I went into the new STORMHAMMER album, Echoes of a Lost Paradise, with what seems to be a running trend for me, not knowing a thing about the band to begin with. A quick search shows me that Echoes features a new singer, Jürgen Dachl, and a new lead guitarist in Bernd Intveen, along with the return of previous drummer Chris Widmann. A change in two or more of the most salient members can easily sink a good power metal band, so I proceeded with caution.
Echoes begins with “Remembrance”, the usual short intro that many discs have nowadays, which is quite stirring and dramatic, almost like that of a movie more than an album. I would, however, have been a lot more charitable in my estimation of it if the first “real” song, “Glory Halls of Valhalla”, didn’t also start out with nearly 20 seconds of subdued intro as well. As it stands, I usually skip it when listening to the album. Upon my first listen of “Halls”, I paused it near the end to attend to something else and immediately found myself humming the song’s chorus to myself. While the album lacks a catchy “radio” song to sell people on the album, “Halls” is probably the one that will serve that purpose for you, and I can’t in good faith fault a band for not writing a poppy single to sell the disc on.
At this point I was feeling strong vibes of REBELLION, both in Dachl’s vocals as well as the the general lyrical and riff content. Where REBELLION has no shortage of vocal hooks, however, Echoes is more of a riff-based album, with moments like the main riff of the title track invoking the grandiose Viking licks of AMON AMARTH. Said track is also a good example of the sparse but notable keyboard work on the album, which provides some of my favorite melodies, especially in the slower “Into Darkest Voice”.
“Fast Life” is exactly the kind of track you would expect, with a pleasing diversity of riffs that carry the song. However, “Leaving”, is where the record hits its first stumbling block for me. While not a bad song, there’s something uninspiring about the vocals, almost as though it were written for a different singer and Dachl wasn’t sure how to approach it. This is quickly remedied by “Bloody Tears” which has one of the best vocal performances on the album, and then “Holy War” which IS the best vocal performance, and encapsulates everything great about this album, from the keyboards to the PARADISE LOST-esque melodic riffs, it’s simply a killer song. And the next one, “Black Clouds”, is almost equally as good, with a blazing dual keyboard/guitar solo and fist-pumping chorus.
This far into the album, Echoes continues to deliver, with a great groove and surprising keyboard solo in “Promises”, and “Stormrider” being another up-tempo jam with a twist toward the end into a haunting piano melody and harsher vocals providing another moment that reminded me of PARADISE LOST.
While I would cite the vocals as one of the occasional weak points of the album, I unexpectedly found the near-ballad “The Ocean” quite enjoyable despite never liking that style of song. It’s another track that allows the keyboard to shine through, and contains an oddly personable and vulnerable vocal performance that contrasts to some of the more epic numbers. I found myself quite taken with the consistent quality of this record, and can tell from nuances in the guitar and drum work that I will likely be listening to it for a long time to come.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Glory Halls of Valhalla”, “Bloody Tears”, “Holy War”, “Black Clouds”, “Stormrider”, “The Ocean”