ICS Vortex takes an unexpected turn

Something I always enjoy is when I put on an album for the first time, and what I hear coming from the speakers is entirely not what I expected. That happened when I first tackled the solo debut from ICS Vortex, who I knew from Borknagar and Dimmu Borgir, and since I didn’t read the promo materials before listening, I was kind of shocked by what I heard.

I guess I expected ghoulishness and black metal bombast, but instead I got a really well-played, nicely thought-out record that sounds like it could have been made in the ’70s. “Storm Seeker” as the album title even conjures that idea of hellish power, but the record is more like a tribute to the prog rock of four decades past, with some slight dashes of what the man is best known for producing in the black metal world. If you can wrap your head around an amalgamation of Enslaved, Ulver and Yes without getting sick to your stomach, then you might find a lot of enjoyment on this 11-cut album.

ICS Vortex (real name Simen Hestnæs) fled Borknagar after their 2000 album “Quintessence” to concentrate on bass duties and clean vocals with Dimmu. He did come back for one song on Borknagar’s altogether awful 2010 record “Universal,” and he’ll be with the group for their next album in 2012, which I hope is a little better than what we’ve been getting from them as of late. He exited Dimmu after their 2007 “In Sorte Diaboli” record, and he eventually went to work on a new Lamented Souls (his long-running doom band) effort that’s due this year. I know. That’s quite the all-over-the-map summary. But at least if you’re new to the man’s work, you got a few starter notes to go with. Oh, and the man stands, like, 8 feet, 10 inches. As Kenny Bania would say, “He’s huge.”

“Storm Seeker” actually gets off on a cheesy note with intro track “The Blackmobile,” but it’s fairly harmless for what it is. That leads into “Odin’s Tree” and the start of him digging back into Viking mythology and Pagan sounds. The song is spacious, melodic and pretty damn catchy, serving as a nice segue into “Skoal!” that I imagine is not about mouth tobacco. It has a nice Wacken sentiment though, with mouth harps, organs, and Vortex’s impressive croon that might even cause dudes who only listen to classic, AOR-style rock to become fans. “Aces” has some power metal built into its structure; “Windward” is a surprisingly sentimental song, where mentions his “unconditional love” for his wife and children, kind of in a way I’d expect Neil Peart to express himself lyrically; the title cut tastes a bit like Opeth mixed with Jethro Tull; and closing instrumental “The Sub Mariner” sounds like it came from Mark Mothersbaugh’s catalog, with its cool, sci-fi wooshiness and digital frame. Totally unexpected, but that’s the theme with which we’re playing.

Not all’s perfect on “Storm Seeker,” however. “Dogsmacked,” besides being a terrible song title, isn’t that strong of a track. The lyrics are a bit wonky, and the music is kind of bland, white bread rock. “Oil in Wate” has a pushy tempo and is one of the louder songs on here, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot considering it’s not a very good cut. It’s not terrible, but it isn’t anything I really want to hear again.

A few negatives aside, “Storm Seeker” is a pretty competent and, at times, rewarding record. I happen to really like ’70s-era prog, and my collection is jammed with Enslaved and Opeth records, and this is right along those lines. In fact, when I finish up here, I’m going to sit on the beach, read and listen to this record again. Mostly because I’m a gigantic dork.  Even if you shy away from Borknagar or Dimmu, and I know there’s a large segment of metal fans who do, don’t let that dissuade you from trying this on for size. I know I had my prejudgments, and those were dashed in an instant. I’d like to hear more from this project in the future, and considering ICS Vortex has assembled a full band for touring, and I assume recording purposes, there’s a good chance this is only this man’s first strike as a solo artist.

For more on ICS Vortex, go here: http://www.facebook.com/icsvortexofficial

To buy “Storm Seeker,” go here: http://www.cmdistro.com/Search/ics_vortex

For more on the label, go here: http://www.centurymedia.com/

My wife loves Viking metal

Let me tell a short story: Last night, as we were preparing to go to dinner, I had the new Einherjer album on, and as I am wont to do, I turned it off when my wife entered the room because I didn’t want to annoy her any more than necessary. But to my shock, she asked what it was and said that I should keep it on because she enjoyed it. Viking metal. She chose to listen to the album. Even after I left the room, she kept it playing until about a half hour later when she returned the player to me and said, “OK, I think that’s all I can take for now.”

My wife pays more attention to metal than she cares to admit. She’ll never be a fan, per se, but she absorbs it. Here’s proof: Today, she was published in the Pop Candy blog at USA Today by the fine and wonderful Whitney Matheson, who also is trying to learn more about metal. I am super psyched about this, not just because I love my wife, but because I HAVE BROKEN HER! Yeah! No longer will there be a time in our house when metal is not acceptable, and this is why. Seriously, I am really happy for her that she got published at such an awesome site, and I know she’s really keyed up about it as well.

Oh, and for anyone finding us for the first time because of Pop Candy, hello and welcome. Please look around and send me kind comments about the grammatical errors. And stop back later for my look at the new ICS Vortex album.

To find my wife’s piece about metal, go here: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/popcandy/post/2011/08/metal-monday-metal-selections-from-a-non-metal-fan/1