So, I made a critical mistake while listening to Ylem: I dwelled for a few minutes on the name of the band. “Dark Fortress”, eh? What do I think of when I think of Dark Fortress? I mean, the image of a crumbling, evil castle on the top of a mountain comes to mind. The kind of castle that has a tall tower with a single light filling a window near the top. Wait a minute, am I thinking of a specific castle? Damnit! I’m thinking of Castle Dracula from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night!” And thus, my listening experience was completely skewed from then on. The musical journey of listening to “Ylem” suddenly became the quest to find and kill Dracula. I jest you not.
This album threw me for a loop. I was expecting something completely different when I popped in “Ylem”, since many Century Media artists have a blatant mixture of melody and metal. I was thinking that I was going to hear another Dark Tranquillity, maybe some Lacuna Coil, even a wee bit of Nevermore. So I was taken aback when I realized halfway through the first song that I was listening to an intense black metal album. I restarted the song and completely adjusted my mindset.
Now, I don’t want to be misleading. I’m not saying that “Ylem” has no melody and is just straight up black metal, because then it would not be a black metal album. For me, black metal is brutal, evil and, perhaps most importantly, subtly riddled with haunting, eerie melodies. In that definition, “Ylem” succeeds very well.
The album kicks off with the title track in a flurry of notes that is reminiscent of “Flight of the Bumblebee”. The production is pretty top-notch, although the bass is hard to define. The guitars are crisp and crunchy with plenty of definition. The drums have solid thumps behind them while the cymbals sizzle nicely. The vocals stand out just enough to sound clear, yet are enough into the mix to not stand out. Later on in the song, when vocal harmonies come in, the melodic vocals are somewhat hard to define depending on the sound system used (they sounded great in my headphones, but were lost in my car).
The rest of the album is full of haunting vocals, creepy guitar passages and some badass chugging riffs. I really enjoyed the fifth track, “Evenfall”, because it almost feels like a two-part song. The first part is a dissonant series of riffs while the second part changes to a melancholic melody with deep, singing vocals. With the shortest song on “Ylem” clocking in around 4:30, the songs have time to really develop each theme.
For fans of black metal, this is one album that you won’t want to miss. As for me, this may be my first Dark Fortress album but I have a feeling that it won’t be my last.