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Interview with Dimmu Borgir

In 1993, no one would have thought that Dimmu Borgir would still be active in 2024. But the musical mastery, to which they have accustomed us, charted a destiny full of successes for them. As a celebration of their 30 years of existence, the Norwegians released the covers album “Inspiratio Profanus”, on December 8th. And this was the motto for the conversation with one of the main members of the band, guitarist Silenoz, who said that the band has been working hard on the next album. While we wait, take the opportunity to find out all their latest news in this interview...

M.I. – Let me start by congratulating Dimmu Borgir on its 30 years of existence. Are you proud of this achievement?

Thank you! Yes, of course! It just doesn't feel like it's 30 years. I don't know what 30 years is supposed to feel but it feels great, it feels like a milestone, although we don't obviously do this because of anything else but the art but it's always great to be acknowledged.

M.I. – Yeah, three decades of being in a band is not for everybody, especially a black metal band, especially since you started as a heavy black metal band and it was very intense back then!

Things could have taken a different turn, you know? But luckily we were smart enough at a young age to focus on the musical aspect of it, so here we are!

M.I. – So, is this new cover album “Inspiratio Profanus” a kind of celebration album of this special date?

I guess we can say that! We would like to have the new album out and as a celebration of the thirty years but there's still quite a lot of work left to do before we're there. So we had this idea about doing a cover song album since 2015/2016, I think, but back then we got obviously busy with the writing of the “Eonian” album and we felt like we should put the cover album on the back burner and look at it in the future sometime. So that's where we're at now and it's nothing new, a lot of people already have heard these songs and most of our fans probably have them in their possession on various different releases already but we felt it was a cool thing to do and it didn't take too much of our time and it's just a little something in between before the next record comes out!

M.I. - I was asking going to ask you about this later but let me ask... there’s a 8-year gap between “Abrahadabra” and Eonian”, it’s been 5 years now after “Eonian” was released and if we're looking at eight years, we still have three more to go... with this one, are we back to ground zero again or what?

No, we’re not and also you can shave off those three years with lockdowns and all that other shit in between, so if we do that then we're actually quite on par with the schedule! But, it's like we have said in the past also, it takes us a bit longer than usual to write albums and I think it's just the way we do things these days. Obviously the longer you are in the band, the more you look at things from different angles and perspectives and perhaps we have gotten a bit too analytical and judgmental towards our own music who knows?! But some songs we write don't take that long, other songs might take months to complete, it all depends on the situation and what the song needs and what we feel is right and if it has a good flow. Obviously nothing can be forced because if it's forced, then it's bound to fail, so obviously now we're older than we were, back then we had no families, we had no other things that take up a lot of time so there's other things to factor in but, at the same time, we feel like we're on a really good flow now with the new songs and we have quite a lot of material demoed already even with vocals so I say we are on a really nice track right now. 

M.I. – Okay, nice to hear! Well, back to the cover album that was released on the 8th December. Have you read or heard the reactions of the fans and the media? Do you pay attention to that what they are saying?! 

Well, yeah, I get sent some things here and there. I'm not on social media anymore, I haven't been for several years now, so it's not much that I get to read, but mostly it looks like people have embraced it! Of course, we don't expect to get the same attention for this as we get for a brand new album of course but I think so far the critics have been overly positive and I think most people see that it's just something in between and it's not a new proper album and should not be looked at as a new album either. Yeah, it's cool to just have it done now and we can maybe put a lid on the cover song era for a while! That's not to say that we're never going to do cover songs in the future but for now I think we're going to lay it to rest for a while.

M.I. - So these are covers you've done over the years, but how complicated was it reducing your musical influences to these eight tracks? How many were left out? 

I mean, obviously, we have more cover songs! Before the first album, we jammed different stuff that we recorded on the boom box and stuff in the rehearsal space. I remember we played songs from Tormentor, some Darkthrone and Mayhem and some other stuff I can't really recall right now. But we don't have any full songs, so it wouldn't make sense to just put bits and pieces on there just to fill out or to make it look like we have more than we actually do. It is what it is but we'll see if sometime in the future we will do more covers, who knows? 

M.I. - These covers were chosen by the whole band, all the members? 

Yeah, we kind of agreed on which bands and then we kind of threw around suggestions about which songs and stuff and we could have easily done other songs from the same type of bands, but these are the ones that we kind of fleshed out at that particular time we were at and I think we did justice to most of them. I feel like we did our own versions at the same time as obviously trying to stay close to the original because you don't want to steer too far away, far off from that, you know? But at the same time try and give your perspective on it and I feel like we succeeded on all of them actually.

M.I. – Yeah, you have! I have listened to the album and I love all the tracks but “Burn in Hell” has a special place in my heart and “Perfect Strangers” is absolutely amazing as well. The other day it was playing and I thought “Why are Guns and Roses playing now?” because the vocals do remind me of Axl Rose, I don't know why! Who's doing the clean vocals for “Perfect strangers”?

Yeah, I can see that! It was done by Snowy Shaw. He was with us for a frequent moment in time while we were recording the “Abrahadabra” album so he does the clean vocals on that. 

M.I. - I hope he can take it as a compliment because Axl Rose has a very special vocal range. 

I totally agree. I think he is one of those singers that you instantly hear it's him, you know, and that's a great feature and that goes for most of the 70s and 80s Rock and Hard Rock metal bands, they had very distinctive voices. Back then it was really very typical to have simple guitar chords progressions and then you have the voice from the vocalist who did the melody on top... that was very common in the 70s and 80s bands and we obviously have grown up with that type of music and we still listen to that type of music probably more than other types of music. These are still genres that influence us to do our own take on musical art but we draw influences from so many different types of stuff, so it's hard to say that we get more inspiration from one than the other... it's all good music! That's basically how I see it! 

M.I. – Yeah, so is there a track that was your own personal choice?

I think maybe the song “Metal Heart” is the one that's closest to me in many aspects, also “Burn in hell” I would say. The first tape I bought with my own money was “Stay Hungry” from Twisted Sister, so that obviously has a special place with me and to be able to do “Burn in hell” the way we did it and, at the same time, get praise from both JJ French and Dee Snider that's like coming full circle basically. So that's personally obviously another favorite because of the circumstances and all that stuff.

M.I. - How did it feel when Twisted Sister praised your cover of their original? 

It's hard to describe, because it’s a band we appreciate and that particular album probably, for me personally, has been a huge inspiration and one of the reasons why I'm here talking to you today, you know? Like I said, it's coming full circle and to get the thumbs up and the pat on the back from them on a song that we interpretated our way and they ended up loving it, you can't really ask for more than that! 

M.I. - But did you get any reactions from other bands you covered?

Yeah, I think Wolf from Accept liked our version really well and I also recently heard from the Deep Purple camp, I don't know who or how many of the band’s members have listened to it, that they gave the thumbs up, yeah nothing is better than that, you know?! 

M.I. - It's even better than all the fans and critics because they're the ones who created the song that inspired you, so I think it must have been awesome, right?! 

Yeah, it is! Obviously some Dimmu fans might not understand the album and that's fair enough, you know, we have a quite young fan base and we get new fans every day, so we don't expect them to understand why we chose these songs, but I think the older generation understands us as we come from the same background and they get it. Music, as everything else, needs time to settle! When you come up with a new album, it's the same thing, you don’t to listen to a new album and then suddenly love all the songs, it takes time to distill basically.

M.I. – Yeah, some tracks tend to become classic and the others just get forgotten. I don't know! 

Yeah, that's how it is, you know? Also some of the tracks that we in the band think are going to be live tracks, for instance, they don't go over the same way as other songs live, so it all depends. We have so many different ways of listening to music and that's the good thing about art in general, we all have our own take on it. 

M.I. – So, tell me, if it were only up to you, is there a track you'd leave out or a track you’d like to add to the cover album?

From the cover album, no, not really! Because these are the seven tracks that we did properly in the studio so we felt okay including the extra version of Celtic Frost, so we thought we’d keep all of them and that makes sense. I mean, as I said, in our vault, we have probably some other half finished songs here and there, cover songs, but it wouldn’t make sense to put on there, so these are the ones that we felt was correct to include. 

M.I. - The first single released was the cover of “Black Metal” by Venom. Did you feel any pressure or tension, when it was about to be unleashed, considering the status of the band who created the original?

Yeah, a little bit, but we were lucky enough because, quite some time ago, Mantas praised our version, so we felt “okay that's one cleared off”. We don't have to feel the pressure too much from that one. I don't know what Kronos and Abaddon think about it, but hopefully they'll like it too. It's always a little bit freaky, when you release something and you get attention on you, there's always this trepidation type of thing involved. Obviously, you want people to like it but, at the same time, we’ve gotten so old now that if people don't like it and they have something negative to say about it, that's fine, I think people should be able to say if they hate it as well, you know, it's fair enough but we have the choice not to partake in that type of thing. I think it's fair for people to say what they want at all times, whether it's good or negative. 

M.I. - But how do you feel before releasing an album of material you created and an album of covers? Is the feeling the same? In this case you had already released most of the tracks, so this time you probably weren't too stressed but I think it might put even more pressure in your shoulders to release covers from bands that you like, right? 

When you release an album of your own material, it's a different thing, because you have spent time creating the songs whereas on a cover album the songs are already created so you have to interpret them the way you want it, you know? But when it comes to your own material, there's no facts to go by there, you can only trust yourself and trust that what you have done is the best that you can possibly do at that time. So it's totally two different things! Obviously with a new album of your own material there is a little bit more anticipation, and obviously you would like the fans to love it just the way you do it, but that's not always the case! But we are lucky that over 30 years we have gained such a huge fan base and there are still new fans coming towards us and there's something for everyone in our music. 

M.I. - What is so special about the cover “Metal Heart” as it is included in various releases?

Yeah, for one, it’s probably my favorite Accept album but also it has this classical type of feeling to the song which we ironically got to be known by a bit later in our career when we recorded it in 97. Yeah, it was cause it came out in '98 on “Godless savage garden”. When we recorded it, we were still utilizing mainly just keyboards to get that epic feeling in the band and it was later that we added the classical element full on. I think it was like a precursor to that era we kind of subconsciously knew that we were going to go in a more classically influenced style. I don't know, it's hard to describe but I have always been a fan of the way Wolf Hofman has included the classical elements into the Accept songs. That has been an influence on its own. 

M.I. - Of all the bands you covered, which one was a bigger influence on you while growing up and as a musician? 

I have to say Twisted Sister and also Bathory. Twisted Sister was the introduction for me to Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. I knew about them and I knew about Kiss, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and stuff. When I was young in the early 80s, we didn't have MTV at home here but I got to see that later on and I saw it at friends’ places and stuff and that's when it really opened up a lot. When it comes to the more brutal and extreme part of heavy metal, for me, I would say those two have probably had the most impact as bands in general.

M.I. - Yeah, but did you discover them on radio shows or does your family have a background of listening to other genres?

No, I remember I raided my uncle's vinyl collection back in the early 80s and he was a huge fan of the 70s stuff, obviously Sabbath, Uriah Heep and Zeppelin and all that stuff, you know, so I got an early introduction. And then of course I had all the friends, friends of brothers, brothers of friends that had a lot of music and there were certain radio shows here that we taped with the with the boom box, so it had the static. I still have the tapes and you can hear the static on the tapes and stuff, you know, which is amazing, it has this really nostalgic feel to it.

M.I. - Did you do tape trading? 

Yes, we did, but it was a bit later, like the early '90s, when I started tape trading and that was another phenomenon, that really opened up another gate basically. Because the stuff that we sent off to friends all over the world, you knew that the next week or in two or three weeks, you would get something back which you haven't heard before and it would be amazing. That's the thing back then! It's like you took it all in and, most of the time, it was amazing stuff that you got to hear and that's a really specific feeling, which I still think back with a lot of gratefulness.

M.I. - Have you had the pleasure of seeing any of these bands you covered play live? 

Yes, pretty much all of them apart from Venom obviously. I haven't seen GGFH live in that sense but, apart from that, I've seen most of the other acts. I remember vividly when Twisted Sister came back doing live shows, I guess it was in 2001 or something, when I saw them...that was a huge highlight for me. Seeing Deep Purple live is always great, you know? Celtic Frost I've seen live. We will not be able to see Venom live but we have the memories and all the rest.

M.I. - So speaking of live... are you planning on doing a a show or something to promote this album alone?

Not to actually promote this album alone but we will have a 30-years celebration anniversary type of thing at Beyond The Gates Festival in Bergen in August. We're going to play some festivals and one-off shows next year so we're going to continue with that setlist maybe with a few changes but still we're going to try and look back on three decades of Dimmu’s music when we play live next year.

M.I. – Okay, so about the title, it translates into “profane inspiration”. Why have you chosen to use it in Latin? To make it sound cooler? 

Oh, basically! First of all, we usually have three-word album titles or one word album titles, we figured this is a cover album, so we should have a two-word title for this. Second of all, we haven't really used Latin that much in the past and we felt this is a cool way of describing the album. Even if it's Latin, it's quite easy to figure out what it means, it's not hard to pronounce and basically we just kept it simple and, as you say, it's pretty self-explanatory with profane Inspirations. And I think it also is a good way of showing that we have inspirations from the more brutal side of music, with Bathory and Celtic Frost and stuff like that and then you have the melodic influences from Accept and Deep Purple and stuff like that. On the other side, and if you combine these two atmospheres and feelings, you get a lot what Dimmu has been known for over the years: combining the harshness and the beauty basically!

M.I. – Okay, so you have such a vast discography and you're a huge influence on many bands. Would you like to see them cover your tracks? If so, is there a particular one you'd like them to cover?

Oh, that's a difficult question! It's hard to say! As you say, we have quite a lot of songs to choose from and I haven't given that much thought, to be honest, so I don't know! Which songs do you think would work? Which band would you choose?

M.I. – Excuse me?! I’d say “Puritania”! I can't even remember the titles, I'm nervous now!

Which band would you like to do “Puritania”?

M.I. - I have no idea! It's a difficult question. I haven't really thought of it that way yet so I get you now that you turned this over to me! 

Changing a bit... Victor Brandt has joined the band. Is he an active member? Is he helping you a lot?
Yes, he’s a very active participator of the band but so is everybody. That's why I think this lineup that we have now is the most stable and most harmonious so far in the band's history. He also has been drumming with us for a long time and that's an achievement in itself. This is the the lineup that I feel is definitely the best by far when it comes to performance on stage and also how we conduct ourselves off stage. It's a very good feeling in the band now when we work on the new songs.

M.I. - You mentioned you will play live next next year. You’ve been doing a few selected shows and, in 2022, you played here in Vagos in a festival. How was the experience of playing in Portugal again?

It was great! It was about time! It was actually great to finally be able to play in Portugal again. It had been quite a while and, before the show, we had a mishap in the crew as someone fell really ill which made things a little bit challenging. Exodus and Testament were there because they were going to play the next day, so since we're friends with them, their crew helped us and that turned out really well after all. We had a great experience playing in front of our portuguese fans. It had been such a long time and hopefully it won't take that long until next time!

M.I. - Yeah, so you'll only be back after the new album, right?

I hope so, I really really hope so! We usually play the same places so hopefully we can reach out to some other venues as well and some other places in Portugal!

M.I. - I won't take more of your time! We, the fans, are anxiously waiting for new material and you told me that you're far advanced so we hope it comes out in a year or two! 

I hope so too!

M.I. - Until then I wish you all the best and I hope to talk to you soon about the new album. Do you want to leave a message for our readers?

Of course! I hope that our fans and your readers still have a little bit more patience and we will do our best to get the album out as soon as we can. But, as I said earlier too, it’s going to be good, it's going to be worth the wait for sure and it's going to be a a great huge sounding album! It will be a lot of music on it so we also really look forward to the day when we can share it with everybody!

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Questions by Sónia Fonseca