Released: 2014, Century Media Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Seems like it's been pretty hectic of late for most of the members of long-running German melodic black metallers Dark Fortress. Four of the sextet – well quintet now, given the recent departure of long-time keyboardist Paymon – moonlight in other bands, some in more than one. And those other bands have had a lot going on.
Drummer Seraph, guitarist V Santura and vocalist Morean play with the death/thrash troupe Noneuclid, who released their first album in seven years in May. One month ealier, V Santura's other “other band” Triptykon issued their second album and hit the festival circuit. Seraph has also been touring with another of his bands, ReVamp, where he is known as Matthias Landes.
Yet amid all this activity, Dark Fortress somehow managed to ready and record their seventh album, and first in four years. And while they easily could have half-assed things here in order to expedite the proceedings, they most assuredly have not. Venereal Dawn is every bit as ambitious as their previous outings, if not moreso, and shows no sign of suffering as the result of any distractions from the other projects. If anything, perhaps they tried a little bit too hard here.
A concept album that the band describes as “a tale of survival, betrayal and sacrifice in an extremely hostile environment,” Venereal Dawn kicks off with the sprawling 11-minute title track and continues on with this sort of grand scale throughout, concluding with the equally titanic “On Fever's Wings” that also cracks the 11-minute mark. “The Deep” is the only song here that that is less than 6:30 long, yet it is the most haunting three minutes on the album with its snarl of scraggly acoustic guitar and groaning vocals sending a chill right up your spine.
As you might imagine, there is a notable progressive air about Venereal Dawn, certainly more than before. The proportion of full-on black metal has been scaled back somewhat so that it serves to fill in the big picture instead of standing out as the main element, with the rather propulsive “I Am The Jigsaw Of A Mad God” and the tremolo-driven “Odem” being distinct exceptions.
“Lloigor,” on the other hand, echoes Blackwater Park-era Opeth with its gentle, jangly guitars sparring with more menacing riffs and the vocals flip-flopping from grim growls to soaring clean choruses. “Luciform” has an almost Killing Joke vibe about it with its martial beat, raspy chanted vocals and shimmering guitars – although the blast beats and grinding licks that punctuate it certainly give it an extreme metal accent.
For better or worse, the longer songs leave ample room for more complexity and extended arrangements – and tend to meander as a result, especially on the somewhat aimless “On Fever's Wings.” Even the more corrosive songs here could have benefited from some judicious editing. Nevertheless, Dark Fortress obviously feel they have something to prove, and Venereal Dawn is a challenging, worthwhile album as a result.