Norwegian black metal ensemble Dimmu Borgir were spawned 24 years ago in Oslo when the Norwegian black metal scene was arguably at its creative peak, not just with an explosion of bands and releases which are today revered as “classics” but also at the peak of the scene’s controversies.

Dimmu Borgir soon carved out their own niche, with a prominent symphonic element to their music and over the course of eight studio albums (not counting then 2005 re-recording of 1996’s Stormblåst), this symphonic element grew and was refined until it was an integral, essential part of their sound.

The natural sequel to this was always going to be Dimmu Borgir playing live with a choir and orchestra, bringing to life the studio creations, and that is exactly what we have on this stunning double DVD release.

Disc one has Dimmu Borgir playing with Kringkastingsorkestret, the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Choir in their home town at the Oslo Spektrum. Things open with the orchestra and choir joining in unison for a glorious version of ‘Xibir’ behind screens, before being joined by the band and launching into ‘Born Treacherous. It is immediately apparent that Dimmu Borgir’s symphonic black metal is a natural partner to classical orchestration, and this is going to be something special.

’Gateways’ follows with a guest appearance from Djerv front-woman, Agnete Kjølsrud to provide her vocal line which adds an interesting dynamic before the orchestra and choir combine for a compelling interpretation of ‘Dimmu Borgir’. It is a magnificent sight with the classical orchestra in tuxedos, and the choir in black cowls, being cheered enthusiastically by a crowd of metal heads. Inevitably, this leads into the band returning to the stage for more traditional rendition of this crowd favourite, whose lyrics, of course, include the title for this DVD release.

Sticking with the ‘Abrahadabra’ album for now, ‘Chess with the Abyss’ and ‘Ritualist’ follow, with their maelstroms of swirling melody being enhanced by the subtleties of the orchestra and choir, leading into ‘A Jewel Traced Through Coal’.

An orchestral version of ‘Eradication Instincts Defined’ is our first venture away from ‘Abrahadabra’, followed by ‘Vredesbyrd’ and ‘Progenies of the Great Apocalypse’ with its empyreal, pulsating melody, before the highly anticipated ‘The Serpentine Offering’ which for some reason seems a little flat, despite the extra pomp it is given. ‘Fear and Wonder’ serves as an intro to ‘Kings of the Carnival Creation’ and ‘Puritania’, all from 2001’s ‘Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia’, but unfortunately things seem to lose a little momentum here and become a little self-indulgent.

‘Mourning Palace’ takes us back to 1997 but is unexpectedly disappointing with the orchestra and keyboards seemingly competing for space and impeding each other. This was a surprise to me as I fully expected this to be a highlight of the set, and thought the additional layers would work well.  An orchestral version of ‘Perfection or Vanity’ provides the outro bringing this special evening to a close.

Disc two was recorded at the triumphant Wacken show in 2011, with the National Czech Symphonic Orchestra and the Schola Cantorum choir. Both Oslo and Wacken had the same set list, heavily drawn from the most recent releases, especially 2010’s ‘Abrahadabra’, and clumping songs from the same albums together.

The atmosphere at the two shows was always going to be different, with one being indoors and one at a huge outdoor festival. Having watched both shows, my preference is for the more intimate Oslo show, but both look to have been truly stunning in terms of their visual and aural impact with multiple layers adding to the depth of the sound. Most members of the choirs and orchestras look to be enjoying the experience (although a small minority look horrified!) and the band are in good spirits and on form as you would expect for “special” shows like these.

The recording of the show is impeccable, with crystal clear sound allowing individual instruments to be discriminated and great camera work ranging from sweeping shots over the crowd to close up views of band, orchestra and choir members.

This has been released in a variety of formats (I already have my white vinyl) making it potentially expensive for collectors, but I would say this is an essential purchase for Dimmu fans, and for those with an interest in symphonic metal who will almost certainly enjoy the orchestration.

Bring on the next metal-orchestra collaboration…..Emperor or Septicflesh please……

(9/10 Andy Pountney)