Tuesday, August 23, 2011

ICS Vortex - Storm Seeker (2011)

So, it just happens that I'm a massive fan of Borknagar's 1998 LP The Archaic Course, which was quite divisive for its time, driving away a number of the fans who had likely hoped for a more vicious and streamlined evolution in the vein of their s/t debut. I mention this, because it just might be my favorite album ever to feature the soaring, avian howls of bassist/singer ICS Vortex. A beautiful mesh of streaming, oft jarring folkish melodies and progressively textured compositions, it's one of those rarities that grew considerably in my estimation throughout years of listening, despite an initial, lukewarm reaction. Since then, Simen Hestnæs has been through the Arcturus years, all of the later Dimmu Borgir drama, worked within a number of smaller projects, and for certain cemented his inclusion in the rogues' gallery of Norwegian musicians to watch.

I mentioned The Archaic Course, because this new solo effort, Storm Seeker is about the closest he has come to that sound. Hestnæs vocals are the central focus here, and he really strains the pipes, with one of his wildest and higher pitched performances. He's joined here by a number of well regarded musicians, including drummer Asgeir Mickelson (Spiral Architect, Scariot and more) and lead guitarist Cyrus (Susperia), and has since turned this into a full band. The riffs here range from slightly less involved barrages circa The Archaic Course ("The Blackmobile" or "Odin's Tree") to a lot of slower, measured fare. In truth, Storm Seeker casts its nets more in the progressive rock field than metal, and while it might not possess the same variable nature as his fellows in Arcturus, there seems to be a lot of exploration here, or 'feeling out' where he might take the project in the future.

So this is pretty damned diverse. You've got a pure synthesizer prog piece in "The Sub Mariner", for example, or a number of post-hardcore inflected emotional rock pieces like "Oil in Water" which make use of an undercurrent of gleaming dissonance, but in a friendlier context than some of his Borknagar stuff. You've got straight, heavy handed prog rockers like "Windward" or "When Shuffled Off" that reek of Rush and Yes influence, and a few super flowing pieces with only tinges of metallurgy, like "Flaskeskipper" and "Dogsmacked" (I take it the latter is a play on words that mocks a certain American band...but I cannot be sure). The vocals and guitars do feel a mite overprocessed, but not so much as the sample I heard months ago, and since Vortex does a lot of the writing and recording himself, it's not such a big deal.

He's got some catchy as hell chorus bits strewn about this debut, often redolent of Solefald, or Kristoffer Rygg's work in the band Headcontrolsystem, and yet at other times he seems to wail out of control. Overall, I liked the production and the style he was taking, the range, and the layering of organs, rock guitars and Mickelson's dynamic percussion. No two songs here totally feel the same. But then, at the same time, there's a margin of disjunction that falls somewhat short of breathtaking. Storm Seeker is an interesting listen, sure to prove to fans of The Archaic Course or Sideshow Symphonies that the guy has landed on his feet, but it's not the striking sort of album that I felt I needed to repeatedly experience.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


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