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Interview with Dimmu Borgir

21 years ago, Dimmu Borgir released “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia”, an album that included awesome tracks that have become classics by now. This October, the band is set to release “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia (Remixed & Remastered)”, available as a 3 LP Box, CD Digipak and digital. One of the masterminds behind this almost-30-year-old band, Silenoz, had an extensive and interesting chat with Metal Imperium to share all the details about this remixed and remastered version of the album and about the new material the band is currently forging. Read it here...

M.I. - You recently played here in Portugal at the Vagos Open Air Festival. How did it go? I wasn't able to attend, sadly! 

The show itself went pretty good actually! It's been a while since we were in Portugal last time so it was cool to finally be able to play somewhat of a full set. It was great to be back in, meet fans and play some songs we haven't played for a while. We had some technical issues before the show with some crew members and stuff, but luckily we had extra help so we managed to to pull that off.

M.I. - It was very hot, wasn't it?

Yeah, I remember it was a bit hot and windy, so we were a bit unsure of how that would affect the sound, because when you play outside, wind can go off with the sound. But I think it was pretty good, at least decent.

M.I. - So is this reissue a way to keep the fans interested and talking about the band while you're preparing new material? I'm hoping you are preparing new stuff!

Yeah, yeah, we have been working on and off with new material for the last few years so and we're coming up with material for a new album. Our challenge has always been to shave off what's not needed, you know? That's of course a good thing to have this release as a something in between. I'm sure there's plenty of fans that think “Why remix the album? There's nothing wrong with the first edition!” and that's totally understandable. No one is forced to buy this or listen to it, so people who want to stick to the original, that's totally fine, but I think it's more and more normal now, especially after 20 years or 30 years, to do an anniversary release and, at least, have it remastered and remixed.

M.I. – Okay, the original was mixed and engineered by Frederick Nordstrom. Who did the remixing and remastering now?

We did it with Frederick again because he obviously knows the songs. It was recorded with him the first time and that was the first record we did with him, so we didn't think of doing it with anybody else really. We obviously were supposed to go to him but since the so-called pandemic hit, they had to do the remixing back and forth over the internet and send files and stuff like that. So, the process took maybe a little bit longer but the reason why it's not out earlier is because there were some delays in the printing plans for vinyl and CDs. That's why we should have had it out for last year obviously but still... a celebration runs for a year or two or three, so it doesn't matter really.

M.I. - It was one of your best-selling albums!

It's been a really good seller in terms of copies, ever since the beginning. It has done really well in North America and Europe. Looking at statements and stuff definitely, “Puritanical” and “Deathcult”, those two albums did really well in North America. 

M.I. - So is this reissue a way to keep the fans interested and talking about the band while you're preparing new material? I'm hoping you are preparing new stuff!

Yeah, yeah, we have been working on and off with new material for the last few years so and we're coming up with material for a new album. Our challenge has always been to shave off what's not needed, you know? That's of course a good thing to have this release as a something in between. I'm sure there's plenty of fans that think “Why remix the album? There's nothing wrong with the first edition!” and that's fine and that's totally understandable. They we're not forcing anybody to buy this or listen to it, so people who want to stick to the original, that's totally fine, but I think it's more and more normal now, especially after 20 years in 30 years, it's more normal and somewhat expected when you do an anniversary release that you could expect it to be at least remastered and remixed.

M.I. - This album is also set to achieve a newer audience, right? Because the older fans already know the material and this will probably reach new fans! 

Yeah, that's a good point as well. There's a new generation coming and we are getting older and it's always good to have something to offer to the fans. That doesn't mean they have to buy it, it's free will and I think it's just a cool thing to have something updated. I think it's worth buying, because it has a triple vinyl with the pre-production songs and rehearsal songs. Maybe it's more for the die-hard fans to see how the songs were written in an early stage and how they developed into the actual song that was featured in the album.

M.I. - The gold box is already sold out!

I don't I have news about that but that's quite awesome! 

M.I. - It means collectors and die-hard fans are obviously buying it, because I don't think new fans will invest money in an item like this without knowing the sound! 

I don't know if you know but, to be honest, I have no clue how the the buyer is these days. I just know how I do it! If I find something on YouTube or Spotify that I really like and I keep coming back listening to, I buy it on vinyl. I don't buy CDs anymore but I buy things on vinyl, so that's my physical favourite thing! 

M.I. - There are three LPs and the third one, Side E and side F, includes the original album because it doesn't say remixed and remastered?!

It's a long album, so you have the remixed album on Two LPs and then you have the pre-production tracks and the rehearsal tracks on the third one. On the original album we did “Burn in hell” which is a Twisted Sister cover and we did a recording of “Devil's Path” in 96 and that's also included on the remix album. So “Dust of cold memories” is one of the LPs that covers the pre-production phase and the rehearsal tracks that we put on there.

M.I. – Was it your idea or the the labels idea to release this bonus material?

That was our idea because obviously we have some stuff from years ago. Obviously we know the label wants bonus tracks but we looked into our back catalog and found a lot of unreleased stuff which we have only had for our reference. We thought of mastering them because all the rehearsal tracks were recorded with a boombox and the pre-production tracks were done on a small studio in 2000. The sound is not that good but it doesn't have to be because it's just for reference for us but I think it's something that the die-hard fan specifically will appreciate.

M.I. - The cover is also different from the original one, which was very colorful and this one reminds me a bit of the cover for “Aeonian” with the black and gold theme. Who's responsible for it? Why did you decide to change it?

First of all, you're not allowed to have boobies anymore on album covers. From the beginning, we were thinking that we had to do something with the cover to be able to physically sell it in shops and online, so that was a given. We had a foreign guy who has done covers for more underground type of bands so we liked his style and basically just asked if he wanted to have a go at it and we developed the ideas together... that's pretty much it!

M.I. – So the world and society has evolved...

You mean regressed!

M.I. – Yeah, probably! Some things were supposed to be more open-minded and covers are being more censored now than they were 20 years ago which is a bit insane. Freedom of speech also is not a good thing now because you can't say what you think, there are so many taboos about everything... it's so stupid now! I don't think I like this society!

I totally agree with you and, in the last few years, I think a lot of people have kind of been oblivious to what's been going around and maybe it has opened their eyes now finally. The last couple of years had to happen for them to open their eyes and start thinking and see that there are other things in control there and they might not want what's best for us, you know? Quite ironically this is something that lyrically is also very prominent on “Puritanical euphoric misanthropia” and in “Deathcult Armageddon” as well. The idea of free will and to think for yourself and speak your mind, have your opinion and be accepted for that, that's kind of weird when that's not even almost allowed anymore. People are getting offended by everything and the very few that are trying to make rules for the many... that has never gone down well in history! We all know that so I think every band, every artist out there that has an opportunity to say something now, really needs to say something, you know? I've never been much into politics and I don't care about talking about politics but this is not about politics anymore, this is about fighting something oppressive from the top down and I think everybody has the right to say whatever they want without going to prison for it or being silenced or censored online or whatever. It's just crazy, absolutely crazy!

M.I. - You're in a heavy band and you probably didn't expect to last this long and become such legends. Do you think extreme bands are more recognized now?

Obviously the internet era has helped extreme artists to get a bigger platform because, back in the day when we started, it was tape trading that was the big thing to spread your music before you or if you got signed to a label. Now if you don't get signed to a label, you can just release it yourself and you can record things yourself quite decently with a decent sound and it doesn't have to cost a lot of money. So if you're smart, you can do a lot of stuff on your own, maybe do everything on your own, and I think that has helped things to come more widespread.

M.I. - Having a label behind your back is always a good thing, isn't it?

We have always had a really good relationship with the label and they've always given us the time we need to finish an album, perhaps because we have been somewhat successful when it comes to album sales, they let things slip a little bit more than they would with a smaller act on the label which also has a contract they have to follow. That's been to our advantage for sure and we don't feel like we have to release an album every year or every second year, every third year, you know? Obviously I wish we would release an album sooner than every eight years. 

M.I. - I was going to ask you about that because between the last one and the previous one it took you eight years. Are we looking at 10 years now? 

I hope not! As I said, we have been working on and off with new material and we have probably ideas and themes floating around for two albums if we would have the time to do two albums or a double album, but I think we're gonna stick to doing a regular album like eight, nine to ten songs, depending on how long they are of course. I would say we have way more than a half album written but it takes time, you know?! It's not done overnight and obviously I wish things would have gone a bit quicker but the last couple of years has put a stop to a lot of things. W”e're trying move back into the position of the writing process.

M.I. - Because it's basically you, Shagrath and Galder that have been steady in this project...

Yes, we have to make the decisions and come up with most of the material but obviously we have help from Gerlioz on keyboards as well, who's been with us now since 2009. The same with Daray, our drummer from Poland, he has also contributed some drum ideas whenever needed. At the end of the day, a Dimmu album wouldn't sound like it does if it wasn't for everybody.

M.I. - You have reached such a huge status... do you think you feel the pressure to release an album even more awesome than the previous one? You seem to be doing better and better albums! Do you fear to disappoint?

We have this idea that as long as we can agree in the band, we don't let outside pressure get to us. We probably did in the beginning, in the first few albums, when we had unexpected success, we felt we needed to top our previous album. I think it goes without saying that, in any band that starts working on a new album, they want to top their previous one and that's the point of doing it! If you don't feel like you can top the previous one, then don't make a new album because it's gonna fail. Whenever we release a new album, we feel that it is a collection of great songs that we can stand behind 110% and we are happy with it and that's all there is to it really. If people like it then that's a great bonus, but if people don't like it, then that's fine as well... we're not gonna lose sleep over it!

M.I. - Do you stand behind all your albums, all your tracks, all the the music you've created or is there one song / one album that you would erase from your catalog if you could?

I have to say no, because every song and every album is a testament to where we were at that particular time in our lives and if you're going to start regretting stuff or you want to change or take away some part of your artistic history, then you're kind of censoring yourself and we're against censorship, so that that would be like total hypocrisy to say that we should take away a song. There are certain songs and parts in songs that are extremely cringe these days, many years later, but that's a whole different story. I think it's important to look at what you've done with pride and see that, maybe on the first couple of albums and songs, there was some type of banality, but it is what it is! We've been young as well like everybody else so it goes like that sometimes.

M.I. - You've risen to fame! It probably wasn’t expected because it wasn't supposed for a black metal band to be as famous as you are now. Did fame ever cloud your mind and personality? Do you think you stayed loyal to yourself throughout all these years?

I feel like it just made us better people! Obviously I can only speak for myself but I have a really good distance to the fame thing... when I go out on tour or play festivals, I go out in the crowd watching other bands and I talk to fans whenever they come to me to take a picture or an autograph, that's not a problem for me because I'm a fan of music as well and I've also asked some of my peers to take some pictures and I still do! I totally understand that the symbiosis of being respectful to your fans who actually help put butter and salt on your table, it's very important, but it comes naturally for me. I have no problem with that, I like to hear what the fans think and if they come up to me and say “I love this album but I don't like this album”, that's awesome, I like to hear fans’ views on things and I like them to be honest.

M.I. - Do they often ask you for advice? What advice would you give to someone that wants to start a band and create music?

We started by jamming together, cover songs first and then we tried making our own songs and it just worked from there. There was never a goal of becoming famous or rich, then obviously you would need to be in a whole different business! Everything that has happened for us, I take it as a bonus because I got to turn my hobby into my life and practically my job. I don't look at it as a job because for me the word job is something that's negatively loaded, it’s something you have to pay your bills but this is something I would do even if I didn't get paid for it, you know? So it's simple to start but I don't think I have any particular advice apart from: find your place in the band you're starting, make sure everyone is somewhat on the same page and that you pull in the right direction. Obviously that's something that you develop over the course of time because it's not something you can agree on the first week, but just try and find your own style and and don't pay too much attention to people who do videos on YouTube. We didn't have YouTube back then so we went with whatever we had... and try and find your own style basically!

M.I. - So the band is about to to turn 30! It's a long-term relationship. Did you ever feel like getting divorced from this relationship?

Well, we have divorced quite a few of the previous members, yeah! (laughts)
We have gone through that many times and that's of course something that we would try and avoid but if we hadn't done it when we did back in the day with the previous members, the band probably wouldn't exist, you know? I always come back to this with a reference to Kiss. It's like you have Gene and Paul who's been pulling the band from the early 70s, and if you look at how much Peter Criss and Ace Frehley have done for the band especially in the beginning, would you think KIss would exist today with only Peter Criss and Ace Frehley at the front?! That's my idea as well! Obviously I don't want to compare us to Kiss or any other band but I always have that reference because you have to have driven people, you have to have strong-minded people in the front and that's why this band still exists! We have had a lot of easy decisions to make but we have also had quite a few difficult decisions to make and in a band structure you cannot have one without the other and, if you don't want to take the bad or the negative decisions or the decision that you have to do to make the band survive, then you are not band material.

M.I. - But is there a musician that left Dimmu Borgir that you think should have stayed? 

There's been a few that have left because they wanted to. Nagash was the first one in that sense. Back in 98 and before the recording of “Spiritual”, he said that he was gonna have to leave the band because he wanted to focus on Covenant and we said “Well you already made up your mind! There's no point for us to try and convince you to stay, that's not going to make life good for any of us”, so he left on good terms and concentrated on Covenant. There's times when band members have left and that's something you have to accept and respect.

M.I. - The same goes for your relationship with Nuclear Blast! I bet you have been offered great deals to sign other labels, right?

Yes, there have been offers but, at the same time, like I said earlier, if money is something that you value more than anything else, then maybe we would have been on a different label, but we have such a good relationship with Nuclear Blast and we have the entire infrastructure in place and they've always been really supportive of us ever since the beginning so I don't see the reason why we should
change. Money is not everything!

M.I. - Do you think a label can destroy a band with great music if they don't offer them the proper promotion?

No, well, yeah! I think that's according to what type of contract the band and the label have between them! But if everybody do their part the way they have agreed to, then it's basically up to the musicians and the artists, because they are the ones that have to deliver a product. A label can promote a product as much as they want, for as long as they want, but if the material itself is not good enough, it's not going to work! So, at the end of the day, everything relies on the artists themselves to come up with a product that is great.

M.I. - In all these 30 years would you say your skills have improved? What has changed in you as a musician?

I think definitely we feel that we become better songwriters, we probably become a bit better at playing our instruments as well. I think the songwriting part in each and one of us has obviously had time to flourish and develop over the years and that can be somewhat of a two-edged sword because the downside to that is that when you get older you might get a bit too analytical or too critical to your own stuff and that also has been our challenge, that's also maybe the reason we take too long between albums, because we are so critical to every little detail we probably missed some of the spontaneity that we had in our early years where we actually met at the warehouse, plugged in the guitars, the drums and the keywords and just jammed! That's something that we want to try and get a bit more back to, you know? And we did with the previous album too, because I think the last pieces of the puzzle, of the details and stuff can be laid down in a setting where the band plays the new songs live together before they go into the studio to record.

M.I. - Talking about playing live, I don't think you'll ever be able to play small venues again! You're now used to playing huge festivals, huge venues. Do you miss playing in smaller venues for a smaller audience?

Well, to us, it doesn't doesn't matter where we are at! When we play shows in certain countries, like when we went to the US for the first time or the first rounds, we played more in clubs and it all depends which market you're playing in. We like both big festivals and smaller arenas and clubs. You have to do the same stuff on stage, whether it's in front of 70 000 people or 70 people!

M.I. - I think you're so big now that most places that you play at are gonna be huge! 

That's a fact! The thing with with our situation and playing live is that we're not a live band that plays tours and tours! We have probably made ourselves somewhat a bit more exclusive over the years and that gives us room for negotiating a different deal. Once we do play a show, we put 110% into it, like we always do, but if it doesn't happen as often as it used to, we definitely want to put on the best possible show we can with whatever money we get paid to do it, so it's still not something that you get rich from because our expenses are like through the roof every every time, but it is what you do sacrifice for your art and that goes before anything else.

M.I. - But you're rich now so money is not an issue!

You would think we're rich but we are actually not, you know? Because if you don't release an album in eight years time and go on tour, then you have a lot of catching up to do as well so... 

M.I. - You're on your way to your 50’s right and you should release an album before you turn 50. 

Yes, I hope so!

M.I. - I think you will have four or five years before that! Then I hope you come and play in Portugal again! Many bands don't come and play in Portugal now, because of logistics. 

Yes, yes, I'm counting on it! It could be logistic yeah. When we did these festivals last summer that were postponed from 2020, we decided that we were gonna spend a lot of money on getting our truck with all the equipment, all our production and everything on our own truck so we knew that it would get there on time. A lot of bands mentioned that the festival run has been horrible because they lost their equipment, had to rent other people's/bands equipment and that's not a good feeling to go on stage with someone else's guitar. And you hardly make it on time for your show and tons of cancellations because flights have been canceled and stuff like that and the economic part and the logistical part has been a nightmare for most people this last summer! So we decided early on that we were going to continue spending the money on sending our own truck with the equipment otherwise we would have most likely been in the same scenario. Worst case, if we don't get certain part of our equipment, we cannot play live, it doesn't matter if all the bands at the festival can borrow this and that, there's certain parts that we specifically can't play without! So that's how we did it this time.

M.I. - Many bands come and play in Spain, in Madrid, and it's like 600 kilometers away from Porto and they don't come and play here, that's a shame!

It’s weird especially if they're on tour and they have their own tour bus and all that stuff because, let's face it, that's not a long drive!

M.I. – Or maybe they don’t like the Portuguese fans!

I don't understand why they wouldn't because we missed playing in Portugal after all these years and it was great to be back and we had an amazing time! It was great to actually play a full live set and play some older songs that we haven't played for a long long time! 

M.I. - Okay so I'm gonna thank you for your time and I do hope you release a new album soon!

Yeah, we have new songs, some are not finished but we have several songs that are in the process of getting arranged or rearranged so I think we got something really cool brewing! 

M.I. - I bet you do but I hope it comes out before 2030 (laughts)

I hope so too, I really do! (laughts)

M.I. - I hope we'll talk about the new album when it comes out and I wish you all the best and all the best for the this remix and remastered version of “Puritanical euphoric misanthropia”! Thank you!

Thank you! I hope you will enjoy it and also enjoy the third LP with with all the weird bonus tracks so you can see how the songs were developed over the years! 

Listen Dimmu Borgir on Spotify

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by Sónia Fonseca