Norwegian symphonic black metal icon Dimmu Borgir will be soon celebrating its quarter of a century anniversary, but the truth is, they released their last album in 2010 and have since toured rather rarely. Therefore the plans for 2017 and 2018 are more than massive for Dimmu Borgir. First of all, they released two shows from 2011 and 2012, where they were accompanied by orchestras. Next to that, fans can look forward to a new, anniversary tenth album. Invitation for an interview was accepted by guitarist Silenoz, who pleasantly surprised me with his opinions and also music taste. You can therefore expect an exclusive music revelation. However, we started with his signature guitars and secrets to his sound. Full audio version of the interview here:
You had an amazing sound on both shows presented on the latest release Forces of the Northern Night. I believe significant amount of credit goes to your signature ESP guitar, right?
Yeah, everything that we use is a top notch, I would say. I am not a geek myself, but I really like to have my shit together. Signature models from ESP are really great guitars. They are sustainable on tour, they sound great and feel great to play. If I wouldn’t be endorsed, I would still buy ESP guitars, even though they would be expensive, if I would had to pay for them. (Laugh)
Even though you say, you are not a geek, which specifications did you have for the ESP custom shop?
First of all, I am really big fan of great white sharks. So, I wanted a V-Shape but to have the top wing looking like shark’s wing. So, it’s not entirely straight, but I developed the look of the guitar with my guitar technician at the time. He constructed the headstock shape because I use pretty heavy strings. When it comes to our tuning, we go for D Standard. We have been doing that for the past few years. So, I use 13- or 15-56 strings, which is pretty heavy for standard D tuning. So I need a headstock that can sustain that tension. That has been working pretty well. I am not a lead guitar player, so to get the most out of the sound, I want the strings to go through the body instead of the bridge. Also the pick-ups from Seymour Duncan are Mick Thomson’s signature pick-ups. Since then I have used Lace pick-ups. I don’t know if you are familiar with this brand, but they also endorse bands like Mastodon and many others. (DROP & GAIN) Next to that, I went back to passive pick-ups, which we are also using on the new album. I think it has much better dynamic range. Thinking about it, maybe I am a geek after all. (Laugh) It feels more back to basics. That’s how we started out. When we started with Dimmu, we were playing with passive pick-ups. I think the dynamic range is easier and better. It fits really well to my playing, I believe. About the wood, it’s a mahogany in the body and then its ebony and rosewood on the neck. But I am expecting two new signature models now, both exactly the same, apart from one being a six string baritone version and they will a maple set neck, instead of ebony and rosewood. I am really looking forward to get those babies in my hands.
Do I remember correctly, maple wood is one of the lightest woods?
Yeah, it’s light, but hard as well, compared to ebony.
If I wouldn’t be endorsed, I would still buy ESP guitars
Forces of the Northern Night
For the two shows presented on the DVDs you have cooperated with The Norwegian Radio Orchestra & Choir and National Czech Symphonic Orchestra. It’s great you are supporting your national colleagues and at the same time, still relying on Czech teams as well. I remember, you were cooperating with Prague Philharmonic Orchestra on the Death Cult Armageddon album. How would you compare these groups of professionals?
Well, as you say, both orchestras are really professionals. We realized that, when we got to record with Norwegian Radio Orchestra (KORK) during Abrahadabra album. We understood really quickly, we were not the professionals. (Laugh) They were definitely on the different level, in the different league and we learned a lot from rehearsing and playing with them. Same goes for Czech National Orchestra, which we utilized for Wacken show. Orchestras in general have everything in order, they have their own way of doing things and we learned a lot with just being with them. I think we have taken that experience into how we conduct ourselves, not only during writing music, but also how we do everything these days.
It was nice to see that they were professional also visually and used some make up as well.
(Laugh) Yeah, some of them wanted to go the whole way and that’s cool. Of course, when you are dealing with an orchestra, there are always some people that are skeptical towards you as a band, or the way we done things and of course, they might heard some stories about our scene and bla bla. But I think, once they got into playing the songs, they changed their minds. At least we convinced some people that were skeptical in the beginning. They later came up to us and said: “Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity, as this was great experience. We really got challenged and it was great to do something different, then we usually do.” To me, this was a huge compliment.
Their portfolio is really huge covering not only movies, classical music but they also cooperated with other metal bands. Czech orchestras worked let’s say with Blind Guardian or Within Temptation. Did you have a feeling, they were not just professional, but they really dived into your music and felt its atmosphere?
Yeah, they have great understanding of the music and I think orchestral music and heavy metal in general, have a lot of similarities. Especially, when it comes to the dynamics and how the music is written, with a lot of ups and downs, including dramatic changes with a lot of passion. We had a lot of things in common and I think that’s something that orchestra players do recognize very easily. Maybe even more easily with a band like us, because our music from the start is written with symphonic feel in mind. That goes across really well and it has always been obviously a dream for us to not only be able to record with orchestra, but also to perform with orchestra live. So, finally we got to do it and of course it has to be documented and released. (Laugh)
It has always been a dream for us to record and perform live with orchestra
I can imagine you and the other guys, were always interested in heavy classical music like Wagner.
Not really. I guess people expect that, but we are not really big listeners of classical music apart from some main movie scores and maybe some main composers once in a while. Rather than classical music I prefer country and reggae.
I was honestly wondering, if there might be some surprising sources of inspiration, but I didn’t expect country and reggae, to be honest…
(Laugh) It wasn’t like that in 1993, I can tell you that! (Laugh) I guess it has to do something with age.
Silenoz – 1995
That’s interesting, because within reggae I enjoy music from sons of Bob Marley, especially Stephen, with who I recently spoke to. And within country music, I really love side projects of metal icons. It would be mainly Devin Townsend’s project Casualties of Cool.
Yeah, that’s great record! But I also love Hank Williams III. When it comes to country, it’s the old school guys that rock my world. Especially Waylon Jennings, who is probably my most favorite, because he was such a badass on and off stage. So, I can relate to that. (Laugh)
Is it by any chance possible to include elements of country and reggae into your music?
I will tell you something that you are probably the first one to know this. During the writing of Abrahadabra album, we were talking to Hank Williams III about doing a cover of his track 3 Shades of Black. But never managed to do it. We were in the stages of getting everything sorted out legally and he had to talk to his record label and bla bla bla. Hank himself was ok with it, but for some reason we didn’t get around to record that song. So that’s how close we were to country, man. (Laugh)
During the writing of Abrahadabra album, we were talking to Hank Williams III about doing a cover of his track 3 Shades of Black
Any chance for you to do a side project, where you would express these tastes, as let’s say Nergal from Behemoth? With all respect, there was a significant time space between upcoming and previous album Abrahadabra.
Well, not in a country way. But you know, Shagrath has Chrome Division and they are working on the new album at the moment. We just mixed Insidious Disease album in January, which I have done with Marc Grewe who used to sing in Morgoth. Shane Embury plays bass and what bands is he not playing with? (Laugh) Tony Laureano on drums and currently also Cyrus, who currently plays bass in Dimmu Borgir, but plays guitar with Insidious Disease. That album is going to come out later this year, so it is going to be a busy year.
On both DVDs you made a hell of a show. If I may compare your show to the others, I would use examples of Watain and Behemoth. These bands try to make their performance dark and massive. In your case, it’s spectacular, huge and it can get a bit scary sometimes. However, I would rather call it fun and crazy carnival.
Yes, you can say it’s a carnival. Our music is much more dimensional, than you can say about Behemoth. So, when we do a show, it has so many different aspects to it. You have the bombastic stuff, then the primitive stuff and in order to make a cooperation between of all these elements, it calls for different setting for each song. That’s where we differ from the other bands. It’s more of an empowering show, then depressing show.
How do you decide within a band about some of the wildest elements of the show? I am talking about some wilder solos on keyboards and let’s say controversial costumes. Do you agree all together, or does Shagrath decide to wear any militaristic costume he wants?
Well, I think everyone is entitled to come up with suggestions within everything basically. For instance on Abrahadabra album, Shagrath had an idea about change of our image into white/gray type of costumes. At first, I thought it was too much, because I thought it could be a failure. But, as soon as we started working on these ideas, I was convinced, it was the right step for us at the time. It is all about challenging ourselves all the time. I believe in an approach: “Try it out and see if it works. If it works, keep it and if not, at least you tried.” Naturally, this phase takes place before we execute the idea. We try it out first, before we show it to anybody else. (Laugh)
Try it out and see if it works. If it works, keep it and if not, at least you tried
I can imagine both shows needed a lot of preparation. Could you please mention some of the steps that needed to be taken upfront? You were organizing hundreds of people on stage, so I believe you had a big shot, after it was all finished.
Yeah, that’s true! (Laugh) Of course the two shows were different in the sense of a preparation part. In Oslo, we went through the set before the doors opened. We had rehearsed three or four days with the orchestra, prior to that. In Prague, where we rehearsed with the Czech orchestra, we had pretty much the same three four days, but at Wacken we obviously didn’t have a soundcheck. So it’s more of a gamble with plugging, fitting and micing about a hundred of people on a festival outdoor stage in front of ninety thousand people, in the matter of forty five minutes. There were a lot of things that could have gone wrong. (Laugh) But luckily it didn’t and I think it was because we were well prepared and we did that Oslo show a year before. With that in the back of our minds, it was easier to do the Wacken show. If that would have been a first show, it would have been little bit different show.
Symphonic black metal/research/religion
If I look at your discography, I found a rather entertaining release called Titans of Symphonic Metal from 2014. It was a split done with Sonata Arctica and Avantasia. However, I was just wondering, even though you are rather a fan of country and reggae, if you have respect for other symphonic metal bands? I am mainly talking about Septic Flesh from Greece or Ne Obliviscaris from Australia, whose song was also studied at Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
Yeah absolutely. Especially, because I know what they had to go through, making their music. I can totally relate to the extra amount of work which you have to put into making it sound orchestral. I have a lot of respect for other bands, even thought I could say I am not a Sonata Arctica fan, but I have still a lot of respect for what they do as well. Just because I know the amount of work, that lies behind everything. They are all professionals and there is reason why these bands are popular.
It is very interesting that Ne Obliviscaris get a certain part of their budget through crowdfunding campaigns from their fans. I believe it is very important in today’s music world. Therefore, can we say, it was slightly easier for you guys, when the money was coming from the album sales?
Yeah and we are very lucky, we still sell significant amount of hard copies. Of course, things have changed in the course of past few years, but still we are able to sell nice amount of our products. We have been away for a while and therefore income has been decreasing year by year. So, we have been facing some difficult financial times as well, especially since we hadn’t been touring that much either. But that reminds you again why you are doing this. If we would be here for the money, we would be recording an album every year and tour until we would record the next album. So, I think it’s stupid when people say: “Oh, they are releasing the DVD because they need money!” We don’t have to release the DVD and we are not earning anything anyway. It costed so much to produce and release it. We are doing it because we are really proud of the both shows with orchestras. It was a huge thing in our careers. Same goes for the touring. In general, we are trying to be selective and play less, but bigger shows, so we can put more money back into the production. When I go and see a show, I want to have my money worth. We want to apply the same rule for Dimmu and satisfy our fans.
I am glad you are saying that, because I feel you have one of the most loyal fan bases on the market. I was just recently buying a t-shirt of Dimmu Borgir for my friend, for her birthday. But, at the same time, these fans are very active in social media. I think we can say, symphonic metal and black metal are one of the wildest areas out there with all of those Abbath, Gaahl and Burzum jokes. However, I believe, you don’t take that seriously and you are letting them have fun.
(Laugh) Yeah, it’s a bit crazy, but I am just too old to care. (Laugh) I don’t take myself very seriously anyway. But of course, when I am on stage, I am diving into Silenoz character obviously. He has become a part of me, so I can’t deny that. But off-stage, it’s a different thing. When you are mentioning social media, that’s a funny thing. Because suddenly, everyone is an expert. They sit behind their keyboards and they know exactly what the band is about. It’s funny to read some of the comments, because some of them have no fucking clue. (Laugh)
When I am on stage, I am diving into Silenoz character obviously. He has become a part of me. But off-stage, it’s a different thing
As we are talking about the importance of research, I was just wondering, how much time do you invest into research? By the time you released In Sorte Diaboli, I was enjoying it while reading a book called A History of the Devil from historian Robert Muchembled, covering a perception of the devil in western culture from the middle ages to the present.
Yeah, absolutely. I have done, quite a lot of reading on all those subjects. When it comes to In Sorte Diaboli album, the story I depict on the album, is actually a very personal story. I used an idea of the devil from a point in my life when I was attending what you can call a Sunday school. I was about six or seven years old and I went there almost every week. We were given stars in the book and for some reasons, I didn’t have as many stars as the other kids and I started being treated differently. It made me realize religion is a fucking bullshit. I get treated differently because I don’t attend as many meetings as the other kids?! There is something terribly wrong about that. This was my revelation, which I later applied into my life and the story of In Sorte Diaboli about this kid which goes to see a religious teacher and then he suddenly has this revelation and he sees the light through Lucifer. Symbolically that’s what I went through when I was a kid.
I can personally relate to that, but also plenty of the kids I met in Belgrade. My puberty took place in Serbia, which is a very religious country. I remember seeing every day, not many, but the same metal kids on the city main square, wearing Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth t-shirts and hoodies. To be honest, you couldn’t imagine having more hard core fans. Rock and metal fans were and still are treated there really badly, whether supporting Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth or Sepultura and Death in my case. However, I believe their approach even strengthens their love for your band.
I can only imagine how hard that must have been and how applying a tough mentality to be able to daring enough to wear shirts in public like that, when you know there might be a confrontations with people, because they are so religious. That just shows how ironic the religious movements in the world are. They are supposed to be forgiving, while they do quite opposite. So, I am really proud to hear you guys were going and taking chances for just wearing a simple shirt.
It’s fair, people should also expect the best from the new album, because we have been away for so many years now
Therefore, not only for them, I would like to ask you, what we can expect from your upcoming new album.
You can expect what I would consider the best album we have done to date. I know every band says that but if I didn’t believe in us doing the best album in our career, there would not be a reason making it. (Laugh) It’s fair, people should also expect the best, because we have been away for so many years now. We have obviously something to prove, not only to ourselves but also to the fans. I think we will be able to deliver what they expect and once they hear the new album, they will probably forget about all of the year that went by without new music. I think it’s safe to say, that the record sounds more epic and majestic. Same goes for the brutal, black and primate side of the band. It’s truly more black metal this time.
So, can we say you were not that experimental but you rather extended the spectrum of your characters one level up?
Yeah, I think you nailed that right on the point. I am pretty confident with this release. We worked on it harder than on any other in the past. We have demoed each track to every little detail. Therefore, there won’t be any surprises for us when we will start the recording the album in the studio now. The main point is to get the best performance out of each person.
When you were writing the album, were you relying mainly on your core trio or did you give some creative space to other members, who are so far only active as touring musicians?
It was just Shagrath, Galder and myself, who did the writing on this album. We had little bit of assistance from keyboard player Gerlioz, but it was less than on the previous release. Working in trio seems to be working the best and it also means there are less cooks in the kitchen. (Laugh)