Human Fortress – Reassembling With Power

Saturday, 14th December 2013

In the power metal genre, directional shifts can be met with swift acclaim or dismay. In the case of Germany’s Human Fortress, little did they know that the positive critical reviews and audience approval for their first two albums (2001’s Lord of Earth and Heavens Heir and 2003’s Defenders of the Crown) would come hurtling down five years later with their third album, Eternal Empire. Taking a brief break to regain focus, as well as replacing half of the lineup – the sextet return with a vengeance in the epic, medieval laden record Raided Land – an album that keyboardist Dirk Liehm had a good hand in creating.

“As I joined the band in 2009, I immediately started to listen to power/ epic/ orchestral/ fantasy stuff to get into the upcoming topic(s) to write songs for the band. By the end of 2009 we had four songs written and I wrote one of them – ‘Dark Knight.’ Somehow we never struggled in finding new catchy hooks, epic melodies, and heavy riffs. I had a great time when we would meet together, because all the band members contributed greatly to get a song finished, we had so many great ideas.”

The major shift took place in vocalists, with the band finally gaining the services of Brazilian Gus Monsanto, best known for his work in Adagio and Revolution Renaissance. “Jioti [Parcharidis] left in 2010 because of health problems, and what followed was a search for a new vocalist to fit the band. It was not easy, but at least Gus appeared in 2012 and we were very happy to have him in Human Fortress. He is a professional and we had a great time as he flew over here to record this album.”

Monsanto pipes in his thoughts regarding the band chemistry: “Coming from a guy that has been in bands where there were massive personal conflicts, it’s a great pleasure working with a band of friends who get along great, where making music is a pleasure and everything flows. Human Fortress is a breath of fresh air. We spent a lot of weekends together in the German countryside, and I think it was a mixture of going back to basics musically to moving forward with new people.”

Keyboardists within the power metal framework can often overpower the sonic landscape with orchestration or virtuoso moments, so I was curious where Liehm stood on this viewpoint and where he believes his strengths are within Human Fortress. “I am not just a keyboardist to make a sound carpet for the guitars and vocals. I like orchestration to create deep atmosphere and my goal was to create some folky, medieval sounds without using harmonies, which seem to be overused among power metal bands. I fought generic melodies as I wanted something fresher like on ‘Pray for Salvation.’ It’s not possible to be totally original, as we make a classic style of music, but I think we managed to create a sound that is quite individual compared to other bands.”

I would imagine with the respect and adulation power metal gets from their native German land, it can be a tough battle to fight for waning attention spans given the number of shows, festivals, and entertainment outlets for the genre? “The biggest problem,” Liehm explains, “is reactivating the old fan base and get new fans to listen to Human Fortress. I think our record label AFM Records does a great job marketing wise. They had trust in our ability to make a good album in the classic Human Fortress style. Germany is full of concurrence and power metal has quite a big fan base here. There are many good bands, but I hope we can manage to have a place between them, as we have high quality material. In the end the fan(s) will decide if we will get successful.”

Liehm has a diverse musical palate when it comes to personal enjoyment and tastes, as his favorite bands include Metallica, Manowar, and Rammstein, while the other guys in the band love everything from AOR/melodic metal (guitarist Todd Wulf) and progressive metal (guitairst Volker Trost) to Kiss (bassist Andre Hort) and even death metal (as drummer Apostolos Zaios used to drum in a death metal band called In Case of Fyr). I was curious to know what the long term goals or plans are for Human Fortress say 3-5 years down the line. “In terms of popularity… you never know!” says Liehm. “It wouldn’t be bad to get as popular as Avantasia for example. But that’s one big dream, as they are huge and have sold millions of records and played many shows. It would be a good start for Human Fortress to get a steady fan base and steady sales on the future albums.”

“It is already enough for me to get a European and American release with this record, my dreams already hit reality, so every opportunity that comes up in the future will be welcomed! My biggest dream is to get my hands on a real orchestra, to work with a real choir and real maestro. If we can ever afford this, we will surely do it. When I visit the opera I always daydream about having my compositions played by an orchestra.”

Currently the members of Human Fortress maintain regular employment which can definitely cut into the development of a professional music career. Liehm explains: “We all have jobs to make a living. Gus is the only professional musician and if you follow him on Facebook, you see the amount of projects and gigs he has to do to actually make a living. He is a workhorse, period. But at least he does what he loves! In the hot phases of pre-production I did not have a life outside of Human Fortress. Work, HF, work, HF, every day. Besides this stressful time, everything else came very easy. I hope we are able to give the fans a nice power/ epic metal listening experience (as a result), so that you have a good time while listening to the album(s).”

Lastly I wanted to probe Liehm’s mind in regards to the state of metal in 2013, as the days of lofty physical record sales are all but a distant memory, forcing bands and labels to change their philosophy on the fly. “Bands should not play (shows) without payment. It’s simply unfair when a small band plays on a festival for free and the big bands get all the money. But if you don’t play, well, they will find someone else who will do so. It’s quite hard to make a living just from music, so you have to have the passion paying off for you mentally. If more people would start to buy the music they love would also help to improve the quality of music and the amount of tours happening.”

“As I can say now, we don’t know if we can manage to get a tour going in 2014, as we don’t know yet how well album sales will go. And without sales we won’t have the financial base to go on tour, as this is freaking expensive. Kind of sad that this all depends on the amount of money one can spend to get things going. But let´s see what the future brings.”

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