Dark Fortress are one of the finest black metal bands that Germany has ever produced, and on the tour for their new album Venereal Dawn (reviewed here) I had a chance to interview the guitarist, V Santura
Thank you for talking to Swirls of Noise
First off, Dark Fortress have been together now for twenty years, how do you feel about having reached that landmark, and what have you achieved in that time?
It’s quite crazy to mention the fact we’ve already been in existence for twenty years because for me it feels shorter and I haven’t been in the band from the start, I basically joined the band in the beginning of 2001 so in my perception the band feels like being 13 or 14 years old and of course our second guitarist Asvargr has been doing it for twenty years but for the rest of us it feels we are younger and not such an old band, so maybe that’s one of the reasons that we don’t really celebrate the anniversary like other bands would do, no special best of stuff, we’d rather just make a new album.
Speaking of which you released your 7th album Venereal Dawn earlier this year, it’s been four years since your last one and it’s fantastic, how do you feel about it?
I’m very proud of the new album I have to say and I don’t want to sound corny or do the promotional blablabla saying the new album is the best, because I somehow love all the albums that we’ve done, at least since Stabwounds, and I think I’m not lying when I say I don’t think we’ve ever put so much work and time into an album as we did with Venereal Dawn, like we were driving ourselves crazy with the details, to get everything right and just emotions caught in each song in exactly the way we wanted to have it, and in the end I’m really satisfied with the album. I also think it’s another step up.
Well on each album you have been pushing your sound going into different territory, and I think really from Ylem onwards it has less of the sound of typical black metal and you’re pushing your own boundaries, so do you feel you’re still playing black metal or are you trying to make a sound all your own?
I’ve also been asking that question myself to be honest and I’m not really sure if you can label us as black metal like in the classic or true sense, in a way we still feel connected to the black metal scene and I see Dark Fortress as a black metal band but I’m sure we also push and break the boundaries a little bit – and black metal’s not supposed to have boundaries in a way, it’s a music style that was initially breaking boundaries, so I think we have the freedom to do what we want and create the music that we feel is right for us.
So when each album comes out it sounds different from the last one is this progression something you aim for or does it just happen naturally in the song writing process?
I think it happens naturally, for us the way we work is that we work on the album for a certain length of time for quite a long period very intensely. Then there’s all the production stuff, we have to do the recordings, then the album is being released and there’s a lot of promotion, it takes usually 1-2 years until you get back to recording, and then you’re in a different frame of mind. Of course, we always let our emotions speak in the music and you always feel different in each period of time you’re writing music. You grow up, become older and more mature maybe, and that’s why it’s a natural thing that each album sounds a bit different. I think there is always a certain literal progression from album to album but I don’t think that we break up with the style, it’s always clearly Dark Fortress and always a logical step in my opinion. At least I hope that you also see it that way.
One of my favourites from the new album is The Deep, and you had a 14 string guitar made specifically for it. What made you want to try that, and who performed it.
Morean, everything on that track is performed by Morean basically. I think his musical ideal was to create something without drums and based around acoustic guitars that has the same heaviness and impact as a death metal song, just without the regular instrumentation of a death metal song. It was the same principle as a 12 string guitar with the double strings, and he got a 7 string guitar as a 14 he used for that song. In the beginning he has these super low tunings which sounded totally amazing in my opinion, like totally fucked up and beautiful at the same time. You can almost hear how loose the strings are.
And since Morean joined the bands the lyrics have taken on more of an esoteric nature. What can you tell us about the concepts for the previous albums and for Venereal Dawn?
Well it seems that Morean always tries to create alternate worlds in a way on each album he’s writing on, and especially on the concept albums Eidolon and Venereal Dawn as Ylem wasn’t really a concept album. He likes to create worlds, it’s in a way cinematic, and somehow either the destruction of the entire universe or at least the planet seems to be a part of it, but it’s not always about destruction, it’s also about the spiritual and philosophical aspects behind that.
The lyrics to Satan Bled in particular from Ylem are all but indiscernible, what is that song about?
Basically, black metal and humor don’t usually go together, but this was the one time where we did it. It’s very ironic that song, its in a way our joke, the title is a word game that no one outside Bavaria would understand, but even people in Bavaria haven’t got it because they wouldn’t be looking at it as a word game. We intentionally only used obsolete English words that are only found in old dictionaries, so all the words that are being used on that song are basically English, but are so old and strange that even native speakers have never heard of these words. It’s telling just a weird story that’s taking place in a clerical surrounding using these obsolete words, so you could translate it as a riddle with a dictionary. I don’t know if anyone ever did that, but you would definitely get a story. It’s a weird concept, we just wanted to do it for the fun of it because we are always really serious about what we do and I think in that one moment we just thought, “hey, fuck it”.
So with these occult and sometimes satanic themes, is there any belief behind them or do they just make for interesting songs?
Well there’s nothing satanic about it, we are not a devil worshipping band. Morean who’s writing the lyrics is definitely in a way a spiritual person and he has a lot of knowledge and fascination with the occult, but of course he’s not one of these typical kindergarten “Hail Satan” kind of satanist. We always try to avoid these clichés, and basically we only really used it on that song Satan Bled, but that was an ironic song in a way. But of course, there’s a fascination for the occult, and the things that you cannot perceive or see with your senses but are there, they’re a driving force behind the lyrics.
You no longer play anything from your first two records? What are the reasons for this?
I think on the last headlining tour four years ago, we played Pilgrim of the Nightly Spheres from Tales from Eternal Dusk and somehow we liked it, but we realized we enjoyed playing the new material way more to be honest, and that it always seems that we found and defined our style with Stabwounds, so for me in a way Stabwounds feels like the first real Dark Fortress album. From there on everything just developed, we of course still always play songs on that album, we try to have one from each on the setlist. Tales from Eternal Dusk was also a very different lineup. It’s now only Asvargr left from that album but there were one or two shows where people appreciated seeing Pilgrims of the Nightly Spheres, but on a lot of the other shows most people didn’t really know what we were playing, most people found us with Stab Wounds and Seance, and that’s also for us where the band really started. They’re part of a history, the first two albums and I don’t hate them, but Profane Genocidal Creations was the first album from the new lineup of Dark Fortress and I felt that there were a lot of compromises on the album, we all had different ideas and we tried to mix them up in each song, and in the end there’s a lot of great parts on the album, but we had a feeling we lost the red line somehow on a lot of songs, plus we were really not happy with the sound of the production. The funny thing is we had a pre-production and we really liked it and the emotion that came across, it was a shitty recording but the emotion was great. And when we heard the final mix we thought it’s not what we wanted to express, it’s not sounding the way we wanted it to sound, and that’s maybe the reason we’re not happy with Profane Genocidal Creations in the end. And we think the sound from Stab Wounds on is just stronger.
You’re also playing with Triptykon, and Matthias Landes is playing with Floor Jansen in Revamp, and Morean has his classical career. Is Dark Fortress still your primary focus as musicians?
The thing is, the only thing that works with Dark Fortress is that when we’re working on it, it is the main focus – but it cannot be the main focus 365 days of the year, that’s impossible because of the other obligations we have. And that’s the reason, all these things you have addressed are big reasons why it took four years for a new album, and also I had a little bit of writers block at a certain time to be honest. But when we do Dark Fortress we have to do it in full with complete focus, but it’s not a band that we can base our living on so it’s in a way a crazy hobby for us that we do with a lot of passion but it cannot be our main priority all the time. But we still love this band and we don’t want to give it up.
What artists have come out in the last five years that you’ve really enjoyed?
There’s one album that came out a few years ago that really impressed me but that was mainly the sound aesthetics of it actually, it was Black Gives Way to Blue by Alice in Chains. It doesn’t have much to do with the style of Dark Fortress, but just the mood and production of that album changed our minds and it’s such a great sounding record to me. To be honest im not discovering so many new bands as I’m doing a lot of studio work, and after eight to ten hours of working with music you don’t really feel like discovering new music. So the pioneer inside of me died a little bit unfortunately, which is sad as I’m a big music fanatic in a way, but that would really be the one record I’d mention.
So as a producer, what’s your favourite production job, is there one album out there you wish you could’ve produced?
Well, I’d actually say Black Gives Way to Blue, it’s because of the sound aspects rather than the music that really influenced me in a way. And you can also say that the styles of production change even faster than the sound of the music itself. When you listen to eighties music, a lot of the bands and albums from that time are really relevant today, but if you listen to the sound there’s a lot of dust to it. And when you hear these eighties albums with these over-exaggerated tones like the reverb on the snare, people smile about it in a way. I think in a few years you’ll also get people smiling about these over-produced, triggered extreme metal albums of the 2000’s, so yes I think production styles change faster than music. But there’s great production jobs in each kind of style. Like The Black Album by Metallica. It doesn’t sound like a new album, but for being 1991 it’s completely amazing, and for me its one of the best production jobs I’ve ever heard and it’s still a reference for me.
Finally what does the future hold for Dark Fortress from here on in, now you have Venereal Dawn released and past the European Tour?
Well I hope we’ll do another tour for Venereal Dawn next year, it would be good to have a good support tour for another band maybe, because this time we’re headlining and it would be nice to reach another audience that haven’t seen us yet, and we’re going to play a bunch of festivals in the summer. I also really don’t want to wait another four years for a new album. But if you have that inspiration, if you feel you want to express something, there is that spark or fire inside of you and right now I actually feel that I want to start song writing quite soon, so I hope that this time it will only be two or three years between the albums. But we do want to make another album.
And is there anything else you want to add?
We’ve been talking about a lot of interesting things I hope, and so thanks very much for the interview and thanks for listening to our music.
Find Dark Fortress on facebook, and catch them on the remaining dates of the Venereal Dawn European Tour: