Fortress bring depressive doom, dark, creative riffs on lurching debut album ‘Unto the Nothing’

Tip-on Gatefold OUTSIDE - left pocket glued shutFrustration is welling up here like rushing water jamming into a stubborn dam of mud, sticks, and leaves, with that only being able to hold for so long. Look, lots of people have it was way worse, and most of my issue is made of daily annoyances that are doing an awesome job stock-piling. That said, I’m not in King Happiness mode at the present time.

I was sitting down over the weekend to give a final critical listen to Fortress’ debut long player “Unto the Nothing,” a misery-inducing, depressing, dark collection of slowly meted-out doom that felt just how my brain was functioning. Wallowing in the muck, letting negativity have its way (which I argue can be a good, productive thing), and mentally lashing out at things that bother me only seemed to go better when taking on these seven tracks. The Hagerstown, MD., band piles sludge, funeral doom, and any element of sorrow and anger into their music. It certainly won’t pick you up when you’re feeling down. It’ll kick you and scrape at your cuts and bruises, especially the mental ones. It’ll drag you on a long, brutal journey that, if you can’t ride the bumps and use the music as a form of catharsis, you’re going to wind up a shaking, heaving mess.

Fortress is the work of three individuals, that being guitarist/vocalist Chaz Campbell, bassist/vocalist NAM, and drummer Andy Myers. There are so many riffs here, and not just ones that bring skullduggery. There is dark, thorny melody beneath much of what’s going on here, and a death blues pulse also beats relentlessly. If you’re a fan of doom bands as diverse as Aldebaran, St. Vitus, Mournful Congregation, Eyehategod, and, of course, the mighty Sabbath, you’ll find plenty of meaty bits here to devour while you’re being reminded over and over again the pressure pushing down on your psyche as you endure everyday existence. But it’s all done so damn creatively, you might not even mind you’re being reminded of all of this. The band’s just that damn good.

“Cost of Freedom,” the shortest song on the record, gets things started with clean guitars that work their way into heavy buzzing and drawn-out passages designed to evoke the dreariest of emotions. The growls are harsh and unfriendly, oppressive noise hangs in the air, and the track bleeds out into the night. “Fight the Son” is a crusher, with the opening strains rumbling and crumbling hard, and a grisly melody swimming beneath the mud. The song pounds slowly and heavily, like they’re making you wait and anticipate the blows you know are coming, with howls of, “The son will fall!” lying alongside the deliberate, killer riffs and devastating power. “Lies and Fears” is the longest song at 11:11, and it starts in a haze of drone that smothers and boils until some Sabbath-style riffs break down the wall. The growls are hissed and deadly, with lines such as, “Stand up to meet your maker,” coming across like a threat and not an invitation. There are clean and ominous moments, making your bloodstream slow down due to ice floe, but eventually filthy melodies return and dress the back end of the track in evil intent.

“Fortress of Gods” is built on chunky riffs and punchy playing, with a nice, slow groove setting up shop and pushing the track forward. The passage feels deadly and foreboding, with warnings of, “This is your new church, worship,” and the infrastructure of this thing feels like it’s closing in on you, with the only end result being your guts splattered everywhere. “The Nothing” has piercing guitar shrieks, a drubbing tempo, and slowly delivered growls that are making certain you receive the message of, “You’ve been broken, this is your fate,” so that there is no misunderstanding. A female voice sits behind the mire, offering a brief sense of beauty to what’s otherwise horrific, and a grumbling monologue walks hand in hand with wailing noise as the cut fades away. “Stolen Graves” trickles cleanly like a muddy stream at first before there’s a vicious power surge and monstrous growls that break through the surface. The arrival of “a new level of hatred” is announced, as elegant melodies similar to what Pallbearer do so well bleed forth, showing different colors and sides of the band. The whole thing glimmers and glows with energy, giving you a serious jolt unlike anything else on this album. “Dead Alone” is a bonus cut available via download for those who buy the vinyl. As you might guess, it’s totally worth it, bristling with power and fury, dressed in noisy chaos, and again inviting melodies that can haunt and cause your imagination to burst with life. Not a bad thing considering most of this record is dour and sans hope.

This is a perfect complement to seasonal depression. It could be the soundtrack, come to think of it. Fortress is a lumbering beast of a machine, and “Unto the Nothing” is an awesome late-year addition to 2014’s bubbling doom pool, and it’s one you should go out of your way to hear, especially as the annoyances of the final weeks of the year come to roost. It’s OK to be miserable, and Fortress will help you get the best out of the muck.

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