Dark Fortress has a long history – just over 25 years, to be exact – and have, in that time, developed an unmistakable sonic signature that sets them apart in the world of melodic black metal. Their latest album, Spectres from the Old World, is a reflection of this long narrative that both draws from their rich discography and evolves the sound even further. The name of the album is therefore quite apt, both as a monument to their early heritage and as an acknowledgement of their beginning a new chapter – including their first tour on American soil – and exorcising these ghosts of the past. Let’s be clear – this last statement is not a highlight of anything negative, but Spectres from the Old World pulls no punches in blowing out the progressive cobwebs in the corners of their discography typified by Ylem or Venereal Dawn as it makes a triumphant return to the stripped-down, straightforward style of Séance or Eidolon.
This is not to say that Dark Fortress has in any way lost touch with their trademark melodic content, and early releases like “Isa” showcase this meandering, organic approach, but this is effectively offset by the likes of “Pulling at Threads” or “Pazuzu,” which both conjure a far more traditional black metal mood. A recent interview with guitarist V Santura highlighted this, and many other aspects of the record.
“Isa” may seem to be the spiritual successor to Venereal Dawn’s “On Fever’s Wings,” but is still a monumental single.
One characteristic that takes its time to rear its head is the low-end presence: “In Deepest Time” may be firmly embedded in the record’s B-side, but its bass-led melody is a welcome shift. The album closers that follow – “Swan Song” and “Nox Irae” – feature more choral orchestrations than the first half of Spectres from the Old World and, while the result is sweeping and grandiose, it does manage to not come off as ‘symphonic’ – a label that Dark Fortress have successfully avoided throughout their career.
The third song to enjoy pre-release exposure, “The Spider In The Web,” is (like the implications in the album name) a two-fold affair. On the surface, its simple arrangement recalls the likes of Celtic Frost – possibly as a result of a subconscious connection to guitarist V. Santura’s role in Tryptikon – but its concept is a far-reaching one: the ever-expanding cosmos itself and the place of consciousness within the multidimensional fabric of reality. This is echoed in the album’s message, that vocalist Morean summarises in the Century Media press release as their desire to “capture and show the world in a kind of virginal state, untouched by man,” wherein the place of the human animal in the greater scheme of the universe is shown to be far smaller than that human ego may actually assume.
Perhaps letting “The Spider In The Web” speak for itself is better than my rather wordy description.
As a whole, Spectres from the Old World is a continuation of the Dark Fortress story and an evolution of the band’s signature crisp, icy sound. Even though it is the heaviest record they have produced in some time, it is still musical, conceptual and deserving of far more notice than the band has historically received. When faced with such an impressive and varied back catalogue, it is impossible to say this is their best album, but it is an extremely good outing – dark enough to satisfy the black metal kvlt, heavy enough for death metal fans and still, despite its less complicated content, intellectual enough to leave its mark on a progressive audience. Spectres From The Old World also satisfies the prerequisites that the album stays listenable long after the initial spin and is not just a selection of singles with filler – making it an impressive achievement indeed, and a high benchmark to set this early in the year.
Spectres from the Old World Track Listing:
01. Nascence (Intro)
03. The Spider in the Web
04. Spectres from the Old World
05. Pali Aike
08. Pulling at Threads
09. In Deepest Time
10. Penrose Procession (Interlude)
11. Swan Song
12. Nox Irae
Run Time: 58:09
Release Date: February 28, 2020
Record Label: Century Media
The diametric opposite of “Isa,” “Pulling at Threads” is a gut-punch return to standard black metal forms.
Wabi Sabi – ‘The Love Insane’ [Album Review]
‘The Love Insane’ displays the psychedelic jazz band persona of Wabi Sabi and their talent shifting from genre to genre with aplomb.
About seven months ago, Atlanta-based ensemble Wabi Sabi released their fourth album, The Love Insane, a record that not only flew under the radar but was also impacted by the pandemic, resulting in it being self-produced.
Pianist/vocalist Damien Cartier explains, “This is the first of our albums that I have produced myself. We have never done an album this way, but Covid mixed with having a spare bedroom home studio seemed like the perfect time to try.”
The genesis of Wabi Sabi occurred in 1999. Initially comprising piano, trombone, and drums, the band’s name was Damien Cartier And His My Newt Orchestra. Before long, the band added horns, bass, guitars, percussion, and singers. However, there was a problem: the band’s name, the spelling of which stymied people.
Then Damian saw an episode of King Of The Hill where Bobby discovered the concept of Wabi Sabi, a Japanese aesthetic that perceives beauty in imperfection and transience. Enter the band Wabi Sabi, whose unique sound amalgamates elements of soul, funk, reggae, and pop with tangs of jazz.
The Love Insane begins with “The Truth,” opening on a soft, low piano topped by tender vocals, mirroring pensive tones. The melody blends savors of rock and jazz, forming a dreamy, almost psychedelic flow of floating textures.
Highlights on the album include the title track, conjuring up the swaying soul surfaces of the ’60s, tinted with twangy, country-laced guitars. Cartier’s vocals are spot-on and convey touching, quixotic aromas.
“New Life,” a personal favorite, evinces suggestions of Steely Dan because of its deliciously trippy-lite surfaces and grand brass accents that bray forth finessed tones. The funky “Not Yet, Sister,” with its hints of reggae, features bright horns, skiffing guitars, and a neighing organ.
The album finishes with “The Weirdo Blues,” a luscious fusion of bluesy jazz and orchestral flavors. There’s a delightful, sleazy sensation to the tune, imbuing the song with benevolent craziness.
The Love Insane displays the psychedelic jazz band persona of Wabi Sabi and their talent shifting from genre to genre with aplomb.
The Love Insane Track Listing:
1. The Truth
2. I Am OK
4. The Love Insane
5. New Life
6. Not Yet, Sister
7. Sick Tuna
8. The Fall
9. Please Rescue Me
11. The Weirdo Blues
Run Time: 48:18
Release Date: July 28, 2023
Record Label: Independent
Spike Polite & Sewage – ‘Punk Not Dead’ [EP] [Album Review]
Seething with primal momentum and frenzied, punchy surfaces, Spike Polite & Sewage’s ‘Punk Not Dead’ projects an intensity of defiance and insurrection.
Punk Not Dead, the latest EP from Spike Polite & Sewage, is an insolent, provocative social satire, a response to the clueless decline of Western civilization, à la Oswald Spengler. Unrestrained, the EP was produced by Ted Sabety.
Made up of Spike Polite, aka Reagan Youth and Cheetah Chrome, on vocals, Michelle Shocked (bass, vocals), Antony Romero (guitar), and Beast (drums), Punk Not Dead follows on the band’s 2021 EP, PANDEMONIUM.
Comprising three tracks, Punk Not Dead opens with “What Happened to the Punk Rock,” rolling out in buzzsaw guitars riding tight, raw percussion. A single voice segues into gang-like vocals, imbuing the lyrics with enflamed indignation. This is old-school, fulminating punk rock.
“Twitter is a Death Machine” delivers a short, vicious commentary on the malicious ramifications of social media platforms, specifically Twitter, now known as X. Traveling on a fast, chunky rhythm, the harmonics slice the atmosphere with edgy guitars.
Snarling, grinding guitars give the intro to the title track chaotic textures as sneering vocals infuse the lyrics with ferocious energy highlighted by ringing percussion. The outro reveals the spoken word vocals of Spike and Michelle announcing that “punk is not dead.”
Seething with primal momentum and frenzied, punchy surfaces, Punk Not Dead projects an intensity of defiance and insurrection.
Punk Not Dead Track Listing:
1. What Happened to the Punk Rock
2. Twitter is a Death Machine
3. Punk not Dead
Run Time: 3:24
Release Date: January 15, 2024
Record Label: Solid Bass Records
Night Wilds – ‘All That Should Have Been’ [Album Review]
Progressive alt-rock artist Night Wilds, the musical brainchild of Seth Micarelli, will drop his debut album, All That Should Have Been, on April 1. A darkly cathartic record, it’s an immersive concept album cloaking autobiography in fantastical fiction. (Check out our previous single review here.)
All That Should Have Been was tracked at Robert Lang Studios, London Bridge Studios, and Electrokitty Studios. The sessions boasted an audiophile’s dream of vintage gear and exceptional contributions from mastering and mixing engineer Tom Hall and longtime Heart drummer Ben Smith.
“For my whole life, I have been searching for that magic pill to make everything feel better,” shares Micarelli. “This album is about making sense of that void.”
Encompassing 17 tracks, All That Should Have Been begins with the dramatic “The Curtain,” a heated monologue delivered by the compere of a circus, rebuking the performers, focusing on a small child. His criticism travels over a creepy mosaic of sonic motifs, conjuring up a toxic milieu.
Entry points include “New Jerusalem,” opening on low-slung ethereal surfaces topped by Micarelli’s soft, poignant vocals. Slowly building and taking on elevating harmonics, the melody swells into a grandiose prog-rock performance, highlighted by radiant female harmonies, infusing the tune with gospel savors.
“City Of Strangers,” a symphonic rock ballad, reveals the protagonist’s realization that he has created a self-constructed prison in his mind, a prison reflecting the events of his life in his youth. A melancholic piano and weeping strings mirror the passionate lyrics, imbuing the song with regret, yearning, and a moving appeal for human tenderness and forgiveness.
A personal favorite because of the exposure of intimate, inner feelings, “Long Way From Graceland” features an alluring folk-rock melody supporting Micarelli’s raw, sensitive vocals, drenched in musing timbres.
“Just A Moment More” conjures up suggestions of Bruce Springsteen, unwrapping textures of folk-rock. Blending gleaming guitar accents, a gently sparkling piano, and a mid-tempo rhythmic flow, the tune evokes the pensive longing for more time in embracing the carefree sensation of life’s satisfying moments.
The album closes with “Where Do We Go From Here,” juxtaposing Micarelli’s haunting voice against the maniacal, cackling laugh and wild spoken words of the crazed compere from the first track. The drifting prog-rock ambiance of the melody, reminiscent of Pink Floyd, is at once delicate and elegantly haunting.
Tucked inside All That Should Have Been is an unforgettable story of working to emerge from darkness and addiction into light.
All That Should Have Been Track Listing:
1. The Curtain
2. The Show
5. New Jerusalem
9. Where Do We Go From Here
10. City Of Strangers
11. A Long Way From Graceland
13. No Way Home
15. Just A Moment More
16. Lost Light
17. Where Do We Go From Here
Run Time: 60:32
Release Date: April 1, 2024
Record Label: Independent
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