The mighty DARK FORTRESS looms large once again. In cosmic hibernation for the better part of six years, the Bavarian song-masters have finally descended from their empyrean domain to storm black metal norms, set the pillars of light ablaze, and to render hope useless. Forged in the deepest, darkest dungeons and ensorcelled with forgotten celestial magic, DARK FORTRESS’ eighth full-length Spectres from the Old World isn’t just another black metal album to grease the genre’s proverbial gears. No, this is the Germans reborn, rekindled, envisioned anew. Spearheaded by “Pulling at Threads,” “Isa,” “The Spider in the Web,” and the massive “Pali Aike,” DARK FORTRESS have transcended their celebrated back catalog—namely 2014’s Venereal Dawn and 2010’s Ylem—with songs informed by theoretical physics, moved by the annihilation of humanity, and inspired by Chilean hellscapes. As for what took ages to realize Spectres from the Old World, the devil, as always, has other plans for the collective.
“Our drummer Seraph works as drum tech and he is fantastic at his job, so he is on the road a lot,” says guitarist V. Santura. “Morean is a renowned contemporary classical composer and almost constantly busy and our new keyboardist Phenex is also involved as sessionist in several bands like The Ruins of Beverast and Satyricon and also works as light technician. I run a studio in Germany called Woodshed Studio and work with other bands and music in general almost every day. And, of course, I’m also playing guitar in Triptykon and even started a new band with friends from Finland called Rootbrain that I’m pretty excited about.” DARK FORTRESS, however, is not meant to suffer at the hands of immersion and liveliness outside the project. Rather, the professions, day jobs, and creative endeavors have bolstered and fortified the Germans over the course of their storied 26-year career. They’ve come out the other end stronger and with a wider vantage point, which has resulted in better, wildly riveting songs on Spectres from the Old World. The ultra-aggressive “Coalescence,” the harrowing “Isa,” the paradisiacal “Swan Song,” and the expansive title track owe their brilliance to what primary songwriter Santura was involved in and electrified by. Certainly, the sessions—with Santura alone, partnering with keyboardist Phenex, and drawing spirited riffs from founding member/guitarist Asvargr—unfurled malignantly without much coercion.
“I would say the songs happened very naturally to begin with,” Santura says. “Back in 2015, I had a period of a couple of months in which the ideas for a big part of the album just came very naturally. I didn’t have to force them. Sometimes I just grabbed a guitar and got another idea. I was simply inspired. The first half of the album was actually written chronologically, just in the order the songs appear on the album. So, the first song I wrote was the music for ‘Nascence’ and ‘Coalescence,’ which I basically see as one song by the way. We just thought it would be better to split it into two titles for the CD release. ‘Coalescence’ basically set the tone for me and is one of the key songs for me. The song just happened. I don’t even know how. I was basically just playing guitar and had some recording device running and then the riffs just streamed out. When this happened I was totally high on adrenaline, the riffs had such an icy, dark and intense energy, something that I wanted to write since a long time and couldn’t get it right and there it was. Somehow this
song reminds me of ‘Ghastly Indoctrination,’ the opening track of Séance, which is a song with a similar vibe and it is still one of my favorite songs of all time.”
The writing sessions were split into three parts. The on-fire “Nascence” and “Coalescence” came first followed by “The Spider in the Web,” “Spectres from the Old World,” “Pali Aike,” and “Pazuzu.” Santura and team would sit at this juncture for two years until timing was right to riff again. DARK FORTRESS wrote and then discarded a black ‘n’ roll song—a group decision—but then found their footing in gem “In Deepest Time.” From there, “Isa” and “Pulling at Threads” emerged from the fog of space-time, while “Swan Song” and “Nox Irae” were unearthed and stitched together from Asvargr’s ageless tomb of riffs and motifs. In many ways, Spectres from the Old World is an album of two halves, with “Pazuzu” spiking the end of Side A. The other side is where DARK FORTRESS expand artistically, taking black metal into uncharted territory. But much of what we hear, read (the lyrics), and see (the layout) on Spectres from the Old World were impelled by pictures Morean took while vacationing in Chile and beyond. “
“One night, in summer 2015, we checked out the pictures from his trip,” says Santura. “All of a sudden there was this one photo that struck me like lightning. I instantly fell in love with this picture and it made something within me resonate. I could totally connect the atmosphere and aura of this photo to the atmosphere of the music I was just working on. Somehow, this picture was the ultimate graphic realization of what I was trying to express musically. I never had something like that and it was totally unexpected. I instantly wanted to have this picture as the cover for the new DARK FORTRESS album. In fact, it did not become the cover, but it is part of the booklet and also the picture that you will see when you open the gatefold of the LP version. It shows two icy mountain peaks on the coastline of Antarctica and in between you see the full moon, just perfectly between those peaks in a faint veil of fog and its light is reflecting on the ocean.”
Lyrically, Spectres from the Old World finds itself in the interstice between concept albums. Indeed, the new album picks up where Venereal Dawn left off on “On Fever’s Wings,” but there is no central theme or successive narrative. The story is observed and chronicled by the fabric of space-time itself. Themes of string theory, the decline of man, cosmology, the lifecycle of a universe, existential hubris, and mankind’s overall insignificance are evanescent as they role play like ghosts haunting Spectres from the Old World throughout its hour-long advance into the cold dark void. Time is cruel. Time is inevitable. Everything ends in time. “Since the album’s subject is the life span of a universe,” vocalist Morean says. “We wanted to capture and show the world in a kind of virginal state, untouched by man, showing the power of creation of a mere handful laws of physics that created everything we see. These days it’s hard to get this vibe in nature in most places where civilization dominates. But travelling to the ends of the earth helps tremendously to give you the illusion of walking on the surface of an alien planet, or a world not yet ‘infested’ by human presence. The simultaneous sense of timeless abandonment and mind-blowing, outer-space-like beauty of these areas rarely visited by man fit perfectly to the vibe of the songs to us. At the same time, we consider it our task as artists to open the doors to alternative universes. So while still embracing the escapist aesthetics of our genre, we went with this concept of showing photographic reality that seems closer to abstract art than to the planet we know from our daily life. It seemed a fresher visual approach to us than to reiterate commonly chosen fantasy drawings or goat head black metal clichés. Everything on this album points to the irrelevance of human megalomania in the big picture, and what better way to express that than in the (almost) complete absence of human artefacts in the imagery?”
While the writing of Spectres from the Old World took the better part of four years, the recording sessions weren’t as elongated. Over the next 11 months—working periodically—Santura would engineer, produce, mix, and master DARK FORTRESS’ masterwork. That Santura and team literally missed the group’s 25th Anniversary was no surprise. Not only were the band members too busy internally and externally to formulate a proper DARK FORTRESS event to commemorate two and a half decades of black metal supremacy, the past is, in their view, the past. So, no on-stage reunion with previous members, no exclusive 7”, no special t-shirt design… nothing, in fact. The Germans were far to ensconced with the present to concern themselves with past glories. The studio sessions, namely at Santura’s own Woodshed Studio, were their common focus.
“The actual recordings started in the very beginning of 2019, on January 3rd,” Santura says. “We recorded the drums in two different sessions of three days each, one in January, one in February. We had to spread the recordings over various sessions over the next few months basically to fit everyone’s time schedule. After the drum recordings were finished I had to dedicate my mind to the Triptykon Requiem, which was performed in April at the Roadburn Festival. Pretty much straight after that we recorded all rhythm guitars. The vocals where done in two different sessions, first due to Morean’s time schedule but I also liked the approach of only working on a few songs at a time; to let them sink in and work with a fresh mind set for the next songs. So, the last vocals were finished at the very end of September. Then, I had two weeks to refresh my mind and did the mix and the mastering in the second half of October. With the last amendments the master was finished on November 6th to be totally precise.”
DARK FORTRESS have surpassed the cruelty of predecessor Venereal Dawn and crepuscular greatness of Ylem with the new full-length, Spectres from the Old World. They’ve gone above and beyond, in fact. From the icy glint of the remarkable cover art and the vigor of songs like “Coalescence” and “Pulling at Threads” to the brooding lyrical themes and riveting songs like “The Spider in the Web” and “Swan Song,” DARK FORTRESS effortlessly weave us into their spells. This is black metal quite unlike before: violent, musical, introspective, cold, observant, and powerful. As for the Germans’ next move, the world is ready to unfold before them. “We are definitely going to tour properly and we really want to,” says Santura. “I really believe in this album and want to give it the support it deserves. A bunch of festivals are already confirmed and more will follow. We will soon announce some dedicated release shows, which will take place at the end of March and we are also planning a headlining tour through Europe in October. And we are especially excited about the fact that we will finally come to the U.S., if nothing goes wrong with our visa applications. We are playing at Maryland Deathfest at the end of May and at California Deathfest at the end of June and are even planning a few additional dates on the West Coast. Exciting times, indeed.”