Live Review: Fortress Festival Day One – Scarborough Spa, Scarborough 01.06.2024

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside and what better excuse than for a Black Metal festival packed with a line-up of UK live debuts, albums being aired in full and even a worldwide live debut thrown in for good measure. This was a Black Metal lineup which was simply delectable. When it is eye-wateringly decorated with punctuations and accents of this calibre, then it is impossible to find yourself not drawn to this quintessentially English seaside town.

Perched on the east coast against the battering North Sea the Scarborough Spa is a perfect haunt, a grand and beautiful building, perfect for this two-day behemoth. Split between two stages, the Ocean Room Stage and the Main Stage, the stages had no clashes all weekend so enabled the wristband embracer to be able to be subject to the tsunami of Black and Extreme Metal for nigh on twelve hours each day, simply put, this was an extravaganza of epic and monumental proportions. Stand back, Scarborough; this was going to be immense.

So by the time I had acquired my wristband and found my way to the Media Room I didn’t have long before I made my way down to the Main Stage for the opening band of Fortress 2024 and what a way to kick things off, the mighty atmospheric Sunken who were embracing our UK shores and the east coast revelry, along with a warm up show in London, for the first time in their history. The Grand Hall of the Main Stage was impressively packed for this muscular offering and the band wasted no time in plying their wares and demonstrating just why they are held in such high regard, even on the back of only two full length offerings. The riffs were crunchy and powerful while the skins provided the titanium vertebrae on which the rest of the links hung off and the emotive response from the assembled hordes seemed to propel the band to generate a darker and more muscular spawn on which to serve us today.

Lamp Of Murmur brought the mystery to the Main Stage with their caustic and raw set of nihilistic and venomous offerings, a UK exclusive for 2024 at Fortress. Again, the crowd was impressive for the battering, which was served from the amps and speaker stacks, and it was relentless from the opening chords to the chilling and harrowing screams that resonated through our bodies as the horde vacated the stage. The set had been a blackened spirit reminiscent of Gaal and had conjured up a spell with which we were all placed under, trance-like and worshipping at the altar of Hades. The set was crisp and technical, polished yet visceral and antagonistic, a true personification of brutal and primal black metal.

Over on the Ocean Stage, with their first show on European soil and the only show planned for the UK in 2024, were Falls Of Rauros and their hybrid blend of Black and Folk Metal delivered in a crushing style which had us all captivated from the start. Their epic and marathonic structures were emblazoned with technicality and dexterity, the likes of ‘Earths Old Timid Grace’ and ‘Arrow And Kiln’ were grandiose and splendorous, barbaric and hungry, delivered with overflowing passion and pride. The vocals from Charles were animated and carnivorous, each word enveloping us and absorbing our souls and then pushing them back as if rejected once all the nutrients had been taken. Next time Falls Of Rauros find themselves on our island I would certainly expect them to be housed on a bigger stage with a longer set time so that they can really exhibit their dark arts without restriction.

You don’t get more powerful than the epic Ultha and when R yelled at the lighting desk to get the red lights illuminated at the start of their set we all knew that we were in for an emotional and barbarous set of brawn and atmospheric donations. Opening with ‘The Night Took Her Right Before My Eyes’ it was calculated and intricate, powerful and authoritative, each riff and beat delivered with a craving for unadulterated fury and rage.  The vocals from R were mesmeric and captivating, each word spat out with dedication and a lust for power and blackened decadence while the thicker strings from C were harnessed with ability and nimbleness in order to build and dispense a crunching bass line which was enchanting and charming. ‘Dispel’ was my personal highlight of the set, from the atmospherics and haunting riffs to the pummelling percussion it injected a pace which was tantalising and enigmatic which then seemed to spur on the vocals to be caustic in their deliverance and welcoming.

Infernal Sea stepped in last minute to take up ranks in the vacant spot which had been generated from Dodsrit having to vacate their inclusion due to an illness within the band, I hope they are on the road to recovery soon. That being said, The Infernal Sea (for me) are a stellar replacement and they wasted no time in proving to us all that they can certainly hold their own when it comes to annihilating us in the live setting. The imagery that was conjured up before us added to the venomous and noxious event with the vocals being spat out with malicious and malevolent dedication and loyalty to the toxic cause. The crowd responded to the English dark overlords and saw pits being conjured up randomly across the floor, which only seemed to antagonise the band into building momentum and speed and sending this straight back to the rabid swathes of black-clad flocks who were feasting at the nihilistic alter of pestilence and blasphemy.

Back on the Main Stage, this time for some epic and lavish Progressive Avant-Garde Metal, poured upon us in an exclusive UK show 2024, courtesy of the magnificent Der Weg Einer Freiheit. The vocals from Kamprad were authoritative and solid, injecting a thirst for power and dominance, which attracted the desired blackened sovereignty. They were supported by elaborate and sophisticated string work that weaved in and out of the thicker facets of the tracks. The Main Stage hanger was impressively populated for the Germanic Blackened Avant Garde, and this was only a testament to the popularity and notoriety of Der Weg Einer Freiheit, after this polished serving today, it was apparent that they needed to invade our shores again in the not-too-distant future.

A worldwide live debut doesn’t happen that often so it was expected that the Ocean Room would be packed for the arrival of Fellwarden and the Fortress faithful did not disappoint. The room was rammed and rightly so, Fellwarden were in town and they were simply on fire. From the moment they downpicked the six strings, pummelled the skins, and released the vocals, it was a perfect lesson from these Englishmen in Atmospheric Black Metal. The Watcher struck an imposing figure front and centre and, with his comrades around him, delivered a lesson in why this should not be their one and only live outing. With their tracks being sophisticated and complex in their duration, it was no surprise that the set was limited in the number of tracks we were opened up to, but we were by no means disappointed. This had been a moment in time many of us had been waiting for a number of years now but had it been worth the wait? You bet your bottom dollar it had !!

After making an impressively successful appearance at Fortress in 2023, Panopticon were back to destroy the Fortress once more. Setting up camp on the Main Stage, they had afforded a healthy set time (longer than the headliners !) so that they could celebrate their 10-year anniversary of the magnificent ‘Roads To The North’, which would also be a UK exclusive for 2024. Lunn orchestrated the liberation of the album with passion and lust, assisted ably by his live brethren, which included another sighting of Charles and Capizzo from Falls Of Rauros, each track unleashed with darkened animation and a desire for the album to be showcased in all of its glory to the best of their ability. Rounding off the set with ‘Into The North Woods’ by album sibling ‘Autumn Eternal’ was a perfect end to a pretty much perfect set delivered to masses of swathing and vocal worshippers of the Panopticon temple.

Ocean Room headliners Regarde Les Hommes Tomber had drawn a significant crowd long before they were even due to detonate the venue and bring it to its knees. With the candles lit and the aroma of incense wafting through the venue the band hit the stage reminiscent of rabid dogs stalking their prey and tormenting it with vicious and venomous intentions. T.C was his usual endearing self, cloaked and shrouded in darkness albeit for a single spotlight accentuating angular portions of his leather clad torso while the other fragments of the Blackened French alliance had their chilling corpse paint highlighted by the candlelight and wavering beams of diluted light being omitted by several strategically placed radiances. ‘The Renegade Son’ was absolutely brutal and manic, delivered with a frenzied yet calculated force and aggression, while ‘Stellar Cross’ was hypnotic and magnetic and seemed to shift the energy into overdrive, which in turn ignited the mayhem in the crowd and took it orbital in its discharge. As the set closed out, it was obvious that a spectacle in both visual and auditory terms had been freed and then grasped by the hundreds in attendance, a huge success and one that has built on the bands live show predecessors and simply taken it to the next level.

Closing out the day’s proceedings on the Main Stage were the behemothic Swiss Avant-Garde troop Triptykon, fronted by their illustrious leader, the unmistakable Tom G Warrior. With the stage furnished with side drops incorporating the band’s moniker and another logo emblazoned across the digital backdrop, the band were greeted with a hero’s welcome, pausing for a moment before launching into the set and not relenting one iota before they had delivered a masterclass before our very eyes.

The wings were mastered with care and attitude, Slajh taming her bass with her usual flair and flamboyancy while Satura disciplined his six strings with intricate emotion and obsession. The vocals from Warrior were deployed with his usual power and trademark growl and dominion. Together with the polished, refined, elegant, and heavy setlist, it made for a lesson in how to deliver a headliner performance, epic beyond belief and one which will resonate in many a metalhead’s fables for years to come.

So, day one had been tamed; time to bring on day two……………….

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