With the departure of two band members, many fans of Dimmu Borgir, including myself, were anxious to hear how the drastic lineup change would impact their sound. Rest assured, the music is a heavy, dark, melodic, and engaging as ever. The lineup change seems to have had no discernible impact, with the exception of ICS Vortex's/Simen's vocals.
The first noticeable feature of this album is the prominence of the orchestra, a welcome change of pace after the back-to-basics keyboard-light approach of their previous release, In Sorte Diaboli. There is even an orchestral version of the lead track, "Gateways," which itself is a pretty good representation of the music and style of this release. The orchestral intro and outro tracks are incredibly well done, but then again, we're talking about Dimmu Borgir -- they seem to be incapable of doing anything less.
Another thing worth noting is that there is a fair amount of experimentation here -- not too little, and not too much. This album is somewhat akin to Death Cult Armageddon, but the orchestral elements play a much greater role, they use female guest vocals, there is a different male clean singer, acoustic guitars, monk-style chanting, a didgeridoo (look it up), and well-placed time changes. The innovations are subtle enough that a casual listener might miss them on a first or second listen, but a more discriminating fan would pick them up and appreciate their greatness.
One of the tracks that really threw me off as a listener was "Dimmu Borgir." It stands out because it is upbeat, triumphant, almost joyous(!), words which almost never, ever come to mind when thinking of how to describe their sound. It's a great track, but it's "unorthodox," more akin to something that the Russian folk metal band Arkona than anything in Dimmu Borgir's extensive catalogue.
The clean singer who replaced ICS Vortex/Simen does not mesh at all stylistically with Dimmu Borgir. To be blunt, he sounds awful. His style would fit better in a power metal band, and his perfomance tarnishes the otherwise flawless "Endings and Continuations." Fortunately, he too has been removed from the band.
To conclude, this is a very solid release that combines what's best about the band's last few albums with some new and interesting elements. Like its predecessor, In Sorte Diaboli, there are no weak tracks that warrant skipping. It may be their best offering since Spiritual Black Dimensions, but only time will tell whether or not that is indeed the case.
Postscript: there is no use of a didgeridoo on this album, it's Hungarian throat singing. The singer on "Endings and Continuations" is the legendary Garm, not the session vocalist they used on other tracks. That said, what I wrote about that track still stands even though I am a huge fan of Garm's work with Arcturus and Ulver.