An Ode to Dark Fortress

This text was originally written sometime in 2014 to commemorate the 10 year anniversary since the release of one of my favorite albums of the genre, but was never published. It has been updated throughout the years.

It was in early 2004 when I first came into contact with Dark Fortress. I bought a german Metal magazine that came with a sampler, which was a CD filled with a couple of new songs from various bands. Even back then, those CDs almost never contained anything of interest. Most of my music came from the Internet anyways. But there was this one Death Metal act that had released a new album, even though I can’t remember their name right now. They had a new song on that sampler and I couldn’t find it online but I wanted to give it a listen.

I remember sitting in a bus and all I had with me was this Discman and said sampler, without a printout of its content. So I had to listen to every song for a couple of seconds to see if it was the song I cared about. As I skipped through all the music I didn’t care about, there was this sudden and ultimate demonstration of raw energy that burst out of the cheap cans I could afford back in the day. That song was When 1000 Crypts Awake taken from a then just recently announced album called Stab Wounds by the german band Dark Fortress. To this day, I remember this moment vividly. They are still one of my all-time favorite Melodic Black Metal bands. I rode the bus to the main station, entered a tiny record store and purchased the album right away. It’s still in my possession today, even though haven’t had a CD player in my possession for more than 12 years.

Stab Wounds is playful, sinister, technically marvellous and it shows Azathoth in his prime, when his vocals were at the peak of rotten perfection. Its production seemed big and powerful back in the day and while it still has its charme about 16 years later, the guitars seem rather thin in comparison to today’s recordings. But it shows that the production isn’t important while the song writing always takes center stage. Stab Wounds is full of incredible hooks and the general vibe Dark Fortress is creating forces you to keep your attention on what’s going on in each song. Their ultimate creation is the mid-tempo beast that is Like a Somnambulist in Daylight’s Fire - a song that still haunts me with great memories from their gig with Secrets of the Moon in Essen some time in 2004 or 2005. It features supporting vocals by Herr Morbid from Forgotten Tomb, back when they were still doing Suicidal Black Metal. It has also been remastered after 15 years and the sound is a bit more punchy now.

Dark Fortress were high on my list of bands to look out for in the future and they delivered. Not how I was expecting them to, but nonetheless, they did.

Dark Fortress previous releases Tales from Eternal Dusk and Profane Genocidal Creations contained great ideas, some Satyricon and a lot of Dissection worship but they never gave me as much as Stab Wounds did. Both albums suffered from a relatively weak sound but they have since been remastered, making them a bit stronger. It’s still quite obvious that they were recorded in times when Melodic Black Metal as a genre was in a weird phase during puberty though. They had almost no concept or structure to speak of and the ideas they had are all over the place, making it obvious the band still had to find their unique sound. That’s what they did with Stab Wounds. Dark Fortress had to mature as a band to be able to land a monumental record such as Stab Wounds.

In 2006 it was time for Seance to be released, which I still regard a masterpiece that has been somewhat forgotten. It belongs on top of every “best German Black Metal releases of the decade” list. It’s eerie with a very claustrophobic vibe where Azathoth completely goes over the top with his vocal performance. I’m sure Azathoth had the same potential as Kvarforth from Shining with regards to his abilities as a vocalist, had he not left the band after recording Seance.

Shortly after they announced the follow-up to Seance, tentatively titled “Scum”, the band announced that Azathoth would be leaving Dark Fortress with Asvargr remaining the last remaining founding member. They found a new vocalist with Morean from Death Metal band Noneuclid who ended up writing a completely new lyrical concept for the already partially recorded Scum-album that was subsequently renamed to Eidolon upon release. It was a decent first glimpse into what Dark Fortress would become with the new line-up, but it still feels as rushed, flat, predictable and dull today as it did 12 years ago when it was first released. You have to give Morean credit for writing relatively interesting lyrics on such short notice though.

Parts of the Scum-lyrics were used on Sonic Reign’s Monument In Black and they’re so powerful and intense that it’s a shame that Scum never got to see the light of day. I’d be really interested in early rehearsal recordings of how Dark Fortress sounded with Azathoth yelling song titles like Soul Flagellation or Abhorrence vs Scum. Hit me up if you have a recording of that somewhere, I’ll treat it with discretion.

Ylem was the next release and it improved upon a lot of the weaknesses of their previous effort, but it just didn’t resonate with me that much. The drumming is remarkable, the vocals sound more mature and full but the songs are just too long and it just isn’t interesting enough to keep your attention. I often can’t manage to listen to the record without my mind constantly drifting off to something of more interest to me. A lot of people enjoy this record, so it may just be me and my preferences. Give it a try and see if it has something to offer to you.

It would be unfair to compare their latest album to either Stab Wounds or Seance, so I’ll refrain from doing that. Venereal Dawn is a complete masterpiece on its own and it’s much slower, less haunting and more demanding than both previous recordings. I’m sometimes still discovering new, small aspects in the production that I didn’t take note of before, though upgrades in headphones might be in part responsible for that as well. It requires you to sit down and to actively listen to it. It’s demanding in the same way that Seancé and both aren’t very enjoyable to listen to just to blast some Black Metal into your skull while you’re doing something completely different. These are albums that demand your attention which in return provide an insight into different states of insanity, a welcome escape from reality.

Dark Fortress have recently announced their new album Spectres from the Old World to be released on the 28th of February and they’ve released Pulling At Threads as a teaser.