Classic Album Review : Dimmu Borgir - Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia (2001)
I got into Dimmu Borgir in high school, through a musician friend who read rock magazines in class. These guys looked like Marilyn Manson's worst nightmare and sounded way scarier than that. They used keyboards and electronic effect in their music to create a creepy and diabolical atmosphere I hadn't quite experienced before. I was hooked. Last week, I've reviewed their new album Eonian and thought I was... not so hooked. It sounded more like a nightmare Nighwish's bassman would have rather than Marilyn Manson.
But I've come a long way since the years Dimmu Borgir were cool. Did they always sound like this and were my early listening experiences simply filtered through an innocence I've lost along the way? So, I've went back to my favorite album of theirs Puritanical Euophoric Misanthropia to figure this out. And the answer is no. They didn't always sound like this and Eonian is just a bad record. Puritanical Euophoric Misanthropia is still a killer album today and I'm going to explain you why it's good and how it's radically different from the music Dimmu Borgir is playing today.
The first two elements that jump at you on Puritanical Euophoric Misanthropia are the neoclassical arrangements and Nicholas Barker's world crushing drum tracks. The black metal mercenary was new to the band then and his signature blast beat-driven sound really took over the record. Maybe that's why he only stayed for two albums. But it works great on Puritanical Euophoric Misanthropia because the band was going for a more industrial sound and quite often get behind Barker's lead to get the desired level of aggression. The guitar sometimes even follows the drums and play the same notes. It provides a much needed cohesion to the album because everything else about it is pretty fucking wild.
What makes Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia so special is the powerful artistic vision behind it. Dimmu Borgir meant to expand their range to create a cold and desolate atmosphere and completely nailed it without sacrificing the integrity of their sound (or almost). The integration of bassman ICS Vortex's clean vocals and neoclassical arrangement was crucial to its success. They are these powerful, tortured counterpoints to the tidal waves of aggression on this album. Kings of the Carnival Creation and Sympozium, which I believe to be the two strongest songs on the record, feature a clean passage from Vortex, which layers the songs and contribute at giving them such an impressive scope.
Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia is maligned by many fans for a "lazy" and "sellout" album because the band stepped away from conventional black metal song structure in order to commit to their vision of cosmic apocalypse. Puritania is often criticized for being too simple and lazy, but I disagree with that. They just went for something completely new on there. The song is almost entirely driven by crushing blast-beats and simple guitar riffs, but it's Shagrath's electronically distorted vocals that sound like a radio broadcast from outer space that makes the song so special. Plus, it's the only "simple" song on the record, so I took it at more or less of an interlude.
Anyway, there are plenty of complex songs on Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia. They're not conventionally complex black metal songs, but Dimmu Borgir were never a conventional band. Neoclassical elements are omnipresent on the record. Whether it's a terrifying string section cutting Hybrid Stigmata in half, Mustis' unnerving clean piano layering Blessings Upon The Throne of Tyranny or the electronic alarm siren that goes on an off over the album, it always has a surprise to hit you upon the head with. And the band manages to keep an open mind while never, ever sacrificing an inch of their artistic vision. It's not only impressiv,e, it's masterful.
Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia is one of the most cohesive albums I've ever heard. Up to this day, it's one of the only albums I don't get bored of listening to from start to finish. Every song is like a chapter of a terrifying book about a universe governed by malevolent forces. There is a lot of experimentation, but everything serves a greater purpose and the songs are never luscious and showy for the sake of it. Unfortunately, it was the last Dimmu Borgir album I enjoyed, while the band went on to make music for the next seventeen years. Oh well, I still listen to their good albums * to this day and it's more than I can say about too many bands.
* Enthrone Darkness Triumphant, Spiritual Black Dimensions and this one.