When discussing the merits of having this show at Mr. Smalls Theater, a person in close contact with this scribe claimed that "Dimmu Borgir and Enslaved would easily draw 2,000 people." Um, no. Not even close. The person in question is the bass player in yours truly's band, who often makes ludicrous, but forgivable statements, but the point was taken - Dimmu is arguably one of the top 10 biggest bands in the underground, so why aren't they playing larger venues? Mr. Smalls holds around 500-600, but the place wasn't packed to the brim, even for a Friday.
Up first were Dawn of Ashes, who look dangerously close to Mushroomhead, yet play a brand of generic blackened death metal with a modern twist that sunk pretty quickly. Really, there’s no other way to slice this than the band looks awfully silly and unconvincing, and when paired with their already unimpressive songs, it was no wonder Blistering colleague Dan Barkasi was quick to voice his displeasure. This, coming from the same guy who likes Heaven Shall Burn like they’re going out style. Sorry, Dan.
Blood Red Throne were the oddball band on the bill, purveying a made-for-America brand of death metal that would be right in the throes of a typical Cannibal Corpse tour. It was during this time, this scribe had to duck out to chat with Dimmu guitarist Galder [read it here], so the bulk of their set was missed. Enslaved, however, were not to be missed. Going right for the throat with “Ethica Odini” (the lead song from the band’s newest Axomia Ethica Odini), the Norwegians sounded hearty and crystalline in the cavernous space of Mr. Smalls.
Enslaved’s stage presence has gradually turned into more carefree, as opposed to the heads-down, straight-faced focus of their yesteryear, and it’s usually lead guitarist Ice Dale (he of the shirtless variety) stealing the spotlight with an array of Pink Floyd-inspired guitar solos, especially during set highlight “Ground.” Not sure why the band was only given 40 minutes, but set closer “Isa” was here before anyone knew it, ending a highly-enjoyable set from a band that is on the brink of graduating to headliner status in North America.
Speaking of headliner status, Dimmu has long held this title, having gradually built a following that few can rival. This probably explains the mixed bag of attendees ranging from old heads, to Goth chicks, to all-around metal nerds like the author of this live review. Either way, the revamped ensemble kicked off with “Spellbound (By the Devil)” and almost instantaneously, Dimmu’s new look (think a more frazzled Mad Max) and line-up became afterthoughts.
Singer Shagrath has finally decided to move out from under the microphone (although his clean vocals were definitely pre-recorded), which was a surprise, while the session guys (namely drummer Daray) held their own during a streak of new songs, including the impressive “Gateways” and “Dimmu Borgir,” where lead guitarist Galder gets to shine. Special note must made of keyboardist Brat, who was in non-stop motion on the keys, all the while looking like Cyrax from Mortal Kombat. Great stage get-up.
In comparison to their 2008 tour in support of In Sorte Diaboli, Dimmu sounded tighter and looked more focused, giving leeway to the notion that certain ex-members did in fact, bring down their live presentation. The frontline of Shargrath, Silenoz, and Galder steered the show all night long, practically staring down the audience to submit. As the closing strands of “Mourning Palace” echoed throughout Mr. Smalls, it looked readily apparent that Dimmu is going be just fine after all.