STORMKEEP – Galdrum (2020)REVIEW

A pure obsidian fang, hollowed and tall enough to spark lightning from the cloud-scraping pronged peak of its impenetrable taper. A mystic ebony housing in service of great pools boiling with glowing manna which grows… limbs within these oily iridescent healing fonts. For broken warriors and brutalized dragons alike its panacea and regeneration offers a treasured benevolence for anyone lucky enough to stumble upon a well-hidden portal when resting on a particular rock nearby. Even without any true love for the lore in description of high fantasy realms such as the Silver Marshes of the Forgotten Realms, an cryptic and imposing tower bearing freely generated oils of immortality and respite, full of limbs that suction to wounds and heal them, is an unforgettable visual from start to finish. Naming it Stormkeep is entirely apt for a session of high fantasy world building, the aesthetic of the unknowing castle is preserved in name by those who observe the constantly storming peak from outside its walls as it continues shocking all wary clouds that float past. The treasure within is for those who’d dig, venture, and perhaps even happen by chance upon a bit of the lifegiving magick its innards offer along the way. In discovery of music we’ve certainly all fallen into a pit of regenerative ooze now and then, perhaps living for a sound or style for years before the obsession defines use or, chokes us out with its endlessly fuming nonsense. Aurora, Colorado-based epic black metal act, and key presence within the Order of the Divine Light, Stormkeep represent a panel of niche enthusiasm in search of their own alchemical panacea or, the magic that would bless their vessel with regeneration enough to sustain that which has since dried up: High fantasy, keyboard and synth blazing early second wave black metal and the quickly mounted generation or two beyond. Their debut EP, ‘Galdrum‘ is certainly a nostalgic offering, a conglomerate of adventurer tones and sparkling hooks that have persisted in ear so long they’ve warped into something personal and perhaps defining.

You’ll find a lot of blank faces when it comes time to reflect upon the weirdos of the Norwegian, Swedish and Austrian maestros of nerdy folkish keyboard-tappin’ black metal prior to 1994 because lets be honest, most folks who’d discovered black metal back in the late 90’s wouldn’t have bothered to pull back a few years and even if they did, they weren’t necessarily willing to have fun with the early stages of bands like Gehenna, Abigor, or even the viking folk in Enslaved and Hades just yet. You will in fact find some precursor to what Stormkeep are offering here on ‘Galdrum’ when enraptured within the sublime graces of ‘First Spell’, ‘Verwüstung / Invoke the Dark Age’, and ‘Vikingligr Veldi’ (or, ‘Hordanes Land‘) yet that is a mere indication of dimensions and influences and one could assume a band including members of Wayfarer certainly has their own unique realm of precursors. If this all sounds a bit rough for the reality of a feathery, folkish-yet-stoic epic like “Glass Caverns of Dragon Kings” I would say look to Gallowbraid‘s ‘Ashen Eidolon’ for mystique, Caladan Brood‘s ‘Echoes of Battle’ for bluster and fantasy synth as these are distant generational genetic expression from a more clear North American perspective. Sure, add a dash of ‘Bergtatt’ when things get super dreamy and Dark Forest when they get a bit hairy but you’ve gotten the right idea here. ‘Galdrum’ is essentially what we’d have called atmospheric black metal before ‘epic’ made much sense in description of black metal rendering and a couple years before ‘symphonic’ had become broadly applied to the point of nonsense.

Where early Ulver, keyboards and melodicism meet there is typically a hint of Windir and you’ll find it most pronounced on the soaring harmonized clean-sung ballasts of “Of Lore” beyond the elaborate introductory salvo. If we’ve unraveled enough references to build ‘Galdrum’ the missing link is certainly the step from those aforementioned Celtic/Tolkien inspired atmospheric black metal records towards a band like Forteresse or, conveniently enough Isaac Faulk‘s own work in earlier Wayfarer. The black metal sections of this record are certainly inventive, needled over, and brimming with tightly packed riff ideas but their lofty melodic direction is only just that, a suggestion of where the wind intends to push. What drives Stormkeep into the realm of viably interesting atmospheric dungeon-plunging black metal lies in the synth/keyboard arrangements, the impressive rhythm section arrangements (primarily the drums) and the mystique all of this provides within alternating ten and six minute long intervals. “Lost in Mystic Woods and Cursed Hollows” is not at all the most glaringly vintage bit of dungeon synth invocation on ‘Galdrum’ but it is a keystone for the greater experience, where you’ve forgotten where the album had taken you a moment before because the artist crafts an engrossing passage to the next world, and in this case loops right back around to the start of a record that is truly easy to leave spinning for hours.

Though I’ve mentioned most all of the four pieces on this ~33 minute 12″ EP the one that just never stuck to me, “Lightning Frost”, is the only real argument on the plate that’d suggest they need to bake a bit longer before a full-length would make sense. If a full album meant a couple more of these elaborate black metal tarantellas it’d surely wear out its welcome as a bit of a ballroom twirl in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, the rhythmic interplay around ~1:55 minutes into the song is incredible, a stone-stepping swing you’d find in a lot of folk/viking metal made reverent and subtle in the best way possible. Mulling over this piece, socketing it into the heart of the album and with great consideration for the lasting effect of the whole record I exit ‘Galdrum’ impressed and undaunted. The cover art is stunning and the music is enchanting enough to return to time and again yet I hesitate internally for the sake of knowing there are more elaborate melodies and more cohesive motif-braced structures in the future. At present, an entirely satisfying listen and well-considered showing nonetheless. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (78/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Ván Records
RELEASE DATE:November 20th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Van Webstore
GENRE(S):Epic/Melodic Black Metal,
Atmospheric Black Metal

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