Dark Fortress - Ylem
Century Media
Melodic / Atmospheric / Technical (??) Black Metal
11 songs (1:10:16)
Release year: 2010
Dark Fortress, Century Media
Reviewed by Kyle
Album of the month

One of the things I love most about being a metal fan is that the scene and the sounds within are constantly changing. Pop and hip hop has remained stagnant in its same dreadful state for at least ten years, mainstream rock is on a rapid descent towards a destination much lower than mediocrity, yet metal is always growing, always evolving, always improving, and so on; this is especially true in 2010, where every band seems to have taken a silent vow to up the standard of quality in this new decade. And as a critic of the very music I love most, one of the best type of albums is one that not only improves upon the previous effort of the band behind the music, but one that also evolves into something completely different, and for the better at that. These changes are always unexpected, and are always a very nice surprise, and Dark Fortress has made a shift with their latest album Ylem that is very rarely seen; they’ve risen far above their mainstream and predictable fourth album Eidolon to take on an entirely new form that is impossible to describe in just one or two sentences.

A second-rate Dimmu Borgir sound-alike no more (Dimmu Borgir actually means Dark Fortresses in Norwegian), Dark FortressYlem is an astounding album that represents all of the best styles from the black metal genre. The band states that, while it's not strictly a concept album, most of the record revolves around the idea of mankind's evolution and its eventual return to dust. From the very first seconds of the opening title track you know something is different; the high-end tremolo riffing that kicks things off is one of the widdliest moments I’ve ever heard on a BM track, being both highly technical and completely comprehensible, thanks in part to the flawless production that refrains from being too over-polished. You might think while listening to this track that Ylem will be a lengthy dabble in weird riffs and melodies, but your prediction will instantly change once the following track As The World Keels Over comes in - it’s a rather slow and atmospheric piece, with a fantastic lead guitar line carrying things along while cleanly distorted segments pockmark the song. This is the track where I first noticed the skills of drummer Seraph, and what skills he possesses indeed! At one of the mellower moments in the song, while pounding out a slow and standard beat, he suddenly begins quickly hitting the snare on the off-beat, blast-beat style, while still continuing to play the slow rhythm with the rest of his kit. It sounds confusing in print, and it’s equally confounding when heard in practice, but it’s something very impressive that I’ve never quite heard anything like before, and because of the several complicated rhythms he performs throught Ylem, I must applaud Seraph as being one of the most original and technical drummers I’ve ever heard in a black metal band.

As you progress for the first time through the eleven songs present on Ylem, it will quickly become apparent that you will never quite know what to expect from this diverse and complicated album. One minute you’ll be experiencing a fast paced and ever-changing black metal mauling from Silence, but the next you’ll be headbanging along with the alternating atmospheric and black ‘n’ roll styles of Hirudineans, and later still you’ll be brooding alongside the sprawling, doomy epic The Valley. But the real surprise comes when the closing number Wraith arrives. It begins with an acoustic segment that sounds much less chilling than your average clean-picked BM passage, and while it may seem a bit odd at first, the clean singing that comes afterward is what will truly stun you. This isn’t your big, bold vocal style you get from the likes of Simen Hestnæs; rather, these vocals sound like they could’ve been recorded by Kevin James LaBrie of Dream Theater fame. No, I’m not kidding. But don’t fret, purists – there’s still tracks like Satan Bled or Nemesis that will quench your thirst for traditional black metal (The latter reminds me a bit of Immortal at certain moments).

Ylem is such a creative and diverse album that it’s difficult to find faults with it, though just about everyone will find something to gripe about – my personal major complaint is that some segments suffer from monotony, such as the chorus of Evenfall, which is repeated for the last half of the five-and-a-half minute track until it eventually fades into silence, but someone else’s main annoyance may differ from mine. All the same, Ylem is a fantastic album in the end; if you’re tired of the current black metal scene, and are looking for something original and diverse for a change, then you absolutely cannot go wrong with Dark Fortress’ latest effort; at over seventy minutes running time, it is WELL worth your money. This is easily an early contender for black metal album of the year for me.

Killing Songs :
Ylem, As The World Keels Over, Silence, Hirudineans, The Valley, Wraith
Kyle quoted 91 / 100
Other albums by Dark Fortress that we have reviewed:
Dark Fortress - Stab Wounds reviewed by Misha and quoted 50 / 100
Dark Fortress - Profane Genocidal Creations reviewed by Jay and quoted 47 / 100
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