Saturday, October 11, 2003

Review: Dark Fortress - Light & Darkness (2000)

Dark Fortress
Light & Darkness

This review of the debut album from German power metallers Dark Fortress has been the hardest review for me to write thus far. Although they play a raw and unrestrained brand of heavy metal similar to fellow Teutons Hammerfall and Grave Digger, which they execute more than competently, singer Torsten Thassilo Herbert's ability to match the quality of musicianship is severely lacking. He has a forceful, gritty voice that would be much more suited to an extreme style of metal such as that plied by Mudvayne, Hatebreed, etc. Melodic metal requires a vocalist to be on key and be able to sustain a note - skills that Thorsten does not possess on this album. Thus I am presented with an album where the musical elements deserve a quality rating but the vocal performance kills the enjoyability of the disc.

Having said that, I'll focus the review on the musical presentation of Light & Darkness which is worthy of three stars in and of itself. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the style of metal is pretty straight-forward in a traditional sense. Most songs are mid-tempo with a couple of up-tempo burners, all with a slightly dark feel. After the expected ominous intro, we're presented with the frantic yet melodic riffs of guitarists Thorsten Brand and Matthias Bludau along with the thunderous double-kick of drummer Marcus Buhl on "Fear". Right off the bat, the band displays their aptitude for creating involved compositions with the varied time changes and interludes of this song. "Isolation" follows by building up from a placid opening to a heavy and dark twin-guitar assault. The majority of the songs on Light & Darkness follow this "building-up" formula, but the variety of melodies and harmonies keep things from getting stale. Another positive aspect of Light & Darkness is the quality of the guitar solos and leads. While not very intricate or complicated, they are executed skillfully and noticeably enhance the distinction of the songs. One of the musical highlights for me was "Tell Me Why". The simple but driving riffs give the song an uplifting momentum that is enhanced by catchy leads. The mellow acoustic beginning of "Last Day On Earth" is punctuated by a remarkable departure of style by Torsten. While still wavering and slightly off-key, his voice is much smoother and more in line with the type of music (in this case a mostly acoustic ballad).

Taken by itself, the metal of Dark Fortress is enjoyable and shows significant potential. It's been several years since the release of Light & Darkness and the band is now close to recording their follow-up, with Torsten behind the mic, so I hope there has been a marked improvement in his vocal abilities. If not, the band should consider finding a singer more suited to this melodic style of metal.

Track Listing
1 March of the Damned
2 Fear
3 Isolation
4 Tell Me Why
5 Monster
6 Lay Down In Hell
7 No Flowers On Your Grave
8 Last Day On Earth
9 Was Du Willst
10 Frodo (Lord of the Rings)
11 Back From Hell
12 Light Of Salvation

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