Dark Fortress – It’s A Deathexplosion

Friday, 29th March 2013

(This content originally appeared on Blistering.com)

There’s no form of music that Blistering receives more than black metal. We literally have to step over and around this stuff at Blistering HQ to find the remote, stray bag of chips, car keys, etc., so when a golden nugget of black metal comes across our desk, you can bet your ass we take notice. Such is the case for Germany’s Dark Fortress and their latest and greatest, Ylem. Spewing forth a multi-dimensional, advanced black metal attack, the album is a journey into dark, the type that can push black metal forward in this revolving abyss it so loves to revel in. Running like an actual album with peaks and valleys, Ylem has about a half-dozen or so songs that simply paste the competition. It’s immensely sophisticated and throttling, thus serving as the template for black metal circa 2010.

For a band that is now past its 15th year of existence, Ylem should serve as a springboard to bigger and better things. We caught up with recently-indoctrinated (and very verbose) singer Morean to discuss the new album and all of its intricacies, along with being black metal oddballs in the power metal-happy country that is Germany…

Blistering.com: Both Séance and Eidolon helped established Dark Fortress on an international scale, but Ylem should be the album to really push the band into new territories. Is that the common feeling in the band right now?

Morean: Musically, that’s definitely the case. We always challenge ourselves to look for new horizons, and we approached this album with great artistic freedom. However, the new elements on Ylem are things that have been growing for a long time, they’ve been there as seeds also on previous records. For us, it’s always about making the best music possible, and we get taken by surprise as well sometimes by the outcome. As for presenting ourselves to new audiences – this might of course happen with the new material, but we’re not thinking of that when we write since the question who listens to our stuff is quite out of our hands. We hope to offer something to old fans as well as people that might not listen to black metal otherwise, and we feel we show ourselves at our best on Ylem. I guess only time will tell if the world agrees.

Blistering.com: You did some tour dates this past December with Satyricon and Shining and I’m guessing you played a bunch of new songs. How did they come across live?

Morean: Very well actually! Especially “The Valley” with its abysmal 7-string sound and earthquake groove pounds holes into the venue floor wherever we play it. But recently we saw how songs like “Ylem,” “Osiris” or “Evenfall” also set the public on fire instantly. The good thing about these new songs is that all of them are perfect live songs with addictive rhythms, riffs and hooks, while offering great musical variety. This rich pallet of moods and emotions has always been important for Dark Fortress, and the new material cements that with every song.

Blistering.com: Tell me about the production of the album. Most of it was handled by V. Santura. Did that level of comfort produce results better than you had anticipated?

Morean: We know that Santura’s skills grow a lot with every production he does, all the more now that he has his own studio. Everything was right this time – the time frame, the place, the mindset, the equipment, all helped us to relax and focus on the music rather than the logistics of producing everything ourselves. And although the previous albums are far from badly produced, I think the difference is obvious after two bars of listening to Ylem. The sound is heavy and mighty, aggressive, but also organic with a certain earthiness. It’s crystal clear, no details are lost, but without ever losing the atmosphere so essential to black metal.

Blistering.com: Outside of a vocalist change, you’ve been able to keep a stable line-up. How do you think that helped apply to the success of your recent albums?

Morean: Contrary to what the guys told me when I joined, the chemistry in the band is excellent, we are good friends and we always look out for each other. Our passion for the band unites us. Despite the fact that we hardly ever agree 100% on anything, we respect each other, and through the years the role each member plays in the band has become clear. The many concerts of the last few years turned us into a well-oiled machine, and we can trust each other blindly on stage. Creatively we do fight a lot, but I think in the end that adds to the richness of our music. It feels like a family enterprise now, and the fact that things have been going well for us positively enhances this feeling. If nobody gave a damn about us, we’d still be doing the same things, but everything would be a whole lot slower.

Blistering.com: Compositionally-speaking, Ylem is your most elaborate, yet instantly gratifying album. As the songs started to progress during the songwriting process, when did this become evident?

Morean: Honestly, even though I instantly liked most of the songs, I only saw what it is we made after the thing was completed and I had a chance to listen to the finished album a couple of times. Santura was ahead of the game of course, he spent many hours finding the right order for the songs and thus composing the album as a whole when the songs were still being written. Tracks like “Wraith,” “Satan Bled” or “Redivider” had question marks hanging over them until the last moment; it’s amazing what the right arrangement and especially the mix can do to a song even though you knew it inside out before. “Osiris” and “Hirudineans” only broke the ice with me when we started playing them in front of an audience. “Ylem” and “The Valley” set me ablaze from the first second I heard them, and I celebrate every single performance we give them as a privilege to be a part of this band and play these monster tracks live.

Blistering.com: One word I think applies to both the band and new album is “sophisticated.” The album is sophisticated from the arrangements to the lyrics, so that being said, can you relate exactly how emphasis you put on making such intriguing black metal?

Morean: This has to do with our individual approach to musicianship and the ambition each of us brings into the band. We have three full-time professional musicians in the band, and the sophistication you mention is a natural consequence for hard working composers and performers. We have to keep the game interesting for ourselves, and were we condemned to stick to old school necro black metal, some of us would lose interest quickly even though we all like that kind of music as listeners. The fact that – at least to us – it’s still black metal is because other parts of the band keep Dark Fortress connected to its roots, they put the nerds’ feet back on the ground if they space out too much. A lot of our qualities stem from this ever-present contrast.

Blistering.com: The album has a great amount of balance to it, but some of the songs that really stand out are the slower, more atmospheric ones like “As the World Keels Over” and “Wraith.” Which style of songs best showcase DF – the fast, traditional black metal numbers or the slower songs?

Morean: In our case, you’ll never be able to have one without the other. We were never a one-style band, a “one-trick-pony,” as a reviewer described it; at least not since Stab Wounds. Although we love many bands that have been doing the same thing for 20 years, we like to offer something more interesting than either a brick wall of blast beats or depressive whining for 80-minutes. We feel you have to take the audience on a trip, drag them kicking and screaming through heaven and hell rather than repeat the same thing over and over. We are escapists in that sense – we feel that it is the duty of our art to offer alternative worlds rather than merely comment on the convention we call reality, and together we have enough abysses in us to fill ten more albums. As always, I’d advise people to keep expecting the unexpected with us, we won’t be nailed to a sub-sub-subgenre so quickly.

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