• A mixed bag of northern darkness - A review of Dimmu Borgir & The Norwegian Radio Orchestra & Choir's "Forces of the Northern Night"

    Dimmu Borgir - Forces of the Northern Night (2017)

    Forces of the Northern Night is Dimmu Borgir's first regular release in seven years and a live album featuring the Norwegian Radio Orchestra or alternatively the Czech National Symphony Orchestra as well as the so-called Schola Cantorum Choir. Most versions of this release feature a concert recorded in Oslo six years ago and some versions additionally include an almost identical version of that concert recorded one year later at Wacken Open Air. At this point, one has to question whether this release still makes any sense. The concerts happened many years ago, live shots of good quality have been accessible on the internet since then and any fan of the band has probably already listened to or watched parts of both concerts. Whenever such a release comes around, I like to give a positive example of how to do things correctly by mentioning Red Hot Chili Peppers' Live in Hyde Park, an energetic, energizing, generous, phenomenal and unpolished release featuring performances recorded in late June 2004 which were physically released with a detailed booklet in early August 2014. If it took the producers of said band less than one month and a half to release one of the best rock live albums with a running time of over two hours, why did it take those who are responsible for Dimmu Borgir's releases almost seven years to release a show of a running time below one and a half hours? Why do we need two shows with the very same set lists? Why do only some versions include a short documentary and why couldn't the label come up with some more extras after such a horribly long wait time? Why was this late effort released in seven different versions? Honestly, those who are responsible for this release should be fired.

    Let's discuss the music on this release now. First of all, the set list clearly isn't a perfect choice. The concert's length is still acceptable but the band mostly focused on reinterpreting songs from its last studio album Abrahadabra which received lukewarm critics at best and which was already heavily orchestrated which means that the original versions aren't that different from the live cuts. It would have been more challenging and interesting to reinterpret more songs from the band's early years and replace the artificial keyboard sounds of yore with real orchestrations. In addition to this, the concerts feature a handful of songs where only the orchestra performs and the band isn't even involved. Instead of getting one hour and a half of Dimmu Borgir supported by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Choir, we rather get a Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Choir performance inspired by Dimmu Borgir's music with a few appearances by the band.

    If one has to wait six years for a live release, one should expect an outstanding production. This live record isn't as perfect as one could have expected but it delivers at least an above average mastering. Both the epic orchestrations and the metal instruments are audible and complement each other rather well. Some passages are though slightly overloaded in my opinion which was already the case on the last studio record. A more balanced and smooth production could have added more dynamics to the sound in my opinion. There are only few but energizing communications between the band and the audience. The cheers of the fans sound surprisingly loud in the few calmer moments of the show and have probably been increased in volume during the mastering process. This procedure is somewhat artificial but it works rather well on the final result. The few moments where one can hear the crowd are actually quite intense.

    Concerning the performances, the band, the orchestra, the choir and some guests all deliver the goods. The classically trained musicians and singers deliver an expert job while the band is really into the show and playing with all its passion. The atmospheric visual aspect of the show completes the perfect entertainment. The fans have also clearly enjoyed attending the show as one can both hear and see.

    In the end, Forces of the Northern Night convinces with epic settings, an above average production and stunning performances. On the other side, the set list is rather unbalanced, the release comes several years too late and the content could have been a little bit more diversified after such a long wait time. This means that positive and negative aspects of this release are equally balanced. I would suggest purchasing this record if you are a die-hard fan and collector or if you haven't purchased any of the band's records yet and want to get a first idea of what this band has been doing over the past few years. Personally, I would purchase the record for a reduced price but clearly not buy one of the fancy overpriced box sets or limited packages. Let's hope Dimmu Borgir comes back in full strength with a new studio album by the end of this year.

    Final rating: 50%

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