Samael / Dimmu Borgir

September 12th, 1999

It’s good that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone make a post about how dead metal is, because I just might have to smack someone around if they were to be so stupid today.

Case in point, I saw two European bands, Samael and Dimmu Borgir, twice in the Chicago area in the past week. And not only did they make two appearances, both shows were surprisingly well-attended. I estimate they drew 150-200 people on a Tuesday-night 21-and-over show in the city (Doubled Door), and around 300 (completely packing the place) at an all-ages show on Sunday (Riley’s Rockhouse).

Before the tour started I’d seen a fair amount of questioning who would be headlining, and I was rather surprised to hear that Samael was playing last. As it turns out, it seemed to be more of a co-headlining kind of thing, as both bands appeared to play about the same amount of time. Although Samael has been around longer and has toured the U.S. before, I think Dimmu Borgir is the bigger band around here these days, and it was proven by the small dip (or at least no increase) in attendance after Dimmu’s sets. Personally, I like Samael a little more than Dimmu, but they’re both great bands, and hopefully Samael showed some of the Cradle of Filth kids there that you don’t have to wear corpsepaint to be cool.

Ok, on to the music. Epoch of Unlight and Monstrosity opened, I missed EoU at both shows; I saw them at the Metalfest though, and they seemed pretty cool there. I would have gotten there earlier to see them if not for having to endure Monstrosity. Unfortunately, I didn’t get there late enough for the second show, so I had to sit through Monstrosity’s wonderful new take on shitty death metal.

Then there was Dimmu Borgir. I guess there is a point in most successful bands’ careers where they sit down and decide that they’ve had enough of just jamming together for fun, and realize that they want to go all the way and do everything they can to be the best they can and really make a name for themselves. It’s just very pronounced in the case of Dimmu Borgir, mostly because of the stark contrasts between For All Tid / Stormblast and their latest works. Seeing them live, their distance from the “true” black metal scene becomes even more obvious. These guys seem to be first and foremost, entertainers. Or it’s at least equal with them being “artists”. That may make a lot of people uncomfortable, but personally, I love it. As I was watching them, I realized that even if I completely didn’t care about Dimmu Borgir, I still wouldn’t have felt ripped-off going to the show, simply because they put on such a quality act. Even though they had very little room to move at both places, all of the members were very into their performance (except for Mustis) and quite fun to watch (particularly with the impressive use of lights and fog). It’s funny how they’re all the same height, except for Simen who is about a foot taller than the rest of them. Astennu really does play his guitar between his legs like in that pic in GSG. Very strange. Anyway, it was nice to see that they know the first three songs on Enthrone… are about 100 times better than any of their other stuff, because they played all of them, and a bunch of stuff from SBD. The Insight and the Catharsis, In Death’s Embrace, and Mourning Palace were probably the highlights for me.

After they finished, they cleared the drums off the stage and replaced them with Xy’s keyboard and big rack of electronics, along with a couple real toms, cymbals, and snare. Darkness fell, the stage filled up with fog, and moments later the synth and drum machine started blaring as Xy appeared alone in the fog. The other three guys then made it up on stage and started kicking ass. I’ve definitely never seen anything like a Samael show, and at first it was a little off-putting, but once I caught the vibe it was incredible. Like Dimmu Borgir, Samael has also evolved from some kids trying to be evil to a professional band that’s doing everything they can to get their music and message across. Vorph is a completely unique stage presence, he’s very aloof yet very intense, much like his lyrics and Samael’s music, so it fits perfectly. Most of the time he was tied to his microphone (which was placed very low to match with his spread-legged stance), but Kaos handled most of the guitar work, and on a couple of songs (Moonskin, All), Vorph went completely without his guitar, which allowed him to do even more of his strange and almost spooky hand gestures. As for the other guys, Kaos was rather interesting, a very clean-cut, short haired guy who would fit in perfectly in a Calvin Klein ad. He must have been taking some happy drugs the second show, because he was way more into it, going nuts with the crowd and screaming along and stuff. Masmeseim on the other side was the bounciest and happiest-looking of the bunch, mostly whapping haphazardly at his bass. And finally there was Xy in the back, easily the headbanging-est keyboard player I’ve ever seen. And it was awesome when he’d play the real drums, he’d basically jump up in the air and just beat the crap out of them whenever he got the chance. They played mostly stuff off of Passage, with three new ones from Eternal, one from Exodus, and Baphomet’s Throne off of Ceremony of Opposites. Their CDs have a very unique atmosphere, and the feeling at the show was much the same. Very cold and heavy, yet quite danceable and majestic at the same time. I’m not quite sure what I mean by this, but I get the feeling that Samael might be just a bit too “European” to gain mass appeal with American audiences. Anyway, halfway through the set, Vorph, Masmeseim, and Kaos went off stage while Xy did some drum and synth stuff, and two fire jugglers came out. Then they got back to the metal. At the second show, apparently Xy was having monitor problems, since his live drumming kept getting off time, and they ended up stopping right in the middle of Baphomet’s Throne, and Xy walked offstage for a couple minutes. Apparently everything got fixed, since he came back and was dead-on for the rest of the night. The second show then got an encore that we didn’t get at the first one, which included The Cross from Eternal, and My Savior. They left the stage (except for Masmeseim, who jumped into the crowd for some surfing) while keeping a synth loop still playing, and the jugglers came out with some different stuff, and then that was it. My favorites were probably Jupiterian Vibe, Rain (which was rather different, particularly the intro, which seems like a strange thing to change since it’s such a kickass and memorable intro), My Savior, and some of the new stuff.

Both bands seemed geniunely pleased with the crowd reactions, particularly the second night (when the crowd was much more into it), and I was very pleased with the bands. Hopefully everything else will go well for them on this tour, and they’ll keep the stream of European bands coming over to the States.