About Me

Interview with Dark Fortress

The idea that good Black Metal originates in Scandinavia is losing more and more strength as in Germany some extraordinary bands in this genre have emerged. An example of this is the band Dark Fortress that is returning with an excellent new album“Spectres from the Old World”, which will be released on February 28th by Century Media. V. Santura and Morean shared a lot of details about the album with Metal Imperium...

M.I. - What’s the biggest difference between Dark Fortress in 1994 and Dark Fortress in 2020?

Morean (v): I only joined the band in 2007, but I would guess that we’ve all had a quarter century to develop as musicians, that we can look back on 8 albums and worldwide publishing, that we have an audience everywhere we go, and that we now have the means and knowledge to create exactly what we want to.

V. Santura (guitars): I don't think that the band that Dark Fortress is now has much to do with the band that started back in 1994. Our second guitar player Asvargr started the band in 1994 together with our first vocalist Azathoth but, except for Asvargr, this group simply consists of completely different people and characters. 

M.I. - The band doesn’t like labels… so please describe Dark Fortress with just one word.

Morean: Reliable.

V. Santura: Awesome.

M.I. - Your latest album “Venereal Dawn” was released in 2014 and it took you 6 years to release “Spectres from the Old World” (out on February 28th, 2020)… this has been the longest break between albums… what caused this “delay”?

Morean: Time is the biggest issue when trying to get anything done with the bands. We all have either jobs or other careers in music going on, and / or kids at home, and this problem has been getting worse continually. Unfortunately, we’re light years away from being able to pay our bills from this band, and that wasn’t really our ambition either. But being a musician nowadays does, unfortunately, mean that you have to say yes to pretty much anything that will generate some sort of income, because it’s unrealistic to expect that you can survive from one thing, one project only, and especially not an extreme metal band. Plus, the fact that we’re spread over 3 countries doesn’t help either. For every fart this band wants to produce, thousands of kilometers need to be covered first before we can even say hello to each other. But having the right people together is absolutely essential in such a band which is completely running on our passion for the music, so this is how it needs to be, although it does complicate the logistics quite a bit.

V. Santura: Probably me being a fulltime producer / studio engineer is my main “issue”. Producing other bands demands a lot of attention, energy and concentration. I had a lot of ideas and a great creative flow already back in 2015 where I had the main ideas for a lot of the songs which are now on “Spectres from the Old World”, but it simply took me another two years until I finally found the time and right mindset to record the first demos for the new album. And, of course, I am also playing in Triptykon...

M.I. - The band has changed a lot stylistically throughout the years. What caused these changes? 

Morean: I don’t see it so much as a real style change, even though of course we sound different nowadays than in the 90’s. It’s more that our pallet of interests, influences and skills grew with the years, and that means that we now have more options how to say what we want to say. Plus, you should try and offer something fresh with every album if you don’t wanna do the same thing over and over again, even if it’s just yet another take on riffs in E Phrygian or an exploding universe.

M.I. - Are there any stylistic changes worth mentioning between the last album and the new one?

Morean: Since we explored the more epic side of our genre on the last albums, with tracks that got longer and longer, and a lot of slower tracks, clean vocals etc, we were looking for something a little more compact and aggressive again on the new album. But on every album, both elements are present of course. It’s just that the mix between the two tends to vary a bit.

M.I. - The first single was released on December 20th, “Pulling at Threads”, and it is one of the fastest and shortest songs from the new album. I love the track! It is awesome! Why have you opted for it to showcase the album?

Morean: Thank you! Mainly because it’s compact and in-your-face. The clean vocals in the chorus are maybe an unexpected element, but exactly that gives this track its own character; it’s something we hadn’t really done before in the previous shorter, faster tracks.

M.I. - On the 17th January you presented “Isa”, a monolithic song inspired by Arctic Icescapes. It is the album’s longest track and probably also one of the heaviest and most epic songs in our discography thus far. The reactions to it have been awesome. Were you expecting it to turn out so well?

Morean: After V Santura had written the first batch of songs for the album, he and we felt we were still missing a heavier track somewhere in the middle. The first time we had such a sound was on Ylem’s “The Valley”, and both we and the public always seem to love that song. So, of course, we were hoping that people would dig a new song a bit in that vein as well. You can never predict if a new song or album will go down well with the public, that’s a little bit out of your hands as an artist. But, needless to say, we’re extremely happy that people like it so far.

M.I. - “Spectres from the Old World” marks an important milestone in the band’s journey. The band members have been extremely active in the Black Metal scene for the past two decades… how much impact did these experiences have in the new album/the band’s sound? How do you conciliate all the projects/bands?

Morean: Well, you learn from past experiences, so hopefully, with every new album you know better how to say what you have to say. That includes songwriting, production, lyrics, artwork, everything. You get to know your own potential, but also your own limitations better. And the fact that you’ve already said a lot in the past frees your mind also to explore other corners with a new record.
As for how we treat our roles in different bands: We know what each of these bands is supposed to be about. And even though there’s a certain spillover between bands with the same personnel, both in sound and in artistic preferences, nevertheless, each of these bands has something that makes it unique, and if you focus on what sets those bands apart rather than what’s the same every time, you can make sure that they don’t become the same thing just with different names.

M.I. - Ever since 2003, the main songwriters have been V. Santura and Asvargr. Don’t the other members like to input their ideas as well?

Morean: The overwhelming majority of the music is written by V Santura, and he’s in charge of the entire production as well. Asvargr will contribute riffs for maybe one or two songs per album. I do all the lyrics, vocals and most of the conceptual work, and will contribute the occasional song or choir or orchestral layer, so there’s quite a lot of me in there as well, and in the past, my predecessor Azathoth had the same role for vocals, lyrics and concept. Seraph and Phenex also do contribute to the albums, be it for questions of general direction, for specific interpretation of songs written by others, and the odd lick or beat as well. It’s just that we often count those ideas as part of the arrangement of a song rather than its composition. But except for our bass players, we all do contribute, even though the songwriting credits can’t always express that specifically.

M.I. - After a six-year gap, you continue where “Venereal Dawn” left off conceptually. You appreciate to explore inner worlds that don’t exist outside our reality. Why does this interest you? Why did you decide to continue with the same concept after so many years? Can you tell us more about it?

Morean: Through the years, I’ve written a ton of metal lyrics, and the challenge is to find something new and interesting to say time and time again. Lyrics are what gives depth to a song, even though many listeners may not pay too much attention to them. But the choice of words and the images they create in people’s minds are essential to the worlds you’re trying to create. On the previous album, I was so immersed in the idea of intelligent, living light, that I felt now that it would be very much worth it to investigate how such a far-out story would continue. Parallel to this story thread, I’ve developed a huge and active interest in the physical workings of the cosmos and our planet, and I get a lot of inspiration from the natural sciences, even though I’m a completely hopeless amateur in those fields. I’m always looking for the biggest mystery on my inner horizon to express in my work, and I have to admit that, lately, no made-up fantasy world has gripped me as much as what the brightest and most adventurous minds in science are investigating. The good thing about art is that, contrary to science, it doesn’t have to be objectively true or useful for our daily lives - it doesn’t even have to “make sense” in the rational definition of the word. Art rather seeks to express a subjective, inner, maybe more spiritual or emotional “truth”. And the fact that we’re just beginning to explore certain monumental things about our cosmos, and that many aspects of these new fields of science like particle physics or research of black holes are for a large part still a blank canvas until we understand what’s going on, gives us artists a chance to paint on that canvas without limiting yourself to impossible fantasies per definition.

M.I. - How does the writing, creating and recording process take place within Dark Fortress?

Morean: The initiative always comes from V Santura. He will write a bunch of songs first at home, usually only instrumental versions, and share his demos with us. Then the rest of us start working with and around his ideas - either together in the rehearsal room, which is quite rare for us unfortunately, or more often via email. Once the songs are written, recordings begin, in the traditional way - first drums, then guitars, then vocals, then bass, keys and everything else.

M.I. - The cover artwork is awesome. What’s the meaning behind it? How does it relate to the lyrics and concept?

Morean: Thanks! It’s a photo of an ice cave in Iceland which my wife and I took last winter. The subject of the album is the life span of a cosmos, from its creation to its death in the distant future, seen from the perspective of the cosmos itself. Since this portrays the universe we live in rather than a made-up world, we liked the idea to represent the album visually also with our photos from places that maybe look fictional to many people, but that are actually taken from our reality. The booklet, especially the special edition, will have many such photos in it, and we could have chosen any of them as the cover. In the end, this one got the majority vote. It’s mostly connected to Isa I guess, which is an ode to ice, but the way the light shines through the glacier in this picture also looks like a ghostly apparition of a creature of light, so it also fit the album title perfectly in our eyes.

M.I. - Where does the progression of your music come from? From the desire not to repeat yourselves? What musical genres influence Dark Fortress’ music?

Morean: The songwriting process is usually very intuitive. However, Santura and I do keep an eye on the big picture of the music and lyrics respectively. In that, we do have an image of what the whole album should become, and if it makes sense all together. For me, the desire not to repeat myself is crucial - what’s the point of doing the same thing over and over? Even though there always seems to be the death of a universe involved in my lyrics for this band… 
As for influences: those can be anything, not just music. You have this cesspit of ideas, emotions and inspirations in your subconscious, where things initially grow without too much conscious involvement, until they have fermented enough for an idea to arrive in your conscious mind. It happened like that to me with the album title, Spectres from the Old World. In one moment I just knew this will be the title of the album, even though I had zero clue how it was gonna sound or what it was gonna be about. But I always trust my intuition, and when - years later - the time came to write lyrics again, I had something to hold on to and zoom in to until the concept revealed itself to me in greater detail.

M.I. - The album was recorded, engineered, mixed, and mastered by V. Santura at Woodshed Studios throughout 2019. Why did V. Santura take this “responsibility” once again? Wouldn’t it be easier to work with an engineer that isn’t a band member? Isn’t it a kind of burden on his shoulders?

V. Santura: Well, of course it is a burden. But I think this is the one thing I am actually good at, it is my profession. I don't just do the odd Dark Fortress production every few years, I have more than 15 years of experience and I do believe that I have the set of skills to exactly achieve what I have in my mind. And so, I don't need to explain my vision to any other engineer. It is a burden, but also a privilege being able to do it by yourself. 

M.I. - According to the label, ““Spectres from the Old World” is more direct, more aggressive than its predecessors. At no time in Dark Fortress’ history have they reached so far out into the darkness, only to find the domine of astronomy non-existent, the end merely an end.” What do they mean by this exactly?

Morean: I don’t know about never having “reached out so far into the darkness”. Honestly, it’s pretty impossible to judge or categorize something you’ve just written, so it’s much better to leave that to the promo department of a label or publisher. It’s a bit like being asked to describe yourself, how you look… the way you see yourself might be totally different how everyone else sees you. Probably Donald Trump sees himself as reasonable, honest and benign too. So if the promo text to the album holds any water is up to the listeners to decide.

M.I. - “Spectres from the Old World” will be the 6th album to be released via Century Media Records… how’s the relationship between you and the label? Do they impose “rules” on you?

Morean: None whatsoever. Of course we should deliver the properly finished product on time and stay within the recording budget. But we have a great working relationship with Century Media Records, we’ve known each other well for years, so both sides know they can just let the other side do their thing and it’ll all work out in the end. We may have some minor discussions about which song to release first, or which colour the font on the cover should be, but that’s literally all we hear from the label about what we create. We have always had utter creative freedom.

M.I. - Dark Fortress have confirmed some shows and festivals next spring in Germany, Switzerland, Norway, USA, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Netherlands and more dates later in the year. How excited are you? Any plans to tour?

Morean: Yes, we plan to do a slightly longer tour in Europe in October. What comes after that, nobody knows yet, but we’re open to offers, and we do hope to maybe get to play in some corners of the world where we haven’t been before.

M.I. - Why was your 2004 album “Stab Wounds” reissued in 2019?

Morean: “Stab Wounds” was initially released by Black Attakk Records. Since the label’s demise years ago, it has been difficult to get this album, which at least to us marks the point that defined the band as we know it nowadays. We were very happy that Century Media wanted to release all the Dark Fortress albums, also the old ones, since it means that they are all available again through proper channels. Also, the chance to remaster the album was welcome. And “Stab Wounds” was the last album that was still missing from the CM catalogue.

M.I. - In your opinion, how’s the state of the art currently? Be it music or any other art. Is it valued?

Morean: I think art is an essential part of our identity and of our definition of ourselves. It gives content and context to our lives, and serves to give us the things we need which reality fails to provide. In that sense, I’m sure it’ll always be appreciated. Unfortunately, this appreciation has mostly declined to an idealistic thing, since music has lost a great deal of its financial value due to the internet and the sheer abundance of music and art available to everyone. In that sense, what art is about is somewhat diametrically opposed to the mechanics of our society and market, which has only quantitative values and very little qualitative ones. Economically and politically, it’s all only about “how much”, not “what”. Of course, luckily, the audience doesn’t see it like that, but being a professional musician of whatever genre used to be quite a bit easier and more rewarding in the past. Nowadays you can sell 10000 copies of an album and not see a single cent of royalties, or you have to hope that the fee a touring package of a bunch of reasonably well-known bands gets will be enough to even cover the cost of the bus to get you there. So, unfortunately, in the more extreme genres of art and music, you’re nowadays forced to treat it like a hobby, no matter how professionally you do your job. Every day you put into the band is a day you lose income from paid work. This doesn’t stop us of course, because we’re not necessarily in the metal business for money. But it does make scraping together a living a lot more difficult. I’m sure that journalists, photographers, filmmakers, and all other producers of digitally copiable art face the same problems these days.
On the other hand, the internet and contemporary technologies are offering us an unbelievable wealth of pretty much everything that was ever created at the touch of a button. This is totally unprecedented in human history, and a fantastic development that would be insane to try and stop. We just hope that, with time, we’ll get a fairer distribution of revenues where a bit of the reward also trickles through to the artists themselves. Because as it stands now, you basically know that, except attention, you’ll not receive anything worth mentioning for all those months you put into a CD production if you’re not automatically selling millions of albums to an audience that isn’t even really used to paying for music anymore.

M.I. - If you would become Ministry of Culture in your country someday, name one important change you’d make in order to promote arts.

Morean: Besides introducing a legally binding minimum wage for recording and performing artists, I’d strive to get more art into the media so that people at least know what’s out there and have a choice what they consume, rather than having ten identical commercial “talent shows” with always the same crappy music featured in them on all channels simultaneously, like it tends to be now.

M.I. - I wish you all the best for 2020 and I hope you come and play in Portugal soon. Any final words?

Morean: Thanks for the time and space you’ve given us, and hope to see you guys on the road soon!

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by Sónia Fonseca