No band does fear, misanthropy or creepy, agonising death better than Dark Fortress. If you don’t believe me, check out any of their albums but in particular “Séance” (2006), in my view one of the greatest black metal albums of all time. It is so psychologically twisted. This is the music for times of the coronavirus. It’s been six long years since Dark Fortress’s last masterpiece “Venereal Dawn” but here they are again now, spreading disease with their eighth album. “Glimpse into the endless black of the universe”, is their advice.

Morean’s rasping voice will always signal evil, just as Azathoth did before him, and does now, but this musically this is more aggressive than previous offerings. “Coalescence” flows, and provides the darkest form of rock n roll, with furious poundings from drummer Seraph. “The Spider in the Web” continues in a more measured way but it’s still raw and fluid. And then it quietens down ominously. “I am the spider”, whispers Morean. The scene is terrifying. The heavy melody returns and we find ourselves paradoxically enjoying this catchy ode to a sinister, creepy world. And it doesn’t end there. There’s so much in a Dark Fortress song. Yet the title track which follows is plain old thrashy black metal. No time to rest. It’s rip-roaring, dirty old stuff, but for an ominous end. The general level of nastiness is unmistakeably Dark Fortress, but each song takes a different angle. “Pali Aike” has the rhythm of a chain gang about it, and the rarity of a flamboyant guitar solo. “Pazuzu” is a fiery black metal assault and more of a blunt instrument than others. Each song has power but initially I felt that the album was more disjointed than some of the previous Dark Fortress albums through the lack of continuity of theme or consistent atmosphere. Having listened to it a few times, I feel I’m now in the same dark space throughout and “Pazuzu” simply presents the violent end of the same rancid existence.

Strangeness has always been a quality of Dark Fortress. In among the heavy pounding of “Isa” there is a strange haunting chorus, which did feature in “Venereal Dawn” so it’s not new, but really it’s the guitar sound dangling in the air like a sword and the guttural vocal spite of Morean which provide the menacing atmosphere. A guitar solo strikes up but this is overshadowed by the welcome lead weight. It took me a couple of listens to appreciate “Isa”, as indeed was the case with the whole album. It’s as pungent as it gets and hammers itself well and truly in my head. I’ve now listened to it six times to be sure. That childlike clean chorus reappears in the fast and furious “Pulling at Threads”. It seems slightly incongruous. The song itself is violent. The expansive clean chorus is here to stay as it features again in the deeply pounding “In Deepest Time”. It is an odd mix, but it’s an intense track nevertheless. After the sinister soundtrack “Penrose Procession”, we are subjected to the admirable hardship and suffering of “Swan Song”. There is an angelic chorus as if Jon Anderson has dropped in as an interloper but we do find ourselves where we want to be as everything reeks musically of an irreversible turbulent black metal atmosphere and smell of death. On we march. It’s harsh, uncompromising and nasty. Lovely. “Nox Irae” provides the final piece of punishment with its measured tones.

I like “Spectres from the Old World” and respect the fact that Dark Fortress have taken an aggressive, older school black metal approach while throwing in vocal variation and guitar solos. In the beginning I didn’t feel that it worked entirely as I perceived it as an album of disparate parts. Occasionally they mix in the atmospheric darkness which historically is their speciality. There’s plenty of punishment and heaviness but less of the chilling air of menace which characterises “Venereal Dawn” and most of its predecessors. I can say for certain that this album has grown on me, and has come together the more I have listened to it. There’s no highlight track. There are so many good ones. It’s normal for me for me to feel dirty after listening to a Dark Fortress album. I knew I’d been through the mill after listening to “Spectres from the Old World” but I felt at first as if I’d been let off the hook. I just didn’t feel quite so dirty or defiled but now I do, and over time this magnificent album has become stuck to me like an unpleasant disease.

(9/10 Andrew Doherty)