Ahead of the February 28th release of Spectres From the Old World (Century Media Records), the new album from long-running German black metal institution Dark Fortress’, we were lucky enough to have a chat with guitarist and songwriter, V. Santura, about the band, the new disc, and their upcoming debut tour on American soil. Santura not only was integral to the writing and recording process, but he also was responsible for mixing and mastering the new album, which was completed in the fall.
Well, first and easiest question: for you specifically what sets this new album apart from any other Dark Fortress record?
V. Santura: “From any other Dark Fortress record? That is not such an easy question after all. I think I see a big contrast to the last two records. But I think stylistically it goes a little bit back to what we have been doing in that period when we made Seance and Eidolon. So I perceive it as more contact and a little bit more straight and aggressive and less proggy than the previous two albums, but I also think that we grow as songwriters every time and what I am especially proud of with this album is that the whole album has one big musical storyline… has a really great flow I think.”
Well I have to agree with you there. The whole thing flows beautifully. It is interesting for me that you speak that it goes back to your older albums like Eidolon and Séance and…
Santura: “A little bit… I mean we are not trying to copy ourselves. But I think it has a little bit more of this fierce black metal vibe that these albums had.”
One of my later questions though… I actually made a note of it that… where tracks like “Pazuzu” have a much heavier flavour than recent Dark Fortress offerings.
Santura: “Yeah I totally agree… I think it was one of my intentions to get this aggressive side of us back into the sound. Not that we ever lost it totally, but I think I wanted to emphasize it a lot more this time around. I am very happy that we have achieved that.”
Sit back and enjoy the stream of “Pulling at Threads” courtesy of Century Media Records...
Ok excellent. The second thing I want to talk about is that you have pre-released “Pulling At Threads” as a track stream.
Santura: “Yeah as a first single…”
Are there plans for more advanced releases or singles or possibly even a music video?
Santura: “Yes, actually in two days from now, so next Friday, the second song is going to be pre-released as a single, which is going to be ‘Isa’ which pretty much is the opposite track of ’Pulling At Threads’ because ’Pulling At Threads’ is like the shortest and probably the most aggressive song on the album and ’Isa’ is the longest and most eclectic and also the slowest one. So we just want to show like the extremes or aspects that make up this album. And there is also going to be a third song, going to be pre-released by the middle February which will be ’The Spider in the Web.’ And we are shooting a video this weekend actually for ’Pali Aike.’”
Ok very interesting choices…
Santura: “Is it?”
I like the idea of the video for “Pali Aike.” That is going to be excellent to see…
Santura: “Yes, I mean yeah I hope… you never know. We don’t have a huge budget for video and of course, things are a bit limited of what we can do but I believe that this is the perfect choice and we can come up with a really, really good video and I am really looking forward to shoot that video.”
Well I am looking forward to seeing it. If you say that the third stream will be in the middle of February it will actually compliment the release of the review as well. We will probably time it so that it can go out at the same time on PureGrainAudio.com.
Santura: “Ok that will be good timing actually…”
Spectres From the Old World is due out on February 28th via Century Media Records.
Great. The third question: you were saying obviously with musical or music videos you have a bit of a budgetary constraint. I have been looking at your press release and you have got the upcoming shows in the U.S., which is quite exciting.
Santura: “Yes it is.”
Historically, it seems like capturing the U.S. audience was arguably a big break for black metal artists like Dimmu Borgir and Satyricon to really get a completely a new audience. Do you have similar hopes of success for Dark Fortress?
Santura: “To be honest, I don’t really know what to expect yet. Like many years when we were just doing Séance and Eidolon there was an offer that we could tour the U.S. but it all fell apart because we didn’t really get support from Century Media USA and we would have needed money or tour support. And like after that I kind of gave up the whole idea that we would ever go there because it is really, really expensive to get the visas to do it properly, and also to get the flights.
But to my big surprise actually the Maryland Deathfest organizers were willing to pay the visas and the flights and now we are also playing California Deathfest and we will probably also do a little West Coast tour after California Deathfest so that is something that I already gave up with and of course I am having certain hopes because it is also in a way a dream coming true for a European band to have the chance to play the U.S… it is something only a few can achieve. I am quite excited about that but I don’t really know what to expect.”
Well, I can only hope for the best. Coming from South Africa we are used to having the bands there saying that touring Europe is the big break and success. It is interesting that European bands say touring the U.S. is the next big success.
Santura: “Of course, it is always a big meaning if you can tour abroad or on a different continent that is something special for everybody I think. At least in the start…”
Whet your appetite with the pre-release stream of “Isa.”
Definitely… then you have got the upcoming release shows in Europe. What can live audiences expect?
Santura: “We will just do a long setlist, of course, featuring the new album but it will be a ‘best of’ setlist basically featuring maybe a track from almost every album. We also just re-released our third album Stab Wounds so, of course, we will play tracks from that one too so it will be a best-of setlist featuring three or four new songs of course.”
Ok wonderful… I did a review of the Stab Wounds re-release for PureGrainAudio.com (read it here) as well and that is how they got me onto trying to talk to you about Spectres From the Old World. I will also be at the show in Rotterdam so I will be looking forward to that. Now… moving away from that, earlier on you said that you are trying to steer further from the more progressive sound of Ylem and Venereal Dawn but there is still very much an intellectual flavour to the Dark Fortress sound. It is one of those… any album you put on you can almost immediately hear it is Dark Fortress. It is a bit more melodic, a bit cleverer… do you think that that has been a benefit or a liability for Dark Fortress?
Santura: “Fuck, that is a good question. It is also nice that you say we are a bit clever. I would never say it about ourselves because it would be pretentious to claim that about yourself. But I think it is an advantage and a disadvantage to a certain degree because sometimes you just get crowds easier if you are purely necro or simple but I mean we are and I think especially the thing that you just said that you can clearly identify Dark Fortress very quickly that is a big compliment because that is difficult to achieve to nowadays have your own identity and don’t sound like anybody else.”
I will be honest I actually in a lot of other reviews that I do I use Dark Fortress as a benchmark to compare other bands to.
Santura: “Ok! Well cool!”
Whenever somebody is trying to do something particularly technical within black metal I compare it to Dark Fortress. Recent examples have been like Helleborus or Aethyrick have both recently done far more well-constructed and well-arranged offerings than I expected and with both cases, I compared them to Dark Fortress.
Santura: “Ok interesting. Cool.”
But I have to admit that Dark Fortress is for me a bit of an ‘under the radar band’ and that is why I try to bring you out. You are one of the bands I try to get other people to take note of. Was it a decision or an accident to be more underground?
Santura: “I think we could have pushed the band more if we would have been more present and been more active especially on the live front and maybe it is also due to the fact that we don’t have a particularly extreme image. Like other bands in black metal. And the thing that we haven’t been as active as we could that was also something that personally frustrated me big time years ago, but at one point we just accepted that everybody is very busy and that we don’t have that much time like personally, to be a super active touring band and play a hundred gigs a year.”
Yes, I saw in your press release for the album that it actually makes a note that you missed your 25-year celebration.
Santura: “Yeah but I mean but I really don’t see that 25-year celebration as something very important. Maybe our other guitar player Asvargr might think differently about that and he formed the band in 1994 and he is really doing it since 25 years but our drummer and me are the longest-serving members except for him and we both joined in early 2001 so for us, for the rest of the band, it doesn’t feel like we are around since 25 years already. It feels like ok, we are doing this since 18 or 19 years in that lineup, but not really 25. So that whole 25th anniversary feels rather surreal to me.”
Ok, that makes sense. Ok, well if you had to choose one album or even one song out of the Dark Fortress discography for me to introduce your band to a new audience, what would you choose?
Santura: “I mean I am saying the obvious thing now because I would definitely use the new album. Because I think it is really representing Dark Fortress very well. Because it has both the elements of the newer more progressive side, but also goes back to the more grim and fierce black metal side so I think it is a very good way to show the band what Dark Fortress is about… And which song? That is almost impossible to answer… Maybe it would even be the opening track of the new album ’Nascence and Coalescence,’ because that was the song that was kind of setting the whole mood for the whole record for me and that was also the first song I wrote for that record and it is a key song for me. But maybe I would also choose a song like, yeah like maybe ’Pulling at Threads’ and ’Isa.“
Let’s take you back almost ten years for the music video for the title track off of Ylem:
Ok… alright with Morean being a classical composer. How much input does he give to the arrangement and the final compositions of your music?
Santura: “Funny, actually not that much. On the last two tracks in ’Swan Song’ and ’Nox Irae’ you can hear some classical choirs that remind me a little bit of Renaissance choirs and those were arranged by Morean. But apart from that he did actually not write any music for that album this time.”
Santura: “So we are not a symphonic black metal band. We could, of course, use him but it is not the musical direction that we went.”
Alright. With that, not being symphonic one of the big hallmarks for me. I mentioned earlier that Dark Fortress is always very recognizable for me, and one of those hallmarks is your guitar tone. And now…
Santura: “Thank you very much.”
I am a failed guitarist…
Santura: “You’re a what?”
A failed guitarist.
Santura: “Aaaaw… ok…”
Taken from Stab Wounds, listen to “Despise The Living:”
But many of my friends who are far more active with actually playing the instrument would murder me if I didn’t ask this and I would like to know what is your gear setup to get that Dark Fortress tone?
Santura: “Ok… so you will be surprised it has been a different setup on every album. I never use the same setup twice. So it probably it’s my hands and my tastes. I mean I have been always basically playing the same guitar for Dark Fortress and I don’t know if I can even say that publically because I am endorsing Ibanez and I love Ibanez guitars, but the guitar I use for Dark Fortress is my old BC Rich. It’s a handmade U.S. custom BC Rich, a Warlock, and I always use that guitar. But for example for the new album, I have been playing an Engel Fireball amp. With an Engel cabinet and I love that amp. That is actually my favourite tone I ever came up with. For example on the previous album, it was an Axe FX simulating a PV5150, on the album before it was actually a PV5150, before that it was again a different amp. It’s every time it is different gear, but it is the same guitar and probably my playing style.”
Alright. I only have one more question to trouble you with. It is a bit of a bugbear for me. With Spotify and streaming services, I am in two minds, I like that it creates more scope for artists to get their music out but I don’t like the revenue structure of it because it is a fairly well-known fact that it takes approximately 5,000 Spotify streams to equal the same revenue as one concert t-shirt sale.
Santura: “Yup. I don’t even how many streams you have to have. It also depends of course on the royalty rate that you get from your label. But yeah, the revenue that you get for Spotify is quite low.”
So on that note I would like to know if Dark Fortress is planning any bigger push towards merch sales giving that you have got a big tour coming up.
Santura: “We are just going to do the regular stuff. Of course, we are going to sell t-shirts on tour. We are also already selling t-shirts on our webshop. You can even pre-order some bundles, like t-shirt bundles together with the CD or the LP and at the moment we have three different t-shirt designs. But that is probably what we are going to stick to.”
As well as t-shirts, because I am personally a bit of a nut for it… Will you soon be selling the vinyl of the new album?
Do you think that will be available by your show in Rotterdam?
Santura: “Actually I think so yeah, I hope so. We will have all of that with us.”
Ok that is…
Santura: “So you can get it there!” (laughs)
Excellent I cannot wait. Ok but then that is all I have for you today.
Santura: “Thank you very much David.”
Thank you very, very much for your time and yeah I look forward to seeing you live and I wish you all the best for the album release and the tour to follow.
Santura: “Thank you very much so maybe we will meet in Rotterdam.”