Dark Fortress are arguably the finest black metal band that Germany has ever produced, having released six brilliant albums in their 18 year career, as well as packing a punch in their fantastic live show. From their beginnings as a melodic black metal group, they’ve evolved their sound, exploring different avenues each album, bringing in more progressive boundary pushing elements to keep their sound fresh and unique on each release – while the lyrics have pushed into more esoteric and intellectual territory since vocalist Morean replaced Azathoth following the release of 2006’s Seance. With guitarist V Santura’s role in other group Triptykon and drummer Seraph taking the place behind the sticks in Floor Jansen’s current project Revamp, the band have taken their time for the release of seventh album Venereal Dawn, taking 4 and a half years since 2010’s Ylem. But it’s been time well spent as Dark Fortress have delivered once again. Never making the same album twice they take the Ylem sound and push it further into dirgier filthier territory, yet interspersed with moments of mesmerising brightness – and Venereal Dawn is another progressive black metal masterpiece from one of the genre’s most underrated greats.
Musically it’s absolutely sublime from the band once again, they’re such a talented group of musicians. The two guitarists Asvargr and V Santura are unparalleled for the genre. Whether those dirty mid paced chugs that make sections of Venereal Dawn and the chorus of Betrayal and Vengeance sound like absolute filth, the creepy chord arpeggios, or the more technical riffs and blistering leads throughout the album, they’re always driving the album along keeping it interesting, it’s one of those guitar performances that never puts a fret wrong, there’s no out of place riff or lick throughout the whole thing. And when it comes to guitar solos V Santura is in a league of his own – he wrings so much emotion and passion out of every note that he beats all other guitarists in the genre hands down – he’s like the David Gilmour of black metal in the sense that you hang onto and feel his every note. Not only do they sound terrific with the way they twist along between fast and slow, but they fit into the tracks so well and just drip with energy. The solo in the middle of the title track is staggering in the way it builds, while the one at the end of Chrysalis shows that you can play fast and frenetically while still retaining fantastic energy and passion- something plenty of over the top tech-bands can never seem to grasp. From the very opening cymbal clashes of the opener the drumming is brilliant, Seraph showing great range from slow and brooding to fast blast beats and always utilising creative fills. Paymon has left the band since the recording of this album, but his keyboard work throughout the release is great, sporadically adding that celestial mysterious sound that works so well on the former albums, especially on I am the Jigsaw of a Mad God.
Morean also shows once again what a great vocalist he is, with his raspy growl in good form throughout the album, especially on Lloigor. On this one he really belts out lyrics furiously, but also manages to sing fantastically, the melodic nature of the voice while still growling in this way is great, and he shows this on Betrayal and Vengeance too. What’s new to this release is also the introduction of more clean chanted vocals in a lot of points on the album, such as on Venereal Dawn and Lloigor. They sound strange at first, but by the second listen they really fit into the mystical atmosphere of the album. Female vocals are used for the first time since Profane Genocidal Creations on closer On Fever’s Wings and the singing in Arabic is beautiful, really fitting the slower tempo and bringing another dimension to the epic closer. While these elements would sound cheesy in the hands of other groups they’re used tastefully by Dark Fortress to really fit the atmosphere of the music.
When it comes to the song writing its as good as ever from Dark Fortress, with each song having it’s own identity and yet all fitting together into an album that flows brilliantly. There’s also a lot of ambition, with Venereal Dawn and the closer On Fever’s Wings both passing the eleven minute mark, making them by far the longest tracks in their catalogue to date. The length does little to skew them though, with the title track being a filthy atmospheric great, with dirty chunky riffs, powerful vocals and the aforementioned brilliant solo. The closer is an absolute epic though. Beginning with melancholic piano and building up with gradual introduction of filthy riffs, powerful leads and hard hitting drums, by the time the vocals come in you’re completely drawn into the track. Morean’s vocals here are brilliant, rasping away menacingly. With more mystical keyboards and sparkling leads, the aforementioned clean vocals are beautiful, giving way to Morean singing a brilliant chorus and the gloomy, yet epic atmosphere created is great.
The songs sandwiched between those two are no slouches either, there’s absolutely no filler to be found here. With it’s blistering leads, great chorus and thick gloomy atmosphere Lloigor is sure to stick in the mind, while Betrayal and Vengeance delivers filthy riffage in true black metal style. Chrysalis is slow, gloomy and atmospheric and mesmerizingly bright with that ethereal guitar twisting around over the heavy sound. I am the Jigsaw of a Mad God is more classic Dark Fortress, with those keyboards echoing No Longer Human from Eidolon and that filthy riffage hearkening back to Seance’s To Harvest the Architects of Mockery. The Deep sees experiments with fantastic classical guitar from Morean coming against a maelstrom of twisted electric guitar and strange percussion and slow, deep growls. Odem is more traditional black metal which the band do so well with furious blasts, rasps and mighty evil riffs, while Luciform is more of a catchy BM belter in the vein of Baphomet from Eidolon. Overall each track is just great and it all fits together spectacularly.
The production is fantastic, with V Santura doing a great job. It sounds very warm especially in the great leads and despite every instrument being produced brilliantly with a great balanced mix it doesn’t stop the album having the necessary filthy crunch when they delve further into that black metal ferocity. Lyrically Morean seems to be on another level once again, it being a concept album about the death of the world and man’s spiritual transformation in light of that and the lyrics are more interesting than most black metal albums. It’s thought provoking stuff throughout.
Dark Fortress have released another phenomenal album. Because of their evolution in style a straight up comparison to previous works would be unfair, but fans of Eidolon and Ylem are bound to enjoy this – in fact any fan of either progressive or black metal should give this a listen, it’s one of the highlights of the year so far
Make sure to catch them on their upcoming European tour: