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Dimmu Borgir

Many American metal fans consider black metal musically indistinguishable from other forms of the genre. Despite some corpse paint and a sometimes overwhelming lyrical misanthropy not as readily purveyed by other heavy styles, black-metal trailblazers like Venom and Bathory employed the same explosive mercenary tactics that appealed to an entire generation of longhairs in the ’80s. Norway’s Dimmu Borgir (or “Dark Fortress”) challenge this assumption with Death Cult Armageddon, their latest CD on Germany’s Nuclear Blast label. Metroland spoke with lead vocalist Shagrath, just before their second sold-out show at Los Angeles’s House of Blues, about what separates the band from their competitors.

“We are not like a ‘pure’ black-metal band, for us it’s more about creating certain energies where it’s real necessary to bring in orchestral elements,” Shagrath says, addressing the band’s extensive work with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra on their new disc. “We have always sought to create a darker atmosphere through keyboards and sampling, but now that we have the opportunity and the budget to go for the real thing, we went for it.”

Formed in 1993, Dimmu Borgir aspired to explore traditional black-metal themes like Norse mythology and Satanism while distancing themselves from the “black circle”—bands like Mayhem and Emperor whose fascist ideals and politics were manifested in high-profile acts of murder and devastation.

“They got involved in political thinking, which shouldn’t play a part in black metal,” Shagrath explains. “You can’t mix them. The Norwegian press still brings up the killings and church burnings [with us], but I think they understand that we’re basically about music, nothing else. This is good because we’re really sick of it.”

As a result of their efforts, Dimmu Borgir have become extraordinarily popular in Europe. The new video for their latest single, “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse,” is in heavy rotation on metal stations around the globe, while the album currently holds the No. 2 position in Norway and No. 9 in Finland, and is charting in the Top 50 in Germany, Austria, France and Holland. Shagrath would like to duplicate this phenomenon in the United States, and the fact that they even touched our Billboard Top 200 (the CD debuted at no. 179) is perhaps a sign of the times for such music. Local fans can judge for themselves at Saratoga Winners this Sunday, when Dimmu Borgir headline their final U. S. date.

“The press can’t close their eyes to this type of music anymore, and that’s what has happened lately,” he says. “People have started to realize that this is a very serious form of music, with a lot of professional musicians who have the ability to sell shitloads of albums. It has no choice but to become more acceptable. We actually get more attention than we want for ourselves.”

And the unsuspecting American teen on a steady diet of Limp Bizkit and Godsmack?

“Some still don’t really get the point. That’s the reason why we’re over here, to promote Norwegian black metal, [since] it is definitely not a big thing in the States yet,” Shagrath says. “There’s this sort of ‘new’ metal that’s very popular right now, but I think that it’s going to die out in time. Metal in general, of course, is much bigger in Europe. More of those bands need to come over here and promote themselves.”

The sextet’s aggressive imagery and, some could argue, the demeaning eroticism they employ to speak out against Christianity and other religious ideals, raise the question of whether Dimmu will provoke outrage and calls for censorship—as was so rampant on this side of the puddle almost two decades ago when Slayer’s Reign in Blood sent suburban moms to social workers with their rabid, despondent brood.

“We certainly fight against Christianity; we fight against religion itself, basically,” says Shagrath casually. “But I don’t really think the satanic issues are very present in our music. It is certainly very anti-Christian, and I do consider myself a Satanist, but that’s more on the personal level. It really doesn’t have as much to do with the actual band. But we create music for ourselves, not for anyone else. They can say what they want.”

Dimmu Borgir will perform at Saratoga Winners (Route 9, Latham) on Sunday (Dec. 14), with Nevermore, Children of Bodom and Hypocrisy. The show starts at 7:30 PM; tickets are $20 in advance. Call the club, 783-1010, for further information.

—Bill Ketzer

Ann Hamilton: corpus

She’s got a MacArthur Fellowship, which essentially labels the recipient a creative genius, and in the case of Ann Hamilton those foundation folks were on the right track. Hamilton is one of America’s foremost installation artists of large-scale and site-specific work, ever aiming at stimulating the senses in surprising ways, and frequently exploring the body as metaphor.

Mass MoCA’s largest gallery will reopen with Hamilton’s massive installation, corpus. Here she animates the space by manipulating the light, adding 24 ascending and descending speakers with a different voice in each, and millions of sheets of translucent paper, rising and falling in the room over the work’s 10-month tenure. Now when was the last time you saw that? Two other galleries in the building will be under her spell as well.

Corpus will open Saturday (Dec. 13) in Building 5 at Mass MoCA (1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.). Gallery admission is $9 for adults and $3 for children ages 6-16. For further information, call (413) 662-2111 or visit

Amy Halloran

Walk around Albany, Troy or Schenectady and try to imagine what’s missing. You may already be thinking, “huh?” For example, look at the Empire State Plaza or the Troy Atrium and picture the fabric of the city made whole—the vast urban plaza or the glass-sheathed mall replaced again by the row houses, churches, schools, stores and theaters that were leveled in the name of urban renewal. In place of armies of office workers and unused storefronts, imagine neighborhoods.

Troy-based writer (and recipient of an Individual Artist’s Grant from the New York State Council on the Arts) Amy Halloran is in the process of reimagining this past by creating a work of fiction set during Troy’s period of urban renewal. Ilium Is: Demolition is based on the interviews she has conducted with the neighborhood residents, businesspeople and politicians who lived through that era; interviews that provide the kind of personal detail absent from “official” history.

Tonight (Thursday), Halloran will read from this work-in-progress at the Arts Center of the Capital Region. Halloran—who grew up near Troy—is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in various online and print publications, including Salon, Working Mother, McSweeney’s and (we’re happy to note) Metroland. Also tonight, the 1964 PBS documentary What Do You Tear Down Next?—which documents urban renewal in the Capital Region, and features the views of architect and preservationist Bernd Foerster—will be shown.

Amy Halloran will read from Ilium Is: Demolition tonight (Thursday, Dec. 11) at 7 PM at the Arts Center of the Capital Region (265 River St., Troy). Admission is free. For more information, call 273-0552.

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