Death Fortress’ pure domination colors black metal with war on killer debut ‘Among the Ranks…’

Death Fortress coverMetal’s always had an affinity for power, strength, and domination. You can hear that in tons of bands across various sub-genres, from doom to sludge to thrash to death. What’s wrong with feeling empowered and mighty in the face of opposition, I ask you? The answer? Absolutely nothing.

Jersey’s black metal squadron Death Fortress have no qualms with balling their fists and crushing your will to live. Their sound is straight forward and ferocious, and the feeling you get from hearing the band is not unlike what it might be like to get crushed by their boots trampling across your chest. Expect bruising, bleeding, and a whole lot of humiliation. The band’s first full-length effort “Among the Ranks of the Unconquerable” tells you this right away, and it’s not some thin statement made to make the guys sound tougher than they are. Once they plug in and begin striking, you know you’re in the middle of a psychiatric struggle, where you will pay a toll but might come out stronger for it. You can thank them later after your wounds heal.

Death Fortress are comprised of veterans of other noteworthy underground hell-breathers, with T. Warrior (Dethroned Emperor, Senobyte) on bass and vocals; J. Averserio (Abazagorath, Dethroned Emperor, Senobyte) on guitars; and S. Eldridge (Funebrarum, Abysmal Gates, Disma) on drums. Every ounce of this six-track, 38-minute crusher feels weighty, devastating, and utterly devoid of mercy. They certainly have the tenets that would make old school black metal fans quite happy, but they also power through with the audio violence that could make death and war metal devotees more than happy to walk with into battle alongside the trio of terror.

Opener “King’s Blood” starts off with dissonant interference, letting the buzz build and approach with threatening power before the track rips open and starts punishing. There’s a strong melody lurking behind the chaos, but up front we have harsh, guttural growls that sound soul-wrenching, spacious fury that makes it feel like you’re in the grips of a tornado, and delirious playing that baffles and destroys. But the bottom line is the track’s brutal underbelly, which is deep and expansive. “Arrogant Force” begins with whipping winds that could eat at your cheeks and then drums that absolutely decimate. There are strong, intelligent lead lines that inject excitement into the piece, and the vocals are absolutely gruff and monstrous, grinding away just as hard as the song around them. The final strains of the track bleed into “Fifth Season,” which takes some time to simmer before reigniting the intensity. The guitars are insane, with vicious growling blending in and upping the ante on the madness. The song pulls back a bit, letting some different colors into the space, and the track ends on an extended section of razor-sharp playing that eventually dissolves.

The title track tears open the second half of the album with a channeled assault and devastating riffs that continue the punishment. The growls are grim and evil, and they join in with the tempo that mashes everything in its wake. The song hovers like a relentless, all-day summer storm, soaking the ground and unleashing thunder that never seems to subside. Soloing emerges that is creative and brainy, but ugliness rules the day as the final moments are smoldering. “Pride of the Enslaver” dumps churning guitars, vocals that capture and suffocate, and encircling melodies that should leave you dizzy and disoriented until it burns out. Closer “Ancestor’s Call” starts firing hard from the get go, with the drums pulverizing your senses, melodic guitars shredding through the muck, and vocals that are charnel and deadly. Interestingly, some post-metal-style melodies slip in, which could be confusing if you’re expecting wall-to-wall burning. Instead, the band ends the record on a mesmerizing, haunting note that finally gives you some mercy so you can begin licking your wounds.

Death Fortress’ name can be taken pretty literally, because that’s what it feels you’re locked inside of on “Among the Ranks of the Unconquerable.” The record is a ferocious one, and if you’re in those ranks of people who think black metal’s gotten too proper and polished, you’ll enjoy hearing these guys take their blades to that whole idea. This is filled with danger and malice, and nothing good can come from this band’s agenda. Well, other than black metal getting another group of warriors here to restore its good name.

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