DIMMU BORGIR (Silenoz) INTERVIEW
The times we live in are an economic challenge to all, even more so to bands and musicians around the world. With illegal downloading in its prime, many musicians are struggling to make ends meet and you only really manage to understand the real scale of the problem when you realise how bands even as established as Norwegian Black Metallers Dimmu Borgir are forced to come up with solutions to avoid finding their music on the Internet months prior to being released in the stores. Hours prior to hitting the stage of the London Forum, I met up with guitarist and founding member Silenoz for an interview that focused on the band’s latest album “Abrahadabra”, the tour with fellow countrymen Enslaved and Shag and concluded with an evaluation of the modern Norwegian Black Metal scene.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
• Hi Silenoz, it’s nice to finally meet you in person. This is a second time in one month that I have to do an interview with a band for an album that is not yet released and it is still a very strange experience for me.
Silenoz: Ok, I see.
• Is the fact that your latest album “Abrahadabra” has not yet been properly advertised to the media a result of an attempt to avoid finding your music on the Internet days prior to its official release?
Silenoz: Yes. I mean, we know that the same day the album will be released someone will upload it on the Internet, but we did feel the need to make a statement by taking that decision – it is a pride thing for us, because when you work very hard to bring your product to life, it feels totally unfair that somebody can, with the push of a few buttons, to put it out, you know? It was more or less decided by ourselves; we instructed the label not to make available any download copies, no watermark copies, no physical copies anywhere. I mean, not even everybody at our record label has yet listened to the album! Ok, by now they probably have, but in the very beginning we were given the names of everyone on the record label that had access to it. I didn’t even hand out copies to members of my own family; not because I don’t trust them, but because you cannot be…
• …too careful these days, right?
Silenoz: No, you cannot!
• Well, the fact remains that those people that are going to buy the original copy of the album will do that anyway and those who will only look to download it from the Internet they will do that also, so what it is that you really achieve by doing that?
Silenoz: It’s just a statement from us and it will be a huge accomplishment if it is still not on line till the day of its release! You can call it a small personal victory!
• Dimmu Borgir are known for bringing out some really handsome limited edition pieces of your albums, something that you guys have been doing for quite a few years now and the same will apply for “Abrahadabra” as far as I know. Is that another tool that will help the band sells actual CDs and deter all those download freaks out there?
Silenoz: Yes, I think that it is important to have such editions available for the metal fans, especially our fans that are really into special editions of our albums. We can always have a debate about the number of editions that we bring out for each album, but I believe that it is cool to have a variety and it is also good to give something back to the people who are actually buying the product! Being a music fan myself, I am always keen of either buying CDs or at least downloading them from ITunes so as to have them in a good sound. If you are a music lover, why will you settle for an MP3 sound? We love special editions as there are a lot of collectors out there, especially in the metal genre, and we don’t really tell people to buy them all. They are free and they have the variety to choose what it is that they want – that is the whole point! We just want to give something back to those who are devoted to us and who support us by buying our albums.
• Silenoz, there have been a few changes in the band’s line up recently which have been much discussed by fans and media alike, so I don’t feel the need to get into the politics of the whole thing. One thing I do want to ask, though, is whether their departure has influenced the way Dimmu Borgir operates as a band these days. Which are the main changes that you, as a lead member of this band, have experienced thus far?
Silenoz: There are no major differences really, because…of course these guys (note: Mustis: keyboards & ICS Vortex: Bass/clean vocals) came, were in the band and put their small input, however they got a lot more credit and attention than the one they really deserved in terms of song writing, as they are not song writers. For the last ten years Galder (guitars), Shagrath (vocals) and I have been the main song writers in the band; we have been putting everything together, arranging everything and coming up with most of the material. So for us it was…this was probably the easiest album to put together! Even though there was a lot of work involved, it wasn’t really what you would describe as hard work because we three are more into the same wave link that we were with the two other guys. I am not going to take anything out of these guys’ input because they have indeed put their touch on our music in the past, bit I believe that the new album speaks for itself. There are always going to be fans who will have favourite members in every band, just like in KISS for instance, but just as you cannot have KISS without Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, you cannot have Dimmu Borgir without the three of us. If Peter Criss and Ace Frehley were the only members in the band, do you honestly think that things would have worked? Well, no! That is how I see things.
• Correct me if I am wrong but I believe that this is the second album that find you guys working with a full orchestra, right?
Silenoz: …mmm, yes kind of the second album, because on “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia” (2001) we only had fourteen or fifteen people – it was more like a chamber orchestra.
• This time, however, based on what I have been reading, you guys went mental!
Silenoz: Yes, of course! We really…we had set our minds on doing that even before we started writing material for the album, so when we demoed everything and we finished with the vocals and the keyboards and the orchestrations that we prepared ourselves we gave them to Gaute Storås with whom we had worked in the past. He made some rearrangements and wrote down some notes for the orchestra to play, so it would be easier that way, as we do not know any notes (laughs). We needed help to do that, but it was a really smooth writing process. There was good communication from the start, we knew where we wanted to take things but I guess that we didn’t really dare to hope that it will end up sounding as good and big as it did in the end. That was a big bonus!
• In terms of the overall recording process and your role as a guitar player in the band di you, at any point, feel as if you had to ‘give way’ to other instruments in order to achieve the atmosphere required by these new songs?
Silenoz: Yes, there are indeed compromises that need to be made, but that is something we are used to doing because we are looking at every song as one entity. We are not the most technical guitar players around, so we don’t have to rely in providing any flashy arrangements – we just want to do what is best for each song, let all composition breathe and flow properly. So with this new album I feel more satisfied than I was with our previous albums – this feels like a more complete affair, as all the ideas that we had in the past have come to the surface now. With this album, we certainly hit the nail.
• Though I have not yet listened to the album yet, I have this feeling that this release is going to be very important in the band’s career. I mean, where do you go after that, after having employed such a massive orchestra? Black Metal, perhaps quite surprisingly, has become much more open-minded than most people would expect these last few years, but how much more can one stretch the boundaries of the genre?
Silenoz: That is a question that we get every time we release a new album and we cannot really think too far ahead, especially in this type of business, but…when we take this album out on the road, we will see how it goes! We don’t really think about what we are going to do next as this is way too far away right now. I am sure that we are going to surprise ourselves again next time round, but we will see how it goes. As long as we can work the way that we want and have no restrictions…obviously we work within a certain ‘realm’ you know, but we always try to think outside the box and what is good about it is that it is a natural way of behaving or thinking. Maybe some fans will see this album as a huge change, but that is not something we can actually see ourselves as we are the ones who create the music – we cannot look at things from the outside as our fans do.
• Have you performed any of the new material live yet? Are you going to play any new stuff tonight for us?
Silenoz: Yes, this is our second show of the tour, so we will be doing a few new ones for sure! The first show was interesting as we wanted to see what the fans would make of them and even only a few hours after that show there were videos available on YouTube (laughs). That is something to be expected, of course!
• And obviously the orchestral parts are going to be presented through samples as nobody would expect you to tour with a full blown orchestra around the world.
Silenoz: That would have been very difficult logistically speaking and economically it wouldn’t be feasible! Obviously certain parts are on backing tracks, but everything else is live. We wanted to keep our show as much live as possible!
• Why is it that I can almost see you guys performing with a full blown orchestra in support in a major European festival in the recent future?
Silenoz: Maybe next year (laughs). This is part of the plan, for sure, it is an ambition that we’ve had for many years but we haven’t really felt that it would be right to attempt such a thing till now. We have been in touch with the orchestra that has been performing on the album (note: Norwegian Radio Orchestra) and they are quite up for it, to do one live show first and see how it goes from then on. If that goes well, then why not make a few one off shows in placed like London, L.A or Sidney? That will be next in our agenda if things work out as we want to. It takes a lot of preparation and a lot of planning – it’s more than simply plugging in the guitar (laughs). We will see how it goes.
• Tonight’s billing is very interesting indeed! All of the bands involved are from Norway, as tends to be the case these days with package tours and that is fair enough as you really want to have a harmonio9us relationship on the road, something more easily achievable amongst fellow countrymen. How are you guys getting along? And how are the fans enjoying this variety of styles and sounds on offer?
Silenoz: I think that fans are more open minded now than they were ten or fifteen years ago. We wanted to make this a varied package and to avoid bringing on tour a band that simply wants to copy our style of music. Shag is a very different band from Enslaved and Enslaved are different from us! It is important to be able to give to people that come to our shows something nice as they pay a lot of money to come and see us – there should be something there for everyone! We are pretty happy with the line-up for this tour, yeah! It is nice to travel with people that you’ve known for a long time; I have known the Enslaved guys for many years now and the same applies to some of the Shag guys, so this looks like a Norwegian invasion once more taking place on England’s shores (laughs).
• I believe that the locals are quite used to it by now (I laugh).
Silenoz: That is true (laughs).
• As we said before, Black Metal has evolved a lot through the years and that is good as it is quite a healthy approach to things. As a veteran of the scene, how do you evaluate the current situation? A few months ago, we had the first ever Black Metal opera being performed ion Bergen, which is quite an achievement! Is there even more space for evolution for Black Metal bands and musicians alike?
Silenoz: I believe so. For us in Dimmu, we have kind of stopped thinking in terms of labels, you know? We have found our own sound, and even though our main influences are from the early Black Metal days, with every new album we try to take things a step further. There is quite a lot of stuff going on in the Norwegian scene; Dimmu Borgir and other bands as Enslaved, Emperor and Mayhem are opening up the doors for many young kinds and new bands to start out. Now the government is actually kind of supports us. Back in the day they were like “we don’t want to do anything with you guys because you are this and that”; now the tables are turned and they see that Norwegian Metal is a great export for then country.
• So apart from touring, what other plans do you have for promoting “Abrahadabra”? This tour you are currently undertaking is a short one as far as I know.
Silenoz: Well, we will be doing a few shows in support for Korn, and other days we will be continuing with the same line up as todays. I believe that this will be a one month tour and then we will have a couple of weeks off before we go to the States, again with Enslaved actually. That tour will be finished before Christmas and then, next year, we have arranged to do a few shows in Australia and hopefully we will do Japan and other Asian countries at the same time! The plan is to play as many shows as possible, especially now that we live in ‘download’ times it is really important to show your face and play.
• As an artist and a member of Dimmu Borgir, is there anything specific that you would like to achieve career wise that you have not done so thus far?
Silenoz: Now things are much easier economically speaking than it was ten years ago, I have to admit that, but at the same time, the more money we earn, the more money we put back into production and into the band. I just hope that we will continue to sell a fair amount of records because if the sales decrease a lot, then our funds will be limited and to have a huge orchestra on the next album might not be possible anymore! Hopefully the fans will realise that and will support us. I don’t say that they should buy something that they don’t like, but if they do like it, they should get their hands on it.
• Silenoz, it’s been a pleasure talking to you; thank you very much for your time.
Silenoz: No problem, thank you!
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