25 January 2010
by Tom Dare
Germany’s Dark Fortress have delivered an album that has a very strange effect: one moment they can be utterly enthralling and brilliant, and the next moment you find your attention has wandered and you want to listen to something else. The band is clearly bursting with genuinely great ideas, but have arrived at a rather confused end point.
Defining Dark Fortress’ sound on Ylem is somewhat difficult. There are moments of straight-up black metal riffage in the style of the late Euronymous of Mayhem or Demonaz of Immortal. There are dark, gloomy episodes that more than nod in Katatonia’s direction, and there are lead lines seriously reminiscent of Paradise Lost. Overall, Ylem is decidedly black metal in feel, but its darker and slower passages do not quite fit that description. And it’s this that provides both the biggest strengths and the most serious weaknesses of the album.
The opening title track sets off at a fearsome charge, before its evil riffs and disturbing vocals come in. Suddenly it slows to a crawl, the guitars becoming cleaner and, strangely, reminiscent of early Poison The Well. It shouldn’t work, and it almost doesn’t, but just hangs on to be a good track. Following on, ‘As The World Keels Over’ is magnificent. Again, at the start, the Poison The Well comparisons came to mind, but the subsequent stunning lead lines with sinister riffing beneath could best be described as gloom- too oppressive to be called gothic, not evil enough to be called doom. ‘Osiris’ changes tack yet again, being more black metal than anything else – and it’s here that the problems start to become noticeable.
Some tracks feel slightly too long- repeating the same idea a few too many times to maintain interest – but the album as a whole is way too long. At eleven tracks and 70 minutes, it just cannot grip the ear for that long, particularly when so much of it is so slow. It’s almost soporific – you become bored not because what you are hearing is bad but because it’s so slow and drawn out that it needs something massively interesting to keep you listening. The second half is good, but not riveting enough to stop you becoming bored and needing to put something much more energetic on to wake you up again.
Watch the video to ‘Hirudineans’ by Dark Fortress
To illustrate the length issue, Ylem is half as long again as Katatonia’s latest, Night Is The New Day, which in turn is probably more upbeat. While bands like Marduk can pack a black metal record full of slow, doomy songs, they are far more sinister and powerful than Dark Fortress’ gloomy style. Where most doomy black metal feels like the gaze of Satan falling on you, and time slowing as fear washes over you, Ylem feels more like a dark horde slowly rousing from hibernation. It simply has far less hold over the listener. This is an album with some really fantastic moments, like ‘As The World Keels Over’ and the more conventional black metal of ‘Satan Bled’, but listening to the whole album is hard work, and sometimes genuinely boring.
Sounds Like: Katatonia, Immortal, Paradise Lost
Top Tracks: As The World Keels Over, Osiris, Satan Bled
Dark Fortress – Ylem tracklisting:
As The World Keels Over