Going into this album, it feels to me that Sound Storm is at a critical point. While not wet behind the ears, they are still a comparatively young band and Vertigo is only their third official full-length album. This is a point where they could get stuck in a rut and not break into the big leagues, or really start to make a name for themselves. If Vertigo is impressive, they may take a stronger step into the spotlight. But if not, they may fall to obscurity. So how does Sound Storm walk this line, and what might their futures hold?
Just before I really get into things, I want to say that I really like the opening song, the titular Vertigo. It’s a slower, instrumental piece that sets a mood for the whole album. It’s both grandiose and menacing in a way that drew me into the album from the start. I actually think that grandiose is a good word to describe the album as a whole. Each track is powerful, with a great attention to variety and tempo. Added to that, a choir backing in almost every track gives it all a larger than life vibe. What makes the tracks so consistently strong is the balance they have. The main vocalist is clean and melodic while some backing vocals are heavy; the guitar work is predominantly more upbeat and fantastical, but with thrashing accompaniment. There’s a mix of traditional epic power metal with something more like thrash metal. There’s a risk involved with this kind of fusion; it could have sounded terrible. But Sound Storm makes it there own and does exceptional work in creating a unique sound.
Part of the reason all the variations work so well is because of the use of tempo in both songs and in the album structure. While many songs are fast-paced and heart-pounding, they take time to slow down, get quieter, and allow for the mood to build up again. Similarly, the tracks are laid out so that there is a bit of a break between the action. Not every song is of the same fervent pace and it keeps the album from getting samey or stale. The variations provide nuance to the songs and really let me enjoy them as individual entities and as a part of a whole experience.
I find it rather difficult to pick flaws out, though there are a few. I feel like the album is front loaded. The first few songs are fantastic, with elements that set each one apart and an iconic aspect that keeps me coming back to them specifically. However, that latter songs, while good and still technically impressive, are less pronounced. I find that if I’m not listening intently to each one, I’ll fail to recognize when one song starts and another begins until I’m halfway into the next one. One reason for that is because the lyrics are hard to hear amidst the music. I wouldn’t normally get hung up on this, but apparently there’s a whole story in the lyrics. It seems to be about a family on the island Vertigo and the father of the family’s descent into darkness and ruin for his home. Maybe. Honestly even reading the lyrics it was hard to put together what it all meant. One issue is that the singer sings as different characters, often in the same song, so following the story is difficult. I feel that as a listener, I shouldn’t have to read along with the lyrics to grasp what the tale is about (see Apex from Unleash the Archers). Still, it’s interesting, and apparently they have plans to turn it into some kind of mini-series for Netflix. Something to look forward to.
If I’m being honest, I don’t typically come to music for its story, and Vertigo is excellent at being music. The work Sound Storm did here is impeccable and will be something that I return to many times over. There’s something here for any power metal fan. Whether you’re in for the grandiose, sweeping music, the blend of styles, or deciphering the story, I believe this album is well worth your time. I hope that Vertigo pushes Sound Storm into a more prominent place and let’s more of the world see their work.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Recommended bands: Wintersun, Nightwish, Epica