Stormkeep – Tales of Othertime Review

There are countless black metal albums that I’ve more or less glossed over while browsing Bandcamp’s Best Sellers tab, and Stormkeep’s 2020 debut Galdrum was no exception. Looking back, I recall its gorgeous and densely detailed art catching my eye, but was vexed by the hype surrounding what I sampled as an homage to Dimmu Borgir’s Stormblåst with added dungeon synth flair. Now that I’ve properly engaged with it, I still qualify its success as hype-rolled (mainly thanks to the participation of members from Wayfarer and Blood Incantation1), but can also recognize that Twelve was right in that it was a promising if “uneven” record. But Tales of Othertime is an entirely different beast. Its pre-baked hype squad will undoubtedly boost its popularity, but its status as one of the most fun and listenable black metal records of the year will propel it there regardless.

Tales of Othertime’s main selling point over its predecessor is its sheer momentum. Where Galdrum would too often pump the fun brakes with down-tempo passages and self-serious dungeon synth sections, Tales of Othertime is relentlessly entertaining. Stormkeep’s songs are as generously large here as they ever were, yet nearly every second of them is now spent dishing out heaps of thrashy, melodic black metal riffs and engaging tempo changes. Songwriting that once felt loose and meandering is now weighted with dramatic intent, reprising and expanding ideas into climaxes that feel larger than life. Stormkeep may heavily borrow influences in crafting their identity — there are the obvious whiffs of Emperor and Windir, along with the brassy bombast of Bal-Sagoth and the Vortex-ian vocal grandeur of Borknagar — yet it all culminates in a singular and engrossing experience.

The record itself is paced exceptionally well, structured as four main compositions occasionally spaced by a symphonic or acoustic interlude. Each one possesses a uniquely infectious identity ranging from cosmic mysticism (“The Serpent’s Stone”) to sweeping, Vallendusk-esque nostalgia (“Eternal Majesty Manifest”) and straightforward blackened aggression (“The Seer”). These tracks are all notably distinct, yet all carry Stormkeep’s trademark brand of dense songwriting, making each one feel more replayable and rewarding than most whole records. The lyrics play a large role in this. Where Wizardthrone recently made a joke out of symphonic black metal tropes, Stormkeep embraces them in a celebration of joyously overwrought fantasy narration, delivered by Grandmaster Otheyn Vermithrax Poisontongue (Blood Incantation and Wayfarer’s Isaac Faulk). His perfect clarity has ensured that I’ll be randomly shouting phrases like “A WIZARRRRD, WISE AND POWERFUL!” around my house for quite some time.

In terms of negatives, there’s not a lot worth speaking of. I personally do not think I would miss the instrumental interludes were they to be excised from the record, but they are still quite beautiful in their own right and act as refreshing palate cleansers between the mammoth black metal tracks. It sports a handful of mixing foibles as well, with some intriguing performances confusingly buried in the background, most notable with one of the guitar solos in “The Seer.” Otherwise, Tales of Othertime is a great-sounding black metal record, representing a huge leap over the wonky production that plagued Galdrum. It captures the grit of classic black metal while still delivering instrumental balance and precise tones. Said precision is especially important as Stormkeep is built for speed, with the rhythm section often wandering close to the realms of thrash and melodic death metal with gleeful abandon.

For all my praise, Tales of Othertime is, truthfully, a fairly straightforward melodic and symphonic black metal record. Yet it’s so exceedingly rare for such a boilerplate record in this genre to captivate me on this level that I can’t deny that Stormkeep has created something truly special here. It’s immensely fun in a way that black metal almost never manages for me outside of more novel or genre-adjacent acts like Bal-Sagoth, yet is deep and dense enough to draw me in for countless replays full of discovery. Is Tales of Othertime the best black metal record of the year? Not quite; it has some serious competition in 2021. But it’s really, really close, and for many people, it will undoubtedly land that top spot come list time. It will certainly find its way into my rankings, which is no small feat for a mid-November release.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Ván Records Official | Bandcamp
Releases Worldwide: November 19th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. Seriously, there is a huge chunk of Metal Twitter that will fall down and worship at the altar of any band who mentions that a Blood Incantation member was involved in their project in any way. I love the band too, but Jesus Fucking Christ, they have a level of rabid fandom that’s usually reserved for anime dweebs and Timothée Chalamet stans.
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