Dark Fortress

Ylem

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Having experienced a career breakthrough of sorts with 2008's critically raved upon Eidolon, Germany's Dark Fortress might have felt the weight of expectation for the first time in their 15-year existence while preparing their sixth album, 2010's Ylem. But despite its rather bulky 70 minutes (comprised of 11, often lengthy and, some might say, overwrought compositions), and the sheer apocalyptic intensity with which the opening title track storms the gates (as though trying to reassert the band's "trve" black metal pedigree), nothing could be further from the truth. No, like Eidolon and 2006's excellent Séance before it, Ylem simply showcases a band traversing their creative peak; and, as illustrated by the impressively diverse material that follows, quite fearless about challenging genre conventions, if it pleases them to do so. If anything, furious blastbeat beat-downs are actually in short supply here (mostly accenting several songs and only dominating again on "Satan Bled"), and instead, Dark Fortress are focused on majestic, mid- to slow tempo compositions ("As the World Keels Over," "Osiris," "Hirudineans," etc.) encrusted with ghostly keyboard orchestrations and generous, if often thinly veiled, melodies that lend an ethereal, almost gothic aura to the proceedings -- without the musical baggage that usually comes with the term, mind you. And even though it's tempting to call these works "progressive," that would be misleading for listeners expecting similarities to the avant-garde works of Ulver or even the psychedelic art metal of Enslaved, so perhaps "risk-taking" is ultimately a better descriptive. That tag would certainly explain the band's surprising descent all the way to snail-paced, doom-like catacombs, at times, which may indeed be going a tad too far for some fans -- not least due to the uniformity of the tracks involved (see "Evenfall," "The Valley"). And the same could be said for the vocal versatility of frontman Morean, who will surely spark some extreme metal bickering for evincing a goth-like baritone on a few cuts, and actually daring clean vocals, besides (particularly on closer "Wraith"). Finally, the eclectic influences and cinematic nature of Dark Fortress' vision are further exposed by a bonus cover of "Sycamore Trees," inspired by the spine-shivering version performed by jazz singer Little Jimmy Scott for the closing episode of David Lynch's Twin Peaks. In other words, and as was stated above: fearless -- which is really the best and maybe only way for any band to cope with the weight of expectations as successfully as Dark Fortress have with Ylem.

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