– First of all, thank you so much for answering to our interview. And tell us, how is the band currently doing?
Thanks Tania, a pleasure to be back here with you at Queens of Steel! The band’s doing well; of course we’re very excited about the new album coming out, and right now we’re busy planning shows for this year. It’s been a little quiet lately around Dark Fortress, but we’re back with a vengeance!Your new album is «Spectres from the Old World». Who are those «spectres»? What and where is this «old world»?
The “spectres” are the leftovers of humanity from the end of the last album which were transformed into beings of pure light. The new album picks up the thread: those beings are reborn into a new universe, as part of the spacetime fabric in the tiny rolled-up dimensions that are proposed in string theory. So the “old world” is the universe they came from.
– This is an even darker album. As always hopeless not in the usual Black Metal tradition. What drives you to write and play this kind of music?
I think at this point it’s not so much anymore about venting our personal psychological frustrations, like in our younger years. The love for dark arts is now mainly an esthetic preference; it’s the music we grew up with, which we love, and which we’ve been doing for all these decades. Of course it takes you to dark places, anything else just wouldn’t fit to us as a band. But it doesn’t mean we’re people without hope in our private lives, just waiting for the death of the universe. Even though that would definitely be a sight to behold!
– Has the fact that you are a classical composer any effect on your music and arrangements?
Maybe a little bit, mainly in the choir arrangements and in the orchestrals that we sometimes add to our tracks in the studio. And of course, when I write the vocals, I use my craft to find the right notes and expression for the songs. But I’m not using really any classical approach for the metal bits of our music, it’s quite intuitive. Of course, my taste always remains though, you can never work around that when you create.
-You explore new dimensions within your music, which fits your cosmological themes. Is it a sonic representation of the progressive nature of the band?
I see it more as a character that this band has always had. In my eyes, since the very beginning, Dark Fortress has always been about combining aggression with more epic or emotional elements. Of course, as we grew as musicians, we started seeing new musical possibilities with every new album, and especially the epic side of the band allows us to explore these. But at the same time, we’re aware that we always have to keep our feet on the ground as well, and keep the more traditional elements as a counterweight. I feel that both elements are necessary to make this band what it is, and to set us apart from other bands.
-All your albums are different. You are constantly evolving. Is it important for you to keep in mind that the line between innovating and losing your identity is thin? On this matter, do you consider yours a Black Metal band or are you past that?
We’re certainly aware of that danger, yes, and there have been times when some of us might have been tempted to go further into a direction that isn’t very connected to black metal anymore with some ideas and tracks. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s necessary to worry too much about style and expectations from the outside world. The “black metal police” can fuck right off. We’re not in this genre to conform to some bedwetting troll’s demands, that defies the very point of such an extreme genre that should be full of defiance and rebellion. But besides that, when writing, you should always go for what inspires you most – it has to come from the heart, or whatever other abysmal place in you fuels your inspiration. If you follow that, it’s up to the outside world to categorize your stuff afterwards. I’ve been tearing down walls between genres since I first held a guitar in my hand, and honestly, there are few questions I care less about in this life than about which sticker is put on what I make.
As for how the albums are different from each other, I have another way of looking at that. It once occurred to me that actually, fundamentally, this band has been trying to do the same thing with every single album, which is to find a golden combination of aggression and atmosphere, and tell large stories that send the audience tripping to a different universe. After all, this is what music has always meant to us as listeners as well. Of course, we might be inspired to a faster, more direct album one time, or a more epic one the next time, but I think each album’s character is more an expression of the same principle at a different moment in time, with the different ideas and approaches that come with who we are in that moment.
-Some of the themes here deal with physics, string theory… Would you comment what are some of the main ideas on the album and its connection to «On Fever’s Wings» («Venereal Dawn»)?
As mentioned before, this album continues the last album’s story by reincarnating its protagonists into the as yet invisible curled-up extra dimensions of string theory. The theory says that those vibrating strings create the illusion of our different subatomic particles when they collide or interact with each other. So the narrator tells the story from the perspective of the universe’s fabric itself – the spacetime in which everything happens.
The underlying question here is: if the universe itself had a voice and could comment on its life span and what happens inside it (which at a certain point also includes human civilization), what would it say?
Last time, the fundamental question I wanted to ask is, how would we deal with being completely overwhelmed by a hostile force that we cannot possibly defend ourselves against? How much of our minds, souls and bodies can we strip from ourselves before we stop being “us”?
On “Spectres from the Old World”, the basic question is, how would an outside observer see life and its antics on a cosmic scale? The inevitability of the laws of physics make short work of mankind’s metaphysical ambitions here, and are thematized accordingly as a much more impressive and real surrogate for our fictional gods.
-Anyway most songs can be interpreted in a spiritual way, metaphors be seen as symbols, allegories, or even as a social criticism. Is it important for you to leave your lyrics open to different interpretations? Are they more than what they seem personally for you?
It is far from me to want to hammer home any kind of message to the audience. I really don’t like it either if someone does that to me. I just want to open the door to my inner worlds, so I can share with other people what I see inside my own head. I know that some concepts are a bit hard to grasp at first glance, also for myself. But I like a challenge, and I think a good album needs depth also in its lyrics and imagery. So if you’re willing to enter into my words, be sure you’ll be rewarded for the effort! But if you’re not, which is completely legitimate as well, I hope the words themselves are powerful and mystical enough for everyone to make up their own stories what the songs are about. That’s how it works; our thoughts are free, and always have to be. I’m not gonna tell anyone what to read into my words or music, but I do offer some background for those who want to know what the hell I’m actually trying to describe.
-Sartre believed that «We are our choices», like that being that destroys itself and devours itself (as species, not as individuals). Are we aware of those choices? Or are there tools, elements (capitalism and everything it involves, such as technology) make us to unconsciously make those choices?
Interesting question. The way I see it, we can discuss about the verb “to be” until the cows come home. In a certain sense, nothing “is”, since the word implies stasis, but in reality, everything is always in motion. This goes for our identity as well. It’s a somewhat rudimentary short cut to just say this equals that; reality is always more complex than that. Partly, our choices are conscious, and that’s what defines our identity and progress through our lives. But another, maybe much larger part is unconscious, instinctive, or – as the ideal combination of both – at least intuitive, often without too much rational explanation attached. So maybe the real question is, in how far are we intelligent and self-aware enough to have conscious control over our actions, and in how far are we just animals that find rational excuses for deeply biological and often prehistoric irrational behavior? Look at how much fear in all its forms determines our choices, on all levels of life. Those choices, are they really the result of careful consideration of good arguments, or are we not much more often just guided by our gut, or, worse, by self-inflicted mindfuck? When you look at the growing role of algorithms in our lives for example, it’s not exactly science fiction anymore to expect a world where your browser will know what you’ll buy next before you do. It might emerge that we are a lot more predictable, a lot less self-aware, and thus a lot less conscious in our choices than we think. So you tell me, which part of these swampy lands of consciousness and unconsciousness is really “you”? The part you like, the part you don’t see, or maybe much more than all that? I think we still have a long way to go to truly answer the question what we, uhm, “are”.
-You build a sci-fi scenario founded on physics giving room to almost philosophical observations on our behavior and the world we inhabit, so the album can be sense as an opus of phenomenology, or «descriptive psychology» as Edmund Husserl described it. How apart are philosophy and science from each other? Are they indivisible?
In science, there is an important distinction between description and interpretation. For example, we’re still searching for the correct interpretation of what exactly causes gravity, but we can describe it in great precision and predict correctly how the discovered mechanisms of mass, energy and spacetime will behave. It’s two different levels of understanding something.
Philosophy’s domain would definitely be on the “interpretation” side. Plus, science doesn’t and shouldn’t talk about things that cannot be examined objectively or empirically. This dark spot of course still includes most psychology and all metaphysics. The question of interpretation is of course prone to speculation and subjectivity, that’s also the fun of it. But I personally wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out at some point that the mind is a byproduct of the body, that near-death experiences are due to your body releasing its drugs all at once while you’re still alive, and that more of us than we’d like to accept is due to biology, genetics or other immutable parameters of a living organism.
I think it was Carl Sagan who coined the phrase “Any sufficiently advanced form of science is indistinguishable from magic / Any sufficiently advanced form of magic is indistinguishable from science”. Hopefully we’ll be able to understand the world deeply enough at some point in our evolution that we don’t have to distinguish anymore between the two, but I’m afraid it might take a while.
-Nature is also part of «Spectres from the Old World», taking inspiration from Chilean landscapes as we can notice in «Pali Aike». Could you please shed some light on this?
Many of us these days sort of permanently live on the cliff of the infamous burn-out abyss. Well, me too, and after 25 years of burning the candle at both ends all the time for my music, a few years back I needed to pull the break and get out of the rat race for more than just a usual holiday or I would have lost my mind. My solution was to spend every penny I had managed to save in my working life and travel for three months down the length of Chile, all the way down to Antarctica, to take a closer look at its endless and omnipresent string of natural wonders while my feet still carry me and my drooling mouth. That trip changed my life, and brought with it the realization that there is no work of art that mankind can ever create which, at least to me right now, can rival the unbelievable beauty and awesomeness that the laws of nature create without any involvement of us, both on the microscopic and macroscopic scales. That trip also set my interest in the sciences on fire again, since of course, seeing all this beauty, my minds wants to find out how it all works, how everything is connected, and how the complex worlds we see could arise from a natural process set in motion by the big bang, with just a few fundamental forces, rules and materials. It took me a long time to even begin understanding a little bit of for example thermodynamics and how everything owes its existence to the seemingly simple principle of heat exchange. The more I delve into it, the greater the mystery and the awe I feel for the world around me becomes. You could say I’m at a point where physics and reality tend to fascinate me more than the stuff I make up in my mind.
Pali Aike was one of the many sites I visited in Chile. It was the last stop on an epic journey, and also one of the strangest places I ever saw. So it was great to be able to dedicate a song to this concrete place that sees few visitors. And the album title also came to me there – as these things go, I just knew that’s the title of the next album, but I had no idea yet what story I would find behind it back then. That took until now, but as always, my intuition was miles ahead of my thinking.
-And what’s the significance and purpose of the cover artwork?
Since a large part of the album is inspired by physics, geology and cosmology, and I had all these amazing photos from my travels, I liked the idea to also represent the very real nature of the album’s subjects with actual photos of things and places that exist in reality, and my own photos at that. As a creator, I see it as my job to hunt for beautiful things (“beauty” in its broadest definition here – Cannibal Corpse is beautiful to me too!) and share them with my audience. I’m not a photographer at all, but thankfully, you don’t have to necessarily be one anymore to get a good shot. What you do have to do is get yourself to places that look like that, and I put a lot of work into researching that from home in advance.
We had so many images to choose from at the end, we were spoiled for choice. At the end, this photo of an ice cave in Iceland you saw got the majority vote. It’s of course mostly connected to the song “Isa”, but the light shining through the glacier also looks like a ghostly figure of light, like an apparition from an unreal world. So I thought it fits quite nicely, but honestly, we could have chosen any of the other photos that made the cut for the booklet as well.
-The cover, Chile… All this add to the overall escapist aesthetic of the band. Is escapism intrinsic to the genre or to DARK FORTRESS specifically?
Definitely! Escapism might be our most fundamental driving force, or at least its little brother, the need to be left alone to do what you want with your life, and not be bugged by others because of it. Ironically, what we escape to here is reality, at least reality according to what we know and what we can extrapolate from that. So the twist here is the perspective from which the story is told, trying to oversee the entire lifespan of a universe, from violent beginning to slow death. In how far this can still be called “real” is up for debate, but at least the inspiration came from the world we’re in this time, not a fictional one like on Eidolon, Venereal Dawn, or Séance.
-All this about «Spectres from the Old World» being said; how could you describe it in just 3 words?
Cold, spicy and well-balanced.
–And before we wrap this interview up, what’s now in stock for DARK FORTRESS? Where are you heading to?
First to shoot a video clip this weekend, then a handful of release shows, some summer festivals, and then a slightly longer European tour in the faThat’s all from our side, thank you once more for answering to our interview. If you’d like to add some final words; feel free to do it.
We want to thank you and our Spanish fans for your continued interest in and support for us, and personally, I hope we do get to play in Spain once before the last black hole has evaporated. It would be high time, right?