The concept album is basically my white whale – an ancient and fantastic thing that I irrationally hate for its rarity with the same passion I seek it out. Dark Fortress have been something of a salve for me over the last few years; a band that occasionally releases some of the most interesting and unique death metal in the world before disappearing again, locking the ancient oaken doors to their doom fortress and returning to their ritualistic contemplations.
Like their last few albums, this is a concept. A single, long story of survival, destruction, sacrifice and disease that plays out through the course of a listen. Recently their style has become a little uniform, if epic voyages through blackened landscapes can be described as such. There’s a certain sound that these guys have perfected, and there’s the risk of getting stuck there. Vocally they’re almost perfect, MOREAN producing a guttural growl fit to shame Beelzebub that is at once gritty and melodic. The lyrics support him perfectly throughout, staking a claim to that poetically brutal language really good metal uses, without ever straying into the all too well trod realm of middle class teen poetry. Rather, it’s epic in scale and presentation. A particular favourite is “I am the Jigsaw of a Mad God”.
It’s a habit of mine that, no matter what, I always listen to tracks in the order they’re put in the album. There’s usually sense to the ordering, especially with metal and especially within concept albums. Like a pestilent flower, you cannot open it yourself and expect it to be as beautiful as if you let it open naturally. This Habit was really put to the test with “I am the Jigsaw of a Mad God” though. It’s such a deliciously chaotic title, I felt it calling to me invisibly for the whole first half of the album. Because it’s usually a rule of metal the name of a song can never be the most interesting thing about it, so Jigsaw promises to be exceptionally interesting or fearfully tedious, and I couldn’t wait to find out. And gods help me, it was the wait worth it. This is black metal at its scorched peak. Gone is that distinctly fuzzy feeling of past albums, replaced by a cleaner focus on the music itself. Some of the tracks, “Betrayal and Vengeance” comes to mind, almost court prog with their production, but it never feels cheap.
The biggest problem I can see people having with this is that it can feel too eclectic at times. There’s such a variety of styles as you listen though that it’s not hard to find yourself missing the song that just ended, and wishing the current sounded a bit more like. Incidentally though, that’s probably my favourite thing about it. It’s an experiment, with each track offering a new and interesting thing, and despite the pretty intimidating length (the average track length is somewhere in excess of 7 minutes) you’ll never find yourself getting bored. I can’t promise you’ll like all of it, but you’re damn sure to like some of it. Even if it’s just the almost painfully atmospheric acoustic version of “The Deep”.
Album: Venerial Dawn
Released: September 1st 2014
Label: Century Media
Score: 7/9 Hammers