Shaman is the debut album from Sweden’s Eldkraft, a group who attempt to unite the ancient and mystic with the epic and contemporary. Their conceptual influences are Norse mythology and pagan rituals, especially those concerned with transition, growth and spiritual journeys. Their sound, however, does not have the folksy old-fashioned quality that one might expect; instead, they have gone for modern production and complex instrumentation that makes them sound considerably more grand and expansive than one would expect from a three-piece. This combines to make Shaman a strong and sometimes startling debut.
The album is not without flaws. J. Sandin, who performs all of the vocals, is not consistent in his performance, and some of the layering choices are odd. The vocals are the one element of the album that sound over-produced. Some vocal layers are too distant while others are brought too starkly to the fore, and sometimes the way the different vocal parts are folded together can sometimes be jarring. There are other moments where is works well, and most often when the vocals are left alone, Sandin’s voice can stand on its own just fine (his snarls are especially fine). This indicates a bit of nervousness, and a cooler head and looser reign will produce better results in the future.
Another major criticism I have of Shaman is it’s pacing and length. At a towering 55 minutes, the album is undeniably excessive, and while there is no single song that stands out as obviously the weakest, some judicious cutting would have served the album well. The moody tone of many of the songs and mid-tempo, even woozy pacing can also make the album drag.
When Shaman is at it’s most stirring, it is also its strongest. “Fate’s Door” is driven forward by a powerful march and military drumming, making is a great track to pump a fist along to. “Modor liv til grav” is another excellent example of a song that’s emotive, even soulful, but constantly pressing forward and full of energy. The blackened elements on this song are also strong, adding a crisper tone and emotional bleakness that suits the album well.
The final track, “Rimthurs,” is a bit out of place: an atmospheric track composed of deep, gutteral chanting and ambient effects, it stands out on the rest of the album and belies the clean, modern aesthetic of a lot of the songs. While it certainly wouldn’t be out of place on most pagan or Viking metal albums, it does go against the aesthetic that Eldkraft have established for most of the album.
There is a lot to pick apart on Eldkraft‘s debut, Shaman, but in this case it is an example nitpicking out of affection. There is a lot of potential here for a unique approach to a familiar aesthetic, and little would make me happier than watching this band continue to innovate and thrive. With stricter, more brutal editing, a leaner album, and additional creative confidence, I suspect their next album will be a much more polished gem to Shaman’s rich yet rough ore.