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Let's get this out of the way first: Summoning don't really sound much like LOTR. They sound more like a soundtrack to a well-meaning but nonetheless terribly cliched RPG. Whenever this comes on the first thing that enters my mind is "Your party enters a Tavern. You see: bartender." Or things along that line, anyway.
However, the thing with me is that I love my cliched fantasy stuff. Whether it's a computer game or a ridiculously long trilogy of books, I can't get enough of that stuff. I've always wondered why there haven't been any musicians who have successfully captured that sort of otherworldly, fantastically epic scope that my favourite fantasy novels- Feist and Wurst's series set in the land of the Tsurani, Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books, or even Robin Hobb's Solider Son trilogy- have done so well. I liken my search for that elusive bit of music to any number of epic fantasy novels that involve traveling for a very long time in search of something, which is to say: every epic fantasy novel.
Summoning's style is ridiculously epic; it sacrifices a few other elements to achieve this but overall I think it's worth it. Any attempts at effective riffing are removed in favour of a huge amount of keyboards- this is truly an album that's reliant on the keyboards, and I'm really glad that Summoning found some good horn/string samples to use- the horn, piano and string lines flying over some nice but overall far in the background tremelo guitar stuff, while the excellent drums pelt out some really nice patterns that make everything even more grandiose. The songs don't really change a great deal, generally picking two or three epic themes and swapping through them in the songs- no attempt at changing tempos here or anything, just long, dignified and very, very grand themes that slowly unfold and build throughout the song.
I imagine that description probably annoys the shit out of quite a few people, certainly a lot of people will see this album as boring; but it's been executed incredibly well and overall I think it owns pretty damn hard. I would hesitate to call this album exciting in a typical sense- much of this album utilises the same tempo and time signature- but it's just so freakin' HUGE. "The Mountain Kings Return" builds up the tension with some fairly simple lute runs before things get loud and vaguely sad- hard to describe anything Summoning do here as remotely depressing, really- and it's "doomed warriors ride out for battle" atmosphere is impeccably executed.
That's not the peak of this album, though. The best song, and a fairly good example of Summoning's brilliance despite their shortcomings is the closer "Farewell". There's only 3 different things of lyrics and as far as I can tell only three different themes for it's 9 minute running time. Still, it's one of the best songs I've ever heard- the slow churning grandeur of the verses, and of course the absolute beast of a chorus, where some delicious tremelo guitars and a hugely epic drum beat underpin the only usage of clean vocals in this album (which are made all the more effective due to the fact that you only hear them in one song). It's massive, truly a song that deserves the overused word "epic".
Yeah, Summoning have a formula that when looked at from a somewhat objective point of view screams "heavily flawed". However, this review is not written with any attempt at being objective. This album is some seriously epic and brilliant symphonic/black metal-ish stuff, and you would all be advised to check this out as quickly as possible.