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For All Tid (1994)

Dimmu Borgir. The name is practically a curse word within the black metal underground. This is a band that is reviled and ridiculed, with good reason. They are widely considered to be posers and sell-outs, more of a corporation than a real band. To most of us, a Dimmu Borgir record is a mere product; something that is made out of the desire the make money, lacking any true substance and having no connection with real black metal, despite taking its name. The music that this band is best known for more accurately falls under the annoying term 'extreme metal', which is basically a way to way to indicate that it features harsh vocals and lots of double bass, while the riffs are a mixture of black, death and thrash metal, all tied together by an abundance of horrible synth.

Yet, despite how hated these guys are, even a great number of 'elitists' will cite their first album as being decent. For a group of musicians known for creating so much worthless garbage, it is difficult to believe that they ever recorded anything worthwhile, but there are many examples of once-meaningful bands losing their way and traveling down the wrong path. It is common for bands to make good albums in the beginning of their career and to then to follow up with mediocre material. It was with this in mind that, about a decade or so ago, I finally gave this band the benefit of the doubt and listened to their 1994 debut full-length, For All Tid. This was a decision that I soon came to regret.

One would think that it would be rather difficult for a 'Norwegian black metal' album, released in 1994, to be all that bad. After all, this was considered by many to be the peak year of the movement. It was then that Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas was finally unleashed upon the world. This was joined by, arguably, the most influential black metal album of all time, Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger. Highly regarded records such as Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, from Burzum, and Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse were released that same year, as well as the debut albums of Gorgoroth, Enslaved and Satyricon. Judging by this, one would expect nearly any Norwegian release, during this time period, to be a fairly safe bet. Yet there were some differences between Dimmu Borgir and the rest. For one, most of the aforementioned bands had, at one time or another, had some association with Euronymous, who was quite an influential figure in the scene. Those bands also had existed for some time, putting out albums or at least demos in the years prior to this, while this band sprang up during or after all of the media hype and pumped out a full-length in rather short order. That said, Shagrath at least had the background of having played in a real black metal band, Fimbulwinter, once upon a time. In recent years, he has claimed in an interview to have had some contact with Euronymous and Varg, while contradicting this in another by saying that he did not know him and had never met Varg, either. Chances are his only contact was going to the Helvete shop to purchase a record, once or twice. At any rate, it is very clear that there was no true association between Dimmu Borgir and the real black metal bands, thus making it easier to understand the disparity in musical quality and the total ideological disconnect.

Regarding the actual material on For All Tid, it becomes painfully obvious that Dimmu Borgir had no real concept of what they were doing, nor could they execute their weak ideas in a convincing fashion. As Shagrath once said, "many bands came into the scene after the death of Euronymous, that would not have lasted more than a few days if he had still been alive" and that "these children have no knowledge or respect for black metal". He was literally describing his own band, while pretending to be part of the old guard. This becomes all the more hilarious to think of while listening to the one Dimmu Borgir album that possesses the most 'credibility' within the underground. This is drenched in a lame gothic atmosphere, as the album is consumed by a total abuse of keyboards that often dominate the sound. If you found it difficult to stomach the synth on Dark Medieval Times, then you will absolutely vomit when you hear this. It is not even used in a manner that could possibly add a dark or evil feeling to the music, rather it comes off as cheesy and almost romantic. The piano bits and clean vocal passages only add to this effect. One also has to wonder whose idea it was that a flute, or whatever that is, belonged in black metal.

Even if one were to somehow look beyond all of these irritating elements and to focus solely on the guitar riffs, there would come only disappointment. The riffs are completely generic and create absolutely no feeling, on their own. There is not one single guitar melody on this album that jumps out and commands the listener's attention. None of this works well to convey any sort of feeling, other than a feeble attempt to mimic other bands while pouring a lot of bad ideas on top of it all, creating nothing more than a total mess. Even lumping this in with black metal feels dirty. While there are raspy vocals and a good amount of tremolo riffs, there is nothing at all dark or evil about this record. For All Tid lacks even a single moment where the atmosphere becomes black as night and a sense of menace can be detected. At least there could be some kind of sorrowful feeling that imbues the listener with a melancholic vibe. In fact, the material here sounds quite the opposite, almost seeming as happy as an '80s power metal record. For the most part, these dime-a-dozen, sub-par riffs are just there with no purpose. The same can be said of the generic vocals, which don't do anything to stand out. Oddly enough, while the vocals are harsh, there is no aggression to be heard, whatsoever.

As for the production, this is probably as 'grim' as the band ever sounded, compared to their later albums. It does not reek of the same modern, slick sound that they would go on to embrace, but it is still awful. The keyboards and acoustic bits are way too high in the mix, completely drowning out the guitars. In this case, that is probably appropriate, since the only attempts at atmosphere come from the synth and not the guitars. Still, when synth and percussion are higher than the guitars on a 'metal' album, there is a severe problem. This is not a consistent issue, which is really strange, since the mix tends to vary from track to track. All in all, this sounds unprofessional in a way that does not even earn it underground points for sounding raw or necro. It just comes off as rushed and haphazard.

For All Tid is about as evil as the first In Flames record. For anyone that hates Dimmu Borgir but is curious about the myth of their first album being good, don't waste your time. This record is completely impotent and would be totally worthless if not for the fact that it serves as proof that this band never played real black metal. They began as just as much of a joke as they are now, the only difference being that they had not yet cultivated the rock star image that they now possess nor could they afford the top-of-the-line studios in which to obtain the slick, plastic sound that everyone seems to love so much. Avoid this at all costs. However, if you are ever confronted with this abomination, kill it with fire.
(15 Sept. 2012)

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