Dark Fortress – Spectres from the Old World Review

Back in 2014, Madam X covered the release of Venereal Dawn by Bavarian brutalists Dark Fortress. Our Marchioness de Machiavelli didn’t particularly care for the album’s progressive expansion of melodic black metal. I, on the other hand, adored it. Since Morean joined forces with V. Santura, their sonic shade has substantially deepened. The duo’s combined involvement in projects as diverse as Alkaloid, Triptykon, Noneuclid and Hannes Grossmann has wrought one my favorite writing partnerships in extreme metal. Six years on, and Dark Fortress are poised to drop eighth album Spectres from the Old World. Those like me, who fed on the rich deposits of creativity inherent in its predecessor, will find plenty to absorb. Even those looking for the more traditional results of earlier Seances might sate their appetites. But old habits die hard, and old mistakes even harder.

Long time readers of AMG will know I’m rather selective about my black metal diet. Dark Fortress have always appealed with their apparently effortless ability to create rich and engaging songs. Their gradual ascent into more progressive climes has only served to deepen my affection. In many ways Spectres from the Old World picks up where Venereal Dawn left off. The increasingly mercurial riffing remains present, but always within the parameters of adept songwriting. In terms of sheer velocity, the record does well to remind of the teeth potential in any melodically inclined release. The combination results in a legitimacy Dark Fortress have long commanded. A quality absent in so many bands over-enamoured with such refractively suspect citrus.

Spectres from the Old World is just full of great fucking songs. But in the truest sense of the term. The interplay between Asvargr and Santura has yielded a fantastic selection of tracks that steadily evolve throughout the album. Where “Coalescence” and the title-track persist with traditional riffing, “Isa” and “Pali Aike” radiate an eerie gloom and molten advance respectively. The record’s steady exploration of progression reveals itself in its minutiae. “The Spider in the Web” spins subtle permutations of its main verse and “In Deepest Time” marches forth, before another of Santura’s excellent solos heralds a climactic end. However, the writing never forgoes a hook or great chorus in favor of extremity. Equally, Morean’s vocal acrobatics run the gamut between deathly deeps and bilious black wretches, but he remains keen to utilize his distorted cleans as the material requires. Backed by the omnipresent keys of Phenex, the album makes for a self-aware whole, triumphantly greater than the sum of its parts.

Dark Fortress have historically gone a few rounds with album length. At just under an hour, its clear they have made an effort to self-edit. But not enough. Spectres from the Old World is incredibly well-paced; the death metal present in “Pazuzu” and the tight blackened riffing that courses through “Pulling at Threads” is reliably countered by more methodical songs. This affords a fluidity missing in so many modern metal releases. The fact that the album’s weakest cuts are bolted on to the end is incredibly frustrating. “In Deepest Time” feels like the album’s natural conclusion. But by continuing on, and at a diminished level, the record begins to actively fatigue. “Swansong” isn’t bad, but it doesn’t compare to “Isa,” which does it better, and while it’s nice to hear Santura’s time in Triptykon in the doom closer “Nox Irae,” it’s disposable. These missteps don’t retroactively ruin the album. But what could, and should, have been a concise product suddenly feels significantly prolonged.

Black metal is a genre that feeds on creativity. Dark Fortress have continued to evolve into something distinctly sophisticated and Spectres from the Old World is another great example. However, the band are reaching a point where they need to address their bloat. These albums never want for coherence, but I’m beginning to dread just how over-inflated they might be. Spectres from the Old World is certainly a step in the right direction. Such tenebrous tithes deserve the attention of any fan of extreme metal, regardless of genre preference. Such an engaging dichotomy of acute and blunt can only be a good thing, so make sure you bask in what is sure to be a favorite of 2020.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Century Media Records
Website: facebook.com/officialdarkfortress
Releases Worldwide: February 28th, 2020

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