FORTRESS - Don't Spare the Wicked  CD
FORTRESS - Don't Spare the Wicked  CD
FORTRESS - Don't Spare the Wicked CD

HRR 839CD, slipcase

Chris Scott Nunez - vocals
Fili Bibiano - guitar
Damian Rejon - bass
Rob Duran - drums

01 Lost Forever
02 Devil's Wheel
03 Anguish
04 Red Light Runner
05 Find Yourself
06 Children of the Night
07 The Passage
08 Don't Spare the Wicked


Fortress from Whittier in California started in early 2016 after lead guitarist Fili Bibiano's old band Auxilery had disbanded. Chris Nunez (vocals), Fili Bibiano (guitar), Uli Serrano (bass) and Rob Duran (drums) recorded their debut EP for High Roller Records in 2018, now followed by the band’s first full-length album »Don’t Spare The Wicked«.
“I see »Don’t Spare The Wicked« as an evolution,” is how guitarist Fili Bibiano describes the band’s debut album. “The Fortress EP music was co-written with another guitar player initially. So it limited my capabilities in writing and guitar playing. I had to compromise a lot of my musical abilities and taste. So I see this album as something that is more free creatively and something that Initially wanted to write since I was 15 years old.”
“The drums were recorded at Church Recordings in Fresno, California”, he continues. “The guitars and vocals were recorded by me at my studio in Whittier, and the bass and backing vocals were recorded at DLR studios in Gardena, California, which is owned by Damian Rejon who played bass on this album. The album was mixed and mastered at Revanent Sound Studios once again, we really worked hard on the sound of the album and you can look forward to a higher quality production. We started recording this album in November 2019. This took us quite an unexpected long time to complete due to the pandemic across the world.”
In comparison to the EP »Don’t Spare The Wicked« has a much broader sound ranging from speed metal to classic rock, as Fili Bibiano explains: “Some sections like in ‘Red Light Runner’ are heavily inspired by 70s rock bands. Overall I feel like we combined a lot of everything into this album and I do feel like we accomplished this goal. As I said previously, it is a more liberating and creative composition when compared to the first EP.”
The title track is placed as the very last song on the album and it’s also one of the fastest compositions on the record. Fili Bibiano knows the reason for that: “We decided to place that one last because like a book an album needs closure. I felt that this song was more of a statement and needed to be the last song you hear. We wanted to create a momentum with each of the songs and I feel that this song was the period at the end of our sentence. I would definitely say listen to ‘Don’t Spare The Wicked’ as the key song to get a feel for what we have to offer on this album. It showcases Chris’ incredible vocal range and it is one of my favorite compositions that I don’t get tired of listening to.”
Once again the guitar playing on the record is really outstanding … with lots of Blackmore’sque neo-classical passages thrown into the mix … at his young age Fortress’ guitarist is already a very accomplished player: “Blackmore is one of my favorite guitar players,” he states, “so it is very humbling to hear that I captured that sound. I felt that the EP didn’t really showcase my full capabilities and sometimes it is hard to capture that while trying to suit the needs of the music without overdoing it. I tried not to hold back as much on this one and incorporated more complex lead guitar playing and writing.”
The singing on the record is superb as well, Chris Nunez sounds more and more like a young Bruce Dickinson (with traces of Ronnie James Dio and Joe Lynn Turner) … “Chris has definitely improved over the years,” confirms Fili Bibiano, “and has worked hard on achieving his own style which we are still trying to find. I pushed him a lot harder on this one and it definitely paid off because he did an amazing job. Again, this album was much more free, so he had a lot to work with in terms of creativity and range. I agree, his voice definitely does sound reminiscent of Dickinson and Dio.”
Some tunes (like “Devil's Wheel” for example) sound a bit like a cross between »Straight Between The Eyes«-era Rainbow and late-80s Riot, is this description far off the mark? “No, I can agree with that,” laughs Bibiano, “in the song ‘Devil’s Wheel’ we were trying to capture a certain 80s heavy rock vibe with the heavy rhythm and feel of the song.”
“Children Of The Night”, on the other hand, would not have felt out of place on »Queen Of The Reich«, it's got a fantastic early Queensryche meeting Dio (»Holy Diver« period) vibe. “We wanted this one to be more anthemic and pulsing,” explains the guitarist. “Something you don’t hear much of anymore. And yes, it does have a Dio/Queensryche vibe to it.”
This time around Fortress are also using keyboards, but without sounding wimpy at all. “Yes, that is also something you don’t hear anymore,” adds Bibiano. “I wanted to bring that atmosphere into this album simply because it just adds much more depth into the music. And maybe it doesn’t sound wimpy because we’re not playing wimpy music, ha, ha.”
Albeit being an instrumental, “The Passage” might as well be considered more or less a classic (hard rock) ballad. The Scorpions were always great at penning ballads, so was it clear from the start that “The Passage” won't have lyrics? “’The Passage’ was a piece that I wrote when I was about 16 years old,” states the guitarist, “and I never did anything with it. I thought it would be a great addition to this album because it has a unique dark sounding vibe to it. Maybe if it had vocals, it could be considered a ballad. I love the Scorpions, so maybe in the future you might see something like that.”
Matthias Mader