Spectres from the Old World

Feb. 28, 2020


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Dark Fortress has been a regular name in German black metal over the past twenty five years, and while they haven’t gained the same level of worldwide notoriety as some of their Scandinavian peers each of their albums has generated a significant amount of buzz in the underground.  More recent efforts saw the band branching out from their melodic black metal roots in favor of progressively oriented songwriting that pulled in a lot of additional genre influences and came through as more epic in scope than ever before.  2014’s Venereal Dawn was the culmination of this approach and left quite a few people wondering what would come next.  The answer to that is Spectres from the Old World, which brings back some of the aggression and blasting of earlier Dark Fortress albums while retaining the twisting and turning writing style of their more recent efforts.  It’s another strong showing from this veteran band as well as a great jumping off point for those who have yet to experience them.

The writing never fully moved away from black metal but compared to its predecessor Spectres from the Old World has a bit more blast beats and aggressive riffs that recall Dark Fortress’ earlier days.  “Coalescence” is a great first sign of what you’re in for with this album as it hits hard with immediate blasting and jagged riffing before letting haunting keyboard melodies seep into the mix.  It’s the type of room filling melodic black metal that feels highly polished and balances aggression and atmosphere in equal capacity, and had the band simply chosen to capture this vibe and continue on a straightforward path for the remainder of the album I wouldn’t have complained.  But the further into Spectres from the Old World you get, the more twists and turns it offers.  By the time you get to songs like “Isa” the tempo slows down and the riffs channel elements of both doom and gothic metal in equal capacity, once again pushing the sound outside of the standard genre confines.  It’s a perfect fusion of older Dark Fortress and new, and even when the atmosphere and tonality recall the band’s roots the songwriting always has a chilling lead or unexpected transition to hold your interest. 

Morean brought a slightly different approach to Dark Fortress’ vocals when he joined back in 2007, and he once again delivers a dynamic performance on Spectres from the Old World.  It takes a few songs before the sheer amount of vocal range on this album becomes apparent, as the group chooses to emphasize the abrasive end of the spectrum early on where Morean screams and growls with such power that it towers above the already dense instrumentation.  This approach draws you in with sheer aggression and weight before switching things up and moving into somber singing and just about every pitch in between.  Tracks like “In Deepest Time” showcase just how much diversity the group can pack into a single piece as there are gruffer clean pitches, screams, and singing that soars over the recording as though its taking you up into the clouds with it.  Where so much black metal has stuck with flatter, one dimensional vocals over the years Dark Fortress has continued to branch outwards and no matter where they go the energy never wavers.

It may have taken six years for a follow-up to Venereal Dawn, but the wait has been well worth it.  Dark Fortress has looked back at their earlier days and doubled down on the aggression and harsher atmosphere while still moving forward with songwriting that veers off in some unexpected and exciting directions.  Whether it’s the ice-cold melodic leads or more introspective passages that grab your interest, there’s plenty of standout moments to grab metal fans of all types and keep them coming back for more.  Spectres from the Old World is available from Century Media Records.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg

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