** Germany’s Dark Fortress have plied black metal’s murky, obsidian-colored waters for the better part of 20 years. In that time, they’ve crafted seven full-length, all of which have gone on to acclaim and recognition. Unlike most bands, Dark Fortress haven’t played it easy across their varied discography. They’ve experimented, tried new ways to mold the dark into their own visage, and have, largely, come out the other end an eviler, cleverer entity. This plays into new full-length Venereal Dawn. Easily the group’s most accomplished album, Venereal Dawn fits somewhere between Mayhem, Triptykon—guitarist V. Santura is a contributing member—, and, well, Dark Fortress.
Twenty years? What does that mean to Dark Fortress having survived for two decades?
Morean: It just shows how old and how stubborn we are. I guess it’s in our Bavarian blood to hang on to things.
V. Santura: This is a difficult question and maybe I wouldn’t emphasize the fact that we already exist since 20 years too much, makes us look older than we actually are. Asvargr founded the band back then with our old vocalist Azathoth and from the early days it is only Asvargr left in the band. So, for us others the band feels younger, but it speaks for our stamina, idealism (and yes) stubbornness that we are still around. And also that we still really enjoy this band.
How is Dark Fortress a different band now than you were in 2001 on the Tales from Eternal Dusk full-length?
V. Santura: After the recordings for Tales…, which took place in summer 2000, there was a major turning point in the band, because within a few months with Seraph, Draug and myself three new members joined the band. Since then this “second” line-up of Dark Fortress proved to be very stable with the exception that Azathoth and Dark Fortress parted ways in 2007, but Morean established himself extremely quickly as the new face and frontman of the band. I couldn’t imagine Dark Fortress without him now, and it is almost seven years now and three albums together. Of course, the “daily routine” of the band also changed a lot since 2001. Back then we were all living in the same area, rehearsed regularly once or twice a week, arranged a lot of songs together and were still a rather unknown band in the underground. Now, one third of the band lives in the Netherlands, so regular weekly rehearsing is impossible nowadays, so when we get together it is always for special purposes, but then it is super intense.
Venereal Dawn is quite an album title. Tell us where it first came to Dark Fortress and what it means.
Morean: I was ready to start writing my concept and lyrics in 2011. Traveling in Mexico, I was reading Stephen R. Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever again at the time, and was fascinated by the idea of sunlight becoming something that actively and drastically twists and mutates the world. Simultaneously, the ancient lands of Oaxaca and the mind-boggling skies over it that particular day left me spiritually impressed and inspired; something got triggered in my mind and I started seeing scenes like from a movie, heard music, there came a story, images… It had nothing to do with Mexico and not even with Donaldson too much, but sometimes there is this moment that you know something wants to create itself. It can be quite unstoppable. “Venereal Dawn” and “Betrayal And Vengeance” came as titles to me that very moment. We had about 10 good options at the end how we’d call the album, and funny that it came back to the very first words I had written for it. “Venereal” originally just means “pertaining to Venus”, but in daily use it has another connotation: Venus is the goddess of love and beauty, very seductive and elevated, but in reality it is a hellish planet where nothing from this earth can survive. In the term “venereal disease”, it implies a disease that consumes you from the inside. We thought “Venereal Dawn” is an apt title for the similarly two-sided story of this album.
It’s a concept album in nine chapters. Tell us about the concept.
Morean: It centers around the idea of living light; the confrontation of our world with beings whose body is mere quantum quivering, but who possess sentience, intelligence and a long history. The scenario is that the sun has acquired a new character which deforms and perverts all life on the planet. The only way people can protect themselves fleetingly is to anoint their skin with living blood. This has brought down civilization. The protagonist is one of those human sacrifices left to be devoured by those beings. Halfway through the album, the focus shifts from the outside world to internal experience. The story of his and mankind’s demise and transfiguration becomes one of deep spiritual upheaval and catharsis, to the backdrop of a grotesque and extremely hostile world. I’m not sure why I can’t seem to avoid those two elements, dying worlds and spiritual transformation. In that sense the departure point might be similar to other albums we made. However, this time I was interested in the human implications of going through such a process. In a way, the external story is just the images my particular mind created around what I felt when I delved into my own abyss and astral adventures when writing the words. In that sense I hope the album is more than just a story; the emotions and visions we put into it are very real, and left me rather shaken at times. So it’s not just science fiction; I see it as a morbid parabola on things hidden deep inside us.
Was there a particular magic moment—something that said, “Yes! This is our path forward”—for the band while writing Venereal Dawn?
Morean: I guess the song writing session in January 2013 was what finally broke the dam. We had a bunch of loose songs before that, but somehow it always struggled to find a center. We got together every day for a week, everybody bringing their ideas to the table. Then Santura and Seraph jammed out Santura’s ideas in a few intense sessions spread over months, and all of a sudden there was too much stuff! Santura has these periods, when the world leaves him alone for just a little while, that all of a sudden you get five mp3s and there is an album on the table… and suddenly it’s rolling.
You’ve spoken about the album writing process. How’d you finally find time to put it all together?
Morean: Santura has a lot to say about this, I guess. In fact, we worked on it whenever we could in the last three years, many hours went into this album. But the crunch time, once recordings started, was a combination of comparing agendas (and despairing), and Santura finding the time, since he was busy with it full time for months on end. We were annoyed of course that we had to postpone the release again, from early to later 2014, but it was good that we had some time for the finishing touches after Santura delivered the new Triptykon album. Once again, the devil is in the details in this one.
V. Santura: I don’t have to add much to Morean’s explanations here actually. After those songwriting sessions in January 2013 it was clear to me that we would be able to record a complete album somewhere in 2013, because we broke the levee creatively. In the next few months I kept on working on further ideas and had some jam and arranging sessions especially with Seraph and Asvargr, so we decided to produce the album in October and November. The original plan was to record and also mix and master the album within those two months. Usually this should be more than sufficient, but especially during the guitar recordings I got lost in my own world and again I was simultaneously rehearsing with Triptykon for Melana Chasmata. Towards the end of November we basically had everything recorded but I had to admit that I just couldn’t pull of the mix anymore at that time. So we had to cancel our first deadline and postpone the mix for a while until I was finally having time and energy for this again. It sucked that we had to postpone the album, but in the end it was the only right decision, so I could put as much time and love for details into it as I wanted and this way I am super satisfied and happy with the final result. I think I was only once about that satisfied with a Dark Fortress album directly after it was finished.
Dark Fortress are known for doing different cover songs. Katatonia and Angelo Badalamenti. Any covers on Venereal Dawn?
Morean: Not on the album, but we did record a cover of Shining’s “Besvikelsens Dystra Monotoni” a few years ago, which is now floating around in our ether with the other songs we wrote and recorded for the album. So, we hope to be able to release an EP with more material not too long after Venereal Dawn.
How was the studio experience this time around? I gather there was a lot of soul searching given time and professional constraints.
Morean: I don’t know how Santura doesn’t go crazy during his months of production, but I always enjoy screaming at him for hours on end. [Laughs] It felt it took forever, and we kept re-doing and tweaking the smallest details till the last second. But I enjoyed every moment, we had deep conversations and good food, and time to really focus. It was extremely exciting to witness these songs coming to life.
V. Santura: Well, I was running out of time and energy during the first mix (as described before) and I got too fucking self-critical with the guitar recordings at a certain time which was a little counterproductive, but other than that the studio sessions were great. This time we used an external studio with a big room for the drum recordings and this was a really interesting experience. It was our explicit aim to achieve a very natural, but still aggressive drum sound. I know, it is kind of en vogue to sound like a ’70s band nowadays, and the other extreme is to have totally quantized, triggered-to-death plastic drums. Personally, I don’t like either of these extremes and we tried to achieve a good compromise between a natural classic rock and a modern metal production. Also, every song in the album has its very own identity and so each song had to be treated very differently the way it was recorded, produced and mixed. Also, we never put so much time in the vocal recordings and arrangements and I think you can hear that. The most important thing to me was to capture the emotions that are within the songs in the right way and emphasize them.
Name five German black metal bands—other than yourselves—that deserve a name drop.
Morean: Haradwaith, Farsot, Secrets Of The Moon, Eudaimony, Lunar Aurora.
V. Santura: Ascension, Secrets of the Moon, Sonic Reign, Katharsis, Farsot
What is black metal to Dark Fortress?
Morean: The musical expression of emotional abysses.
V. Santura: The musical expression of emotional abysses. P.S. Is Dark Fortress still black metal? Or are we far beyond that?
** Dark Fortress’ new album, Venereal Dawn, is out September 1st on Century Media Records. Pre-orders are not yet available, but click this link (HERE) to get back catalog titles like Ylem and Eidolon.