"When you bring it down to the energetic core, then it's like a stem cell. It can be anything, but it hasn't found its form yet. I take the same material and put it into words that Santura puts into notes, or the cover artist puts into his drawings and stuff. So, I would say that's how it works, but it's on a very intuitive level with us."
The story of Dark Fortress' latest offering, Venereal Dawn, begins with a sacrifice. The anticipation, tension, apprehension, all crafted from tremendous noiseful splendor, crowned with lyrics sculpted with skillful, humane precision, too esoteric for the pretentious street poet to get. "It's like analog levels, the same kind of energy is the raw force, which is there, which then translates itself into riffs and into music and into songs and into emotions that are connected to the – or that I put into songs and then I translate them into stories, imagery and into words and into my own head trip. I will get a song in an instrumental way, and then just open the doors, which I'm sure I don't have to explain to you how that works, and then something comes. Then, I go along for the ride, or until I find something worthy to say that translates itself into a piece of art. It's my way of trying to put a concrete image to this abstract feeling or energy."
And though the subject may sound par-for-course Metal, deliciously bloody and haunting, true sacrifice may be one thing to imagine, but quite another to understand. "You have to sacrifice a lot as an artist. You're going to get torn down all the time, people are gonna give you shit for whatever, because people are assholes. That has to be said. I mean, that's just how it is. If you're not prepared to put up with that, then being an artist is not for you."
But, this is Dark Fortress; just inside the gates of the black / extreme community-non-community, but right smack in the eye of the genre's storm. Maestro Florian Maier, a/k/a "Morean", distinguished classical composer, cum laude graduate of the conservatory of Rotterdam, principle storyteller and frontman for the band, describes the intrigue. "To me, this music -- certainly this extreme music and this extreme aesthetic -- is about complete artistic freedom. Because art is one of the last resorts or areas in our world where you do have this freedom, where you can take really ugly things and turn them into something that people can enjoy. It has a cathartic function, as well. It cleans you. It's some kind of alchemy going on, it's a beautiful thing."
Perhaps just simply living a life of an artist, alone, with all the obstacles just to make a living, could certainly be a challenge, if not just downright masochistic. Besides, living a life of constant creativity-on-command, with right-brain juices spooging and spurting in all directions, it is astounding that one can find the Muses in the murk. "There's plenty of shit to fuel the fires of rebellion that make me write, which to me is, anyway, just one elaborate giant excuse for escapism." Then, he unexpectedly adds, "And too sick of misery to poison myself with hate anymore, which never leads to anything good, anyway. But now I think about it...actually, I do punish myself. I've always taken on way too much work. The master in me will do anything to the slave in me to get it done. In that sense, it's been not a fetish dungeon, but a regular battlefield how I treat myself."
This 20-year old band, though flawless through the speakers, has its share of battle scars. With seven full album releases, two compilations, two split/demos, and a line-up change along the way, they still relentlessly push through the sludge of a bleeding industry with years of setups and setbacks, each "whoring" themselves to multiple projects to support the one. Yet stubbornly, they remained completely unwilling to compromise on the project's integrity. So, what should have taken a year to complete took three. "The idea for it, the concept came to me three years ago," Morean explains. "And I was basically ready to start writing for it three years ago. But, the songwriting itself turned out to be much more difficult than I previously expected. So, that had everything to do with scheduling issues – which became worse and worse due to all the bands that we're in and all the other 10,000 projects and to the other aspects of being a musician, which is you having to take on just about any work that you can get to survive." And he notes, "That is something that we feel has changed in the last couple of years. Because years ago, we could still just take a summer to just you know to work on an album, for pleasure, basically, and see what would come out. This is impossible now."
"Until, like, early 2013 was the point that we felt like, 'okay now there is enough substantial musical ideas around that we can actually start conceiving an album.' Before that, we tried a couple of attempts, we had a couple of loose songs that weren't bad or anything but, it was not enough to feel okay. This is an album and we take an album very seriously."
And you can hear it. "Dawn", since its release on September 1, 2014, has enjoyed an average of 4-5 star reviews worldwide. The general consensus from the royals and loyals is that they have accomplished their best yet, even after their previous, prized pugilist project--Ylem. "We really try our best to...despite the diverse influences and everything, to give it its own identity. And in order to do that, you just have to spend really a lot of time on it. And the time to do that, we only had it last year. So, it was not our choice to take so long to come up with a new album. But, at the end we're very, very happy with the way it turned out. Even though it was a crazy amount of work but, we're super happy with the result."
With guitarist, V Santura at the musical helm, the Fortress' collective skill and talent is unmistakable, if not conventional. Morean, himself, writes classical music so he can play metal. So, given this, with their seamless and unusually dynamic signature, it would be only natural for the armchair virtuosos to expect an orchestral arrangement in the future. But, surprise surprise -- apparently not. "By now I could write a book about why classical music and metal are incompatible!" He laughs, but then points out, "Having these experiences, I know how it works with an orchestra and I don't think Dark Fortress is the right band to share the stage with an orchestra. Even though there is a symphonic component to it, I can more imagine maybe working with soloists. I think that would work better than to blow it up to having 100 musicians onstage. Because I think we're just too loud, honestly."
But, wait – what about Dimmu Borgir? "They are about the only example that I know where that ever worked well. And it's because they have a really kick-ass composer as an arranger. He knows exactly how to write what parts of the orchestra will remain audible on top of a rather brutal and loud metal band with a double bass and blast-beats and everything. So, I agree with you, that's one good example. But, they could only do it because they have big budgets. They can give a microphone to every single musician, which a small band like any of the bands I'm been in…it costs €100,000 for one week to have an orchestra with the technique that is needed to make everybody heard and you have no time to rehearse. It's a very difficult thing to pull off and you need the best technique, the best engineers, the best musicians around and also a really good band that can adapt a little to this expanded situation so that it can work. Just because maybe the chords are the same doesn't mean they're going to work together just like that. It's a lot of work. You have to know really well what you're doing."
Morean, the consummate professional, extends his respects where respect is due in regards to the bands' comrades in corpsepaint. But, where Fortress truly veers into its own entity is not just by the way of the music, itself, but away from the genre's general ideology.
Though the band spends more time composing than conversing, there's a mutual respect and understanding between them that the platform which Dark Fortress stands upon is one of poetry, not proselytizing. "I have nothing against Satanism. I have nothing against going as deep as you can into the dark side of things because we also do that in our own way. And maybe it looks different… I am not a Satanist, but I've always had sympathy for the devil. I've been deeply involved in occult matters. It's just that I've found that Satan is way too Catholic for me. It doesn't even begin to go far enough for me it's…it's you define yourself by being the opposite of the enemy, basically. You take something you hate and put a minus in front of it and then that's it. That doesn't go far enough for me. But, that's just my personal opinion; I'm not saying this is the truth or anything."
"We have, what, four pounds of cauliflower in our skulls and we hope to contain the universe in there?"
"I don't like religious dogmatism from nobody. And if these guys just won't shut up about their brand of bullshit…Well, I prefer my brand of bullshit. It's all bullshit, anyway. We cannot know. Like, as far as metaphysics are concerned, we're all in the dark. It's a crutch that everybody uses to have less fear of death or to feel better in life and it's all good. But, yeah, I don't believe in anything that limits personal freedom and makes you dependent on something that doesn't even exist…I think everybody's wrong and everybody's right in some way because there is a truth in every single way of looking at the world. It came from somewhere and someone had been convinced that this is how things are. And this is the frustrating thing about it; in order to really know what's going on or what everything is, you have to see the whole picture. We can never see the whole picture. Because we have, what, four pounds of cauliflower in our skulls and we hope to contain the universe in there? I mean, how is that going to work?"
"The thought that you would voluntarily limit your personal freedom by making yourself a slave of Satan just doesn't make any sense."
Now currently on their European tour with Schammasch and Secrets of the Moon until the end of October, their fans in the states have been anxious to get their turn. "This is another difficult subject because we would love to and we have been wanting to come to America for many, many years and for many reasons…Dark Fortress' career actually started in the US more than anywhere else because the first two albums were released by Redstream Records, which is an American label. It was not a German or a European label; it was an American label that started the career of this band. So, it's been a dream of ours for many years and with every album we made, we got all kinds of promises and 'yeah sure' and 'we're going to bring you over' and 'blah blah blah' and just in the end, they never came through." He adds, "We're like the brokest band in the universe!"
And the times, they are a-changin'. "We despair if you just look at things like, really, a couple of years ago, it was, even within Europe it was much easier. We could go to France or Italy or to Greece or to the poorer countries in Europe, to play because it was still possible. Nowadays, like for this tour we are going to start this Thursday [October 16] we couldn't get a gig in frickin' Belgium, which is a neighboring country. We played there regularly and there was no offer coming from Belgium that would have even cover for us the costs of the frickin' bus back. So, we really see with every passing year, it becomes more and more difficult, which is a really sad thing."
"So, to make this completely long, annoying story short, we have hope. We're definitely going to try, we are in touch with a bunch of people and we also feel it would be ridiculous if we couldn't manage to get our asses over there to play. Because I know we have fans there. We, we sell alright, actually in the States, we always have. And I'm sure we could have a successful tour. It's just that it's a big weight to haul."
"Because American bands don't have to pay to set foot on European soil and play, you're coming over here. But, for us to go over there, it's really difficult."
And with all that said, let it be understood that life could be easier. Technically speaking, there are always other choices. Bands can guarantee their food money by simply riding the coattails of legends and join the tribute band brigade or just stamp out product that everyone else is doing. Of course, you can just give up – what shame is there to pin a nametag to a vest to pay your bills? But, the need to create is like a need to breathe. Art is not something that is done, but something that is part your living condition. As a musician from a non-musical family, in a band who understands what it means to swim upstream, in spite of the frustrations, aggravations, and disappointments, no, there are no other options. The music speaks for itself. This is Dark Fortress. "You have to go through with the machete through the bushes in order to find new paths because there's no artistic challenge at all or creative achievement in doing what everybody else does. In order to be able to unleash your potential involves a certain amount of death on different levels. Destruction is a part of creation."