Concepts are tough nuts to crack, you’ve got to get your story across in roughly 7-10 tracks and at the same time the songs themselves need to stand alone and impress. Venereal Dawn1 is the latest addition to the now seven-deep discography for German black metallers Dark Fortress and it was three years in the making. The album’s concept weaves a tale of survival, betrayal and sacrifice in what is said to be an extremely hostile environment. I’m left with two questions: (1) did our Angry Metal Overlord mistakenly pass on an episode of Lost for my reviewing pleasure? [Answer: Your Angry Metal Overlord does not make mistakes – AMG] More importantly, (2) can vocalist Morean, now well-entrenched in the band’s sound after Eidolon and Ylem, pull off this vague concept?
Venereal Dawn unfurls with the title track at a hefty 11 minutes and as far as epics go, it’s manageable up until the final two minutes, at which point you’re quite ready to hit skip. Your expectation for the song is for something akin to what Dark Fortress have done previously: mid-tempo black metal, symphonic without the use of orchestrations, melodic and very modern, and this certainly delivers that along with a few extra surprises. Atmospheric at first, Morean makes his grand entrance with a menacing narration of poetic proportions before amping up the drama and taking Dark Fortress towards territory that holds hints to the blackened death of Hate.
The rest of the album follows suite and feels like a grab bag of who’s who in metal. You’ve got “Lloigor” that opens up sounding like it should be on Opeth‘s Watershed and a short way in you find something along the lines of [Luca Turilli’s] Rhapsody [of Fire] complete with “In a world…” movie guy voice cropping up. “Betrayal and Vengeance” could easily have been a discarded Naglfar track but with a bunch of Kvarforth (Shining) grunts and theatrics thrown in for giggles. And then there’s “Chrysalis” and “Luciform,” which evoke a weird Hate and Nevermore hybrid which made me want to listen to The Godless Endeavour and The Obsidian Conspiracy. Finally “On Fever’s Wings” bookends the album in all its 11 minute glory that invites Black Sun Aeon, Machine Head, latter day Cemetery and Tiamat to this very muddled party.
Dark Fortress run a tight ship and there’s no lack of precision and talent present in the band. Seraph (drums) also plays for prog metallers Noneuclid and symphonic band ReVamp and I suspect this is where his demanding drum contortions have grown and developed from. Asvargr and Santaura (Noneuclid and Tryptykon) handle the guitars and for the most part they continue with the technical guitar lines that were a part of Ylem. They’ve tried to bring in the heaviness that was lacking in the earlier release and they certainly hit closer to home with the integration of their dextrous, snaking guitar work into Seraph’s uncomfortable tempo shifts.
With the band having worked on this concept for so long, my expectations were high, but in the end Venereal Dawn‘s concept strikes me as too generalized and too tough to spin into a workable idea. Worse yet, with everything Dark Fortress brings to the table, there’s too much happening simultaneously on Venereal Dawn and it isn’t cohesive. This makes it a record that doesn’t catch one’s attention or leave the listener wanting to hear it again. Dark Fortress have veered further away from the black metal of their past and instead, built on to the progressive tendencies and technicality that they worked with on Ylem. Unfortunately, this time around they’ve taken it a step too far, cramming in an over-abundance of variation and as many jarring switches as they possibly can. Finally, all Dark Fortress ends up with are a bunch of dead, bloated bodies in the water and one disappointed reviewer watching them drift downriver out of sight and mind.