Stormkeep – Galdrum Review

The potential of a debut release is a magical thing. This year, I’ve been blown away by first-ever offerings, left dismayed and discouraged by initial encounters, and experienced decided mediocrity with hope for something better next time. Suffice it to say, I like writing reviews with no prior experience for a sound; the temptation to compare an act to what they once were is, to me, less exciting than the comparison to what they could be. And so, from the dark corners of the United States, I present to you Galdrum, the debut full-length from Stormkeep, who play symphonic black metal and have an awesome album cover. Now that you know as much as I did when I first hit play, let’s talk about the music.

Straight off the bat, it’s clear that Stormkeep are aiming to pepper a familiar black metal formula with some galloping, folky, dungeon-synth-y… pepper. Opener “Glass Caverns of Dragon Kings” is a sprawling creature, ten minutes long, that opens with grand synths before bursting free with upbeat, mid-paced tremolos that promise adventures to come. It’s a fun start to the album, but it’s the next ten-minute track, “Of Lore,” that really showcases the full breadth of Stormkeep’s talent. It’s got everything: synths (but not overpowering ones), acoustic guitars, Árstíðir lífsins-esque chanting, blackened rasps, tremolos aplenty, and enough ideas to successfully fill ten glorious minutes. Stormkeep are well-named; they’re keeping a storm in their studio, and “Of Lore” unleashes it in full.

The journey from “Glass Caverns of Dragon Kings” to “Of Lore” and beyond is a bit of an uneven one, though it’s to no fault of the performances throughout. Although “Glass Caverns of Dragon Kings” is a strong opener for the album, it creaks a little under its own weight, and doesn’t fully justify its length. Or maybe it does and my secondary concern is more to blame here, namely that the mixing for Galdrum is a little bit… wonky. On the whole, this is a quiet record that doesn’t really get the low-end support it needs to support the high energy of its players. I find it’s easy for my attention to wander, even when the riffs are sharp and icy, as they often are. The drumming in particular feels non-impactful, the bass largely buried, but the real kicker is that the vocals, impassioned rasps and shrieks, are largely given second-tier prominence in the mix, which robs the album of a lot of energy supplied by the skilled vocalist.

The thing is, the songwriting and performances on Galdrum are really good, and it’s an enjoyable record from start to finish. It’s a brief listen too, clocking in at no more than thirty-four minutes. I love the interplay between synths, acoustic guitars, and icy black metal. Given my earlier comparison to a certain Icelandic/German trio whose name I can’t be bothered to type out again on my English keyboard, I was a bit surprised to learn that Stormkeep aren’t Scandinavian themselves, given the style of music they’re making here. I come back to “Of Lore” again (mostly because it’s a four-song album and this one proves all of my points effectively), where soaring cleans, shifting tempos, and melodic tremolos carry the album as assuredly as you might expect from genre experts.

A strong slice of symphonic black metal undercut by production issues – it feels like too familiar a cry, but I have hope. Stormkeep demonstrate a great skill for their craft on an album that’s a bit uneven, but ultimately satisfying. I’ve enjoyed Galdrum a good deal, and am looking forward to more from Stormkeep. Bring on the glass caverns! Summon the dragon kings!

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Ván Records
Releases Worldwide: November 20th, 2020

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