Venerated black metal specialists DARK FORTRESS returned with a new album, “Spectres from the Old World”, after six-years. Germany’s darkest sons continue where Venereal Dawn (2014) left off conceptually-the birth-death lifecycle of the universe as told by spacetime-but are expanding DARKFORTRESS’ musical horizons by descending faster and with spiteful intent into the cosmic abyss.
These musical themes play out fiercely in “Coalescence,” “The Spider in the Web,” “Pazuzu,” and the pivotal title track. “Pali Aike,” named after an actual Chilean hellscape, finds vocalist Morean marshalling his bandmates to the very centre of time-worn volcanoes to an epic thrum.
“Isa,” in many ways the opposite of “Pali Aike,” feels very cold, its dissonance and grooves inspired by antediluvian ice storms. The triumvirate is complete with the limpid black expanse of “Swan Song.”
Recorded, engineered, mixed, and mastered by V. Santura (Triptykon, Obscura, Sulphur Aeon), Spectres from the Old World marks an important milestone in DARKFORTRESS’ journey along actual and spiritual left-hand paths.
As the band decided to keep quite silent and vague about the process up until the recordings were basically completed, I found the timing perfect, to have a chat with them now and get to know them a bit better.
Hi guys! Make some coffee, we’re gonna talk about entropy.
As a universal force, the entropic mechanisms are frequently occurring in your unusual lyrical thematology.
I understand the physical analogy but judging by those references I’m starting to suspect there’s something else hidden in there.
What kind of psychological aspects are depicted here? Is it an uncertainty of the future? Fear of the unknown perhaps? Or maybe an average heartbreak that had you seeking comfort in the disorder of the cosmos?
Morean: Hi, thanks for having us! I’ve always considered myself an escapist to the bone. I’ve spent the majority of my time in alternative worlds that music, art, literature and film offer to those who are fed up with reality. However, in recent years, my fascination for the actual physical universe we inhabit has been growing all the time.
The more I’m trying to understand how this incredible cosmos is thought to have been originated (basically, how a handful of physical laws, amongst which entropy or heat exchange is the most fundamental force, has led to the creation of stars, planets and, eventually, life) the deeper the mystery of how everything is connected.
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How much of a miracle it is that anything exists at all, has become for me; to the point that those fictional worlds we love and draw inspiration from really started to pale in comparison. If you delve far enough into the extremes of what science is doing, you find more strangeness, beauty, horror and awe in reality than you’d think, at least if you limit the definition of “reality” to the manmade world.
Of course, one could argue that talking about the big bang and the heat death of the universe is still fictional, since these concepts are only our current explanation based on what we know today, and any day someone might discover something that turns our worldview upside down again.
But the mere possibility that we’re actually on the money with our findings gives this realm of science a lot more relevance, in my eyes, than all our very clumsy attempts at metaphysical explanations, which you usually know in advance to be false. The fact that this model of our world only helps to highlight how irrelevant humans are in the big picture, and it gives us the angle of hopelessness needed in this genre of music.
Ok, let’s lighten up. We all love the way you do corpse paint. Do you do your own stage makeup?
From personal experience that’s a hell of a struggle to take off.
So, how do you take it off? We need you to enlighten us!
Morean: Yes, we do it ourselves. I tend to curse and grumble every single time because I actually hate putting on makeup. When I joined I grudgingly had to admit that it does create a specific look for a band, which can enhance the impact of a performance.
A wet wipe or two does the trick with water-based makeup if the makeup hasn’t already come off with the sweating and head-banging.
Do you enjoy solitude or are you social, extrovert creatures?
Morean: Definitely solitude, but in this solitude, we always include the inner circle of our close friends and families. Alone, you are nothing as a human, and this band would have stopped existing a long time ago if it weren’t for the friendship and camaraderie we share.
I think that at the heart of our existence lies the desire to do what we enjoy and be left alone as much as possible for the rest, and we’ve chosen our respective professions accordingly.
When you think about what we are, a species, I’d propose to more appropriately call “semi-sapiens”, considering how stupid we can still be as supposedly intelligent creatures, then a certain level of misanthropy is pretty much inevitable.
However, I don’t hate anyone specifically. We’re basically all the same shit to begin with and one has to accept that you yourself are just another idiot like everyone else, so it’s kinda hard to point fingers at those around you to be honest.
There was a six-year gap and we missed you to death. What happened during those years?
Morean: It’s true that we haven’t shown our faces much in recent years, though we always try to play at least a few festivals every year. We are all very busy with other bands, projects, careers, jobs and kids, so it’s unfortunately, getting harder and harder to find the time to get together as a band. We’re not getting any younger either.
What matters to us is that when we get together, it’s worth it, and we preferred to take the time we needed to make this new album the strongest album we could, rather than releasing something premature and half-assed just to put something out.
Did you miss us as well?
Morean: Of course! Playing live is hard work, especially if you have to come from different countries every time to do anything at all as a band. It involves endless hours at airports and on shitty highways, and bad food and no sleep usually. When the show starts, it is the audience that reminds us every time why we are still doing this after all these years.
The thought that something you came up with on your couch in the middle of the night on a random Wednesday actually means something to other people you’ve never met is still a beautiful and humbling experience to me. Without our fans, we’d have difficulties to motivate ourselves to put as much work into our music as we do. This year we will return to the stage a lot more intensely than in the past. We look forward to that!
Your music is a treasure chest when it comes to pitch-black full-length masterpieces and the band has a reputation of being the ones who that dared to evolve without betraying their roots. How do you manage to stay true to the old school black metal heritage and expand beyond the lines on the black metal map at the same time?
Morean: Thanks! Honestly, we just do what we want. We love this music and that’s why we do it. I for one, couldn’t care less what the outside world calls it. We’re not trying to please anyone, and the idea that you’re expected to conform to all the clichés of a genre that is supposed to be all about non-conformism is frankly idiotic.
Of course, singing about geraniums to blast beats wouldn’t work. I’ll be damned if I let nameless trolls determine what I can and cannot say, and I’m sure the other songwriters in the band feel the same way.
So, the mix of ingredients on our albums is just the sum of what we find interesting and inspiring. Luckily, we’ve acquired the skills and knowledge as musicians to be able to go wherever our inspiration takes us. The fact that it’s still black metal, for the most part, is owed to the fact that that’s what we like to play and write.
The categorization of it, and also the subsequent arguments where something does or doesn’t belong in the great bookkeeping effort of metal genres, is something for the fans and journalists. As creators, we’re not busy with that at all. Why limit your ideas before you’ve even allowed yourself to have them?
I recently had a chat with Michael Denner of Mercyful Fate and we talked about how black metal is packed with ideology and ethos which deprives the music itself of being the main priority. So many political views, anti-religion beliefs and statements. It’s no secret that Dark Fortress had to deal with such situations in the past and you had to disassociate yourselves repeatedly from certain situations. It sucks that you had to deal with it. How on earth do we overcome those stereotypes and just free -fall into the music?
Morean: You make an excellent point. Look at all the documentaries made about black metal in recent years. They’re all the same, always just the same old stupid Mayhem story, and not a single one of those films has anything to say about the music itself, which, coincidentally, is the sole reason we’re doing this.
In the case of Mayhem, their music would be so much more of a valuable topic for discussion than the question which idiot stabbed which other idiot decades ago. Other bands might see the genre as a vehicle to transport ideological messages, but to be honest; I don’t find a whole lot of content in the vast majority of what those bands have to say.
It’s usually just repeating the same clichés, words, riffs and imagery over and over again. It has become a marketing strategy more than anything else, and the press outside of dedicated metal journalism has done nothing to help that. At the end of the day, I think our listeners know what’s what, and don’t need an explanation of how to enjoy the music.
So, in practice, this has never been a problem for us, and I think anyone taking five minutes to research what we’re all about will quickly find out that we’re doing our own thing. It’s extreme music and thus probably always doomed to the underground, and maybe that’s a good thing.
If extreme metal became mainstream, the genuinely free and extreme nature of its expression wouldn’t be possible any longer I guess.
Let’s go back in time. You are 15 years old. It’s Friday night. What are you up to?
Morean: Kneeling in front of my stereo with headphones on, wallowing in self-pity with blue balls from not scoring with the ladies, covered in pimples down to my waist, and disappearing from the world to the sounds of Slayer, Bathory, Voivod and Fates Warning.
Back to today: It’s a casual non-tour Friday night today. What are you up to now?
Morean: Cook a nice meal, maybe do a workout, and then rot on the couch with a good series and maybe some accompanying local recreational niceties, all while waiting for the battery to charge itself back to over 5% so I can work all day again tomorrow.
Until the next one,
This interview was originally published on MHF MAGAZINE. Probably the best metal magazine and community in the world. But don’t listen to me, I’m a managing partner and the creative director of MHF, so just see for yourself.