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In Sorte Diaboli
(Nuclear Blast Records)

The sixth proper full length from Norway's most controversial Black Metal success story sees the band plugging away at their craft, not unleashing any left-field surprises this time around, but rather honing and tempering the modern symphonic songcraft that has been their bread and butter. Dimmu Borgir is a smart group. They realize that there is as much chance for pleasing kult masses as there is achieving a massive commercial breakthrough. That being said, "In Sorte Diaboli" is a bit of the "back to the roots" effort which harkens back to the band's earlier efforts. Grooving, mid-paced chords (such as those within 'The Sacrilegious Scorn') recall a bit of the old "Stormblast" atmosphere, a feeling which is assisted by the warm, rich production of Fredrik Nordstrom. Another asset to the band's cause is the addition of (at this point session) Mayhem / journeyman drummer par excellance Hellhammer behind the kit. With a seemingly endless glass ceiling of talent at his disposal, the man continues to improve and astound with his punishing, yet tasteful delivery. On a song such as 'The Chosen Legacy', the man literally sounds like a machine. Of course, the band does not fire on only one cylinder, and I would be amiss if I were not to mention the always dependable dual-vocal attack of Shagrath and ICS Vortex, with the latter's soaring register cementing the album's opening track, 'The Serpentine Offering', as one of its best. Mustis, the man behind the keyboard, also proves himself as one of the best at his craft, while also proving how integral synth can be to a band, if properly executed. Naturally, not all is perfect with "In Sorte Diaboli". There is a lack of immediacy and memorability here; no real cohesion to the songwriting. This is surprising, given the album's conceptual nature. Whereas "Death Cult Armageddon" and "Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia" weren't as well-rounded as this effort, they each possessed a number of standout tracks ('Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse', 'Blessings Upon The Throne Of Tyranny', 'Hybrid Stigmata', 'The Maelstrom Mephisto', 'Vredesbyrd') which set them apart. In comparison, no song on "In Sorte Diaboli", as solid as they are, leaps above the bar already set by the band themselves on prior efforts. That being said, this album should please diehard Dimmu Borgir fans, yet ultimately it will go down as a bit of a misstep for a band who have, up until now, always been ahead of the curve (the above mentioned playing time refers to the ltd. book-edition of the album, which - among the packaging extravagance - also features a free DVD as well as the bonus track 'The Ancestral Fever' - Frank).

Roy Kristensen

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