ICS Vortex - Storm Seeker
Century Media
Progressive Metal
11 songs (44:35)
Release year: 2011
Century Media
Reviewed by Goat

Known as the voice of Dimmu Borgir, Borknagar, and Arcturus, for so long now has Simen Hestnæs played his niche role in Norwegian metal as journeyman vocalist extraordinaire that the thought of him as anything other than a kind of add-on is rather outlandish at first. Yet so clearly has Simen developed his own style, his unmistakeable voice the main reason that many have for listening to the various projects he’s been a part of, that a solo album makes perfect sense. And Storm Seeker does make sense, best explained as a fusion of modern Borknagar and Arcturus that seems rather samey on first listens but soon shows its personality and variety. There’s only the very barest hints of black metal dotted here and there, songs generally being a catchy prog metal style with aspects of folk, doom, and groove all thrown in. And indeed, this is more about the catchy than the prog – don’t expect the astral voyages of Sideshow Symphonies, for example...

But do expect some quality songwriting, and do expect your attention to be held tight. The opening catchy rumble of The Blackmobile is about as heavy as things get, a rambunctious stomp through melodic terrain driven by Simen’s voice and the only track on the album to feature blastbeats. It’s worth taking a while to praise Vortex for his instrumentation as well as voice – he played guitars, bass and keyboards on the album, with drums provided by fellow drummer-for-hire Asgeir Mickelson and guest appearances from Susperia guitarist Terje Andersen and pianist/organist Arne Martinussen. Simen’s playing is excellent, giving stirring anthems like Odin’s Tree a solid backing to his vocal exclamations. The folky jangle of the brief Skoal! may suggest a sub-Korpiklaani drinking song, but it’s at once tasteful and euphoric, an added high note to Simen’s voice giving it a gleeful air enhanced by the playful music. Elsewhere, the upbeat stomp of Dogsmacked and Aces, and the wistful gloom of Oil In Water are solid offerings, but it’s the six-minute proggy meander of the title track that I’d have liked to see more of, more rock than metal with a touch of folk in vocals and flute and a sense of ambition that some of the other tracks lack.

All in all, it’s not an album full of standout songs, but it’s an album that works as a whole, a collection of songs similar in tone but different in style. The biggest surprise is probably instrumental outro The Sub Mariner, rather lovely keyboard ambience very different to the rest of the album and something that could well bear further experimentation for future ICS Vortex releases. Obviously, none of this will appeal if you find Vortex’s talents something of a vacuum, but fans will eat this up, and it’ll grow on anyone thanks to the strength of his performance and the solid songwriting.

Killing Songs :
The Blackmobile, Odin’s Tree, Skoal!, Aces, Storm Seeker, Flakeskipper, The Sub Mariner
Goat quoted 79 / 100
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