Review Summary: Depressing black/doom metal crossover from the depths of Germany
If you listen to the first track and single off of “Ylem” you could quite easily mistake Dark Fortress to be a highly charged, slightly stereotypical black metal band focused upon melodic guitar riffs and the high-end shrieks of frontman Morean, who replaced long serving vocalist Azathoth in 2007. As a matter of fact you would be very wrong indeed, for what these German nutters have given us with their fifth release is one depressing, gloomy journey through the Black Forest’s of Germany that will leave you slightly puzzled, and perhaps wanting a second listen in the process.
In reality, the odd nature that Dark Fortress goes about proceedings is one of the bands strongest traits. While the aforementioned title track opens with frantic lead guitar work and militaristic drumming which keep the songs pace, follower “As the World Keels Over” is a much more dingy affair. The guitars echo around the speakers and Morean’s moans add a superb atmosphere to the song, akin to the work of fellow genre compatriots Triptykon, which guitarist V. Santura also lends a hand to. However, despite working on such a lauded project don’t expect Dark Fortress to break into the black metal elite just yet.
The guitar work of V. Santura and Asvargr while sounding slightly repetitive on occasions is pretty distinctive, there is no overbearing theme of keyboards unlike fellow name sharers Dimmu Borgir and the stick work of Seraph is particularly impressive, although he employs one or two distracting and unneeded techniques on the album which I do not approve of. The worst offender is the pointless, rapid blasts on the snare on “As the World Keels Over” and “Redivider” which just sounds out of place, especially given that these two tracks are some of the best, guitar wise on the album for their slow, yet atmospheric pace. Furthermore, black metal purists wanting a dirty, gritty record are going to be disappointed for the production is squeaky clean and the direction the band take you throughout the playtime takes several twists which is somewhat annoying and unnecessary.
So, what exactly makes this album a 3.5, I hear you ask. With 12 songs sounding roughly the same and a heavy reliance on the vocal theatrics of Morean, “Ylem” is far from essential black metal listening. But it doesn’t take itself too seriously either, nor does it stick within the usual confinements of the genre, which can make it come a cropper at times, but not for the majority. The theatrics usually associated with melodic black metal are largely missing, Morean and Paymon between them instead preferring to unleash them in short bursts which is somewhat refreshing to hear. And the focus upon the strong guitar work instead of overworked keyboards and vocals is refreshing to hear as it goes against what the melodic black metal genre has become for bands such as Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth.
What Dark Fortress has given the listener with “Ylem” is hardly essential black metal listening. But that does not mean it is a bad release. There is a focus upon the great guitar work but it doesn’t overburden the songs, Morean proves he is a competent vocalist and stickman Seraph hands in a great performance, only let down by his occasional overplaying on the snare. It’s not meant to be technical, or even that serious but that is what makes Dark Fortress’ fifth studio offering worth checking out.
2. As the World Keels Over
5. The Valley