Dark Fortress has a long history – just over 25 years, to be exact – and have, in that time, developed an unmistakable sonic signature that sets them apart in the world of melodic black metal. Their latest album, Spectres from the Old World, is a reflection of this long narrative that both draws from their rich discography and evolves the sound even further. The name of the album is therefore quite apt, both as a monument to their early heritage and as an acknowledgement of their beginning a new chapter – including their first tour on American soil – and exorcising these ghosts of the past. Let’s be clear - this last statement is not a highlight of anything negative, but Spectres from the Old World pulls no punches in blowing out the progressive cobwebs in the corners of their discography typified by Ylem or Venereal Dawn as it makes a triumphant return to the stripped-down, straightforward style of Séance or Eidolon.
This is not to say that Dark Fortress has in any way lost touch with their trademark melodic content, and early releases like “Isa” showcase this meandering, organic approach, but this is effectively offset by the likes of “Pulling at Threads” or “Pazuzu,” which both conjure a far more traditional black metal mood. A recent interview with guitarist V Santura highlighted this, and many other aspects of the record.
“Isa” may seem to be the spiritual successor to Venereal Dawn’s “On Fever’s Wings,” but is still a monumental single.
One characteristic that takes its time to rear its head is the low-end presence: “In Deepest Time” may be firmly embedded in the record’s B-side, but its bass-led melody is a welcome shift. The album closers that follow – “Swan Song” and “Nox Irae” – feature more choral orchestrations than the first half of Spectres from the Old World and, while the result is sweeping and grandiose, it does manage to not come off as ‘symphonic’ – a label that Dark Fortress have successfully avoided throughout their career.
The third song to enjoy pre-release exposure, “The Spider In The Web,” is (like the implications in the album name) a two-fold affair. On the surface, its simple arrangement recalls the likes of Celtic Frost – possibly as a result of a subconscious connection to guitarist V. Santura’s role in Tryptikon – but its concept is a far-reaching one: the ever-expanding cosmos itself and the place of consciousness within the multidimensional fabric of reality. This is echoed in the album’s message, that vocalist Morean summarises in the Century Media press release as their desire to “capture and show the world in a kind of virginal state, untouched by man,” wherein the place of the human animal in the greater scheme of the universe is shown to be far smaller than that human ego may actually assume.
Perhaps letting “The Spider In The Web” speak for itself is better than my rather wordy description.
As a whole, Spectres from the Old World is a continuation of the Dark Fortress story and an evolution of the band’s signature crisp, icy sound. Even though it is the heaviest record they have produced in some time, it is still musical, conceptual and deserving of far more notice than the band has historically received. When faced with such an impressive and varied back catalogue, it is impossible to say this is their best album, but it is an extremely good outing – dark enough to satisfy the black metal kvlt, heavy enough for death metal fans and still, despite its less complicated content, intellectual enough to leave its mark on a progressive audience. Spectres From The Old World also satisfies the prerequisites that the album stays listenable long after the initial spin and is not just a selection of singles with filler – making it an impressive achievement indeed, and a high benchmark to set this early in the year.
Spectres from the Old World Track Listing:
01. Nascence (Intro)
03. The Spider in the Web
04. Spectres from the Old World
05. Pali Aike
08. Pulling at Threads
09. In Deepest Time
10. Penrose Procession (Interlude)
11. Swan Song
12. Nox Irae
Run Time: 58:09 Release Date: February 28, 2020 Record Label: Century Media
The diametric opposite of “Isa,” “Pulling at Threads” is a gut-punch return to standard black metal forms.