Dark Fortress Formed in 1994. They have established themselves in the top ranks of the genre with intense live shows and fascinating, pitch Black full-length masterpieces that meet the standard created mostly in northern Europe’s prolific scenes with ease. This Is Black Metal found V. Santura (Guitars 2001-present) and talked with him for their new offering “Spectres from the Old World”, and their plans.
This Is Black Metal: Hi Victor, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to you, it’s much appreciated. How are things going?
V. Santura: Hi, I’m doing OK, thanks, besides being stuck at home for months of course, but that is everyone’s destiny at the moment, so I can’t complain. I still have a lot of work to do, lot’s of mixing, so the current Corona situation affects my professional live less than most other people who are making a living out of music.
TIBM: You have released the new album ‘Spectres from the Old World’ after a gap of 6 years! What took you so long?
V. Santura: Actually I did have a very creative phase already back in 2015 where I wrote the basics for about 2/3 of the album. The ideas just came by, I had this natural flow of inspiration. However, being inspired to write or compose new music doesn’t necessarily also mean that you are inspired to record it.
The thing is that I am working in the studio as producer and mixing engineer all the time, it is my main profession and I am constantly working on other people’s music. So after 8 or 10 hours in the studio I usually don’t feel like recording more music again which is quite natural I think. So it just took a very long time until I finally found the time, energy and inspiration to sit down for one or two weeks and record first proper demos of my ideas, so that I could actually show my bandmates what I had in mind. This probably cost us 2 years along the road. So, to say it short, my or our professional lives were a little bit in the way and slowed everything down.
Actually our new keyboarder Phenex really kicked my ass to finally start recording my ideas. He booked flights and visited me at my place for about 10 days in September 2017 and in that time we recorded the preproduction for the ideas I had so far. Those ideas included the first half of the album until “Pazuzu” as well as the basic ideas for “In Deepest Time”. This session resulted in another boost of creativity and in the next weeks I wrote the music for “Isa” and “Pulling At Threads”. Our second guitar player Asvargr also had some great ideas which resulted in “Swan Song”, so somewhere in spring 2018 we had the music ready, basically.
Well, then add a few months until you finally start recording and it is 2019 already… Then several weeks of album production spread over various sessions, then add the usual pre-roll of 3 or 4 month a record company needs to release the album and it is early 2020. And if you sum all that up, its 6 years, crazy how time flies…
TIBM: Spectres from the Old World is more aggressive than its predecessor with some new elements in it. Can we assume that some new influences appeared at the Dark Fortress DNA?
V. Santura: I don’t think that there are really “new” influences… Of course nobody is an island and you always get influenced by the things that happen around you, that doesn’t only go for the music that is around you, but also the things that happen in your private life or in the world.
In the last few years, or almost decade, basically every album I’ve been involved in as musician turned out to be an album of quite epic proportions. That counts for Dark Fortress` “Ylem” and “Venereal Dawn” as well as for Triptykon‘s “Eparistera Daimones” and “Melana Chasmata”. On top of that I was also working as producer on albums like for example Schammasch‘s “Triangle”.
I think after all those albums I simply felt the need to do something different. Something more compact, faster to the point. Maybe I also got a bit more impatient as listener. I simply felt the deep wish to write more aggressive and shorter songs again.
TIBM: In order to promote the new album, you made a video clip for “Pali Aike”. Why did you choose this song?
V. Santura: This seemed to be the song on which the whole band could instantely agree. Therefore it is super difficult to come up with a good idea for a video, especially when you are on a budget. And with “Pali Aike” things seemed so easy and obvious: Pali Aike is a very remote place in the very South of Chile, that our vocalist Morean had visited during a long trip. Morean was deeply impressed by this place, a strange volcanic landscape that was being considered as “home of the devils” by the native inhabitants. On top of that he made lots of photos and short movie clips in HD during his stay.
So, since the Song “Pali Aike” simply is about the place “Pali Aike” we made a video simpy shows the place the song is about.
For the band shots we obviously didn’t fly the whole band plus a film crew to South Chile, as this would easily cost us 10k, we just had to scout for a place in Germany that resembles a volcanic desert to match with the landscape recordings. In our home area there are a lot of stone quarries and they look quite surreal…
TIBM: One of my favourite moments in the new album is the choir in the second part of “Swan Song”. Is there a story behind the conception of this idea?
V. Santura: The whole idea for the choir, as well as the arrangement for it is from Morean. The lyrics of “Swan Song” have a very sacral, “churchy” touch in a perverted way and having a choir that somehow alludes to liturgical music just fit perfectly.
TIBM: Another personal highlight which is perhaps my favourite song from the album, is “Pazuzu” who is a sumerian god. If we look at Dark Fortress`s lyrics we can see that you have been writing about occultism for a long time. What is the biggest gift from studying this subject on your opinion?
V. Santura: The lyrics of Pazuzu are having a very interesting point of view:
A fact often overlooked when talking about Pazuzu, the “Lord of all Fevers and Plagues”, is that he was initially invoked not as a destroyer, but as a protector against the ravage against nature that humans commit in the name of their gods.
In simple words, basically a force to protect nature from mankind, a force to strike back on humans for our destruction of the planet; not out of metaphysical evil, but out of the necessity for nature’s self-preservation.
Apart from that, yes, occultism has played a role in Dark Fortress` music and lyrics, but it is only one certain aspect of our pallett and hardly ever was the main focus of our lyrics. The lyrics on “Séance” do have a strong “occult” content, but they are rather based on actual personal experiences of our former vocalist Azathoth than on studying occult theories from the notorious occultists so many other black Metal bands are treating.
Our aim is not to be a “religious” band, rather to either deal with certain sometimes very personal emotions or to offer alternative worlds.
DARK FORTRESS – Pali Aike (OFFICIAL VIDEO)
TIBM: As a guest in this album you have Hannes Grossmann! Can you tell us the story behind this?
V. Santura: Yes, well, about half of album was recorded by our longtime drummer Seraph, the other half by Hannes.
Seraph wasn’t too happy with the musical direction the new album was taking. Seraph is a very skilled drummer, but his interest in playing extreme Metal lessened over the years. He studied pop / rock drums at the conservatory in Rotterdam and over the years his musical interests shifted towards other genres. We already had a talk in early 2017 where he admitted that he isn’t sure anymore if he wants to record the new album still. However he also admitted that he always profoundly enjoyed playing with Dark Fortress and that he has always been able to identify with our music. But once he would come to the point that this might not be the case anymore he wouldn’t want to fake it. With “Ylem” and “Venereal Dawn” we became more progressive, less aggressive and I think he would have been happier with this direction. But since we didn’t just wanna break up we decided that he would simply record the songs that he could still identify himself with as a musician and it was also his suggestion to ask Hannes to record the other songs as Hannes is simply the perfect drummer for this. Therefore Hannes is close to the group anyways, he plays in Alkaloid together with Morean, he is now the new drummer of Triptykon and he has been helping us out as live drummer in the past years already whenever Seraph wasn’t available due to job obligations.
TIBM: Let`s talk about the album cover, which is remarkable. Can you tell us about it and its creator?
V. Santura: In the past years Morean did a couple of really interesting trips to very remote places of our planet, especially to the arctic regions. Some of these trips he did alone, some together with his wife. But seeing these amazing places in the (not so-)eternal ice that haven’t really been touched by civilisation had a big impact on him, also on his lyrics.
The cover is a photo of an ice cave on Iceland, it was taken by Morean‘s wife Mina.
TIBM: During this hard time many bands are streaming some live performances on youtube. Would you consider doing something simillar?
V. Santura: No, we aren’t interested in that. I am sure some bands do it in a cool way. But for us playing life is about the interaction between the band and the the audience. It is also about the pure physical force that is being created when everybody is in one room and a lot of it has to do with the sound and the loudness of a live concert. All of this is lost in a life stream, so this is not a substitute for a show at all for me.
A life stream still feels like “conserved” music and then I prefer a properly produced album 100 times over a flawed life stream.
TIBM: Black Metal is running for many decades, but how important do you think that is the lyrics of a Black Metal band today? Are they enough for a band to make the difference nowadays?
V. Santura: For me the music comes first, then the lyrics. But I’m saying this because I am writing music and not lyrics, so of course the music matters more to me 😉
But let’s say it like that: If I love some band’s music, I will probably listen to it. If I think some band’s music sucks I will not start listen to them even if they have the greatest lyrics in the world.
A lot has been said already and after all those decades I’m growing a bit tired of certain clichés to be honest, so if a band brings something to the table that is interesting and if they are having their own take on the subjects they are treating I am excited of course.
TIBM: It has been 10 years since the release of Ylem, which was considered in our facebook group as the best album of its year! When you look back at this album, what do you see?
V. Santura: Wow, I didn’t know about that. This is a great honor, thank you very much.
When I look back at this album, I see an album with a lot of great and outstanding songs, some of the best songs of our career are on that album. At the same time I also see an album with certain flaws, also in the songwriting and in the overall album structure, when I’m looking at the greater picture. I think the album is too long, 2 or 3 songs less would have made this album more compact and stronger as an entity. On Ylem I can clearly pick out my favourite tracks, I couldn’t do that with the albums before. That means something good and bad at the same time. When some songs stand out, it means in return that the other songs are not as strong and that bothers me a bit in retrospective.
TIBM: Now i want to take you back many years ago… How did you first listen to Black Metal and why do you think that it fascinated you to the point of playing this genre?
V. Santura: I have a 10 years older brother. When I was 4 years old he put headphones on me and was blasting Hellhammer to shock me, but I liked it, haha.
Actually already as a kid I’ve been attracted to the sound of a distorted guitar like moths are attracted to light. So I basically grew up with Metal since the age of 4 or 5. Also, again my brother, got Darkthrone‘s “Ablaze in the Northern Sky”, pretty much when it was released. I was 10 or 11 years old then. When I heard this album for the first time it had this very fearsome, but also magical aura. Something fascinated me about this, also or especially the imagery around it.
DARK FORTRESS – Ylem (OFFICIAL VIDEO)
TIBM: How did you joined Dark Fortress and what memories do you have from that time?
V. Santura: I joined Dark Fortress in early 2001 together with our drummer Seraph. We’ve been in a band together with bassist Draug and he had joined the band a few months before. When their original Drummer Charon and my predecessor Chrom left Dark Fortress Draug hooked us up.
It was an interesting time. Back then we where still living in the same area, while we are now spread over half of Europe. It was nice to have the band as a regular and steady thing in your life, we rehearsed every week. And it was a pioneering time for us to some degree. But we also had to get to know each other. The first album we wrote together, “Profane Genocidal Creations” was a very ambitious effort already, but missed the red threat. In my opinion “Stab Wounds” is the album it really started with…
TIBM: Another band that you are a member of is Triptykon. What can you tell us about the new album? Also can you tell us about how the business relation started with Tom Gabriel Warrior?
V. Santura: Well, a few days ago, the “Requiem” – Live at Roadburn 2019 got released now. This is not a secret anymore… To go further into this topic we would probably need to conduct a dedicated interview for this. But I can tell you that I am extremely proud of this release. I didn’t really write any music except for some guitar parts, but I could still contribute to this project on other levels and I am extremely proud of it. Also the reception is phenomenal. Although I am aware that the Requiem is a project with a big potential to polarize. I know there will be people who love it and to others it won’t do much, but this is fine. I think that especially the center piece “Grave Eternal” is something new, I wouldn’t know any other musical piece that I could compare this to. And this might be the even biggest achievement in a time where you have the feeling that everything has been said before and that we are just repeating ourselves over and over again: to create something new and so far unheard of.
But yeah, the Requiem is not an official or regular new album. We are working on a new album for sure, but I will not talk about it until we are ready.
The whole relation with Tom started back in 2006. Dark Fortress had just released “Séance” and Celtic Frost “Monotheist”. Both bands where signed to Century Media and this way we got the attention of Celtic Frost. Celtic Frost seemed to like “Séance” a lot and so we were invited to support them on their very first warm up shows before they hit the big stages for the festival season in 2006. So, already then we asked Tom if he could imagine to contribute guest vocals on a song of our next album and so we stayed in touch. A few months later, in early 2007, Celtic Frost were looking for a new (live) guitar player and all of a sudden we got this Email asking if one of the two Dark Fortress guitar players could imagine to join Celtic Frost. I simply couldn’t say no to this chance, so this is how everything started. So yeah, it is more than 13 years now that I am making music together with Tom. And even now looking back it is still almost surreal that I’ve actually played in a legendary band like Celtic Frost.
TIBM: You are producing many albums during a year and you have produced every album of your band. Which are the dangers when you are producing your own album and how can a producer avoid them?
V. Santura: The number one danger is that it can drive you crazy and if I just knew how to avoid this, things would be much easier for me, haha.
But having to tell someone else what to do while you are totally able to do it by yourself plus spend a lot of extra money sounds like an even worse option…
DARK FORTRESS – Hirudineans (OFFICIAL VIDEO)
TIBM: You are a member of some great bands and have produced many others. What is your advice to new bands/producers in order to make it?
V. Santura: Puh… Honestly, I don’t know if I am able to answer this question. You have to really mean in and want it, you need to invest a lot of work and energy and you also simply need musical talent and understanding plus patience. And a little bit of luck. And if you are difficult and unpleasant to work with clients will only come once and never come back.
I think my strength is that I usually understand intuitively what a band or artist is trying to express and what they want to bring across, sonically, emotionally etc. And then I need to use my set of skills, that is based on a long training, to help and realize their vision. But how can I put this into an advice for others…? Honestly, I don’t know…
TIBM: I would like to tell us your future plans both as Dark Fortress and on personal level as a musician.
V. Santura: Well, at the moment everything is in a state of limbo. It is impossible to make plans. We had the whole year 2020 planed out, but none of that is happening: First some release shows in March, then Inferno Festival in April, our first US shows ever (Maryland Deathfest in May, California Deathfest plus a West Coast Tour in June), more festivals in July, a headlining tour through Europe in October…
Now most of these things have been postponed by a year. So let’s hope these things are going to happen in 2021. That is as much of planning as we can for now.
Besides for some of us it simply is about surviving this shitty Corona crisis… I am in a pretty good situation, even though I am a freelancer, I can still work almost 100% regularly and have a proper income. Asvargr has a regular job, but he is the only one in the band with a regular employment. Everybody else is a freelancer: Morean, Seraph and Phenex are all having some or even all of their incomes through the live-music business, and this is simply dead at the moment. So let’s see what the next months are going to bring…
Apart from that I’m hoping of course that there will be a new Triptykon album in the not too distant future, but as I said before, I don’t want to talk about it prematurely.
Also I am involved with a new Finland based band called “Rootbrain” which I am really excited about and we hope to release our debut album which is already finished as soon as possible. But I have the impression that “Rootbrain” is not really interesting or relevant to most fans of Dark Fortress or Triptykon as it simply is a different genre and also a different form of emotional expression. But I really like it!
TIBM: Victor I would like to thank you for this interview, the last words are yours…
V. Santura: I thank you, too for the interview. And when all this crazy time is over it would be amazing to finally play in Greece again. We only had one show in Athens in 2008. Way too long ago, but I still have great memories about this show!
Thanks for your time.
Dark Fortress – Spectres from the Old World (Full Album)