Fortress Festival 2024

 Acidolka (https://www.facebook.com/acidolkaart) Acidolka (https://www.facebook.com/acidolkaart)

One black metal festival to rule them all

(English text below) Kritik af festival-lineups er efterhånden blevet en folkesport. Selv unge mennesker brokker sig rutinemæssigt over programmet på Roskilde, og når Copenhell i 2022 præsenterer de vildeste headlinere nogensinde, er der alligevel folk, der himler op. Det er vel stort set kun folk, der tager på Skanderborg, som aldrig klager sig, men de tager jo heller ikke på festival for musikkens skyld. Nuvel, klagesangen over Copenhell har gentaget sig med fuld styrke i år (og noget mere berettiget end tidligere, må man sige), men at der er andre festivaler end Skanderborg, der slipper for klagesangen, i hvert fald i metallens verden, er den engelske Fortress Festival et stensikkert bevis på. Her er der nemlig fuldstændig konsensus blandt black metal-folket om, at arrangørerne i Reaper Agency har begået en fuldtræffer, og det tror da pokker! Ikke kun hovednavnene gav anledning til stor ros (Triptykon, Panopticon, Wolves in the Throne Room, Gaerea og Blackbraid blandt andre), nej, der var stort set kun interessante navne at finde også længere nede på plakaten. Med klaphatten på må man heller ikke glemme, at der for andet år i træk var et dansk aftryk: Sidste år var det Afsky og Glemsel, og i år havde Sunken fået æren af at åbne det, jeg ikke tøver med at kalde den fedeste metalfestival i 2024. Der var således ingen undskyldninger: Heavymetal.dk’s gamle black-boomer måtte afsted til Scarborough.

Og hvilket sted, det så i øvrigt er. Festivalen hører hjemme ved Scarborough Spa, der ligger lige ud til den smukke engelske nordsøkyst, hvor de første bygninger blev etableret helt tilbage i 1700-tallet. Smukke, gamle og lidt slidte er de, men placeret i en hyggelig by ved havet gav de klassisk britiske rammer for 1.750 blackfans (lig med udsolgt). De var strømmet til fra både England og det rigtige Europa for at se 26 bands over to dage fordelt på to scener. Ingen overlap, ingen konflikter, kun ren blackmetallisk nydelse og en hyggelig, afslappet og utrolig positiv stemning hele vejen rundt.

Introduction in English

Criticizing music festival lineups seems to have become a national pastime. Even young Danes routinely complain about the program at Roskilde, and when Copenhell in 2022 presented the most amazing collection of headliners ever, there was still widespread discontent. However, we know of at least one festival which has completely escaped this predictable backlash and that is Scarborough’s Fortress Festival 2024. The black metal community rarely agrees on anything but nobody seems to dispute that the organizers at Reaper Agency have hit the mark with this year’s lineup, and no wonder! With headliners like Triptykon, Panopticon, Wolves in the Throne Room, Gaerea, and Blackbraid, and a plethora of interesting names to be found lower on the bill as well, this lineup is almost too good to be trve. To top it all off, for the second year in a row, we had a Danish footprint as well: Last year it was Afsky and Glemsel but this year Sunken had the honor of opening what should easily be labeled the coolest metal festival in 2024. In other words, no excuses: Heavymetal.dk’s very own black-metal boomer just had to go to Scarborough.

And what a location that turned out to be. The festival is located at Scarborough Spa which was first established way back in the 1700s right on the beautiful English North Sea coast. The Spa buildings are beautiful, old, and a bit worn, but situated in a cozy seaside town, they provided a quintessential British, and sold out, backdrop for 1750 black metal fans. They flocked from both England and all over Europe to catch 26 bands over two days on two stages. No overlaps, no conflicts, just pure black-metal nirvana and a cozy, relaxed, and incredibly positive atmosphere all around.

Before we dig in, I would like to apologize to all the awesome bands I wasn’t able to catch this time around, but 26 shows in one weekend is a bit much for an old timer such as myself. I hope to catch you all next time though!

 

Lørdag:

  1. Sunken
  2. Waldgeflüster
  3. Obsidian Kingdom
  4. Falls of Rauros
  5. Ultha
  6. Der Weg Einer Freiheit
  7. Triptykon
  8. Panopticon
  9. Triptykon

Sunken Main Stage, kl. 12:00

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Åbningstjansen på Fortress’ store scene var 10. stop på Sunkens månedlange Unending Depths Tour, der indtil videre havde bragt danskerne gennem Tyskland og nogle shows på de britiske øer. Det var således et toptunet orkester, der havde fået det ærefulde, men måske også lidt tunge hverv, det er at åbne en festival på det ukristelige tidspunkt kl.12:00. Det var der dog ingen grund til at bekymre sig om, for rummet foran Scarborough Spas Main Stage var allerede godt proppet. Imponerende, men Livslede, der udkom for nu fire år siden, har tydeligvis gjort et stort indtryk på det engelske black-publikum. At Sunken virkelig var toptunet, viste de fra første sekund, ligesom de beviste, at man sagtens kan åbne en festival med en omgang atmosfærisk black metal. Den storslåede ”Ensomhed” fra nævnte Livslede fulgte efter den båndede intro ”Forlist”, og scenen var sat til en overbevisende præstation. Til festivaler ser man ofte folk smutte fra ’de små’ bands efter et nummer eller to, men her blev der tværtimod ved med at strømme folk til helt til den sidste emotionelle udladning i ”Dødslængsel”. Salen var med hele vejen, og Sunken beviste, at rygterne om en stagnerende dansk black-scene er stærkt overdrevne. Sikke en start, og de næste 25 bands fik i den grad noget at leve op til med det samme.

Waldgeflüster Ocean Room, kl. 14:25

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Der er meget at se til i starten af en festival, især når trommeslageren i åbningsbandet er ens søn. Men jeg hastede over til Fortress’ ’lille’ scene (Ocean Room med plads til 750 mennesker), men fik ikke set starten på tyske Waldgeflüster og deres episke øko-black. Hvor det godt kan virke lidt selvhøjtideligt på deres udgivelser, fik udtrykket her et ordentligt skud atmo-black og lidt mere vildskab. Det klædte gruppen rigtigt godt, der blandt andet præsenterede sig med noget, der skulle vise sig at blive et overraskende tema på dette års Fortress: en imponerende god clean vokal! ”The Pit”, der er gruppens intense fortolkning af en Panopticon-sang (dem vender vi tilbage til flere gange), blev lige så overbevisende leveret som på EP’en Unter bronzenen Kronen. Det er selvfølgelig lidt problematisk, når et covernummer er højdepunktet i en koncert, men jeg gik fra Ocean Room med en nyfunden respekt for tyskerne.

Obsidian Kingdom Main Stage, kl. 15:10

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Obsidian Kingdom er fra Spanien og kan groft sagt beskrives som ’hvis Pink Floyd og Cult of Luna gik sammen om at spille black metal’. De er altså både progressive, glade for post-metal, og så er de ikke så black, at det gør noget. Deres kreative og – tør man sige – moderne tilgang til genren gjorde, at jeg bare måtte tjekke dem ud, og det fortrød jeg ikke. Spanierne opførte hele deres debutalbum, Mantiis, som de selv udgav i 2012. Det var musikalsk en kæmpesucces, men den halvtomme sal siger nok en del om, at Obsidian Kingdoms progressive tilgang til blackmetallen nok var lidt for afvigende fra normen til flertallet på Fortress. Men dem, der var mødt op, blev, og dem, der blev, fik en ren opvisning af et engageret og hamrende dygtigt band. Jeg gik og nynnede temaerne fra ”Haunts of the Underworld” i timevis efter koncerten, og så fik vi endnu en omgang imponerende clean vokal fra keyboardspilleren Isam Alegre. De her spaniere er nogle, jeg kommer til at følge fremover. Meget overbevisende!

Falls of Rauros Ocean Room, kl. 16:10

 Acidolka (https://www.facebook.com/acidolkaart)

Hvis der var ét band, der kunne gøre dette års ellers uforlignelige lineup en lille smule mere fantastisk, ville det i min bog være Agalloch (som i øvrigt kort forinden var blevet afsløret som første hovednavn til 2025-udgaven af Fortress). Men når de nu ikke kunne komme i år, var Falls of Rauros en absolut fornuftig erstatning. De har siden 2008 udgivet seks albummer med et Agalloch-inspireret mix af black metal og americana, men at der er meget mere i Falls of Rauros end bare at være Agalloch-kopister, beviste de ret overbevisende denne eftermiddag. Undervejs i koncerten slog det mig desuden, at man også kan beskrive dem som 90’er-black med en pæn sjat Katatonia og Opeth indover og til sidst krydret med en solid omgang af den nævnte americana. Giver det mening? Muligvis ikke, men det gjorde det, da gruppen gav den hele armen i the Ocean Room. Og så skader det jo heller ikke, at Austin Lunn fra Panopticon dukker op på gæstevokal i det mægtige afsluttende nummer. Ikke så overraskende, når man konstaterer, at den gode Austin stod for trommerne på gruppens andet album, og at de to bands er på tour sammen i Europa lige nu. Eneste kritikpunkt var et alt for snakkende publikum i de stille passager. Det kunne dog ikke overdøve endnu et vellykket sæt fra en dag, der blev ved med at give.

Ultha Main Stage, kl. 16:55

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Puha. Der var ikke mange pauser denne eftermiddag, så jeg hastede tilbage til the Grand Hall for at opleve tyske Ultha, der huserer på det danskervenlige Vendetta Records. Ultha er et af de bands, hvis udgivelser jeg føler, jeg egentlig burde holde meget mere af, end jeg reelt set gør. Men af en eller anden grund har deres storslåede og ultrapræcise tilgang til blackmetallen aldrig brændt helt igennem for mig. Men med millimeters præcision blæste deres atmosfæriske black mig i perioder alligevel bagover i the Grand Hall. Der var pænt fyldt op foran den store scene igen, lyssætningen var holdt i rødt og oplyste stemningsmættet bandet bagfra. Det, og så et eksemplarisk velspillende band, var med til at skabe et sæt, der overbeviste denne skribent om at give Ulthas diskografi endnu en chance. Vist gik der i perioder lidt tomgang i det; noget, jeg også synes, deres plader har en tendens til at falde i, men det var alligevel en intens og insisterede oplevelse, tyskerne leverede. Der var således god grund til at se frem til de næste tyskere på programmet, nemlig mere progressiv black fra …

Der Weg Einer Freiheit Main Stage, kl. 18:35

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Der Weg einer Freiheit blev dannet helt tilbage i 2009, udgav deres første album i 2010 og har siden leveret fire yderligere albummer, der alle har udbygget deres stemningsfulde og komplekse tilgang til blackmetallen. Det er ikke alle bands, der formår at overføre den slags fra studiet til scenen, så det var spændende at se, om tyskerne var lige så skarpe til den disciplin som deres spanske kolleger fra Obsidian Kingdom tidligere på dagen. Vi fik ikke så overraskende det teknisk mest overbevisende band at se indtil videre denne dag (og resten af dagen, skulle det efterhånden vise sig). Salen var igen fyldt godt op, og i modsætning til Falls of Rauros lyttede alle opmærksomt med. Så alt spillede egentlig til en magisk optræden, men alligevel manglede der noget for at løfte det helt op. Som på deres plader fremstod DWEF næsten lidt for perfekte. Der manglede noget sjæl, noget skævt og noget, der for alvor kunne gribe alle os, der så med. Netop disse discipliner var der flere andre bands, der formåede langt bedre her på festivalens første dag. Lidt for klinisk, men alligevel ret imponerende.

Triptykon Fortress Live Forum, kl. 19:25

Tom G. Warrior – Warrior in Black

Det siges, at man ikke skal møde sine helte, for i virkeligheden lever de aldrig op til højderne af den piedestal, man har sat dem på. Nuvel, der er nok kun en person på metalscenen, jeg har forgudet lige så meget som James Hetfield og Jimmy Page, men nu var han der altså, sidste medlem af mit helt personlige heavy metal-panteon: Thomas Gabriel Fischer aka Tom G. Warrior; manden, nej, legenden bag Hellhammer, Celtic Frost og aftenens hovednavn, Triptykon. Han stillede op til et interview med Dayal Patterson (som har skrevet den ultimative bog om genren: Black Metal – Evolution of the Cult) under det såkaldte Fortress Forum, og han skuffede ikke. Faktisk var det allerførste, han ytrede, det ikoniske ’ugh’ – så var stemningen ligesom lagt. Den alvorlige side af Tom G. Warrior fyldte mest, mens han talte om sin modvilje mod at være en del af den ofte kontroversielle black-scene, om sin radikale tilgang til hans kunst, om sin kamp for at komme overens med det helt tidlige Hellhammer-materiale og mange andre fascinerende emner. Men det var alligevel den humoristiske og afvæbnende Thomas Gabriel Fischer, der stjal billedet; denne ofte plagede mand er tydeligvis et godt sted i livet lige nu. Eller i hvert fald så godt et sted, som det nu er muligt for så kompromisløs en kunstner at være. Til sidst fik vi da også et lille håb tændt om, at der er nyt Triptykon-materiale på vej. 2025 virker ikke urealistisk. I hørte det her først!

Panopticon Main Stage , kl. 20:20

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Inden Austin Lunn i 2014 udgav sit, og dermed Panopticons, 6. album, Roads to the North, havde han allerede fuldstændig styr på sit basale udtryk: den skandinaviske black metal krydret med masser af ’americana’, et væld af akustiske instrumenter og i det hele taget banjo og hillbilly-tendenser for fuld udblæsning. På Roads, der i år fejrer 10-års jubilæum, og som her på Fortress blev opført i sin fulde længde, skulle der imidlertid ske noget nyt; Austin skulle videre. Musikalsk betød det, at der allerede fra albumåbneren ”The Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong” blev indført thrashede, næsten dødsmetalliske riffs. Sådan var det tydeligvis også her, selvom jeg gik glip af de første 4-5 minutter på grund af en speedsnakkende Tom G. På sine udgivelser står Austin selv for stort set alle instrumenter (og det er mange!), men med sig her havde han et yderst kompetent band, hvor især violinen fik lov til at fylde en del. 

Vi fik blandt andet perfekt leveret shredding og rendyrket thrash på ”… Disharmonic Evensong”, og ’Opeth-stykket’ på ”Capricious Miles” svingede næsten endnu bedre end på pladen. Der var ikke den mængde hillbilly-banjo på ”The Long Road North pt. I”, som man kunne have håbet; den del blev klaret med keyboard og violin. Trist, men det lød sgu lækkert alligevel. Et, må man antage, træt black-publikum kunne ikke modstå de solide thrashriffs, så selvom man af og til godt kan få den fornemmelse, at vi black-folk er for fine til den slags, så blev der altså gynget gevaldigt med, når Panopticon førte os fra Minnesotas kolde nord tilbage til 80’ernes forfaldne Bay Area thrash (perfekt oplyst ovenfra i øvrigt i nordlysets grønne og blå nuancer). Det virker egentlig uretfærdigt, at en mand, der kan spille så godt på så latterligt mange instrumenter også har så vanvittigt fedt et growl, men også her bragede Austin Lunn helt igennem. Jeg kedede mig ikke et sekund i dette lange, men levende og bjergtagende sæt.

Triptykon Main Stage, kl. 22:50

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Kulminationen på en lang og ualmindelig vellykket første dag på Fortress blev mit heltemøde nummer to med Thomas Gabriel Fischer. Vi havde nu været i gang i 11 timer, men hverken boomeren her eller resten af Fortress-gæsterne var indstillet på at give op. Der var tydeligvis store forventninger i salen, for ikke bare er manden en ekstremmetallisk legende; der findes heller ikke rigtigt nogen, der blander death, black, thrash, doom og avantgarde som Triptykon. Den uhyrligt tunge og aggressive “Goetia” fra Triptykons første album satte scenen for resten af sættet: Her skulle det vise sig, at der var fokus på det tunge og det thrashede og i mindre grad det stemningsfulde. Det havde nu været genialt, hvis Tom havde inviteret vokalisten Simone Vollenweider med, så vi kunne have fået ”Boleskin House”, det hjerteskærende smukke nummer fra Triptykons bedste album, Melana Chasmata. ’Hittet’ ”Aurorae” havde også pyntet i dette tunge sæt.

Historiens vingesus fik vi med “Procreation of the Wicked” fra Celtic Frosts debut-EP, Morbid Tales, på denne dag, hvor det var præcis 40 år siden, at Frost blev dannet! Gåsehud til denne gamle fanboy, og det blev ikke dårligere af, at der stod en 20-25-årig knægt ved siden af mig, der præcis som jeg selv skrålede med på hvert et ord. Smukt! Salen kogte hele vejen hen til ”Altar of Deceit”, men desværre valgte bandet at slutte af med den lange og selv for Triptykon usædvanligt tunge ”The Prologning”, for den magiske stemning, der havde været undervejs, forsvandt desværre lige så langsomt. Godt 12 timer efter Sunken startede festen, var det hård kost at slutte af med et næsten 20 minutter langt doom-nummer om Celtic Frosts anden undergang. Det havde fungeret langt bedre med førnævnte ”Boleskin House” eller et andet klassisk Frost-nummer. Men uanset hvad så var det endnu et magisk møde med en af mine gamle helte, og første dag på Fortress havde været en kæmpesucces.

Søndag:

  1. Ante Inferno
  2. Thy Light
  3. Domhain
  4. Vemod
  5. Gaerea
  6. Blackbraid
  7. Wolves In The Throne Room

Ante Inferno Main Stage, kl. 12:00

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Manden bag Reaper Agency, som er hovedarrangør af Fortress-festivalen, hedder Gary Stephenson. Han har også et bijob som trommeslager for det engelske atmosfæriske black metal-band Ante-Inferno. Man siger, at mænd ikke kan multitaske, men Gary og band havde satanhjælpemig båndbredde nok til at åbne festivalens dag to. Alle, der ved bare en lille smule om, hvor meget det kræver at jonglere med (i varierende grad) besværlige bands og alt muligt andet før, under og efter en festival, forstår, hvor imponerende det er. I 2023 var Ante-Inferno forbi Aalborg Rock og Metal Festival, hvor de leverede en intens optræden, men her på hjemmebane var det endnu bedre. I Kai Beanland har Ante-Inferno en fascinerende frontfigur, der klarer skrig, growls og alle guitarsoloer og desuden virker som prototypen på en introvert kunstner, der simpelthen bare må skrige alle sine dæmoner ud på en scene. Gary bag gryderne holdt perfekt sammen på det hele, og præcis som med Sunken i går fik Fortress en intens og atmosfærisk opstart.

Thy Light Main Stage, kl. 13:35

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Thy Light fra Brasilien spiller atmosfærisk/depressiv black metal, men det kunne man egentlig ikke se på deres fremtoning, da de stillede op i the Grand Hall med kutter og corpsepaint og dermed fremstod forholdsvis necro. Gruppen udgav et legendarisk album i 2013, No Morrow Shall Dawn, men siden har man ikke hørt meget til dem udover en EP i 2021. Her i 2024 har de heller ikke været specielt aktive, men alligevel er det lykkedes for Gary Stephenson at få lokket de sky brasilianere til Scarborough. Og tak for det, for selv når man som denne skribent ikke havde den fjerneste anelse om, hvad de synger om, var det umuligt ikke at blive berørt af de langstrakte sørgmodige lydbilleder, Thy Light skabte. Vi var ikke vidner til noget nyskabende på nogen måde, men når det udføres så godt som her, er jeg bedøvende ligeglad. Højdepunktet i et imponerende tight sæt var ”A Crawling Worm in a World of Lies”, som faktisk er fra gruppens allerførste demo. Jeg kender ikke mange sange, der skamrider et enkelt riff så meget som den, for den består stort set ikke af andet end det ene, men det er til gengæld så overdrevet fedt, at jeg kunne høre på det i dagevis uden at blive træt. Imponerende, at et band, der tilsyneladende optræder så lidt, kan virke så overbevisende som her. Men så var det ellers hurtigt videre til en af de ’små’ koncerter, jeg havde glædet mig allermest til, nemlig nordirske Domhain.

Domhain Ocean Room, kl. 14:25

Acidolka (https://www.facebook.com/acidolkaart)

Jeg har lyttet til rock og metal i 45 år, og noget af det, jeg elsker allermest, er, at det stadig er muligt at blive blæst bagover af nye spændende navne (og ikke mindst, at det især kommer fra black-scenen). Ingen tvivl om, at det primært var topnavnene og Sunken, der havde lokket mig til Scarborough i år, men da jeg op til festivalen gennemgik de navne, jeg ikke kendte på forhånd, var nordirske Domhain blandt dem, der stak mest ud. De debuterede med EP’en Nimue sidste år, hvor den fra Myrkur så kendte Jo Quail medvirkede på cello. Det var så stærkt et udspil, at jeg absolut ikke kunne gå glip af deres optræden her på Fortress, for en nordirsk omgang atmosfærisk, doomet, progressiv post-black(gaze) med masser af cello var da lige det, man trængte til tidligt på sådan en festivaldag nummer to, ikke? Jo, det skal jeg da love for, at det var! Domhain er ganske vist et nyt band, men det er bestemt ikke urutinerede musikere, der står bag projektet. Bassist og forsanger Andy Ennis havde en stærk udstråling og en lige så stærk stemme, men det var alligevel trommeslager, sanger og cellist (på albummet) Anaïs Chareyre-Méjan, der stjal billedet; dels med sine dynamiske, ofte næsten tribalagtige trommer (selvom hun også mestrede standard black-repertoiret),dels med sit vokalarbejde, der live brændte mindst lige så smukt igennem som på EP’en. Og Nimue var, hvad vi fik fra start til slut. Specielt åbneren ”The Mourning Star” og ”A Silent Frequency” var, igen ligesom på EP’en, mageløse, mens den afsluttende ”A Pile of Stone Upon Her Grave” på trods af en helhjertet indsats nok ikke vil figurere på Domhains sætliste, så snart de får mere materiale med i bagagen. Gruppens ene guitarist smutter her efter Fortress, men hvis de ellers kan holde sammen på tropperne, er Domhain i den grad værd at holde øje med, især hvis man er til black krydret med alverdens stilarter og blændende vokalarbejde.    

Vemod Main Stage, kl. 15:10

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Og så var det ellers direkte over til norsk rullekraveblack, som vi kalder det her på redaktionen. Det eneste norske indslag på Fortress i år, Vemod, er i gang med lidt af et comeback her i 2024 med et generelt rost album, The Deepening, der udkom tidligere i år (og 12 år efter det foregående). De er nu på tour sammen med Falls of Rauros og Panopticon, hvilket ikke er dårligt for et lidt glemt norsk orkester. Men desværre var det, som om nordmændene ikke helt havde fat i publikum på samme måde, som for eksempel Thy Light havde tidligere. Sammenligningen mellem kutteklædte brasilianere og nordmænd i rullekrave kan måske forekomme mærkelig, men musikalsk prøver de to bands faktisk at opnå det samme med stemningsfulde og langstrakte forløb. Det startede godt med ”Der guder dør”, men blev aldrig rigtigt den oplevelse, jeg havde set frem til. Der var ikke nok opløftende momenter i deres atmosfæriske black metal til at holde opmærksomheden fanget i så stærkt et felt som her.

Gaerea Main Stage, kl. 18:30

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Det er næppe nogen hemmelighed, at den første af to gengangere fra Copenhell 2023, portugisiske Gaerea, har en høj stjerne på Heavymetal.dk. Så ingen tvivl om, at de stod højt på prioritetslisten – ikke mindst fordi jeg kun fik set det sidste kvarter af deres fantastiske optræden på Refshaleøen sidste år. Den slags dobbeltbookinger er irriterende, men nogle gange uundgåelige. Det var der heldigvis ikke noget af her på Fortress, hvor overlap er bandlyst. Uanset hvor meget kærlighed, vi og mange andre sender efter de portugisiske mystikere, så har deres albummer aldrig ramt mig helt. Tag ikke fejl, selv det mest fanatiske anti-blackmetal-hoved (det vil sige dem uden smag) vil kunne høre, at det er et superdygtigt band, der har fat i noget helt rigtigt; jeg kan bare ikke rigtigt mærke dem. På Copenhell sidste år kunne jeg, og selvfølgelig skete det samme her på Fortress. Det er egentlig yderst simple og velkendte virkemidler, der er i brug: et band klædt helt i sort, inklusive hætter/masker. Deres guitarer er sorte, ja, selv deres arme er malet sort (såkaldt #blackarming – så Gaerea skal nok snart cancles). Men koreografien, specielt fra den fascinerende frontmand Guilherme Henriques, løfter det hele op på et helt nyt niveau. Her endte det med at blive endnu en stensikker optræden fra Gaerea, der da også modtog de største bifald, og indlevelse fra publikum generelt, jeg endnu havde oplevet her på Fortress.

Blackbraid Main Stage, kl. 20:20

Acidolka (https://www.facebook.com/acidolkaart)

En time senere var det så tid til anden genganger fra Copenhell sidste år, Blackbraid, og dermed var det muligt at opleve to af de i øjeblikket klarest lysende nye stjernefrø på det mørke black-himmel lige efter hinanden – ikke dårligt. Blackbraid, et enmandsprojekt styret af Jon S. Krieger med ’Native American’-rødder, er slået igennem på rekordtid. At det bedømt på kvaliteten af hans udspil efter min mening er gået lidt for stærkt, er én ting, men tag ikke fejl, jeg elsker konceptet. At lave omvendt kulturel appropriation er jo for det første genialt. Måske bortset fra polka er black metal jo paradoksalt nok den mest hvide musikgenre, der kan opdrives, så den napper Krieger (med kunstnernavnet Sgah'gahsowáh) og omformer til sit eget udtryk, i hvert fald i tekster og scenografi. Netop det er efter min mening essensen af vellykket black metal. Der er således masser af ting, der kører for Blackbraid, og album nummer to, der udkom sidste år, var da også en klar forbedring i forhold til den noget hypede debut. På Copenhell var jeg ikke helt overbevist om deres formåen live, og det var desværre det samme indtryk, jeg sad med her på Fortress, hvor gruppens punkede attituder igen stod i vejen for oplevelsen. Det bliver noget sjusk og rod i perioder. På det niveau, Blackbraid nu bliver booket, så går den altså ikke, og bedømt på denne aften er der slet ikke samme fremgang på livefronten, som der er på studieudgivelserne. Det afspejlede sig i øvrigt også i den lidt lunkne respons fra salen. Ærgerligt, at Sgah'gahsowáh stadig ikke har fundet et liveband, der lever op til hans åbenlyse talenter.

Wolves In The Throne Room Main Stage, kl. 22:15

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Efter 25 bands på to dage var det nu endelig tid til sidste navn på Fortress anno 2024. I 2007 udgav WitTR det, mange mener, er deres bedste album, Two Hunters. Hvis Pia Kærsgaard skulle stå for navngivning af metalgenrer, ville det album sandsynligvis blive kaldt økotosselack, men kampen for miljø og klima er jo på ingen måde blevet mindre aktuel siden 2007, så måske er det grund nok til at spille hele møget her 17 år efter udgivelsen? Det er svært lige at finde på andre årsager til netop at spille hele det album, der i blackkredse er berygtet for en lilletrommelyd, der kan gøre St. Anger rangen stridig. Der skal immervæk en del til, at blackfans brokker sig over lyden, men folk med sarte ører kan jo bare lytte til noget andet. Two Hunters er et fremragende og vigtigt værk, og, skulle det hurtigt vise sig, absolut værd at opleve live i sin helhed. Den både atmosfæriske og doomede start på ”Dia Artio” satte med det samme dagsordenen for resten af sættet. Det her handlede om at skabe stemninger og påkalde sig naturens kræfter. ”Vastness and Sorrow” bød på samme monotoni, som Burzum gjorde til sit blackmetalliske varemærke – det lød bare meget bedre og hører heldigvis til i en helt anden kontekst. Som altid når Wolves optræder, var scenen pyntet i grønt. Det er lige på grænsen til det komiske for en gammel kyniker som overtegnede, men parkerede man modviljen mod den slags et øjeblik, så bød amerikanerne på en helt speciel oplevelse. Den ufatteligt smukke ”I Will Lay Down My Bones Between the Rocks and Roots” blev således leveret fuldstændigt lige så overbevisende som på albummet. Men desværre sluttede det ikke her, for WitTR insisterede på at spille to numre mere, men det førte til en underlig flad afslutning ovenpå den magi, ”I Will Lay Down …” netop havde skabt.

Bortset fra den lidt uheldige afslutning gjorde Wolves det altså fremragende. Det er heller ikke nemt at afslutte en lang festivaldag, slet ikke sidstedagen. Mange er trætte og mætte af oplevelser, men lur mig, om Gaerea ikke havde leveret netop det brag, denne festival havde fortjent, hvis de havde fået chancen? Det er jeg ret sikker på.

Jeg har set fremtiden

For et par uger siden havde Sort Søndag et afsnit om ’ny metal’, hvor det på mærkværdig vis lykkedes helt at undgå at spille noget som helst metal, der lød nyt. Jeg vil påstå, at blackmetallen siden sin spæde opstart i 80’erne er den subgenre, der har formået at udvikle sig mest og mest interessant af alle metallens mange bastarder. Der var muligvis ikke meget nyt at hente her på Fortress, men hold da op, hvor var der mange forskellige indtryk og udtryk, og hvor har den sorte metal dog udviklet sig i mange retninger siden begyndelsen. På Fortress Festival 2024 i Scarborough var 1.750 mennesker vidner til to dages opvisning i inderlig og insisterende mørk musik. Blackmetallen har i den grad en fremtid, og Fortress er det perfekte sted at opleve den.

Saturday:

  1. Sunken
  2. Waldgeflüster
  3. Obsidian Kingdom
  4. Falls of Rauros
  5. Ultha
  6. Der Weg Einer Freiheit
  7. Triptykon
  8. Panopticon
  9. Triptykon

Sunken Main Stage, kl. 12:00

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The opening spot on the Fortress main stage was Danish atmospheric black metal outfit Sunken’s 10th stop on their month-long Unending Depths Tour across northwest Europe and the British Isles. It was therefore a well-tuned orchestra that had been given the honorable, but perhaps also slightly heavy task of opening the festival at the ungodly hour at noon. Impressively though, the Grand Hall (max capacity of 1750 people) was already quite packed when the lights were dimmed and Sunken started their emotional barrage of sound and fury. The Fortress crowd was ready to go. Sunken was as well, and demonstrated from the very first second that it's entirely possible to kick off a festival with a healthy dose of atmospheric black metal. The magnificent "Ensomhed" from their second album Livslede followed after the taped intro "Forlist", setting the stage for a convincing performance. At festivals, you often see people slip away from 'the smaller' bands after a song or two, but here, on the contrary, the crowd continued to grow until the final emotional release in "Dødslængsel". The audience was engaged throughout and the Danes provided a solid kick-off to this year’s Fortress Festival. The next 25 bands certainly got something to live up to right from the start.

Waldgeflüster Ocean Romm, kl. 14:45

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There's a lot to do during the start of a festival, especially when the drummer in the opening band is your son. But I rushed over to Fortress' 'small' stage (Ocean Room, capacity 750) but still didn't get to see the start of German Waldgefluster and their epic eco-black. While they may come off as slightly self-indulgent on their releases, they gave everything here a shot of atmo-black and a little more aggressiveness. This suited the group really well, who, among other things, presented something that would turn out to be a surprising theme at this year's Fortress: An impressively good clean vocal! "The Pit", which is the group's intense interpretation of a Panopticon song (whom we shall return to several times) was just as convincingly delivered as on the EP Unter bronzenen Kronen. It is of course a bit problematic when a cover song is the highlight of a set, but I left the Ocean Room with a newfound respect for the Germans.

Obsidian Kingdom Main Stage, kl. 15:10

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Obsidian Kingdom is from Spain and can roughly be described as 'if Pink Floyd and Cult of Luna got together to play black metal'. It may not quite do them justice, suffice it to say that they are progressive of nature, fond of post-metal and not really all that black metal. Their creative and, dare I say modern, approach to the genre was something that I just had to check out, and for sure I did not regret that at all. The Spaniards performed their entire debut album Mantiis, a self-release in 2012. Artistically it was a huge success, but the half-empty hall, unsurprisingly perhaps, showed that Obsidian Kingdom's progressive approach to black metal was a little too far from the norm for the majority of the Fortress crowd. However, those who showed up stayed, and those who stayed got an impressive display from a committed and supremely talented band. Not least the very intense clean vocals from keyboardist Isam Alegre. I left the Grand Hall humming the themes from "Haunts of the Underworld" for hours after the concert and these Spaniards are definitely a band I will follow much more closely in the future. Bravo!

Falls of Rauros Ocean Room, kl. 16:10

Acidolka (https://www.facebook.com/acidolkaart)

If there was one band that could have made this year's incomparable lineup just a little bit more awesome, it would have been Agalloch (who, by the way, just shortly before the opening of the festival had been announced as the first headliner of next year’s Fortress). Now that the Portland, Oregon legends couldn't make it this year, Falls of Rauros was a more than worthy substitute. Since 2008, they have released six albums with an Agalloch-inspired mix of black metal and Americana, but they proved quite convincingly this afternoon that there is much more to Falls of Rauros than just being Agalloch copycats. During the show it struck me that you could also describe them as 90s black metal with a nice touch of Katatonia and Opeth in the mix, and finally spiced up with a solid round of the aforementioned Americana. Does it make sense? Possibly not, but it did when the group gave it their all in the Ocean Room. It doesn't exactly make matters worse when Austin Lunn from Panopticon appears on guest vocals during the mighty closing track. Lunn played on the group's second album, the two bands are on tour together in Europe right now, so I guess it wasn’t all that surprising that he would join his compatriots on stage. The only point of criticism was an overly chatty audience in the quite passages. Luckily, they couldn't drown out another successful set from a day that just kept on giving.

Ultha Main Stage, kl. 16:55

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No rest for the wicked, so I hurried back to the Grand Hall to get a closer look on Ultha, one of those bands whose releases I feel I should like a lot more than I actually do. They reside on one of my favorite underground labels, Germanys Vendetta Records, but for some reason their grandiose and ultra-precise approach to black metal has never really hit the mark for me. Nevertheless, they might have played with millimeter precision but they did manage to blow me away at times in the Grand Hall, which was again filled up nicely. The lights were kept purely in red and illuminated the band from behind. This helped create an atmospheric set that convinced me to give Ultha's discography at least one more chance. Just as on their records there were less-convincing moments, but overall Ultha delivered an intense experience. Good reason then, to look forward to the next Germans on the program, namely more progressive black metal from…   

Der Weg Einer Freiheit Main Stage, kl. 18:35

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Der Weg Einer Freiheit formed way back in 2009, released their first album in 2010 and have since spawned four additional albums, all of which have expanded their evocative and complex approach to black metal. Not all bands manage to transfer that kind of complexity from the studio to the stage, so I was looking forward to see if the Germans could master that particular discipline as well as their Spanish colleagues Obsidian Kingdom did earlier in the day. Unsurprisingly, we were treated to the most technically proficient band so far this day. The Grand Hall was once again pretty much filled to the brim, but unlike during the Falls of Rauros set, everyone listened attentively. So, everything was set up for a magical performance, but somehow, something was still missing. Just as on their records, Der Weg Einer Freiheit were almost a little too perfect.  A little too clinical then, but still it was quite impressive to watch the performance from a band as capable as these Germans.

Triptykon Fortress Live Forum, kl. 19:25

Tom G. Warrior – Warrior in Black

It is said that you should never meet your heroes. In real life they never quite live up to the lofty heights to which you have elevated them. Nevertheless, there is only one person on the metal scene that I have adored as much as James Hetfield and Jimmy Page, but now there he was at the Fortress Forum. The third and final member of my very personal heavy metal pantheon, Thomas Gabriel Fischer aka. Tom G. Warrior, the man, no the legend, behind Hellhammer, Celtic Frost and the evening's headliner, Triptykon. He took part in an interview with Dayal Patterson (author of the ultimate book on the genre: "Black Metal – Evolution of the Cult") and he did not disappoint. In fact, the very first thing he uttered was his iconic 'ugh' – and we knew right away that we were onto to something special. The serious side of Tom G. Warrior dominated as he talked about his reluctance to be part of the often controversial black metal scene, about his radical approach to art, his struggle to come to terms with the early Hellhammer material and many other fascinating topics. To my surprise however, it was a good-natured Thomas Gabriel Fischer who stole the picture with a disarming sense of humor. This often-tormented man is clearly in a good place right now. Or at least in as good a place it is possible to be for such an uncompromising artist. Finally, we got a little teaser on new a Triptykon album. Tom is writing and 2025 does not seem unrealistic. You heard it here first, folks!

Panopticon Main Stage, kl. 20:20

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When Austin Lunn released his, or rather Panopticon's, 6th album, Roads to the North in 2014, he had already mastered his basic form of expression: Scandinavian black metal seasoned with lots of americana, a multitude of acoustic instruments and not least an abundance of banjo and hillbilly tendencies. Roads, which was performed in its entirety here at Fortress celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and at its time of creation something new had to happen, Austin just had to move on. Musically, this meant that already from the album opener "The Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong" thrash riffing was introduced. That was clearly the case here too, although I missed the first 4-5 minutes due to a speed-talking Tom G in the Forum. On his albums, Austin is responsible for virtually all instruments (and there are many!), but here he brought along an extremely competent band, where the violin in particular was allowed a prominent position. 

We were treated to perfectly delivered shredding and pure thrash feeling on "...Disharmonic Evensong" and the Opeth-sounding moments on "Capricious Miles" sounded even better than on the record. There wasn't as much hillbilly banjo on "The Long Road North pt. I” as you might have hoped, as that part was done with keyboard and violin. A tired Fortress audience simply could not resist the solid thrash riffing, so everybody went along when Panopticon led us from Minnesota's cold north back to the decadent Bay Area thrash of the 80s (perfectly lit from above, by the way, in the green and blue shades of the northern lights).  It really seems unfair that a man who can play so well on so many instruments, also has an amazing growl as was displayed here. Never a dull moment in this long but lively and captivating set.

Triptykon Main Stage, kl. 22:50

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The culmination of a long and incredibly successful first day at Fortress was my second heroes meeting with Thomas Gabriel Fischer. We had now been at it for 11 hours, but neither the boomer writing this piece nor the rest of the ever-hungry Fortress crowd were prepared to give up. There were clearly high expectations in the hall, because not only is the man an extreme metal legend, there is no one today who mixes death, black, thrash, doom and avant-garde like Triptykon. The outrageously heavy and aggressive "Goetia" from Triptykon's first album set the stage for the rest of the set: Clearly, the focus here would be on the heavy and the thrashy, and therefore to a lesser extent on the atmospheric. It would however have been brilliant if Tom had invited vocalist Simone Vollenweider along to perform "Boleskin House", the best and heartbreakingly beautiful number from Triptykon's best album Melana Chasmata. The 'hit' "Aurorae" would also have shined in this predominantly heavy set.

"Procreation of the Wicked" from Celtic Frost's debut EP Morbid Tales put us right back to the birth of extreme metal. Fittingly, as on this very day, it was exactly 40 years since Frost was formed. Instant goosebumps for this old fan-boy, and it only got better as I noticed the 20-something fan standing next to me screaming along with every word. What a beautiful moment! The hall was at the boiling-point all the way to second-to-last song "Altar of Deceit", but unfortunately the band chose to end their set with the long, and even for Triptykon unusually heavy "The Prolonging". A lot of people love this song, but the magical atmosphere that had been present since the start, slowly disappeared as “The Prolonging” lumbered on. A good 12 hours after Sunken had started the party, it was just too much to finish with an almost 20-minute long and doomy number about Celtic Frost's second demise. Surely, it would have worked much better with the aforementioned "Boleskin House" or another classic Frost song. Still, it was another magical meeting with one of my old heroes, and overall the first day at Fortress 2024 had been a huge success.

Sunday:

  1. Ante Inferno
  2. Thy Light
  3. Domhain
  4. Vemod
  5. Gaerea
  6. Blackbraid
  7. Wolves In The Throne Room

Ante Inferno Main Stage, kl. 12:00

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Gary Stephenson is not just the man behind Reaper Agency, the main organizer of the Fortress festival. He’s also the drummer for English atmospheric black metal band Ante-Inferno, native sons of Scarborough. It’s often stated as a universal truth that men can't multitask, but Gary and band were more than capable of opening day two of the festival with flair and conviction. Anyone who knows even a little bit about how much it takes to juggle artists, logistics, catering and everything else before, during and after a festival understands how impressive this was. In 2023, Ante-Inferno played at the Aalborg Rock and Metal festival where they delivered an intense performance, but here at home it was even better. In Kai Beanland, Ante-Inferno has an enigmatic central figure who masters screams, growls and guitar solos, while maintaining the air of an introverted artist who has no choice but letting their inner demons out by screaming their hearts out on stage. Gary held everything together perfectly, and just like Sunken yesterday, Fortress got an intense and atmospheric start from.

Thy Light Main Stage, kl. 13:35

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Thy Light from Brazil play atmospheric/depressive black metal, but they certainly didn’t look the part, when they lined up in the Grand Hall necro-style complete with cloaks and corpse paint. The group released a legendary album back in 2013, No Morrow Shall Dawn, but since then all we’ve got from them is an EP in 2021. Here in 2024 they haven't been particularly active either, but somehow Fortress has managed to lure the shy Brazilians to Scarborough. There were many grateful dark souls in the Grand Hall at this time, because it was impossible not to be moved by the elongated mournful soundscapes Thy Light created. Nothing really innovative was on display, but when it's executed with such skill and conviction as here who cares? The highlight of an impressively tight set was "A Crawling Worm in a World of Lies" from the group's very first demo. I don't know many songs that shamelessly ride a single riff as hard as this one, because "A Crawling Worm” basically consists of nothing else but a single magical riff that relentlessly pulled us all down into a bottomless, emotional pit. Overall, I went away extremely impressed that a band which performs so sparingly can do it as convincingly as Thy Light.

Domhain Ocean Room, kl. 14:25

Acidolka (https://www.facebook.com/acidolkaart)

I've been listening to rock and metal for going on 45 years, and one of the things I love most about this is the fact that it's still possible to be blown away by new, exciting names, especially from the black metal scene. Sure, it was mainly the headliners (and Sunken) that lured me to Scarborough this year, but when I went through the names on the bill I didn't know beforehand, Northern Ireland's Domhain stood out the most. Their debut EP Nimue came out last year and was such a strong performance that I absolutely had to check them out here at Fortress. How could I miss a Northern Irish set of atmospheric, doomy, progressive, post-black(gaze) with lots of cello? Domhain may be a new band, but the members are hardly inexperienced musicians. Bassist and lead singer Andy Ennis had a commanding stage presence and an equally strong voice, but it was drummer, singer and cellist (on the album) Anaïs Chareyre-Méjan who stole the show. Partly with her dynamic, often almost tribal-like drums (although she also showed plenty of trad. black metal chops) and partly with her vocal performance, which was at least as impressive as on the EP. Especially the opener "The Mourning Star" and the next song "A Silent Frequency" were, as on the EP, just as powerful as they were beautiful. The closer, "A Pile of Stone Upon Her Grave", despite a wholehearted effort from the band, will probably not figure in the bands setlist long after they get more songs to choose from. Still a great set from Domhain who clearly is worth keeping an eye on in the future.

Vemod Main Stage, kl. 15:10

Acidolka (https://www.facebook.com/acidolkaart)

After a healthy dose of Northern Irish doomy post black, I had to run straight back to the Grand Hall to grab a serving of Norwegian turtleneck black metal. The only band from the country that gave birth to the second wave featured at Fortress this year, Vemod have been making quite a comeback here in 2024. Earlier this year they released their generally acclaimed second album, The Deepening, (a whopping 12 years after their debut). They are now on tour with Falls of Rauros and Panopticon - not bad for a somewhat forgotten Norwegian outfit. Unfortunately, it felt like the Norwegians didn't quite have the same hold on the audience most bands previously had demonstrated in the Grand Hall, Thy Light being the most recent example. Comparing necro Brazilians and Norwegians in turtlenecks may seem strange, but with their evocative and elongated sequences, the two bands were actually trying to achieve the same thing. Vemod started pretty well with "Der guder dør" which is a quintessential atmo-black track, but it never quite developed into the experience I had been looking forward to. Truly uplifting moments went missing, especially compared to what we had already seen, and were still to see, at Fortress this year.

Gaerea Main Stage, kl. 18:30

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For regular readers, it’s hardly a secret that here at Heavymetal.dk we have fallen in love with the first of two repeats from Copenhell 2023, namely the Portuguese powerhouse Gaerea. Therefore, they ranked very highly on our priority list this year - not least because I only got to see the waning minutes of their overpowering performance at the Copenhagen festival last year. I had to cover Blackbraid in full and they overlapped with Gaerea. These kinds of double bookings are annoying but sometimes unavoidable. Not at Fortress though where overlaps are forbidden.

My personal challenge with Gaerea is no matter how much love and adoration our reviewers throw at their albums, on vinyl the Portuguese mystics have never quite hit home for me. Make no mistake though, even the most fanatical anti-black metalhead (that is, those with dubious taste) will recognize that Gaerea is a super talented band on a mission - I just don’t really feel it. At Copenhell last year I could, and of course the same thing happened right here at Fortress, even if they use fairly well-known black metal tropes: A band dressed entirely in black, including hoods/masks, all-black guitars, heck even their arms are painted black. But the choreography and stage presence, especially from front man Guilherme Henriques, along with the precision bombardment of riffs, made everything soar to another level. Once again, Gaerea delivered a rock-solid performance and the Fortress crowd responded with a roaring applause, the loudest in fact, that I experienced during the entire festival.

Blackbraid Main Stage, kl. 20:20

Acidolka (https://www.facebook.com/acidolkaart)

One hour had passed since Gearea smashed the Grand Hall and now it was time for the second re-visit from Copenhell last year. Blackbraid, a one-man project led by Jon S. Krieger with native American roots, has in record time broken through in the black metal community. Judging by the quality of his output, perhaps a bit too fast but make no mistake, the concept is absolutely awesome. Apart from polka, black metal might just be the whitest music genre ever invented but Krieger (with the stage name Sgah'gahsowáh) has taken the basics of black metal, turned them upside down and molded them into his very own expression, at least as far as themes and scenography goes. This, my friends, is exactly the essence of modern, successful black metal. In other words, Blackbraid is on to something, and album number two which came out last year was a clear improvement compared to the somewhat overhyped debut. At Copenhell, I wasn't entirely convinced of their ability in a live setting, and unfortunately that repeated itself here at Fortress. The group's punky attitudes and occasionally sloppy delivery again got in the way. Considering the status Blackbraid has already achieved that’s just not good enough. I was disappointed that the same progress we saw with last year’s Blackbraid II album wasn’t reflected here in the Grand Hall. The somewhat lukewarm response from the audience confirmed that Sgah'gahsowáh unfortunately still hasn't found a live band to complements his obvious talents.

Wolves In The Throne Room Main Stage, kl. 22:15

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After 25 bands in two days, it was finally time for the 26th. and final name on the Fortress 2024 bill. In 2007, Wolves in the Throne Room released what some consider their best album, Two Hunters. Not sure what the occasion for playing the album in its entirety was, but it’s a landmark album, so who cares? The Fortress crowd sure didn’t, because the atmosphere was intense, though in quite a different way than during Gaerea’s powerful set. Two Hunters is notorious in black circles for an annoying snare drum sound which rivals that of St. Anger. It takes a lot for black fans to complain about production, so that is quite an achievement but here in the Grand Hall it sounded magnificent. Two Hunters is an excellent and important piece of work, and, as it turned out, absolutely worth experiencing live in its entirety. The atmospheric and doomy start to "Dia Artio" immediately set the tone for the rest of the set. This was about creating moods and invoking the forces of nature. "Vastness and Sorrow" offered the same monotony that Burzum made his black metal trademark - it just sounded much better and fortunately thrives in a completely different context. As always when Wolves perform, the stage was made up in a forest theme with branches and leaves decorating mike stands etc. Cheesy? Maybe, but if you put aside your aversion to this sort of thing for a moment, the Americans offered a very special and complete experience indeed. The unbelievably beautiful album closer "I Will Lay Down My Bones Between the Rocks and Roots" was delivered with emphatic conviction but unfortunately the set didn't end there, as WitTR insisted on playing two more tracks. The first, “Crown of Stone”, was OK I suppose, but overall it was quite a letdown from the magic ”I Will Lay Down…” had just created. Apart from the slightly unfortunate ending, the Wolves performed excellently. It’s not easy being the closing act of long festival day, and especially not the last day.

I have seen the future

A few weeks ago, Sort Søndag, Denmark’s leading metal podcast, presented a show focusing on 'new metal'. Here, the hosts strangely managed to basically avoid playing any new sounding metal at all. I would argue that black metal, since its infancy in the 80s, is the subgenre that has managed to develop the most, and most interestingly, of all of heavy metal's many bastard sons. There might not have been much new metal showcased here at Fortress 2024, but I was still blown away by all the different experiences this genre has to offer and how much black metal has evolved since Venom started it all in the early 80’ies. At Fortress Festival 2024 in Scarborough, 1750 people witnessed two days of intense and beautifully dark music. Black metal then, has a bright future, and there is no better place to experience it first-hand than Fortress Festival.