The German black metal band Dark Fortress are issuing their eighth studio album Spectres From The Old World. Their first record in more than five years was produced by guitarist V. Santura (Triptykon). Santura and vocalist Morean fill us in on the new album, tour plans and other subjects.
Chad Bowar: What led to the five plus year gap between albums?
V. Santura: Actually I was very inspired to write music for a new album starting in 2015. In this year I simply happened to have a lot of new ideas. They just came by , totally naturally, without forcing anything. I had an amazing flow. Within a few months, I already had the basic ideas for 2/3 of the album ready. Despite the inspiration of coming up with new songs I didn’t feel inspired to record these songs, though. I am running my own recording and mixing studio and work constantly with other bands and artists. So, after 8-10 hours already spent in the studio, if I ask myself “what do I wanna do now” I usually don’t think “yeah, I wanna spend more time in studio, doing exactly what I just did for 10 hours.” I still like to play guitar or be creative. So when I wrote music, I just recorded some memos on my smart phone, so I wouldn’t forget my ideas and just kept spinning those ideas in my head. That went on for two years. It became a burden. At some point our new keyboarder Phenex kicked my ass. He booked flights and came to my studio for 10 days, so I finally had a reason to sit down and record demos for all those song ideas I had been spinning in my head.
But yeah, because of that we somehow lost two years. I really need to be able to dive deeply into our cosmos and I can’t just do that in between two projects. I needed some time to focus exclusively on this album and do nothing else besides it. It wasn’t so easy this time. After I had the demos for the first 6 or 7 songs recorded with Phenex in late 2017, that resulted in another boost of creativity and the music was pretty much completed a few months later, somewhere in spring 2018. Then give it another few months until you can really record the album and get everyone’s schedules working and it is early 2019. Then you record and produce the album… yadda yadda… get the PR machinery working and almost another year has passed. Now here we are, with a new album. It was a hell of a ride getting there. I don’t know if I have the will in me to pull this off another time, (laughs) but I love this album and I am proud as hell of it!
Was there anything unique about the songwriting process for Spectres From The Old World compared to previous Dark Fortress albums?
V. Santura: As I just mentioned, I actually had this period of a deep profound creativity. It started when I had the ideas for the opening song(s), which later became “Nascence” and “Coalescence.” I perceive those songs as one bigger song, by the way. We just wanted to divide this song as an intro and the main song, so it became two titles on the album. This song just happened. I was basically just playing guitar and had some recording device running and then the riffs just streamed out. When this happened I was totally high on adrenaline. The riffs had such an icy, dark and intense energy!
This song set the tone for the whole album and served as the big main inspiration for what came later. Most of the album was written chronologically, always having the bigger picture of the album in mind. So, after “Coalescence” was finished I asked myself, “OK, Coalescence ends like this… so how should the next song start? Which vibe, which groove does it need?” The inspiration always came from this. So, you could say, that there was a design plan because every other song had been written considering the album context and considering the previous song.
Of course, at some point, everybody brought their contributions to the album. The last full song, “Swan Song” was written by Asvargr and the outro piece “Nox Irae” was something that we wrote together in the studio. What was different in the songwriting process to previous albums? Maybe that the inspiration came very easy and naturally this time. Considering the fact that it took us more than 5 years to deliver a new album this answer might come as a surprise, but I still perceive it like that. Venereal Dawn, Ylem and Eidolon all were harder work when it comes to the process of actually getting ideas for compositions that sparked my fire. The last time I felt like this was when we wrote Séance.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
V. Santura: For me, the strongest memory might be when I had those first ideas for the opening track and that insane enthusiasm I felt in that moment. Besides that, nothing in particular. A recording session always becomes one big blur. Maybe when we finally nailed the vocals for the chorus of “In Deepest Time.” This was one of the most difficult tasks and now I love it.
Are there any disadvantages to producing an album yourselves?
V. Santura: Well, you just have to make sure not to lose your mind. If you are lucky and manage to do so, I see the advantages weigh way more than the disadvantages. When I write the music I hear it in my head and when I produce it myself I have the control to work on it until it finally sounds like I always heard it in my head and until it evokes the exact emotions I wanted to evoke in the first place.
How has the band’s sound evolved from Venereal Dawn?
V. Santura: Maybe it even “revolved” back a bit to the Séance/Eidolon period. But we don’t repeat ourselves too much and always want to create something new and something that is relevant for us now. Venereal Dawn was for sure our most “progressive” album, Spectres From The Old World is more aggressive and compact. I think the album has a great flow and balance.
What inspired the lyrics for this one?
Morean: The main inspiration to me was the spectacular raw geology of Earth’s polar and sub-polar regions, which makes you feel as if you’re guest on a prehistoric, almost virginal planet. It makes me want to find out how these cathedrals of rock and ice were created, and what those underlying physical processes would look like when taken to their extremes. This led me to current ideas of cosmology and the creation and death of a universe, and that’s where those concepts of string theory, thermodynamics, black holes, etc. gave me a fantastic canvas of speculations into the unknown. I could tie that into where our last album left off, with beings transformed into pure light getting reborn into 11 dimensions in a new universe. The underlying question was, “what if the universe itself had a voice and could comment on what goes on inside it.” Quite a stew to digest, I know, but where inspiration falls, no grass will grow…
What are your goals for the album?
V. Santura: Apart from winning a Grammy? I don’t know. If there are a few people out there that can really connect with the music and if it moves something deep within them, we truly have achieved something. This album is not a product. It comes from deep within.
How much attention do you pay to reviews?
Morean: Not too much. You’d go insane as an artist. It’s of course important to see that the world at large doesn’t hate what you made, and we’ve been pretty spoiled with largely very good reviews for our albums. Even a bad review can be useful if it puts the finger on a sore spot. That’s rather the exception, however; sometimes you read more about what the reviewer was expecting to hear than what they actually heard. Then, what they say doesn’t have too much relevance anymore. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but we don’t necessarily have to hear it.
What are your upcoming tour plans?
V. Santura: First, we are playing a handful of album release shows in Europe at the end of March. Then, renowned Inferno Festival in April in Norway. And if God wills – that means if our U.S. visas are granted – we will finally come to the U.S.! Another EU headlining tour in October and several summer festivals are in the making, too.
Are you looking forward to playing a couple of shows in the U.S.?
V. Santura: Yes, very much! We are in fact super excited about this. I had the chance to tour the U.S. back in 2007 with Celtic Frost supporting Type O Negative and then in 2010 with Triptykon and later a few single shows. I am very happy we can finally make it over with Dark Fortress. We are playing Maryland Deathfest in May, California Deathfest in June and as it seems there will also be a couple of additional shows with Sweden’s Naglfar on the West Coast.
Where else haven’t you played live that you’d still like to get to?
V. Santura: For me, top of the list might be Mexico City. According to our social media statistics there is no other place in the world where we have more fans. Maybe those statistics are just BS, but I know that the crowd in Mexico is amazing anyways.
What’s the most memorable attraction/museum/tourist site you’ve visited while on the road?
V. Santura: Being able to travel so much due to being a musician is a huge privilege and I am very grateful for that! The most significant places I’ve been to are Iceland (mind-blowing nature), Tokyo (mind-blowing architecture and vibe), New York on top of the Empire State Building (mind blowing view)!
Morean: I’d have to say seeing Rainbow live in concert on the Rock the Coast festival in Fuengirola in Spain last year, when I played there with Alkaloid. Not a museum in the classic sense, I know, but since you rarely get to see more than highways and backstage rooms when you’re out playing, you gotta take what you can.
Are there any Dark Fortress albums that were overlooked or underrated when released, but in retrospect have held up well?
V. Santura: I think Séance did not get the attention it deserved, at least in the U.S., but it is an essential album of Dark Fortress.
What are some of your non-musical interests/hobbies?
V. Santura: Nature, mountaineering, hiking. Life itself, trying to understand why people are what they are and why they do what they do. Cultures and the differences between cultures and the problems that come with it and the things cultures have in common.
Morean: Hiking, cooking, and failing to understand complicated scientific concepts.
What is your most prized possession (not including family or pets)?
Morean: I’d have to say my memories, and the people I know everywhere.
V. Santura: Morean just gave the perfect answer! To go back to the purely materialistic aspect of the question: my pre-amps in the studio and my mic locker.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
V. Santura: A lot of Alice In Chains, Depeche Mode’s “Playing the Angel”, lot of Nevermore (one of my favorite bands of all time) and some guilty pleasures I am not going to mention here.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
V. Santura: The Celtic Frost/Triptykon Requiem is scheduled for a release in May and I am very stoked about it. I joined a new band called Rootbrain, from Seattle in Finland. We play some badass “black grunge.” I can’t wait to finally release our debut album Breakwater. But this will still take a couple of months.
(interview published February 28, 2020)