Shaman, the debut album from Swedish metallers Eldkraft, is not an album to make judgements over on just one listening. It is a release which unveils more depths which each venture into its heart whilst making a continually stronger persuasion too as understanding of its imagination becomes more apparent. Whether it will eventually light your fires and capture the imagination is not given but certainly the album finds a stronger welcome after being given time to state its declaration.
Shamen fluctuates between outstaying its welcome and thrilling the senses, when it hits pinnacles it is an impressive and enthralling beast but just as often even with that given time to make its case, it loses or evades the ability to spark anything other than passing acknowledgement of the skilled craft and atmospheric adventure at work. It walks the line between good and great but at times with equal ease provokes the upper limits of so-so. Released via Metal Blade Records it is still an encounter deserving of at least one in depth exploration of its epic/pagan metal seeded expanse though and individuals will find more to exalt upon than others for sure.
Formed in 2011 by J. Sandin (vocals/keys), H. Carlsson (guitar/bass), and N. Fjellström (drums), the three having reached the end of the line with previous projects and bands coming together to embark on a different creative path, Eldkraft soon fused a foundation of epic metal with influences from ancestral musical traditions of the North and spiritual guidance of its hermetic crafts. Their experimental invention bore demo recordings which came to the attention of Metal Blade who signed them up for their first album. Consisting of ten big powerful songs, Shamen is a striking confrontation, which despite offering a challenge across its presence is one you cannot ignore when face to face with its muscular and intensive atmospheric narrative.
The opening chant and call of Gammal Krigare engages and invites ear and thoughts immediately, the following fire borne guitar aiding the sonic and epic sculpting as the song emerges from the heated atmosphere with firm rhythms and potent melodies flaming the skies. Into its more than decent stride the vocals of Sandin unleash their operatic teased growl and instantly pulls up the song from its appeal whilst becoming accustomed to his distinct tones is a priority. His voice is not one which personally we will claim to have won us over but like the release it finds its place in the scheme of things on the album and it has to be said at times drives the release to stronger heights.
From the satisfying start the following Undrets Tid raises things with stirring intensity and invention. The initial charge of distant vocal harmonies, rampaging rhythms from Fjellström, and acidic sonic temptation from the guitars makes a heady initiation into its potent enterprise and energy. The rhythmic persuasion of the track is riveting and ensures greater focus on an otherwise enjoyable but unnecessarily reserved journey through emotive and haunting scenery which is something again which can be said about next up Fate’s Door. Less urgent but no more restrained in its fevered passion and sonic maelstrom of intensity, the song continues the strong if underwhelming start, though throughout as with most songs there are elements at play which you urge to grab the reins and steer the song into a more dramatic and forceful horizon.
There is a raw and caustic wash to the guitar across the album which makes an appetising feel throughout especially in the Swedish sung songs where the natural guttural coaxing of the language find a union with the coarse touch of the guitar such as in Moder Liv Till Grav and Ursprungskällan. Both songs graze and enflame the senses with acidic guitar craft which is skilfully impressive whilst the vocals and heavy melodic elements paint the rhythmic canvas with rich sonic colours across their individual gaits. The second of the two is a slower emotive sinew clad embrace which sparks deeper interest if not passion, though both aspects are treated with their successor Patterns. From an acoustic invitation which already has infectiousness to it lacking anywhere before, the song is a vibrant mix of incendiary guitar imagination and ear teasing beats driven by a return to English spoken lyrical expression and equally decretive vocals. With a slight blackened breath to its folk carved might it is a scintillating endeavour with strings and keys adding another exhausting and thoroughly pleasing wash of epic grandeur.
Once the black metal coated Gränslös Gräns leaves its slow crawling intensity over the listener the album brings out its greatest moment in the outstanding shape of Grey Man. With bruising riffs from bassist Carlsson opening up the intrigue, arguably the first time we truly hear and feel his presence normally sheltered in the brawling intensity crowding the ear, the song through imaginative adventure and thrillingly structured invention creates a tale of invigorating and stimulating colour. It is an exceptional song where everything connects with craft and clarity to ignite a fire inside for its originality. Equally it blatantly shows up what some of the other songs lack too such as the closing pair of Dödens Famn and Rimthurs which feel a little uninspired in the wake of the song, though the haunting meditative chanting of the final track does trigger potent visions.
Shamen is a very decent album but fails to make the impression and light the passions which at times it suggests it was capable of. Well worth a journey through though if only for the triumph of a handful of its songs.
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