Sound — 8
To those who don't know ICS Vortex, he's known as 'that bloke from Dimmu Borgir who did the singy bits'. Well after leaving on apparently bad terms, there wasn't much left for him to do. But recently in the last year, he's been busy, rejoining Borknagar as a live vocalist alongside Vintersorg and Lazare and recorded an album. Well here's the album. (that intro was rubbish, I know).
Anyway, apart from 2 released tracks and the knowledge that ICS is a tenor of skill and renown, there wasn't much to go on with what the album would be like. Would it be like Arcturus, all spacey and majestic? Would it be more traditional black metal? Would it be like his first band, Lamented Souls? Nope, it's not like any of that.
I guess the closest thing I could use to describe it would be Black'n'roll, or maybe blackened heavy metal. It mixes the high ended, falsetto-bordering clean vocals, stomping riffs, vocal delivery (and occasional lyric) of 70's/80's hard rock (lots of aw yeahs and so on, even songs about gambling and cars) with the speed, minor key melodies and 'atmospheric' (i.e., highly distorted, drum hating) production of black metal. So it may seem weird to at the moment to but it works. Much of the album is fairly enjoyable to listen to, having those classic 80's rhythms that are always fun to headbang to, the spontaneous dual guitar lead and even a bit of Hammond organ thrown into the mix. The song 'Windward' perfectly exemplifies this genre melding. But there are songs which are more BM influenced, such as opener, the hilarious titled 'Blackmobile', being an energetic 3/4 groove with the addition of some Dissection-esque guitar leads. The song shares more in common with the sound of the Borknagar album, Quintessence, of which Vortex provided vocals for, even having random inserts of the words 'space and time'.
But while the songs are good, I guess the album is let down a little bit by the production. Okay, so its not one of those underground 'recorded in a toilet' mixes, where everything is a stream of treble and distortion, nor is it like that Carcass album where the drums were accidentally made awful. The main complaint is those old chestnuts in BM of the bass and the drums. The drums are well recorded and spectacularly well played, but there is little to no bass response, with the focus being on the cymbals, hence making the snare sound unnoticeable and the bass drum almost non-existent (unless you have really good speakers/headphones). The bass guitar has a similar problem, with the low low notes being drowned out by guitar and the higher notes being right in your face when they occur. But that also works in the albums favour, because of the more technical approach to bass guitar that is featured, such as on the ballad-like title track, 'Storm Seeker', which combines progressive sounds of Enslaved, 70's folk/prog and Vortex's proclamation-like vocals to create a very awesome semi-ballad about being a sailor at sea (I'm sure its nothing to worry about, erm).
Lyrics — 8
Vortex is a well known tenor vocalist in the extreme metal scene, so a solo album is undoubtedly going to feature his most personal performances. Although not reaching the high notes quite so much as he did in Dimmu or Arcturus, he keeps his penchant for layering well constructed harmony lines over most of his stuff. Although I wouldn't say the vocals meld as well as they could with the instruments, what ICS has done is re-invented his own form of proto-power metal, so its understandably not quite as instantly memorable nor does it provide a huge adrenaline surge on first listen, like Gamma Ray or Helloween. Unlike most metal vocalists, Vortex takes a more operatic approach to vocals, but without adding extreme vibrato to his voice, so in a way it seems less typical and more interesting.
Lyrically, Vortex stated that the songs are a conglomeration of his past work with other bands and the different things he likes. So there are songs that sound Borknagar-ish ('Blackmobile', 'Odin's Tree') with their philosophical, otherworldly ideas and lyrics, and a song like 'Aces' which is about gambling. In his own words, its 'drawn to the power of the dark side, I decided to include lighter topics into the mix this time to separate Storm Seeker' from Sideshow Symphonies' (Arcturus album): The Blackmobile' about Mopar and Aces' about gambling are the result. Love songs, really.'.
Overall Impression — 7
Although this album isn't anything monumental, ground-breaking, overtly extreme or special, its very fun. Its also a sign that Vortex could be doing a good many things within the next few years, I for one would love a new Arcturus album, fingers crossed. But if you feel that traditional 80's power metal is too fluffy or if black metal is too caught up in being underground, then do try Stormseeker for a solid listen.
Songs to look out for: 'Blackmobile', 'Skaol!', 'Dogsmacked', 'Aces', 'Windward', 'Oil In Water', 'Stormseeker', 'Flaskeskipper', 'The Submariner'.