For Ass Tid
In general, Dimmu Borgir is a divisive entity. As well as receiving praise for their symphonic take on black metal, they’ve earned scorn in several circles (generally those of a more purist persuasion) for going against the genre’s ethos; a band with the intent of making relatively accessible and polished metal draped with superficial black metal influence. However, these same individuals will routinely point to For All Tid and its successor Stormblåst as being the definitive Dimmu Borgir albums. Frankly I don’t see it this way at all – as shallow and safe their later albums are, they are least competently executed, polished and well-crafted, which is more than can be said of their first two albums. This in particular easily stands as the worst Dimmu Borgir album, and while it isn’t an abomination it certainly isn’t worthy of its classic status. It has its moments but it almost seems as if the band stumbled upon these good ideas by chance given the general sloppiness and poor musical execution displayed on this album. It reeks of inexperience and overshooting one’s mark.
The production on this album is very poor – though lo-fi production is a common trope of the genre, there’s a certain degree of intelligence to giving an album raw production. If we look at say, Transilvanian Hunger, that album sounds as though the songs were written and performed specifically so the production can add to and complement the album’s atmosphere, with everything being drenched in static as to make the drums, vocals and riffs sound otherworldly and cryptic. The issue here is that like a lot of amateur black metal musicians, Dimmu Borgir made a serious blunder regarding the sound: the mistaking of a bad sound for a raw one. The guitars are overly thin and gunky, sounding sterile and vague all at once, as well as being too quiet. The drums are inconsequential in the mix, being a thin hissing click that blends into the background. The keyboards sound cheap, like a bad ’90s video game soundtrack. The bass and vocals are both too loud, with both obscuring the riffs with the continuous plugging of the former and the all-consuming reverb of the latter. As a result of this the album comes across as dated, unlike the timeless classics this band’s fellow countrymen were churning out around this time.
The band plays a friendlier and softer take on the black metal sound, with highly melodic riffs that don’t carry a lot of aggression and a notable keyboard presence that serve to sweeten up the package. However, despite this being an album built around guitar melodies few of them tend to be memorable, much to the detriment of the album. Partially this is because of the aforementioned obscuring of the riffs by the surrounding instruments but mainly this is down to them simply not being that well written or captivating. The same can be said of the keyboards, which are sadly underused on this album, despite being present throughout. They too play largely forgettable and uninteresting lines; which isn’t helped by the fact that they are simply an undercurrent to the rest of the music, one which can be ignored most of the time. The vocals are serviceable croaky black metal rasps, even if as stated they are mixed too loudly. The drumming however is simply awful, being uncertain and out of time. The drummer simply cannot blast for any given length of time, and completely wrecks any consistency this band might have achieved in a song.
The atmosphere on this album is an odd one; there’s a very distant and melancholic feel to some of the keyboard lines and melodies, particularly those in the title track or ‘Under korpens vinger’, which are the only songs which consistently retain a mood. The rest of the music, despite being fairly overwrought in aesthetic, evokes no real mood at all due to little meaningful use of the keyboards and not playing much worthwhile content to begin with. It is therefore no surprise to find that these two are the best songs on the album, along with the 5 minute intro ‘Det Nye Riket’ with its simple yet effective piano lines and sombre and low spoken word passages. ‘Glittertind’ is another clear highlight due to both its quality and it being an instrumental, as it can therefore escape the overly loud mood-wrecking vocal performance. It should be stated however that these are highlights relative to the rest of the album, and aren’t in any way standouts in the pantheon of black metal or this band’s own discography.
The real area where this album falls is the frankly nonsensical structuring and pacing of the songs. All of the songs on this album, even its standouts, seemingly meander about for the majority of their duration. The band generally shoehorn in a lot of differing passages at once, from the keys to rapid, blasting passages to bizarrely bouncing punk riffs and dissonant, traditional black metal riffs which don’t mix with the keys or the mood of the album at all – there are even synthesised flutes and other such effects that sound comical and ruin any atmosphere the music might otherwise have. Despite throwing several ideas into every song the band simply lack the expertise and vision to execute any of them with a particular level of finesse or compose any structured songs out of them. The performances feel uncertain and haphazard, as do the transitions from one passage to another. Songs never really reach a satisfying conclusion or resolve in any meaningful way and tend towards being two-dimensional, with no real intense or climactic passages to speak of. The band never gets their act together outside of a few solid songs, which are still marred by most of the aforementioned flaws.
The main arguments for this album appear to be derived from metaphors and aesthetics rather than any sort of meaningful musical elements. The songs wander about like someone who’s lost – but any sort of memorability and meaning to the majority of the material is lost due to the arcane structuring of the songs. The production may be hazy but it also sounds terrible and actually works against the mood in a lot of cases with its easily obscured guitars and poor mix. There’s almost nothing in the way of musical texture due to the overly sparse and underused keys as well as the forgettable riffing and the all too vague guitar tone. The wonky performances, particularly the drumming, leave the listener feeling as confused and uncertain of the album as the band obviously was while performing. It is clear that a lot of the more lacklustre material here could have been fairly solid songs had they been written by competent musicians (and similarly the decent songs here could have been made great) but any quality is simply lost in translation here. There’s better wandering and melodic black metal out there; don’t waste your time with this.