Black Fortress of Opium
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Black Fortress of Opium

Somerville, Massachusetts, United States | SELF

Somerville, Massachusetts, United States | SELF
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RELEASED TODAY - On their second full-length album, Stratospherical, Black Fortress of Opium dissolve genre boundaries and travel down different roads. Not only is there a satisfying helping of their richly layered Americana-tinged goth (both ethereal and dense-as-a-thicket varieties), but also some straight-ahead alternative rock, and even a country pop number, with the first single from the album, “Right Around Here.”

There’s no gentle easing in – the opening track, “Blood Diamond,” is ominous, dark, and decidedly edgy. “Afyonkarahisar Battle Cry” is one of the album’s highlights, exotic and mysterious, with a beautiful interplay of electric guitar and mandolin, with singer Ajda’s powerful voice stretching out in full Turkish Queen glory. “Blind,” another standout especially for its stark lyrics and vocals, is incredibly pretty and wistful (“How did I get here, to become so confused / I hand it to you, looking amused / I ride in sky blue, had to distance myself / Far away from you, you poison my thoughts.”).

Throughout the album, there are themes of illusion and sudden change, disconnection and disillusionment, and finding one’s way through darkness and regret. “Fata Morgana” is a hypnotic tale of sudden change and the collapsing of seemingly sturdy structures and institutions. Halfway through is the album’s biggest surprise – “Right Around Here” - a straight-ahead pop song with a country feel that Ajda, with her Texan upbringing, seems very comfortable in. It’s a total mood shift that highlights the band’s musical versatility. This is the first single, the irony being that nothing else on the album sounds like it! As light and upbeat as the song sounds, lyrically it’s about deception and disillusionment (“you sympathize with him, ‘cause you want to be his victim”). “Unraveling” is another favorite. It starts with quiet piano, and then builds - eerie, gypsy-flavored and densely layered, with a delicious underlying tension. Stratospherical contains many gems. - Julie Stoller - Ryan's Smashing Life


We all get emails from Nigerian princes and Egyptian generals and Isreali NCIS agents whatnot, but when was the last time you got a message from a bona fide Turkish Queen? I decided that this was a good time to sit up and pay attention. As should you – Black Fortress of Opium is sort of a super-group, but they are more of a supernatural group. And they are playing – appropriately enough – at the Magic Room Gallery on Saturday night. I’m sharing this song with you early so you have time to come out of the blissful daze that it will leave you in. You should probably give yourself a little time. Then show up and tune in to hear this track and the rest of their new record Stratospherical. The record releases on March 6, so get ready.

“Blind” opens up immediately with a shocking intimacy. There’s no exposition, no getting-to-know you section. This track steps up, takes you firmly by the shoulders, looks into your eyes and then just sings into you, rather than at you. The reverb on Ajda Snyder’s vocal sends each note shooting off into the distance, as if Snyder has everything that she surveys under her command and can send her voice shooting off into the wild like she’s a character in Skyrim or something.
The true magic of this track is how it sneaks up on you. You can sense the music gathering behind you in the opening strains, even as you give your undivided attention to the vocal. Long bass notes sound out a pedal tone beneath Snyder’s bright vocal – you perceive this happening but you simply let it gather under and behind, knowing full well that, when the time comes, we’ll be able to do a trust fall into Black Fortress of Opium and we’ll be readily caught by a nice cushy bed and have a team of sixteen vestal virgins (and Joel Simches) waiting to fan us and feed us grapes.
An anthemic chorus sets this song firmly in its place – almost like the chorus makes you realize the song had a socket with the exact shape and size of this chorus – and was just waiting for everything to fall into place. The vocal is liquid in form and presence – a single voice opens up into a choir while you aren’t looking, and then they collapse back down into a solo again. The vocal maintains a steady approach and allows the other instruments – the guitar in particular – to help set the scene. The mix is spacious to the point of being luxurious – put on your headphones. “Blind” makes a direct, almost supernatural connection and keeps the line open. - Boston Band Crush


Imagine you’re hiking through some castle or fort in an exotic country like, well, Turkey. The sun goes down. You enter an opulent Byzantine-style room. In the twilight you hear instruments and arrangements that sound vaguely Middle Eastern, but a woman’s plaintive but clear voice, in English, floats in, echoing off the stone walls. Then you hear other instruments—electric guitar, sitar, melodica, keyboards, organ, theremin. The music is simultaneously exotic and familiar yet it transports me to an older world. The MySpace page of this four-piece (Ajda the Turkish Queen, Tony Savarino, Joe Turner, and Joel Simches—who’s on the CD but no longer in the band) labels them as “goth/psychedelic” but I think Black Fortress of Opium goes beyond both. Although this exquisitely produced CD is made up of 10 separate songs, I can’t pick one that stands out because this disc must be listened to in its entirety. (Robin Umbley) - Noise Magazine


April 11, 2008
http://www.playbackstl.com/content/view/7495/157/
With a name like that, it better be something exotic and a little freaky, right? Well this record is, despite the fact that Black Fortress of Opium hails from the very un-exotic town of Boston. But that's offset by the fact that vocalist Ajda the Turkish Queen (yes, that's the name she uses) is half-Turkish and prone to dark, wildly inventive flights of musical fancy. The eccentric Ajda met Boston guitar whiz Tony Savarino, and hooked him one day with tales of a strange village in Turkey called Afyonkarahisar. What does that translate to? Why, Black Fortress of Opium, of course.

You needn't be a visitor to a drug den to be carried far, far away by this album's potent blend. The high will be completely natural if you've got an open mind and a taste for passionate, left-of-center female singers. Stylistically, we're talking an off-brand of atmospheric goth-rock with folk and worldbeat underpinnings. Ajda and Savarino are musically inventive, driven types who let each track here spin its own magic. The remarkable "Ari" starts with Ajda's powerful, often sultry voice accompanied only by a mandolin, lulling you into a sort of dream state. But then the song proceeds to alternate such quiet passages with electrifying surges of moody guitar rock, creating a building sense of drama that knocks your socks off.

Ajda's one hell of a singer, deflecting any potential drift toward pretentiousness with her haunting, heartfelt emotionalism. She leaves you awestruck on "Crack and Pool," doing something amazing with her voice at one point that makes it sound like some middle-eastern horn. "Oh my God/ How you self-destruct me/ How I let you tear at my insides/ And still it's never enough," she wails, reeling you deeper and deeper into her private, sometimes uncomfortable universe.

By now, BFO have already cast a mesmerizing spell, but the best is still to come. "Your Past" is a superb song, beginning right away with one of those powerful, classic dark riffs that gets under your skin and stays there. But again, the band keeps things interesting by alternating quiet passages with rockier ones. And Ajda has this rare ability to make almost everything she's singing sound important, like she's spilling the beans on every dark secret she knows. "Model Café" is a thoroughly surprising detour, a beautifully arranged country folk tune that, in this context, is like stumbling into a gorgeous sunny glade after hours spent lost hiking through a dark forest. It's a gem, soon followed by another, From a Woman to a Man." Some old-fashioned shimmering organ gives Ajda a nice foundation on which to serve up her most peerless double-tracked vocals, with every word hitting home. "This is a tale of my suffering/ This is a tale of my pride," she says, making you reflect on the title's deeper intent.

If you're not completely transfixed by this point, then you're just too jaded to appreciate artsy, exotic music. But BFO don't sound quite like anyone else, and their sense of dynamics and urgency makes them a truly interesting new band. "I wish I could create a language just for you/ But nothing is strong enough," Ajda sings on the aforementioned "Your Past." On the contrary, my dear—you're coming through loud and clear on this amazing debut, and if its exotic stylings were any stronger, they might induce hallucinations...or at least permanent rejection of conformity. B+ | Kevin Renick - Playback STL (see the light)


http://muruch.blogspot.com/2008/04/black-fortress-of-opium.html
Monday, April 07, 2008

Black Fortress Of Opium - named for the Turkish town of Afyonkarahisar - is a breath of fresh air in the Goth rock genre. Their music features eerie feminine vocals (courtesy of lead singer Ajda "The Turkish Queen") and melodies akin to that of bands like Miranda Sex Garden, Mazzy Star, and Dead Can Dance enhanced with grinding guitar and pretty string instrumentation - banjo, mandolin, melodica, sitar - more typically associated with Middle Eastern, bluegrass, and folk music.

The opener "House of Edward Devotion" rises from an exotic gypsy banjo pluck into churning rock guitars, and "Black Rope Burns" is a bluesier track accented with lovely mandolin. Meanwhile, it's Ajda's voice that carries most of the hypnotic "Ari" - inspired by Velvet Underground singer Nico's only child - until the guitars kick in for the extended second half. "Model Café" takes a surprising turn into country twang, and the seductive blues number "From A Woman To A Man" would suit a David Lynch bar scene. - Muruch


The quartet Black Fortress of Opium certainly isn't out to hide its lead member's part-Turkish roots -- besides a variety of artwork references, there's the minor fact that she credits herself as Ajda the Turkish Queen. But rather than being a neo-traditional act playing nothing but saz, say, Black Fortress of Opium are a brawling, dark monster of a band that seems like it should be playing shows with, say, Nicki Jaine or the Dresden Dolls rather than Gogol Bordello. The resultant fusion of cabaret and Anatolia initially works more as a whole than a part -- the slow, deliberate pace of many of the songs seem like they should be working with an audience's feeling rather than simply captured one way -- but as the album progresses, a remarkable variety within their general approach becomes readily evident. (Perhaps tellingly one of the strongest cuts, "Your Past," is also one of the most varied, shifting from a growling, focused punch to a slow, extremely understated float and back again throughout the song.) As a result the album proves to be an overall success, with Ajda's theatrical singing an audible combination of styles that still finding its way but is well down that road -- that she often calls to mind one of America's most compelling voices, Kristin Hersh, is to her further credit (heard most audibly on "Ari"). ?Martin Bisi's experienced ear behind the boards gives a huge heft to the rhythm section, putting them squarely in the tradition of ?Bisi-produced acts like the Swans in particular, but is just as able to capture the most fragile moments, such as the first "Crack and Pool," mostly consisting of Ajda and mandolin, and the marvelous left curve of "Model Café," a classic country twang of a song that draws on Ajda's Texas upbringing in a further twist of expectations. - All Music Guide


June 30, 2008

Truth in advertising. The Boston noir rockers take their name from an actual dark-age citadel situated atop a massive volcanic rock formation, surrounded by poppy fields. It’s hard to think of a better description for what they play. Led by a multi-instrumentalist who goes by Ajda the Turkish Queen, the group plays hypnotic, often mesmerizing songs that unwind with a darkly slinky sensuality, sometimes exploding in rage. Think Elysian Fields, Bee & Flower or Botanica at their blackest and bleakest, with a more ambient sensibility. Martin Bisi’s raw yet rich production blends layer upon layer of reverb guitar in with Ajda’s mandolin, banjo, wind instruments and “field recordings,” creating an irresistible sonic tar pit. The album seems to be something of a suite, many of the songs in the same key, hanging on the same chord or nearby for minutes at a clip as the storm rises, falls and rises again. The cd opens with the gothic-titled House of Edward Devotion, pretty much setting the stage for what’s to come with its eerie overtones, the melody only baring its fangs in the quietest moments. The cd continues in the same vein with the aptly titled Black Rope Burns. With its ferocious sheets of distorted slide guitar, the next cut, a seven-minute epic called Ari is the album’s high point, capped by an earth-shattering plummet into the abyss by the guitars toward the end of the song.



After the quiet, acoustic interlude Crack + Pool, Twelve Gross picks up the pace like Nina Nastasia in her most lushly orchestrated moments on The Blackened Air. Your Past kicks it up a notch with its alternately wistful and jarringly percussive noise-rock, like Siouxsie & the Banshees as covered by Live Skull. Model Café is a sad, sarcastic, minimalist lament leading into a fiery reprise of Crack + Pool, Ajda’s flute stark in relief against an impenetrable wall of guitar. The album winds up with the sultry, bluesy soul ballad From a Woman to a Man before reverting to the trance-inducing sound of the rest of the album with the ominous, nine-minute Dulcet TV. This is a sensationally good ipod album. And if the band only plays the cd’s basic tracks onstage, they should be awesome live.

- Lucid Culture NYC


July 17th, 2008
From http://www.blog.collectedsounds.com/?p=1417:
Review by Anna Maria Stjärnell

Black Fortress of Opium - Black Fortress of Opium

The musician known as Ajda the Turkish Queen has made this her new album with a band and what an intriguing beast it is.

The opening House of Edward Devotion is stark and yet replete with intense mystery.

Ari is about Nico and her only son, and it's tragic and moving just as it must be. Ajda is not as chilly a singer as Nico was, but the influence is clearly there as the song drones and builds in a way befitting its subject.

Your Past is a track with a fascinating melody and late night mood that really plays to the bands strengths.

"I wish I could create a language just for you"

sings Ajda.

Model Café is an odd change of pace that resembles Mazzy Star's country-tinged music. Its levity is necessary in the face of the other songs' intensity.

Dulcet TV ends the album on an inspiring note, Turkish influences take a front seat and Ajda's singing is as passionate as ever.

This album's a great and daring thing.
- collectedsounds.com


5/20/08 by Linda Laban
4 globes out of 5
This Boston band’s lovingly produced collection – courtesy of Martin Bisi – has a thoughtful, sensual attitude. It’s not quite the Goth-y tome the band’s name might suggest. But there are elements of black lace, metaphorically speaking, intertwined in the band’s songs, which bring surprising elements of folk, country, and blues to a spare psychedelic format. Singer Ajda the Turkish Queen has a gorgeous, emotive voice. Generally, she uses it with pertinent pauses, allowing drama into the delicate psyche-folk ballad “Ari,” a seven-minute trek through a parent-child relationship. While “Model Café” is a blushing country-toned number about a love sparked in that famed Allston establishment. Ajda adds guitar, mandolin and banjo, while Tony Savarino (guitar, sitar, theremin), Joel Simches (bass, keys) and Joe Turner (drums) pluck, tap and strum around their Queen-for-a-day.
http://www.readmetro.com/show/en/Boston/20080520/1/23/
- Boston Metro


Black Fortress of Opium- Black Fortress of Opium

Engineered & Mixed by Martin Bisi at BC Studios, Brooklyn, NY |
Mastered by Fred Kevorkian at Absolute Audio, NYC

Typically a solo artist, Ajda the Turkish Queen shines in her latest gig as the front woman for Black Fortress of Opium. Named after a real place in Turkey called Afyonkarahisar, the self-titled EP boldly arrives with both intensity and dark regality. Ajda's echoing vocals paint each track with visions of Middle-Eastern richness and awe, and the dark tonality is consistent throughout the entirety of the EP. Even through the darkness, however, the sound is able to transcend itself to take on a variety of emotions, from love and hate, to sadness and bliss.

There is a unique sense of symmetry found within Black Fortress of Opium, as it begins with the same eclectic intrigue that it ends with. Producer Martin Bisi is partly responsible for creating the beauty of such sound, and is most known for his previous work with artists the Dresden Dolls, Iggy Pop, Sonic Youth and Brian Eno.

A particularly surprising element that Black Fortress of Opium offers is the unexpected mix of blues and Americana, which is found right between some of the deeper, lengthier songs. The track "Model Cafe" encompasses this perfectly; it is, however, also representative of a strange derivation from the dominant feelings of haunting,
other-worldliness and mystique that the album as a whole tries to suggests.

Certainly worth mentioning is the wide array of instruments featured
throughout the album that contribute to the cross-cultural sound, like the mandolin, banjo, flute, percussion, electric sitar, theremin and even field recordings. Black Fortress of Opium truly makes you believe that you just may be listening to something highly monumental.
(Self-released) - Jillian Horn

http://www.performermag.com/nep.recordedreviews.0806.php
- Northeast Performer


8.23.08
Black Fortress of Opium
Black Fortress of Opium
By Matthew Moyer

I'm not exactly sure how this album made its way to me; someone must have been reading my diary. And I'm glad they got to the page where I was lamenting that there weren't enough groups mining the stately gothic folk-baroque sound of later period Swans, Mors Syphilitica, Faith and the Muse, and Faith and Disease. So we're agreed that Black Forest Of Opium is a good thing? Fuck yes. No arguments. Named after the English translation of the Turkish town Afyonkarahisar, swear to fucking god, our blackhearted trio shows amazing promise and creative poise for such a new band. The album is a heady brew of melancholia, exotic instrumental flourishes, sinister glances and a sound that is as gothic as it is Appalachian and European. What? Yes.

"Edward Devotion" -- love that title, reminds me of other cool name songs like "Jack Luminous" and "Little Johnny Jewel" -- is a skeletal summoning of the marble tomb sound of the Swan's White Light From the Mouth of Infinity, regal pacing and tense sadness in every note. "Black Rope Burns" comes off like a bleak murder ballad, mandolin and vocalist Ajda's exhortations to "tie knots/ strong knots/ tether his heart to mine." And the music, god! The images and stories they conjure up, long tales of dissolute lovers and centuries' old curses -- for instance, the hypnotic hymn "Ari." My god, it's a song about Nico's son Ari and their diseased relationship! Amazing. The little lyrical details and the eye for scenes in a lost life, it's... it's a conjuring, it's a laying to rest. Better than any biography I've read thus far. Elsewhere, numbers like "Crack + Pool" call to mind Faith and the Muse at their most florid and beautiful, as much as it does the Carter Family and string band numbers, lonely mandolin and vocals set against an uncaring void. There's a reprise of this same song later, in a full-band format, and it couldn't be more different, snake-hipped psychedelia that's all smoky and bad trip scary. "Twelve Gross" is a tensely restrained, paranoid creep through darkened ruins and broken promises, bass and drums threaten to crash forth, but always held back by a lattice of smoldering guitar feedback, until it explodes into a howl and stomp.

Now, notice how the second half of the album gets markedly more experimental, shedding skins and trying on masks as fast as the needle skips from one track to another. "Your Past" feels markedly different from the rest of the record, it's all candy-apple-filled-with razorblades grungy sweetness, taut acoustic guitar giving way to downtuned sludge -- calling to mind the Wipers, Sonic Youth and Calamity Jane all at once. "Model Cafe" then shoots off in another direction, a deliciously melancholy slice of classic country torch along the lines of Patsy Cline live at the Grand Ole Opry, with delicate teardrops of slide guitar, brushed drums winging quietly, and Ajda's lyrics telling a simple and sweet tale of lost love. Wondrous. "From A Woman To A Man" mixes things up a-fucking-gain with a smoldering deathjazzblues shimmy in humid slow motion -- the gospel-meets-haunted house organ (and a searing guitar lead, hey what woah?) will make you fan yourself profusely.

Toying with different genres in the same album can be a very good thing, when it yields results like this. Add the Band, with their voracious appetite for a wide-open world of musical possibilities, and a deep sense of musical tradition, to the list of influences. I'm claiming this group as Gothic right fucking now and saying this is how Gothic should be.
http://ink19.com/issues/august2008/musicReviews/musicB/blackFortressOfOpium.html - Ink 19


http://www.terrascope.co.uk/Reviews/Rumbles_August08.htm
Rumbles
by Simon Lewis and Steve Palmer

Treading a darker almost gothic path, probably though a Victorian
cemetery at dusk, Black Fortress of Opium, are moody and magnificent
on their self-titled album. As well as the usual guitar, bass, drums,
the band play Banjo, Mandolin, Sitar, Melodica and Theremin, giving
the band a wide palette from which to work. Top this off with
excellently dark vocals from Ajda The Turkish Queen, and you have a
beautiful sounding collection of brooding and melancholy songs that
are varied enough to sustain interest throughout the album.
(www.blackfortressofopium.com) - Terrascope


Discography

"Stratospherical" 2012
full-length album of 11 original songs

"Black Fortress of Opium" 2008
self-titled debut of 10 original songs

Currently recording third album for 2014 release!

Photos

Bio

Black Fortress of Opium has been around the Boston area since 2006, making their name playing shows and festivals around the Northeast and Eastern seaboard with international touring acts like Serena Maneesh (4AD), Dame Darcy, Barbez (Tzadik), and Paul Wallfisch (Firewater/Little Annie Anxiety), as well as local favorites Shea Rose, Cooling Towers, Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys, Ghost Box Orchestra, and Garvy J. Since the release of their 2008 self-titled debut, the band has made a music video, played and recorded on mighty indie station WFMU, and recorded a Magnetic Fields cover for an independent film.

The 2008 debut was the product of a collaboration with Martin Bisi, who produced and recorded the album in his Brooklyn studio, and had previously worked with acts including Sonic Youth, Swans, and The Dresden Dolls. The album was warmly received by the press, garnering favorable reviews in the Boston Metro, All Music Guide, Terrascope, Northeast Performer and more.

The duo of Ajda the Turkish Queen and Tony Savarino has remained as the core of the band since its inception, but other lineup changes have occurred along the way. The current live lineup also includes drummer Yuri Zbitnoff. At one time, Rich Cortese (x-Zulus) played bass in the group.

The band has a new album titled "Stratospherical," released March 6th, 2012, on which Brian Viglione (The Dresden Dolls) played drums, and on which one-time bassist Dave Yanolis (ex-Nisi Period) appears. Black Fortress of Opium again heavily collaborated with fifth horseman Martin Bisi, who recorded basic tracks and mixed most cuts. Additional engineers Rafi Sofer at Q Division, former bassist Joel Simches (who also produced one and mixed two cuts), and Danny Gold, as well additional instrumentalists, contributed to the effort.

Notable elements of Black Fortress of Opium's signature sound include nuanced female vocals, both searing and subtle guitar wizardry, periodic use of the mandolin as a lead instrument, melodic Joy Division-like bass playing, and other occasional eclectic instrumentation (electric sitar, melodica), but especially featured is the alternately delicate and powerful interplay between its members. The material is quite varied, some songs being softer, more acoustic Allison Krauss/Robert Plant meets Eno-inspired numbers, ranging to heavier, low-end grooves reminiscent of PJ Harvey and Nick Cave. Hints of blues and country make appearances here and there, not surprising given the singer's Texan heritage plus the other members' love and respect for many genres. Black Fortress of Opium have at least two anthems, one being a battle cry about their namesake town in Turkey and its lore, and one about true love at the Model Cafe in Allston.

Both rootsy and ethereal (think Turkey by way of Texas) Andrew Wilson, Boston Band Crush

"An orchestral majesty that's all too seldom seen in rock music these days" - New York Music Daily

"Shocking intimacy...true magic...anthemic...spacious to the point of being luxurious put on your headphones" - C.D. Di Guardia, CD on Songs

Anthemic nature recalls Velvet Underground at its finest and adds other influences skillfully. This album has a variety of styles, and it all works together as an impressively cohesive work - Anna Maria Stjrnell, Collected Sounds

Superb. - Simon Lewis and Steve Palmer, Terrascope

A pattern of dreamy, lush soundscapes and exquisite vocals continues throughout the length of the record without ever becoming boring or predictable. If Black Fortress of Opium continues to craft music that proves interesting to listeners and leaves them wanting more, they will become one of New Englands finest. - Julia R. DeStefano, The Noise Magazine

"Eerie, gypsy-flavored and densely layered, with a delicious underlying tension. Stratospherical contains many gems" - Julie Stoller, Ryan's Smashing Life

Led Zeppelin meets Siouxsie And The Banshees. Awash in a sea of swirling guitars and enchanting harmonies - Johnny Anguish, Daykamp Music

"Black Fortress of Opium are a brawling, dark monster of a band that seems like it should be playing shows with, say, Nicki Jaine or the Dresden Dolls rather than Gogol Bordello." Ned Raggett, All Music Guide

"Like Siouxsie & the Banshees as covered by Live Skull" - Lucid Culture