(In this post Andy Synn reviews the new album by New Jersey’s Death Fortress.)
Eons ago… in the cold, dark days of 2014… I stumbled across a certain album. An album absolutely overflowing with raw, visceral power and truly venomous, electrifying energy. That album was Among the Ranks of the Unconquerable, by verbose Black Metal marauders Death Fortress, and it quickly rose in the ranks to become one of my favourite Black Metal albums of the last decade.
I’ll admit though, I was a little late to the party, and the album had been out for some time before I finally got around to reviewing it. This time, however, I’ve been much more on the ball, as the band’s new album, Deathless March of the Unyielding, was only just released earlier this week.
So I guess the big question is, how does it stack up to its predecessor, an album about which I comprehensively struggled to find anything to criticise?
I won’t keep you waiting for an answer, don’t worry. Deathless March… is at least as good as …Unconquerable. In fact it might be even better.
Now, as big a fan of it as I am, it does sometimes seem like “pure” Black Metal is one of the hardest things for new bands to get right, largely because it’s a path that’s been walked and defined by so many legendary acts over the years that any new ground is at an absolute premium.
Mostly these acts, as much as I enjoy many of them, really do just rehash the same riff patterns and song structures laid down by their forebears, skirting the line between fanatical follower and straight-up tribute act at times.
But, somehow, in a way I can’t fully describe, Deathless March… feels different. Much like its predecessor it offers up a form of utterly ravenous, old-school-leaning Black Metal which manages to retain and revitalise the core tenets of the genre, without being retro or throwback in nature.
With a thrillingly raw, yet undeniably clear and powerful production job, Deathless March… channels the terrifying spirit of early Gorgoroth, Immortal, and Dark Funeral and drags it screaming into the modern era, occasionally blurring the line that separates the grimmest corners of Black Metal from the grimiest, grittiest edges of Death Metal with its chaotic cavalcade of scorching, strangulating riffs, throast-bursting vocals, and blasphemously intense blastery.
The unerringly savage “Enthroning the Oppressor” opens the proceedings, its skull-shattering blastbeats and wrenching, rumbling grooves setting the tone for the album nice and early. Mercilessly aggressive it may be, but it’s also malevolently catchy, packed with riffs that stick in your throat and ugly pseudo-melodies which slither their way under your skin whether you want them to or not.
With “The Erasure of Species” the band unleash a scalding downpour of pitch-black venom and fury, pummelling the listener with a tormented tumult of writhing guitars and pulse-quickening drum work which, over time, develops an almost hypnotising effect, one which will compel you to keep coming back, again and again, in an effort to unpick the many layers of melody, dissonance, and atmosphere which infuse the track with such intimate, invasive menace.
With its gruesome grooves and bile-spitting vocals, “Merciless Deluge” is a hook-filled, hate-fuelled monster of a track that’s destined to infiltrate your brain with its raw and searing melodic riff work and stomping, pounding drum patterns, leaving you wide open for the blasphemous blitzkrieg of “Scourge of Aeons”, the album’s most berserk and blistering number, and one that offers absolutely no quarter over the course of its four minutes of sonic carnage.
“Power From Beyond The Stars” pulls things back from the edge in an enviable display of solemn, shadowy melody and patient, almost penitent drums, before the triptych unleash the beast once more in a veritable hurricane of catastrophic blastbeats and razor-sharp, maliciously melodic guitar lines.
As compelling as it is caustic in nature, it’s yet another example of how Death Fortress are easily capable of going toe-to-toe with the very best that the Black Metal genre – new or old – has to offer.
Penultimate punisher “Trail of the Graves” keeps the intensity level firmly in the red, drowning the listener in a deluge of blistering black fire and wrenching, neck-breaking dynamic hooks, backed up by some fantastic, utterly propulsive/convulsive drum work that drives the track onwards and through its bleakly atmospheric second half, whose rough-hewn, guilt-stricken melodic guitar picking and sullen, sombre bass lines let the song transition seamlessly into the morbid, doom-laden introduction of the album’s climactic title-track.
Though most of the songs on Deathless March… (particularly the twin-headed assault of “Merciless Deluge” and “Scourge of Aeons”) feel that little bit shorter, tighter, and more tense, than those found on …Unconquerable (where the track length generally hovered around the six-and-a-half-minute mark), the band saved their most ambitious experiment for last, as “Among The Ranks of the Unconquerable” is a titanic, ten-minute endeavour whose dense layers of gargantuan riffage and cold, hypoxic melody summon forth the decayed spectre of Celtic Frost, only to devour its essence whole in a morbid display of phantom cannibalism.
As the last crippling bars of the title-track fade away into the abyss you’re left with the undeniable impression that this… this… is one hell of an album. Heavy, hooky, and harsh, at times harrowing, at others haunting, it takes what was very best in Black Metal – its raw fury, its bleak melody, its grim, unyielding nature – and refines it to near perfection.
Do not let this one pass you by.
The new Death Fortress album is out now via Fallen Empire Records. It features cover art by Raul Gonzalez. Get it on vinyl here, or at Bandcamp: