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Stab Wounds can be considered a noticeable turning point for Dark Fortress's career. While their first two full lengths were good representations of melodic black metal similar to that of Dissection, Lord Belial, and even Emperor, they weren't the most original. Stab Wounds takes a much darker approach, playing out themes of misanthropy, madness, and death a lot stronger than in the past. They would go with this style for the next several albums.
In terms of what this sounds like, this is still black metal with clear production: you can hear everything fine. The riffs are still the driving force behind the music. Lead guitars kick in when you expect them to and when you don't, and it's still an awesome surprise. I wouldn't say the music is as catchy as older Dark Fortress albums, but it does not need to be as there is great chemistry between each instrument in the band providing a competent sound as a whole. I would even say this album sometimes reminds me of Bethlehem's SUIZID album. Azathoth, while not the best vocalist around, sounds a lot better for this kind of music. His shrieks capture the feelings of desolation incredibly well here.
Transition are smooth, too. Take the first track, Iconoclasm Omega. It starts off fast, but slows down smoothly into a very bitter sounding vocal passage, well supported by the bass and drums. The guitars create a very chaotic feeling and then there's a spoken sample, which I believe is of Charles Manson (he sounds a bit like George Bush, no?) and the drums hammer quickly to bring the rest of the song back to its faster tempo. There are no arbitrary keyboard or synthesizer passages, so a continuous flow of music really makes this album more enjoyable. Yeah, the music is great and really hooks you for the entire ride with those incredible riffs, but that's not the main reason why I enjoy this album.
The strongest aspect of Stab Wounds is the overall mood. As I said earlier, there's a certain level of misanthropy and madness prevalent throughout the album. This makes the music much more tense and bitter at the same time. Midnight Poem is by far the best track, starting out with catchy riffs, then quiets down until there's a faint guitar sound in the background and tortured, whispering vocals. As it builds up again, the main chorus comes on with lyrics:
"Curse me, take my breath away
Life disgusts me
Touch me, take my "life" away
Life disgusts me"
Yeah, this may look cheesy now, but they fit very well for the anti-human vibe present in the music. The real icing on the cake is the rich downward scale of notes following right after. I don't know how to describe it here, but it's quite a miserably awesome part of the song.
Other highlights are the end of Despise the "Living" , which features an incredible keyboard piece to supplement the musical desolation going on, as well as Self-Mutilation. The latter has a disturbing introduction, but when the metal kicks in, it turns into a really hateful song full of madness, almost like someone cutting themselves while they've gone insane.
Unfortunately, the last tracks tend to lag a bit, but all the songs here fill their role in this album. This might not be the most misanthropic album you've heard (I know it isn't for me), but it comes off as genuine and the way it mixes together with the music is phenomenal. The versatile riffs can expect to drive a lot of listeners into the core of this album.
Stab Wounds is a very solid album and I'm glad Dark Fortress came into their own with a release like this. You'll definitely want to check this one out, especially after a bad day of dealing with idiots and feeling cynical about it. Who knows, it might even make you feel better!
Dark Fortress' Stab Wounds is probably the strongest melodic black metal album I've ever heard. I don't even like most melodic black metal - Dimmu, Katatonia, new Emperor, etc. - but I love this album.
A guy who saw my Watain shirt at a show recommended this album to me. He SWORE I'd go nuts for it. So I picked it up. I was expecting some kind of dirty, howling, orthodox black metal. What did I get? Cheesy spoken word opening, strong production, occasional deep keyboards (a la Nightside Eclipse), musicianship, and catchy, catchy melodies and hooks.
At first I was disappointed. Dark Fortress is clearly on the pop end of black metal - thematically and musically, they're more Dimmu than Ondskapt, by a very long shot. But a couple of tracks in I realized that this was really GOOD pop black metal, way better than anything Dimmu or Cradle ever put together. For one, the keyboards are sparse and controlled - only used occasionally and to great effect, like Ihsahn used to play 'em. Second, no clean vocals (yay!). But the big thing is simply straight up songwriting. The riffs on this album are pure gold. Not one song drags. It's a remarkably consistent effort.
So what does Dark Fortress have in common with Watain, then? A real intuition for melody, Unless you're diehard about your kvlt quotient in black metal you'll almost certainly really sink your teeth into this one.