February 24, 2020 Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World (Album Review)
Returning with their eighth studio album since forming back in 1994, Bavarian Black Metal veterans Dark Fortress look to solidify their position as the kings of the German scene with Spectres From The Old World, out February 28th, 2020 via the ever-reliable Century Media Records imprint. Produced by Guitarist V. Santura in Woodhouse Studios, the band returns after a six-year gap to recapture the momentum generated by frequent studio releases and a sterling reputation for quality.
Though frequently classified and associated with Black Metal, Dark Fortress plays music that can overall best be described as Extreme Dark Metal. Mid-paced music is something they do quite well, as evidenced on the title-track. Backing orchestral keys subtly underpin a healthy set of riffs, offset by the gravelly voice of Singer Morean. Seeing as how this song follows the icy blast of “Coalescence,” one mustn’t assume the Germans cannot play the speed game as well. Injecting some Thrash moments, Dark Fortress shows their ability to combine styles with nods to past inspirations but wholly adding something new and sinister to Heavy Metal’s family tree. Great solos precede a return back to the velocity that began the song. This one is definitely an album highlight.
Melding the fist in the air, martial swagger of anthemic Thrash with a bit of the periodic blasting of ’90s Black Metal, “Pazuzu” demonstrates how Dark Fortress should be able to appeal to the corpse-painted set as well as to fans of Kreator and Testament. Though somber in intent, suitably deep in lyrical framework, the band does not hesitate in making their music enjoyable, and – at the risk of misrepresenting the band’s seriousness – even fun. This song would absolutely induce one hell of a circle pit, and there is nothing wrong with that as opposed to one long blast beat.
Dark Fortress turn up the speed on “Pulling at Threads.” Yet, just when one thinks they might be channeling their Swedish colleagues in Marduk, a clean vocal break with tempo change churns up the waters of the song. The slower break in the middle calls to mind old Slayer, and though it comes in at only 3:12, this is one of the finer songs on the album.
Building upwards like a classic Thrash monument, “Isa” teases with some well-crafted build-up of melodic guitar work and leads. That they are in no hurry lends itself to an enveloping atmosphere that pulls the listener inward. The song benefits from eerie clean vocals, as elsewhere upon it, to great effect. A somber, cleaner guitar tone beneath the distorted one adds to the creepy, old-school vibe, though what sounds like a general lead-up to some speedy departure never quite happens. Fantastic leads make themselves heard, however, staving off the desire for any tempo-change. Moody and tense, this one grows with subsequent listens. For guitar enthusiasts, the soloing is quite savory for the ears.
Containing something for everyone, Dark Fortress has carved for themselves an artistic freedom the bounds of which allow them to vacillate between the shadowy Thrash above and the Black Metal of “Swan Song,” which contains its share of prog-oriented guitar leads. This is a guitar album, so no matter how Black Metal the trappings of the songs may be, the riffs and especially the leads (courtesy of the aforementioned V. Santura and his six-string colleague Asvargr) bespeak some serious true metal chops. On this song, Seraph’s elite drumming separates the blast from the mid-paced with more than simple breaks here and there. The blasts are interspersed between a galaxy of pleasing slower passages, to splendid effect. The way the keys of Phenex back up music is reminiscent of 90’s orchestral Black Metal, in a decidedly un-fluffy fashion. They don’t go full-choir on the song (they very easily could have) but the song contains a lot of epic parts with some clean-sung vocals.
All told, Dark Fortress have crafted a truly creative and compelling album seated firmly in Extreme Metal’s present while nodding in appreciation at its past. For this reason, Cryptic Rock gives Spectres of the Old World 4 out of 5 stars.