German Black Metal band Dark Fortress just released their seventh full-length album ‘Venereal Dawn’ and are promoting this album with a tour through Europe. On October 21st they had a show in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. We caught up with singer Morean before the show to talk about the album, but also about the nature of black metal and Morean´s personal career.
Your album ‘Venereal Dawn’ has just been released. What was the common reaction to it?
‘In general the album has been very well received by the critics and we’re very happy with that. The ratings for our albums have never been this high before and we get full points here and there. Furthermore, the amount of reviews we get is immense and we often hear that this is the best album we have ever made and that we´ve taken a huge step forward.
But of course every now and then there is someone who doesn’t like it and truly hates it. It’s a bit weird sometimes, because what they say is that the album is too slow, the songs too long and that there aren’t enough blast beats on the album. I can understand that they say this because we’re not exactly the type of band for compact punk-rock songs, but then again, we’ve never been a band like that. It makes us wonder if they have ever listened to Dark Fortress before, because this sound didn’t just happen overnight, but has developed through the course of years.’
Has there been one particular reaction to the album that really stood out to you?
‘The fact that we were ‘album of the month’ in Legacy Magazine was very special. Our past two albums just missed this position and ended second place. To finally end up first was very satisfying because I have been reading this magazine for as long as it exists and also already before that time, when it wasn’t Legacy Magazine yet. So yes, for our album to become ´album of the month´ felt really good.’
The concept of the album is very philosophic. How does this relate to you personally? Are these topics you talk about with the band while enjoying a beer together?
‘The concept of the album comes from a very personal mindset and didn’t develop from philosophizing with each other. It is something that really entered my mind and that I have been developing. I enjoy the freedom within the band to do this and the others actually like me doing so. From my head these ideas go straight to paper. Of course the others read it with a critical view, for example to make sure I don´t show up with those standard cliché texts. Once it’s there, we do discuss it a little, but basically it is my ‘brainchild’.’
So these aren’t things you really talk about within the band?
‘Well, we all are thinkers and interested in philosophy, but we don’t see each other that often. With Seraph, our drummer, who also lives in Rotterdam, I talk about a lot of different things. But there are about a 1000 kilometers between us and the other half of the band so when we’re together we’re working hard. Philosophic conversations rarely happen, only sometimes when we’re on tour, but actually most of the time we talk about food’, Morean explains laughing.
The album has a lot of new elements, but also contains songs that could perfectly fit on one of the previous albums. What is the way you want to go with the band and how do you see the band’s future?
‘Oof, that is a really stunning question to which I have absolutely no answer. I think this album already speaks for itself. One of the main differences for us is that, compared to previous albums, we found it very important that it was produced as naturally as possible. For example the drums: of course there are blast beats and metal style drums, but there are also parts that have more of a rock feeling instead of the basic metal sound. In the first place, this is because our drummer is now a graduated drummer, who has learned a lot and worked really hard on his sound. We all think this is great, because we’re all a bit through with all that triggered stuff that all sounds the same.
So yeah there’s definitely a big difference between this album and the previous one, Ylem. We really focused on keeping it natural and on our skills as musicians, and not on what we’re capable to do afterwards with a computer. Same goes for the artwork: it’s a real drawing and oil-painting, but also the orchestral parts are actually recorded for the album and didn’t “pop out of a can”.’
‘Venereal Dawn is a direct consequence of things we already tried for the first time on Ylem. For example the last song on Ylem, “Wraith”, doesn´t have a lot to do with Black Metal, and was a surprise even for ourselves. Of course we wrote it ourselves, but when we heard the end result, it surprised us and we asked ourselves ‘wow, is this us?’. The same happened with “On Fever’s Wings“ (last song on Venereal Dawn). It is a continuation of this feeling. It has these Arabic vocals in it, but the song still is very doomy. We try to keep the essence of Black Metal in the music, because it is about deep, dark and emotional things, but we do permit ourselves to find new ways of expressing this. We absolutely don’t see the point of making a new album if you keep doing the same things over and over again. This being said I really can’t predict what a new album would sound like, because it is way too early for that. All I can say is that we recorded even more songs, which we might release on an EP someday.’
You work a lot with concept albums; are all your albums separate concept albums or do the albums together tell one bigger story?
‘No, not really. Though this was the case with Stab Wounds and Séance, because on Stab Wounds we told a story of someone who committed suicide and on Séance this person finds himself in the hereafter.
Generally we see each album a as a concept that should stand on its own, and we really try to give each album its own identity. Therefore we also like to find a new story line each time, because the question that also lingers in our mind is ‘After twenty years of band history and seven full length albums, what is there left to tell that hasn’t already been told a thousand times before by us or one of all the other bands?’ We also don’t want a new album to be any less than the one before, so we raise the bar with every album we create.’
You already mentioned your drummer Seraph a bit. How did his academic degree in percussion influence the new album?
‘Well first of all he got a lot of freedom on this album. In the past it was the case that V. Santura wrote all the instrumental parts, including the drums. This time it was the general idea to create more, by jamming together. We really liked this and it was of course a great way for Seraph to create his own parts and have more influence on the album.’
‘When it comes to the aesthetics of the music, we really felt the need to give all our material sufficient space – that’s why our songs are so long. We don’t make long songs just for the purpose of having long songs, but when you create a strong riff that you can truly feel, you really want it to develop. For us this can mean creating five verses around it. The focus on the album was on keeping the right balance and not on fixating on how extreme it can be. This makes the new album very mature. We don’t have to prove anything anymore or live up to anyone’s expectation except our own. For the drums this means that they are a lot more dynamic – something that’s very much absent in extreme metal because it’s all triggered so much. Usually the drums don’t play at all, or they play as loud and fast as possible. This often gives a very unnatural sound, because then the drums don’t sound as if they are a unity, one instrument. Seraph really learned how to master this dynamic sound and isn’t like a boy that has to hit as hard as possible and can only think in bpm anymore. The focus moves to having the right sound, with the right intention in every hit.’
Seraph once said that his definition of Black Metal is ‘the translation of emotional abysses into music’. Is this also your view on black metal and can you maybe tell a bit more about it?
Morean immediately started agreeing and nodding his head followed by: ‘I believe the original quote is ‘The musical interpretation of emotional abysses’. The thing is, you can have endless discussions about what black metal really is about, but the essence of it is, that you don’t avoid going to extreme places within yourself. That is what is so valuable about extreme metal : the aesthetics of these genres allow you to, and even demand, you go as far as possible. The beauty of it is that you could almost see it as some kind of alchemy. You take the worst parts within yourself; with your mind you go to places you don’t even want to be; tearing the most terrible and disgusting things out of yourself; but then you turn it into something that people, including yourself, can enjoy. Therefore it has a cathartic effect on yourself but also on us as listeners; if you’re having a rough time and you listen to an album on which someone expresses those feelings and you can recognize yourself in that, then there is a resonance. I remember this from when I was young, it really helped me to know that I wasn’t alone.’
‘We have a very broad definition of Black Metal. As long as it is about those abysses, we feel that you’re allowed to do a lot within black metal. Unfortunately Black Metal has become more and more orthodox and more about conforming, and therefore less interesting for me. A lot of bands demand that you keep doing the same and it’s all about ‘Satan, Satan, Satan’, having a black-and-white goat’s head on your album cover and, most of all, that your music has to sound like all other Black Metal. This is something we’re very much against and because of this people tend to call our music ‘Progressive Black Metal’, even though we ourselves think that this is totally not what it’s about. Within the Black Metal scene it’s bands like Emperor and Shining (if you like to call them black metal) that do a lot more than just pounding and blast beats. We really recognize ourselves in that broad definition of Black Metal, the content of which is specific: dark and occult, but we don’t think that the form in which it is expressed should be so limited. Those emotional abysses, they should be there – how you present it should be open.’
Do you think it has something to do with where bands are coming from? Can it be that Norse Black Metal bands feel almost obliged to make this ‘Norse Black Metal’?
‘To me, especially the Norse bands that do not have this sound, are the most interesting ones. A band like Mayhem for example, which is one of the primary Black Metal bands, dares to do different things. Bands from the 4th and 5th generation are the ones that try to be ‘holier than the pope’. For us it is about individual freedom rather than restraining yourself. You have to get rid of those dogmas, no matter if they’re ideological, philosophical, religious or musical. It really is about freedom, and for me personally you really are very wrong if you´re saying it should be dogmatic and limited.’
Last question already: you already have achieved a lot as a composer, especially the last year when the Dutch television made a documentary about you in the well known concert building in Amsterdam. What are the things you still want to achieve yourself, as a musician?
Morean takes a deep breath and says: ‘Well, that is a very good question. I’ve been in this business for quite some time already, about 15-20 years now. It has been a very busy time, during which I continuously have been working and composing. I always had a list of dreams, but I have to admit that I have already achieved all the things that were on that list. Not once, but multiple times, I have played with and have written pieces for orchestras and ensembles. I’ve created film music, did dance productions, wrote for all classical instruments, of course all the metal and I’ve done cross overs. So to be very honest: after this crazy time, what I’m most looking forward to is to just do nothing for a while. And then after a while, I’m sure something will cross my path again.
I’m afraid that currently, I simply really don’t know. I guess my life has surpassed my dreams, but this is something that I can really smile about. I am very grateful. ‘
And as if timing couldn’t be much better, after these words, Morean was called to the stage to do the soundcheck for the show which was to take place later that evening. Read about the show elsewhere on the website.