Has it really been four years since the release of DIMMU BORGIR's "Death Cult Armageddon"? The ascent of the Norwegian act was a rapid one after the release of the masterpiece, the SoundScan numbers exceeding 100,000 and the band even appearing at Ozzfest. As such, the anticipation for "In Sorte Diaboli" has been off the scale, and the good news is that it is another skillfully assembled symphonic black metal album. I do believe "In Sorte Diaboli" to be at least of equal greatness to its predecessor. Aside from those equating the commercial success of an extreme metal band to some sort of lessening of its artistic relevance, most objective fans would have to at least praise the effort for its grandness of construction and consistency of quality.
What it really comes down to with DIMMU BORGIR are the arrangements. The group has always excelled at it, and "In Sorte Diaboli" is the ultimate example of it. Not only are the arrangements written for maximum impact, but also the album as a whole succeeds smashingly as a one-sitting listen, particularly compared to previous discs.
It could be that this increased musical cohesiveness relates directly to the fact that "In Sorte Diaboli" has been written as a concept album. Told through the journal entries of a Priest's assistant in medieval Europe, the concept concerns a struggle for a Christian truth that reveals a religion of abuse and hypocrisy, the rejection of God the final choice made. Though I am without album lyrics at this point, there is no question that the album sounds and feels like a story conveyed through these powerful and incredibly aggressive compositions.
Musically, "In Sorte Diaboli" is anything but a letdown. Rather, the compositions are built to last, the numerous stunning guitar and keyboard parts, as well as gripping tempo changes, belying the compactness of the songwriting. In other words, "In Sorte Diaboli" crams one hell of a lot of action into a five-minute song, including some monumental guitar playing and a tone that is even more molten than past efforts, thanks again to the outstanding production of Fredrik Nordström. The symphonic elements continue to be prominent, but reeled in a bit to allow the six-string violence and Hellhammer's furious drumming to lead the charge. Incidentally, Shagrath's vocals are exceptionally strong on the album and feature an increased emphasis on enunciation.
It is nearly impossible to pick a highlight track here, as not a blemish is to be found anywhere. "The Serpentine Offering" and "The Chosen Legacy" offer striking stop-on-a-dime pace changeups, amazing riffs, and memorable vocal lines (including those patented high-register singing parts in the case of the former), but then so do all the songs (not counting instrumental interlude "The Fallen Arise"). Sinister narrated vocal parts appear briefly in parts too, such as during "The Conspiracy Unfolds", which also happens to feature some raging groove riffing and soaring choral effects that are found at several points ("The Sacrilegious Scorn" is another great example, the track also including a beautiful piano break).
The highlights are many. It is the quick, rolling rhythm of "The Sinister Awakening", a nasty riff on "The Fundamental Alienation" that puts a snarl on the face, the stop-start riffing and sinister majesty of "The Invaluable Darkness", and the ominous chords of "The Foreshadowing Furnace", which serves as the album's climatic end. "In Sorte Diaboli" offers the listener so many opportunities to revel in its sonic bombast, its violent tendencies, and its amazing compositions. Regardless of whether you are a fan of the symphonic strain of black metal or one who merely appreciates extreme metal with arrangements that are both bellicose and intelligent, DIMMU BORGIR is a band with few equals. "In Sorte Diaboli" is proof of it. Put it on your year-end top 10 list now. Astonishing!