control and has been from the beginning, though their own ignorance -- willful, no doubt -- is almost laughable. After all, if the only accounts of the dark spirit known as Satan are from the same ancient Hebrew narratives in Genesis, how is the worship of Satan supposedly closer to the animal instincts of human nature and different than another set of manmade beliefs with even less textual evidence? This is part of what's wrong with all of the these narratives that claim, at their basest, that Christianity is bad and full of bondage while Satanism is good and promises freedom to do what thou wilt. It simply inverts the paradigm, but it's the same paradigm. Therefore the lyrics here are cheesy, as is the narrative in the liner notes that precedes the music. Oh yeah: one needs a mirror to be able to read the lyrics. Luckily, they are high enough up in the mix to actually hear. Ultimately, how is this album different from the Who's Tommy? Musically yes, but lyrically it's consciously more venomous, the darkness that lurks within them both is similar, and both promise a kind of freedom, only Tommy's doesn't come with death by the Church. There's really great stuff here in the music, the production, in the sound effects. Too bad it all melts down when it comes to the concept, which is ho hum at best -- at least Slayer made a case against Christianity and war while choosing the devil. This all boils down to having to make a choice. The humanist perspective is the freedom not to make a choice at all. This all amounts to sermonizing and creating propaganda for the other side. It's still boring. Perhaps Dimmu Borgir should have spent more time listening to labelmates Therion's Gothic Kaballah for a truly interesting concept. [The 2007 Avalon edition included one bonus track.] ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi

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