Imagine, if you will, the most glorious display of loot your mind can conjure. A veritable bounty of treasure, well earned after sailing on wings of tomorrow to the halls of mountain kings, courting the queens of the reich and awakening guardians, fighting tooth and nail to the last command. An endless display of gold, gems, and precious jewels awaits, buried beneath the surface only by the sands of time. For heavy metal, the 1980s has time and again proven to be such a horde of wealth for those afflicted with the incureable desire for big riffs, dynamic vocals, creative songwriting, and an indisputable love for the craft of sculpting fantastical worlds – all whilst never losing sight of the primary goal of rocking the hell out. It’s a journey in its own right just seeing how deep the rabbit hole goes: Not only are the depths of this trove seemingly bottomless, but the amount of genuine excellence to be mined from within its lower chasms is, to put it mildly, mind-boggling.
Released for the first time in 2021, Waiting For The Night is a compilation of recordings Fortress made between 1984 and 1988 – arguably heavy metal’s most prolific and productive span of time – and it sounds every bit of its era as one could hope. Describing it as littered with lofty synths, some absolutely brilliant lead work, creative, natural song structures, and an inspired vocal performance from frontman Ted Heath would do justice to but half of Fortress’s dynamic. Not only are the key factors in the more white collar, “sophisticated” brand of U.S. heavy metal present, but there’s an entire blue collar side to the album from the band’s L.A. roots that isn’t afraid to just rock the hell out and have a good time. Waiting For The Night stays grounded to the pulse of city streets, neon lights, and suspiciously sticky barroom tables from the likes Dokken, along with a smattering of radio-friendly AOR tendencies, all while reaching for the stratospheric escapism of Savatage, Pretty Maids, and even a bit of Europe: It’s a formula that hits an indisputable jackpot, creating an ideal alchemical blend for an until-now unearthed 80s gem.
Within seconds of the introductory riff to album opener “Fire Burning In Me,” Fortress cockily show their hand. All the elements are out on the table: Those synths accentuate the riff with no subtly and no apology. The drum sound is a bit bizarre, perhaps due to the remastering process, yet the hyper-intensive pop of the snare fits like a catskin glove over the hard driving rhythms once the ears acclimate to the overall well-recovered production of the long-lost tapes. The lead guitars bubble up in bursts of inspiration between phrases like molten steel flirting with the boiling point: The guitars are simply overflowing the cauldrons with a sizzling, radiant flame. Then, after cooking on the sheer heat of the song for a spell, that target of specific temperature is reached when the solo sections come ’round: The flurrying fingers sear the fretboards with this slick ‘n’ piping hot buttery tone as the notes fly out of control. Just when you think it’s the last wild slam of the whammy bar, the guitar switches tack back to another brain-melting shredfest. It’s as though Kevin Reyes is racing against himself, constantly one-upping in a neck-and-neck sprint for the checkered flag, all while just dripping with bold, cocksure style. Those stacks of organ-like synths never relent, providing a rich, scenic soundscape that just keeps the momentum going for one wild ride of an opener.
If the Cobra Kai production team are about their druthers, they’ll dish out unfathomable sums of cash, a fleet of vintage Ferraris, and a lifetime supply of Coors Banquet to Fortress in order to secure the rights to “When Will The Fighting End” for the upcoming fourth season. Whether you’re in need a final hour, a last hurrah, or just a good old-fashioned training montage, every single second of this song has you covered. The tempo is a pure iron pumping, car-lifting, fuel-injected motivator of an engine taken to maximum octane with triumphant riffs, victorious keys, and the unchained living beast of a lead guitar. The vocals get a steroid treatment of harmonies in the infectious chorus – Fortress are throwing in all the bells ‘n’ whistles, and, what’s more, they know just how to use them to their maximum advantage. Even the syntheziers get their moment in the spotlight with one helluva keyboard solo that emerges from the tails of the rocketing guitar comet. No tickling the ivories here, Chris Turbis just hammers away at those sweet, sweet black ‘n’ whites in a passionate explosion of inspired playing – even his choice in tone to something that resembles a ragtime, barroom piano is a particular stroke of brilliance, adding a fresh new dynamic to the already lively and uplifting anthem. Harmonized guitars hit the twin lead target to guide the song back to that unstoppable chorus, with Heath at the ready to drive it all on home as the band fires off all pistons to max capacity.
Holy shit, that song rules.
I mean, it really does. Listen again, then we’ll proceed.
No, it’s okay. We can listen one more time.
As a treat.
After skipping back and replaying “When Will The Fighting End” six or seven times in a row, we find ourselves gifted with the title track: “Waiting For The Night” plays off the elements we’ve come to know and love about the band up to this point. However, as the album continues to unfold its layers, it becomes apparent just how skilled Fortress are as songwriters. While they seem to go all out on most everything, it’s the songs themselves that really shine through. It never falls into the traps of repetition – every track has its own identity, even if the core of its DNA is the same as the one before. “Feel Your Touch” throws a bit of a curveball with a slower track that shows the AOR influence on the band. All those elements that made the faster tracks so strong are given ample breathing space for a bit – the guitars fingerpick away over the reverb of the synths floating lazily behind the vocals. The chorus leaps up in proper fashion with a bit of energy; Fortress know how to execute this legendarily difficult type of song without losing the interest of the listener they so valiantly fought hard for over the previous three tracks.
The back half of the record kicks things back to top gear. While it subtly becomes apparent that Waiting For The Night is indeed (technically) a compilation by the slight discrepancies in the recording qualities, the remastering process does a pretty bang-up job of making everything sound mostly uniform unless you’re sniffing really hard. The song quality never ceases, across the inspiring “Never Look Away” to the Iron Maiden feel of the main riff on “Changes In Your Mind.” In fact, its the latter that confirms Fortress were a band meant for a similarly huge stage (and they knew it, just check some of their set design in the pictures here). They’ve got the more radio friendly pop hooks of the time, but never included at the expense of losing their heaviness – the pulsing feel of “The Cycle Life” is pure 80s steel coupled with just a shade more of that earlier hinted-at Maiden influence. It’s got the “woaaaah’s” and the undeniably head-bobbing rhythm, accentuated with a sizzling shuffle on the drums; all giving way to wailing guitars that synch on cue when nothing less than maximum power will do. The conclusion to the song just hits this riding off into the sunset vibe – but Fortress aren’t finished quite yet. The final track, “Time To Tell,” opens with some of those glorious Europe-sounding synths, setting the stage for one anthem of a closer. Fortress pay off in full, hitting that slower mid-tempo with Heath just wailing away about not waiting for tomorrow over empowering backing vocals – if anything, Fortress are all about seizing the day and holding it as it should be: fast and tight. The guitars are never to be overlooked, as Reyes still gets his final hurrah in the spotlight with a shreddy solo that adds to the fairwell feels in the concluding moments. It’s a fitting closer to the album that must, like all things, eventually and unfortunately come to an end. Any chance of Fortress releasing new material in the future? While it’s probably not likely, well, time will tell.
I won’t pretend to be particularly well-versed in the happenings of the contemporary power metal scene over in Europe. However, I am well aware of the trend over the last few years where these bands have been incorporating an AOR approach to power metal and, from what I’ve heard of it anyway, they’ve mostly fallen fairly flat to my palette. Fortress manage to take the greatest aspects of west coast traditional heavy (leaning on the uplifting, proto-power side) and album-oriented rock into their alloy and fuse them seamlessly with an immaculate weld that holds just as strong well over thirty years after it was first cast in the fires of the Great Forge that was the 1980s. If more of those aforementioned power metal bands could capture the essence of the gift that lies at the heart of Waiting For The Night, I guarantee that I could tell you a hell of a lot more about that scene. Thanks, Fortress. I needed this one. Never close your eyes – it ain’t over yet.
Waiting For The Night is now available to order on CD.