Dark Fortress have been an active part of the black metal scene since 1994, and have released several full length records to much critical acclaim. Responsible for some of the heaviest and (simultaneously) some of the most melodic black metal, Dark Fortress have overcome many struggles, such as line-up changes (original vocalist Azathoth was fired in 2007), and have somehow lived to tell the tale.
Venereal Dawn is the much-awaited follow up to 2010’s excellent Ylem, coming after a 4 year gap, the longest in their history. There are all of the familiar elements you have come to expect from Dark Fortress: intensely heavy guitars with melodic leads, heavy bass, blasting drums, and keyboards that provide a symphonic edge to the music, giving it an epic feel. This time around, however, there are some new ingredients in the mix; in addition to the harsh screams and growls, the vocals are also sung at many points throughout the album, the ending of the title track, “Venereal Dawn” being an excellent example. There are flourishes of acoustic guitar, droned vocals, jazz time-signatures, keys that bring the music almost into industrial territory, and a heavy gothic vibe throughout. Now, when I say “gothic”, I’m not talking about the runny eye-liner, Hot Topic version of gothic metal; there’s a real sense of profound sorrow deeply imbedded in the music contained on Venereal Dawn. Don’t let that scare you off, though, as there are still some insanely heavy riffs; “Odem” is a vicious black metal assault on the senses, and “I Am The Jigsaw Of A Mad God” is absolutely dripping in malevolence.
The transitions from angelic to demonic are seamless, as you can hear on “The Deep.” The acoustic guitar never goes away, but the rest of the instruments crop up around the almost hypnotic chord progression, and the vocals run the gamut of sounds, from droned, sung, into a death growl that grows in to high-pitched shrieks. Morean is a talented vocalist, and his presence is just as responsible for the atmosphere as the rest of the band is, which is not always the case in black metal. You get a feeling that they almost write their music around the lyrics, since the two go hand in hand so perfectly; as is the case with all of the Morean-era Dark Fortress albums, Venereal Dawn is a concept album. Here the concept is a being made of light, come to Earth, and in order to escape being destroyed by his presence the people of Earth must anoint themselves with living blood, presumably from human sacrifices. You with me so far? The story is told from the perspective of one of those human sacrifices, and is ultimately about his destruction, as well as the demise of mankind. Heavy lyrical content, and perfectly matched by music that purveys a sense of impending doom and sorrow.
The production of this record is stunning and deserves as much recognition as the band. With changes of pace, mood, and musical styles, Venereal Dawn could have been an absolute train wreck, but the producer here certainly knows his craft. Take the final cut, “On Fever’s Wings,” for example; this track comes off as almost a rock opera, with musical drama unfolding at a rapid rate, from sad keyboards and beautiful vocals, to crushing guitars and eerie droning vocals. On paper, that sounds like it could be awful, but damn if Dark Fortress don’t pull it off, and make it sound as if this is the most natural thing in the world.
Venereal Dawn is a dark masterpiece, and really sets the standard for all the melodic black metal albums that have to try and follow it. Dark Fortress took some risks by adding elements that would seem to be unfamiliar to this genre, but they manage to nail it; for that, I applaud them. Long-time fans can rejoice, the future for this band looks mighty bright, as this could very well be considered one of the greatest albums of the melodic black metal genre.