Dimmu Borgir Interview

By Mike Smith

Published on Monday, December 20, 2010

2010 has seen exciting times for Norwegian Metal giants DIMMU BORGIR. Following an abrupt split with longtime members I.C.S. Vortex and Mustis last year, the band’s core songwriting trio soldiered on to record “Abrahadabra,” their ninth full-length album and a career-defining masterwork. Near the end of their recent North American tour, I sat down with founding guitarist Sven Atle Kopperud (better known by his stage moniker “Silenoz”) to discuss all things DIMMU – and beyond.

First off, I’d like to congratulate you on the new record. Personally, I think it’s a stunning piece of work. How do you feel the fan reaction has been since the release?

Thank you, first of all! The response has been surprisingly good, because the album hasn’t been out that long. It came out October 12th and now it’s December 13th, so basically two months. Judging by the crowd reaction, they seem to be totally into the new songs, y’know. For us, it’s already a success, because we never release anything that we don’t feel is 110 percent, so everything else is basically a bonus. Of course, we live off the band and selling albums, but the main goal for us was to make a strong record, and I feel that this one is definitely the most complete effort that we’ve done. It has all the details that maybe have been lacking in the past, and at the same time it combines all the different dynamics that the band has developed through the years. So I feel it’s our most complete album.

What factors do you think made this record “the big one” for DIMMU BORGIR?

I think it’s because the record has all the typical trademarks that DIMMU has been known for in the past. You have the simple stuff, the intricate stuff, and of course the symphonic parts, and some new elements as well. When we combine it all together, it makes a really great record. I’ve heard some fans say it didn’t grab them at first, but after a few listens, it was like a revelation. I think that’s how I feel about it too; it takes more than five spins to get under your skin.

The past year has seen a lot of conflict within the band. Do you feel that that contributed to the making of the record?

Yeah, I think so. I can’t say this for all the lineup changes, but for most of them, it’s been for the better. Especially last year when we parted ways with two people who’ve been in the band for ten years. It’s like an old marriage, and you’re going through a divorce, y’know – it’s not always pretty. But that’s reality, and you have two choices. Either you sit back and cry over spilled milk, or you take the bull by the horns and you move forward, and that’s what we did right away. I think it also gave us a good kick in the ass, for the three of us left to prove to ourselves that – since we’ve done most of the songwriting in the past, it wasn’t much of a difference for us. It was just a relief. The three of us are pretty much on the same level when it comes to how we want things to be. So that again made this album probably the easiest to write that I can remember. Of course it’s a lot of work – it’s always a huge, mammoth project to do a new album – but surprisingly easy.

Speaking of the lineup changes, do you have any permanent replacements in mind?

Not really. We’ve tried permanent replacements in the past, and for some reason it never works out. So we’re not really concerned about having certain people playing with us – that’s why we never made any official announcements about who’s playing on the record, because we wanted everyone to focus on the music as a whole thing, instead of “who’s playing, who’s not playing, and blah blah blah…” I think that takes a lot of focus away from the real deal, which is the album.

Cyrus [SUSPERIA, etc.] is currently touring with you on bass. Do you find it helpful to include your friends?

Yeah. Cyrus played guitar on the DANZIG tour when Galder had to sit out because he became a father. He’s also been our guitar tech for a couple of shows, so he’s pretty much done everything you could do for this band. He’s always been a really good friend, a positive, supporting, understanding type of person. He knows the deal, and what it’s all about when you’re on the road for a long time, and what it requires from you as a person and as a musician. So he was the first one we thought of when we planned this tour.

Do you find it a challenge to adapt your live playing style not only to your guest members, but your new sound as well?

No, not at all, because we knew that the lineup we have now has been proven every night. We play together, and it’s the tightest incarnation of the band so far. By far, by a long stretch – not just a little bit better – it’s almost like night and day. And that makes me really proud, to be able to go on stage every night and not have to worry about someone not playing his best, or something like that, because we have a lot of fun on stage. It bounces off to the crowd as well, y’know, and that’s what it’s supposed to be like, a give-and-take.

Let’s talk about genres a bit. There’s been some controversy amongst fans over what your genre really is. Having emerged from the old school Black Metal scene, do you still see yourselves in those terms?

Personally, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass what people label us with. I’m way past thirty now, and when I was sixteen, I was like, “If it doesn’t have the label ‘Black Metal,’ it’s no good.” But now it’s more like… either you feel close to the music – whatever type it is – and you like it, or you don’t. It’s that simple. So I understand the younger fans’ point of view, “You’re not Black Metal anymore, blah blah blah…” But they can’t even possibly find a category to put us in, which is a good thing. We’ve carved out our own niche, and if you go by labels, that’s a teenage kind of thing, where you feel like you have to be connected to some type of genre. I do understand those people, though.

Speaking of your evolution from straightforward Black Metal – and forgive me for sounding like a professor here – do you feel DIMMU has changed with the times, or that the times have changed with DIMMU?

That’s a good question, because it can be seen both ways, I think. The way things have developed over the years, extreme music has become more accessible in general, and the world is turning more and more “extreme” every day. It’s enough to just turn on the TV and watch the news. And we’ve definitely changed, but you’ll never hear a band say they’ve changed for the worse, y’know – it’s for the better. Ever since the first album, there have been new fans discovering us and old fans saying goodbye, and that’s just how it is. But if we let our sound be dictated by fans, press, media, or whatever, that’s when you’re really hitting a low point, because they’re telling you what to do, and you’re following the safest bet. And that, to me, is selling out. Subconsciously, I think we’ve challenged fans to follow us, and have tried to have them understand how we think as musicians, because after all, DIMMU is our band. It’s where we do things creatively. And we can’t look at our own work objectively like an outsider can. Of course, we’re fans of music as well, and I don’t want AC/DC to change. But for some bands it works, and for some it doesn’t. It all depends how you look at it.

What are your thoughts on the notorious criminal aspect of the original Black Metal scene? [vandalism, arson, murder] How do you feel the genre has moved away from those shenanigans and into the mainstream?

I think in general, connecting the words “mainstream” or “commercial” with that genre is a contradiction in terms. Until we sell millions of albums, there’s no way that we can get airplay on the radio, or even be seen as “mainstream.” But yes, Metal has become more accessible. Take IRON MAIDEN, for instance. They were the biggest in the ’80s. Now, they’re still the biggest, and they play for three or four times as many people. So it’s a generational thing. As for what happened in the ’90s, once shit hit the fan and things got covered by the media and the press, that’s when the Black Metal scene had some eyes on it. Luckily for us, we weren’t involved in the criminal aspect – we were just focusing on the music. Of course, we got some free publicity just by being from Norway, I won’t deny that. But what made the Norwegian scene in general very believable wasn’t only actions, it was words and actions backed up with great music. And the music has prevailed over the years, and I think that’s what makes it so authentic. There was no bullshit. Of course, when you’re eighteen or nineteen and you go burn churches, that really has nothing directly to do with the music. It’s the same as if someone walks into a saloon in Texas, shoots someone, and blames it on Johnny Cash’s music. So we got some free publicity for sure, but we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for our music and hard work.

Are you happy with the bill on your current tour?

Yeah, very much so. I think we always wanted to put together a package to make fans feel they got their money’s worth, y’know. And I think the bands all have something in common, even if we do sound different from each other. ENSLAVED we’ve known for many, many years, and they’ve also prevailed through the years because they followed their own vision, not following “standards” like other bands do and then suddenly stagnating. Every piece of their albums is different. BLOOD RED THRONE, I’ve been a fan for many, many years, and it’s cool that they could actually make this trip. DAWN OF ASHES I don’t know too much about, only that they’re from the West Coast, but they’re really cool guys. I don’t know their music too well to even attempt to describe it, but I do know that all four bands are different from each other, and they get people’s attention right away, which is what we want. It’s been a really, really good tour, and it sucks that there are so many other tours going on at the same time, especially in the States right now. But we’ve been lucky to have a lot of people attending.

Do you notice a significant difference from Europe when you tour North America?

Maybe overall, it’s easier to see people’s enthusiasm in North America. Although in some places in Europe, there’s a lot of crazy shit going on, like in Finland, for instance. We have a huge, crazy fan base there. But here in Canada, this is one of our favorite places to play too. Each continent has something really special.

The tour is almost over. Looking back, do you have a favorite date?

Well, last night in Toronto, I must say, had the craziest fans so far on this tour. Other shows have been good too. L.A. usually is awesome, New York… tons of places. Overall it’s been really crazy.

Any new bands within the last decade or so who’ve jumped out at you?

There probably are, but right now my head is pretty empty, so I won’t be able to tell you! [laughs] But for sure, there are quite a few bands that deserve more attention than they get.

How about your all-time favorites in general?

Ah! JUDAS PRIEST, of course. My all-time favorite. I almost have a religious moment every time I put a PRIEST record on. [laughs] I grew up in the early ’80s, with what was going on at the time, y’know, and I still listen to those records a lot. There’s not that much new stuff that gets my attention – it’s almost like I’m going back to the ’80s and ’70s to discover “new” types of music.

So in the ’90s, what was it about Black Metal that really clicked with you?

I think it was the extremity of it, because when I grew up, I was always looking for more extreme music. The Black Metal thing in the late ’80s and early ’90s had something really obscure and mystic about it. It was something you felt very close to, and it pulled you to it. Plus, it was more than just the music. Like I said, when I grew up in the ’80s watching bands like MAIDEN, PRIEST, W.A.S.P. and stuff like that, they had somewhat of an image as well that connected to the music. So that’s also something I felt really close to when it came to Black Metal, because of the makeup, and because it was so extreme and dark.

Did that kind of nostalgia influence your decision to re-record “Stormblast?” [2005 reworking of DIMMU’s classic 1996 sophomore album]

No, not at all, really. We just were not happy with the production of the original “Stormblast,” and we knew that the songs had a lot of potential. So it felt good when we finalized that re-recording and could actually prove it to ourselves. We had people saying, “Oh, don’t re-record it!” But we said, “This is how we wanted it to sound in the first place.” So it was more or less for ourselves, and also another reason was that the original wasn’t in print anymore. Since then, the re-recording has sold over 100,000 copies worldwide. So that shows that it wasn’t a bad thing. It’s not that far off from our current sound, which is more proof that even though we’ve developed over the years, you can still hear the signature sound of the band throughout our catalogue.

What are your best and worst recording memories?

I remember once, we were recording “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant” [1997] at Abyss Studios with Peter from HYPOCRISY, who owns the studio, which is located in an old insane asylum. We were stationed in the studio with bunk beds, and sure enough, we could tell right away that the place was kind of haunted. There was a lot of crazy shit happening. But for the most part it was something that gave you extra inspiration, or extra adrenaline, or whatever. I can’t really think of anything bad that’s happened over the years, apart from losing parts of tapes, when you have to start re-recording again, or remix a whole album. That stuff is always really tedious, and makes you tired, and you just want to quit. [laughs] But after a while, you just have to work harder.

It sure beats a bus crash.

We’ve had that too! Any band that’s lasted more than ten years has most likely been in some kind of car or bus accident. It’s part of what we do.

Getting back to your current album – DIMMU has incorporated symphonic and orchestral elements on past efforts, but not to such a massive extent as on “Abrahadabra.” Was that a challenge?

It wasn’t more of a challenge than it was in the past, but this time we had the conductor involved from the early stages, from when we did demos of the songs. We went through every part where we wanted to have orchestral parts. Last time, I remember it was kind of rushed, and we could’ve done better, so we learned from that, and started out with an idea of what it would sound like in the end. I guess the biggest challenge with this record was to mix it, because when you have something like 250 tracks in one song, there’s no question about it – you need to compromise at some point. And there was no reference to any other album either, where we could sit down and go, “Let’s not do it like this, or this.” We just had to follow that gut feeling. It was good that we went with Andy Sneap, and I think he learned something working for us on this album, and we learned something from him as well, so it was a very good experience.

Aside from “Abrahadabra” and “Stormblast,” why have you always chosen three-word album titles?

Well, the number three is of course a very magical number. It kind of became our trademark to have a three-word title. So with this album, we felt we should start from scratch, because every album is like a new birth, but even more so this time. The lineup changes last year, and trying out something different visually, with the new costumes and stuff like that – we felt like having a one-word title would work fine. Plus, the way you pronounce “Abrahadabra” sounds like three words.

Additionally, the songs themselves are thick with the concept of rebirth. Do you see this album as a new beginning for DIMMU?

Yeah, very much so. It just makes you feel that way on stage, because the energy this version of the band has is just amazing. It feels fresh and new, even after seventeen years with the same band. I guess we’ve started a new cycle for the band.

What’s your favorite track?

It all depends on the day, I suppose. “Born Treacherous” is a really good song, I think. It has a lot of stuff in it, maybe too much at times, [laughs] but it’s a cool song to play live. “Endings And Continuations” is cool, because it has different types of vocals. “Gateways,” too. With “Dimmu Borgir,” we felt it was natural and finally correct to do a song that directly deals with the band, and what we’ve gone through over the years, and still go through I suppose. Trying to put the negative stuff and even some of the positive stuff in the past behind us, and being able to start from scratch, to start anew. So of course there’s a lot of symbolism connected to it, which is good to get some dirt off your chest. [laughs] We’re playing it live, and it’s even more of a live song than on the record.

Any old songs you haven’t played in a while that you might dust off on the next few tours?

Yeah, sure. We’ll change the set list a bit when we go to Japan and Australia and New Zealand in February. The only sad thing is that most of our fans aren’t too familiar with the early part of our back catalogue. Tonight we play one song off “Spiritual Black Dimensions,” [1999] and here in Canada they might know more about our back catalogue, but in general you can tell that the kids aren’t that familiar with all the records. So that’s why we concentrate on newer stuff.

If this is a new beginning, do you have a future vision for DIMMU?

Since the new album is so fresh, we’re taking things one step at a time, and right now, the focus is on playing live and touring. Then I suppose we’ll have to evaluate the situation later. There’s a lot of stuff that can happen in a short amount of time, especially with how the music industry has become. Say, if there’s another volcano eruption, we won’t be able to come over here. So there’s a lot of stuff you kind of take for granted when you plan a tour.

What’s your take on the various recent side projects other than OLD MAN’S CHILD? [helmed by Galder since 1993]

Well, Shagrath has CHROME DIVISION, and I’ve got a band called INSIDIOUS DISEASE. After seventeen years with the same band, it’s just natural and healthy to have something on the side, y’know. After such a long period, you kind of know what works with DIMMU – the main band – and what won’t work. So instead of trying to push something into the main band, you let it out somewhere else. The side bands are of course second priority, but still important to keep our focus on the main band the same.

Additionally, what are some of your hobbies?

Well, if I had time for hobbies… [laughs] I like to go fishing, but there’s not really much time I have left over apart from the band, because it’s a 24/7 job. But a very enjoyable job – I don’t even look at it as a job, because it’s something I love to do. Whenever I have free time, I like to be with my family, watch movies, relax.

What kind of movies do you like?

Anything, really. Anything from comedy to thriller, horror, anything.

Tell me a touring story – it could be crazy, or funny, or anything – that you’ve never told anyone else before.

Let’s see, I remember one time, I think it was in Europe. I’m not going to mention who this person is, but he’ll laugh when he reads it. This guy really had to take a shit, but the bus was still rolling, so he was frantically looking for plastic bags to take a dump in. And the only thing he could find was a see-through McDonald’s plastic bag. So yeah, sure enough, he goes to the bathroom, manages to do what he had to do, comes out holding up the bag, like “Look! I made it!” And suddenly, the bus hits a bump and he drops it on the floor. And this was not firm; it was liquid. So it was splattering everywhere. We were like “NOOO!” I don’t know what he ate, but it didn’t look right. [laughs] Those bathrooms are only for pissing, because not even paper goes down that toilet. So he had to do it in the bag, and sure enough, that’s what can happen.

One last thing – do you have any advice for any young musicians starting bands, or who want to start a band?

Yeah. Try and find your own way of “thinking music.” There’s nothing wrong with taking lessons; that’s something that’s really good, actually. And if you’re heavily influenced by one band, try not to copy that band. Use that influence and inspiration to channel something creatively that makes your own sound. I mean, I’m a huge fan of KRISIUN and DARKTHRONE, but DIMMU doesn’t sound anything like them. So I use the inspiration I get from bands like that to create something of my own.

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