Wednesday, August 24, 2011

ICS Vortex - Storm Seeker (2011)


Let me throw a few names out there. Dimmu Borgir. Borknagar. If you have your hands in both cookie jars, you must have something special to offer. So, as ICS Vortex ventures out to release his solo effort, "Storm Seeker," there are certainly high hopes around the world. But the real question is: What the hell is this album going to sound like? Dimmu Borknagar? One, both, or neither, it is sure to entertain.

Right out of the gate, you are blasted with progressive black metal. The kicks are fast and furious, while the guitars climb the scales on "The Blackmobile." The fusion of traditional black elements and psychadelic seventies rock vocals is a little strange at first, but comes into its own as the track progresses. As you come crashing into the solo in the breakdown section, it all begins to make sense. The drumming is the constant, beating down the doors of your perception. "Odin's Tree" introduces the bass into the mix, having been drown out in the opening track. The music is very one dimensional, rarely deviating from the basic chord progression. The vocals are well delivered, but lacking variation or true melody until the closing seconds.

The turn the album takes on "Skoal!" is a curious one. It's like a seventies prog rock anthem traveled forward in time to chill us out. There is a noticeable groove, and the presence of organ styled keys is truly trippy. Do I detect the twang of a mouth harp? Strange, but true. The bass line driven "Dogsmacked" is a step back to the progressive, but falls short of that fine line. The track is highlighted by the bass and guitar work in the breakdown, with darting notes flying back and forth across the spectrum. Unfortunately, the rest of the instrumental work falls flat, save for a rattling drum outro. The opening notes of "Aces" are promising, giving the darker sound to it all. And while the guitar work is precisely delivered and distorted, the vocal pattern has worn out it's welcome. The progressive, bordering on post-metal instrumentals are refreshing, taking a heavier turn with a bass backed solo. Even as the bridge harmony begins to win you over, a higher octave "wooo hooo" brings your smile back down.

"Windward" and "When Shuffled Off" do very little to reignite the flame, sounding more like b-sides from ancient Deep Purple or Blue Cheer than new compositions. There is simply no punch. The aptly titled "Oil In Water" is a track that describes itself perfectly. As we all learned in basic science, oil and water simply do not mix. And such is the case between the vocals and instrumental work, unable to blend together in a cohesive fashion. Even in the strongest of musical pieces, the vocals do nothing to help the cause. The eerie keyboard intro to the albums title track, mixed with lighter guitar tones is reassuring. As the bass joins in, you have a somewhat optimistic feel to the track. If only the track was a six minute instrumental. Gang vocals and old school prog rock harmonies dominate the track, burying the adept work in the process.

There is little more left to hear. "Flaskeskipper" is a barely tepid psychadelic jam fest. The opening riff is strong, with a sizable jump in the kick snare volume. But as the clean singing enters, the track grows stagnant, repeating the same measures over and over behind the caterwauling. The closing track, "The Sub Mariner" begins with some interesting midi-like synths. Perhaps you have, indeed, fallen into some alternate reality. But, as you soon realize, in this dimension or another, the track still goes nowhere. It builds with midi files on top of synthesizers, and more midi. It begs the question that Henry Rollins has asked of techno styled music: What came first, the drugs or the music?

To say that "Storm Seeker" is a disappointment isn't fair. For your expectations and reality are always completely separate entities. If this had come out sounding like a Dimmu b-sides release, it would be bothersome. If this was little more than recycled Borknagar riffs, it would be a travesty. So, I applaud ICS Vortex for striking out, and making an album that separates the man from his previous work. But has the apple fallen too far from the metal tree?


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