Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dark Fortress

Dark Fortress - Venereal Dawn
Century Media, 2014
Genre: Melodic Black Metal

1. Venereal Dawn
2. Lloigor
3. Betrayal and Vengeance
4. Chrysalis
5. I am the Jigsaw of a Mad God
6. The Deep
7. Odem
8. Luciform
9. On Fever's Wings
10. The Deep (Acoustic Version)

After "Ylem" I wasn't really planning on rushing out to get "Venereal Dawn", but then I started hearing stirrings of how good this album was in the underground. A few friends urged me to check it out, so when it came out I purchased my copy at the local record store. The art direction this release is really awesome and the cover is extremely eye catching. I highly appreciate using real art as opposed to the heartless digital forms plaguing the industry today. The obsession with photo-shop a horrible direction for art in general. Some things you can create are cool, but there is no core image touched with a feeling hand a lot of times. Within the booklet you can find more art of this nature and it is well worth looking through. Morean has truly outdone himself wit the sheer volume of lyrics he puts forth on these songs... I think there's a huge misprint in the booklet because the pages of "Lloigor" and "Luciform" show up twice. Lyrics for some songs are outright missing and this is just ridiculous to see this level of a misprint.

**UPDATE: After talking with the band it appears the misprint is only in the North American edition of the booklet. So, America/Canada/Latin America might have a problem. Century Media seems to  use a different pressing plant for this distribution location versus what is distributed in Europe. I am not sure if any fixes are coming down the line.**

The album opens with the epic title track clocking in at nearly eleven minutes. It's actually a very incredible and awe inspiring song. Here Dark Fortress seem to have worked out a lot of the problem areas on "Ylem". The song "Venereal Dawn" appears to be a healthy blending of Keep of Kalessin with a Secrets of the Moon style. They really try to keep the song built around these core influences, which is what makes the track work. Its very immersive and listening to it gives me hope for the rest. They've also included choirs into sections of the song which sound really great with this approach, and it actually feels a bit like something I'd hear on an Orphanage album. There are also hints of modern Behemoth in the way some of the riffs are structured and the chorus section where Morean yells "dawn" hits hard like a Behemoth chorus. The second song sort of borrows from "Wraith" off of "Ylem" with a focus on more clean vocals. However, the approach on "Lloigor" works out a lot better and the clean sections feel a lot more ethereal than in your face. I'm still not that into it, but I'm a closed minded elitist as many would tell me... ah well. I do think they put together a song where this is what Keep of Kalessin wish they had released with parts of "Reptilian" though, so Dark Fortress is certainly working in a better fashion already. From here the album moves into what we'd come to expect from Dark Fortress over the years. "Odem" is one of the songs that hits the hardest on the album and I quite enjoyed that track a lot. "Venereal Dawn" comes off as a more focused composition and for that I am very thankful.

"Lloigor" seems to be the only outlier within the whole album. While I'm not a huge fan of the clean vocals, I feel they're included far too often in a single track. I wish they had taken a more Emperor approach and interspersed them throughout in sections that worked. I think "Lloigor" could have sounded more powerful with more harsh vocals, because when the harsh vocals show up it doesn't feel balanced. It seems they keep wanting to include this element and it just doesn't work in the grand scheme of their sound. Listen to the harsh/clean-ish blend of the vocals on "Luciform", those fit within the framework of the Dark Fortress sound! They should use that intermediate harsh style sparingly throughout their records, in my opinion. Where I did not enjoy the song "Wraith" from "Ylem", Dark Fortress do a spectacular job closing the album on an epic note with "On Fever's Wings". Now this is the kind of vocal arrangement I can get behind for an epic closer. They even feature some wonderfully sung Arabic passages. Having the female vocals appear in that form is different and excellent. The clean male sections appear sparingly, so I never feel overwhelmed by it. Musically the song is brooding and slow, there isn't a lot to it, so the vocals are the stand-out experience for the listener.

Don't take my criticisms too harshly, "Venereal Dawn" blows "Ylem" out of the water. They've really figured out how to make that style work. "Venereal Dawn" keeps pretty close to an overall atmosphere and concept. The music is more often slow and brooding, but they use the correct chords and phrasing to make you feel like your on a continuous journey. In the grand scheme of things, my criticisms are merely quibbles. "Venereal Dawn" is as ambitious as "Ylem", but in this case it actually succeeds for the band! They've really figured out, in many cases, how to blend beautiful elements into a disturbing and tense sounding landscape.

Dark Fortress have created an aesthetic where a lot of elements are being used, but I feel they took a step back and tried to be more focused on what they were putting into the release. I truly hope they can stick to that kind of focus, because "Ylem" had too many things going on. Dark Fortress has a huge amount of skill and with that a lot of directions they can go, but hopefully they'll stick to a few concepts at a time. Black Metal should build a single atmosphere for an entire album and "Venereal Dawn" succeeds in that regard, even though there are moments that I am, personally, not as into, the grand scope of the album is a success. I'm not sure this will wind up being in my top ten, but I'm sure it will get an honorable mention at the end of the year as an album I consider worth hearing.

Dark Fortress - Ylem
Century Media, 2010
Genre: Melodic Black Metal

1. Ylem
2. As the World Keels Over
3. Osiris
4. Silence
5. Evenfall
6. Redivider
7. Satan Bled
8. Hirudineans
9. Nemesis
10. The Valley
11. Wraith

It seems Dark Fortress have fallen to the usual release schedule of producing a full-length album every couple of years. This is usually a good schedule for bands, because it allows them to spend time on the material. "Ylem" is also Dark Fortress' longest album, not including the bonus track, which appears on some versions. I guess they felt bad that "Eidolon" was under the one hour mark and make up for it here with this album being nearly an hour and ten minutes in length!

I remember when I first put "Ylem" on I wasn't that taken with the recording and this is back in 2010 when I first got it. Now that I'm revisiting it in 2014, I'm still getting the same feeling. I'm four tracks in at this point and I'm not sure I can really figure out what's wrong. They've really decided to add a lot more progression in their sound, as moments of, perhaps, Ved Buens Ende show up. However, Dark Fortress are forever rooted in Black Metal, so they don't deviate into the realms of Ihsahn or later Emperor albums. The tracks are incredibly slow for the band, but they don't have a well defined atmosphere for me to really bask in. "Séance" wasn't a fast blasting release, but it really had substance to it, "Ylem" doesn't feel like that as much. It's almost as if the first few songs are just too long, but then when we get out of it with "Silence" that begins with a look at Gorgoroth, but then winds up going into some beautiful acoustic passage. It's almost like the elements are too disjoint the way they've tried to put the tracks together this time around. I think they were trying to make an even moodier sounding album by adding layer after layer of complexity, but ultimately it comes off as dry as the elements transition into locations that don't always make sense. Then "Evenfall" shows up and I'm really taken away from the Dark Fortress atmosphere and transported into some Proggy Finish sounding metal. I'm not trying to be closed minded with this, but objectively it just doesn't work with their sound or the foundation they're trying to build on this album... if there even is one. One of the strongest tracks on the album is "Hirudineans", even though it is varied as all the other tracks, it has a level of catchiness that works pretty well within its concept. Also the name comes from the scientific name for leeches. The album closes on a strange note with "Wraith", here most of the vocals are clean, but Morean isn't performing them either. Instead they turn to Mortal for vocal help... I have no idea who this person is. They do a better job with the cleans than with the ones we hear on "Evenfall", but I feel like "Wraith" serves to highlight how disjoint this album is with any kind of direction.

"Ylem" is not a terrible album, but it is an album that truly lacks focus. The prior Dark Fortress releases seemed to have a more cohesive goal, whereas "Ylem" is trying to do as many things as physically possible. Play as many different styles of many drawing upon as many different bands as you can possibly imagine! A tall order, but don't expect it to sound very well done in the end. It's clearly an ambitious effort to try and find, I think, a new sound for the project... but this is not an album I'll ever be pulling out to really listen to on a regular basis. Maybe the follow-up will work out some of the kinks in this album.

Dark Fortress - Eidolon
Century Media, 2008
Genre: Black Metal

1. The Silver Gate
2. Cohorror
3. Baphomet
4. The Unflesh
5. Analepsy
6. Edge of Night
7. No Longer Human
8. Catacrusis
9. Antiversum

Given Dark Fortress' very strong performances over the past couple albums, I picked up "Eidolon" without a second though. Sadly there has been a line-up change with the vocalist. Azathoth has been replaced by Morean, which is sort of strange since it seems Morean typically plays in Thrash and Prog bands. However, his vocal work clearly fits very well with Dark Fortress, because "Eidolon" sounds pretty good in that regard. The other thing you'll notice looking through the booklet is how many lyrics there are for each song. I can't imagine memorizing all this material to perform live.

One of the first things you'll notice on "Eidolon" is how they've returned to including the far more vicious riffing back into their sound. Sure, it's clearly taken from the book of Naglfar, but it sounds very good. As usually with Dark Fortress we hear a myriad of influences and textures, but I was surprised to hear some serious Morbid Angel worship as "Baphomet" ends. Strangely this album clocks in at under an hour at only about fifty minutes in length.  This hasn't happened since their debut! I feel like "Eidolon" is sort of a blend between the atmospheres of "Stab Wounds" and "Séance" where they tried to marry the dark and catchier elements of the latter to the more vicious styling parts of "Stab Wounds". "Eidolon" does a great job of blending these elements and the songs can shift around having that brooding haunting atmosphere with some serious attack to it. For some reason the song "Antiversum" stands out to me quite a bit.

I think Dark Fortress' sound is most appreciated if you've listened to a lot of Black Metal over the years. They're always blending textures and different bands together. While some may decry this as unoriginal, Dark Fortress is still one of the few totally modern bands that is writing pretty solid material without being rooted in tradition. On that level "Eidolon" is a success, I am not sure it tops "Séance" in the grand scheme of things, but the quality of music and writing certainly hasn't diminished. Dark Fortress, to me, is a real celebration of Black Metal made by fans for fans.

Dark Fortress - Séance
Century Media, 2006
Genre: Black Metal

1. Ghastly Indoctrination
2. Catawomb
3. Requiem Grotesque
4. While They Sleep
5. To Harvest the Artifacts of Mockery
6. Poltergeist
7. Revolution: Vanity
8. Incide
9. Shardfigures
10. Insomnia

After the glorious release of "Stab Wounds" I was pretty excited when "Séance" came out a few years later. This time there signing with a far larger label and with that they've lost some of the grit in their sound opting for the more pristine production. Dark Fortress' sound has sort of been trending in a direction where having cleaner production won't mar their sound that much as long as the riffs and songwriting are there.

"Séance" is a fairly different animal from the other Dark Fortress sounds. Its foray into modern Black Metal draws influences from the likes of modern Satyricon, Thorns, and bands of that ilk. There's a certain machinist quality to some of the rhythms and drum beats. Rather than having that vicious quality found on "Stab Wounds", "Séance" is a much darker and moodier album I feel. There really aren't any ultra-fast sections like we hear in "Stab Wounds". Instead Dark Fortress build a more haunting landscape for us to explore. I certainly hear a degree of Dimmu Borgir and modern Old Man's Child in their sound, but I feel like this is done right the way Dark Fortress has cast the material. Its interesting that this is out the same year Secrets of the Moon's "Antithesis" came out, because some of the textures feel very similar. Then again, I feel that Satyricon's "Rebel Extravaganza" influence on both releases. The orchestral and keyboard sections are, once again, more in the background with this release. I am glad they have learned their lesson after "Profane", because their guitar work is so strong their albums are much more suited towards having a guitar driven sound.

I fear I do not have much to say about Dark Fortress, other than the music is quite good. Listening to their material is often enjoyable, but the atmosphere isn't something that really pulls me in with rapt attention and awe. It's simply very well made Black Metal, which I feel a lot of bands try to make currently, but they just don't have the same level of feeling behind their writing like Dark Fortress does. They really manage to distill a lot of various influences into their sound and because of this it is hard to describe anything in any greater detail, without just listing a bunch of band names. They bring us an album over an hour in length and there really are no bad songs on here. "Incide" would be the song that is just okay... Azathoth's screaming for nearly three minutes gets a bit tiresome, but the transition into "Shardfigures" eventually works very well. This is certainly one of the strongest releases from Dark Fortress.

Dark Fortress - Stab Wounds
Black Attakk, 2004
Genre: Black Metal

1. Iconoclasm Omega
2. Self Mutilation
3. Stab Wounds
4. When 1000 Crypts Awake
5. Despise the "Living"
6. A Midnight Poem
7. Rest in Oblivion
8. Vanitas... No Horizons
9. Like a Somnambulist in Daylight's Fire
10. Sleep!

After hearing "Profane Genocidal Creations" I was pretty skeptical as to whether I wanted to follow this bands career any more or not. I was worried the times of "Tales of Eternal Dusk" might be a fluke... but it wasn't. I never would have guessed the band had "Stab Wounds" in them. After a just year between releases, they've really outdone themselves on this album. It has everything a Black Metal fan wants to hear and then some.

The first thing we hear with "Iconoclasm Omega" is how intense this album will likely be. The song is vicious and fast and a great opener to get our attention. "Stab Wounds" isn't all speed and intensity thankfully, because tracks like "When 1000 Crypts Awake" garner certain levels of catchiness in the riffing, as well as other songs. In fact there are moments so catchy on this song that it hearkens back to the early days of Tulus for me! There are still keyboards on this release, but they're far more subdued than "Profane Genocidal Creations", making this a far more guitar driven release, which is really what I want to hear in my Black Metal. "Stab Wounds" is so good, in fact, that it really feels like "Profane Genocidal Creations" has been quite a waste of our time! The faster aspects of "Stab Wounds" feel reminiscent of the style we'd expect from Naglfar or Setherial, I guess its no surprise that Jens Ryden appears as guest vocals on a song. The art direction is also very different for Dark Fortress this time around and feels more akin to Forgotten Tomb with the suicidal geared lyrics. Again, looking at the liner notes Herr Morbid appears to do guest vocals on a song, so clearly Dark Fortress has been listening to these bands. Luckily, Dark Fortress are so good at writing this time around that it doesn't feel like they're copying anyone and instead are putting their own spin on everything they're trying to pull together here.

Ultimately "Stab Wounds" is performed with the intensity of the Swedish bands with the groove and chord structuring of the Norwegians, it's really an impressive blend. Dark Fortress really make the style work perfectly and easily launched "Stab Wounds" as one of the must hear albums of this year. Maybe Dark Fortress felt "Profane" was a poor album, because in just this short span of time they've returned with an hour of music that is all excellent.

Dark Fortress - Profane Genocidal Creations
Red Stream, 2003
Genre: Black Metal

1. Introduction
2. Defiance of Death
3. Passage to Extinction
4. In Morte Aeternitas
5. Moribound Be Thy Creation
6. Through Ages of War
7. Blood of the Templars
8. Warlord (Face the Angel of Pestilence)
9. Battles Rage in the Infernal Depth
10. A Fortress Dark

For those of you that enjoyed “Tales from Eternal Dusk” you may be as disappointed in this as I was. Unfortunately, I can't really merit this as a progression, but it’s pretty obvious they were trying to experiment with some different elements. However, none of those new elements could save this recording; in fact I think they hindered it.

The album opens with an impressive symphonic track aptly titled “Introduction”. Honestly, I was quite impressed with this, at least when I thought it was composed by a member of Dark Fortress. Upon reviewing the booklet I found it was composed by Morfeus from Limbonic Art. So the quality of the track was no longer surprising because I've come to expect that quality from such a musician. Seriously, he should release a complete symphonic/ambient styled album. From the introduction I thought they would've added in a lot more keyboard elements, granted there are a lot more than “Tales from Eternal Dusk”, but it was less than the intro seemed to suggest. I was sort of expecting it to follow in the footsteps of Dimmu Borgir where they absolutely drown their sound in keyboards making the guitars a background instrument. Thankfully, they didn't do this, which is probably the one redeeming fact, because it really could have been so much worse.

One of the things that made “Tales from Eternal Dusk” stand out so much was the sheer viciousness with which they played. I really didn't get that on “Profane Genocidal Creations”. Instead they tried to include that melancholic or gothic sound into their Black Metal, maybe so it could be “pretty”. Some of the riffing is awesomely vicious, but then they abruptly switch to a segment with that melancholic sound and it just kills the song. A lot of this feels heavily influenced by the likes of Siebenbürgen. While I do enjoy Siebenbürgen it seems Dark Fortress just couldn't pull it off. They just ended up sounding like Dimmu Borgir worship with some Power Metal infusions here and there. What was the deal with “Passage to Extinction”? It had an absolutely phenomenal opening and a good portion of the song is great, but they change it at the very end with some all female vocals over a very Power Metal-ish guitar line. They almost had a fully excellent track, but just failed in the end, clearly this song did not need to be nine minutes in length! At least it was a lot better than “Defiance of Death” which features “sorrowful” acoustic passages with some male singing in sections. That was not a good sign for me at the opening.

On that note of track length, another major issue with this release is the length of the album! Now it’s not often I'll say this, but this album is way too long. It’s not at all epic, just long. Typically I love longer albums, it feels like I got more than my moneys worth, but when a band is just this uninteresting I long for the thirty minute releases. Honestly having a long song doesn't automatically mean its epic! I realize that due to the intro I should have expected they would attempt epic sounding songs, but they could not keep it up. The songs are also intensely varied and shifting without any concept of flow, and for this style of music it’s kind of annoying... not entertaining. Halfway through I was seriously ready to call it a day with this album. I persevered though, and I am happy to report that nothing else exciting happens after the halfway point.

In the end this album gives us nothing worthwhile. I can only hope that Dark Fortress can pull their act together for their next releases. For now we have to resign ourselves to the fact this doesn’t live up to “Tales from Eternal Dusk.” Face it, “Profane Genocidal Creations” is a classic case of trying to do something different gone completely wrong.

Dark Fortress - Tales from Eternal Dusk
Red Stream, 2001
Genre: Black Metal

1. The Arcanum of the Cursed
2. Pilgrim of the Nightly Spheres
3. Twilight
4. Apocalypse
5. Dreaming
6. Throne of Sombre Thoughts
7. Captured in Eternity's Eyes
8. Misanthropic Invocation
9. Crimson Tears
10. Tales from Eternal Dusk
11. Moments of Mournful Splendour (At the Portal to Infinity)

This German act has actually been around for quite some time, but didn't get anything pressed until after the new millennium for whatever reason. It actually surprises me that they didn't get picked up until this late in their career considering the quality of the music that is written here. I would figure that most Black Metal fans would eat this up as soon as it hit the market. It seems that after their split some line-up changes took place, so maybe that put the work on hold a little longer than expected.

“Tales from Eternal Dusk” is a fairly strong debut work; however, I must admit in all my years of listening to Black Metal, this album doesn't really have anything extraordinarily new to bring to the table. The one thing that is commendable for this band is that, even though this isn't a new sound, they do it to a very high caliber. I honestly can’t find a single fault in their composition, presence, essence, or arrangements other than the general lack of overall creativity. The only saving grace I can say about this is that they’re not a brand new band. In fact, I’d venture to say they haven’t changed much since 1995, since the song “Tales from Eternal Dusk” was written during that time frame according to the booklet. While many bands have long since shifted their sound and presence on recording Dark Fortress has changed very little. Also there are many bands that, nowadays, try to pull this off and mostly sound like they lack a lot. Dark Fortress come off very strong and brings all their work together perfectly.

In terms of Black Metal style they bear a close resemblance to bands coming out of the Swedish Melodic Black Metal scene, which is a bit of a shift from the stylistic influences I heard on the split. I would reference bands such as Naglfar, Siebenbürgen, or Setherial for example. You'll even hear touches of acoustic passages, which can probably be related to, say, Setherial's “Nord” or an Abigor influence. The lyrics on the album take a shift away from the general purpose demonic lyrics that plagued the early era of Black Metal. They deal more with sorrow, melancholy, general hatred, embracing suicide due to depression, and then a seemingly random trilogy in the middle that deals with Lord of the Rings. Lord of the Rings has always had a major influence on Black Metal in general, but usually if you take the Lord of the Rings route lyrically, you tend to keep that theme, Dark Fortress seem to jump all over the place. You could probably compare them to the works of Dawn, not only lyrically but in musical style as well at times.

If you are a fan of Melodic Black Metal, I would say that Dark Fortress should be a must have band on your list of bands to hear, in terms of this album. If you’re looking for something fresh and new, this is probably not something you should choose first, but if you want to hear some older sounding Black Metal that has been put together flawlessly then this is the album for you. Usually I go for more vicious sounding Black Metal rather than go after the melodic material, but I must say I am very glad I bought this album. Just listen to the killer riffing on “Pilgrim of the Nightly Spheres” and try to tell me they didn't put together an excellent song.

Barad Dûr & Dark Fortress - Towards Immortality
Fog of the Apocalypse, 1997
Genre: Black Metal

Dark Fortress:
1. Cryptic Winterforest
2. Towards Immortality
Barad Dûr:
3. Nächtlicher Wald
4. Krieg
5. Ausklang

Side Barad Dûr: ...coming eventually...
Side Dark Fortress:

Here's a piece of history that a lot of people may not know of today. Dark Fortress got their start in about 1996 with the release of their demo "The Rebirth of the Dark Age", which is something I have, unfortunately, never heard. I imagine the two songs featured on this split are the most closely related to that very early style. This is an oddly packaged split, the Dark Fortress side has it's own cover and is cut to the jewel case standard size. The Barad Dûr part is folded over and the cover looks like its supposed to span two CD panels,.. so it's kind of awkward. The CD is not a pro-printed press, instead it is just a CDr. While not mentioned on the release, online notes say this is limited to 500 copies. It's not hand-numbered.

Dark Fortress only brings us two new songs on the heels of their first demo. It seems Dark Fortress is channeling the style of Black Metal from the frosty north, with a focus on the majestic style Emperor performs. It has a very "In the Nightside Eclipse" feel to the two songs being performed. I certainly hear some of the early styles of Gehenna in the slow elements of "The Cryptic Winterforest"... but that could also be some early Dimmu Borgir a la "Stormblåst" depending on who they were listening to at the time. Given how close that release is, I feel that Gehenna is a more likely influence. Both songs come with some beautiful acoustic pieces, which lends me to a likely Ulver influence as well. There's a lot going on with just these two songs. The recording has a, naturally, raw edge to it, as we'd expect from the newer bands. The songs seem well crafted though, so they managed to distill all that influence into something that works.

I do wonder how the band will harness this influence in the future and it will be interesting to see them come into their own. I think this is a fine early start for Dark Fortress, even though this isn't anything all that new, they are obviously a solid band. With a solid ability to compose interesting songs, they could do some great things.

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