Dimmu Borgir represent all that is right and wrong with black metal. Their most recent album, Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia (Nuclear Blast), shows fitful bursts of dark brilliance, but too often it feels like a project -- something commercial at heart, trading on the triumphs of past albums, past members and past bands. The current incarnation of the band is a troublesome hydra comprising a who's-who of black-metal stars -- a supergroup that draws musicians from the stalwart Old Man's Child, as well as the moneymaking farce Cradle of Filth. Dimmu Borgir want to usurp Emperor's position as black metal's most sophisticated band, but at times the group's grasp outstrips its reach. They temper their attack with too many slick banks of synthesized strings and proggy keyboard fills, diluting their fury instead of enhancing their majesty. In their pursuit of melody (and Emperor), they sometimes stray from the subterranean depths that mark black metal's boundary and enter into the twilight world of power metal or even Cradle of Filth-type pandering.
Despite our nagging fear that Dimmu Borgir has moved from being something great to becoming something gilded, the band retains the ability to summon great power. "Indoctrination" is a tempest of scything guitars and relentless drums that dissipates in wobbly pinwheels of menacing strings. "Puritania's" synthetic vocals and sputtering keyboard intro are crushed by a barbed guitar figure that drips ichor and malice. The opening track, "Fire and Wonder," played by the Gothenburg Opera Orchestra, fulfills every promise Dimmu Borgir's reputation makes: It's martial, mournful and unrepentantly beautiful. Here's hoping this version of Dimmu Borgir shows up at Pop's to level heaven and earth with miasmous hymns and necrotic overtures.